Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Highly Recommended Book’

The Complete Maus” (2011©) — book review
This review is for the comic book style graphic novel “The Complete Maus” by Art Spiegelman.  The version I read was published as the 25th anniversary edition.  The “complete” portion of the title comes from the fact that the work was actually originally published as: “Maus – A survivor’s Tale“, which included Book I: “My Father Bleeds History” and Book II: “And Here My Troubles Began“.
The basis of both books is a son’s attempt to understand a father he doesn’t get along with by getting his father to tell him about the father’s World War II experience in Poland.  Specifically, how the father came to and ultimately survived his time in a concentration camp (mainly Auschwitz).  The story is related via a series of flashbacks.
My first reaction on picking up the book was the primitiveness of the artwork.  It is black and white and initially crude.  On closer review as I was reading the story, I came to realize, this is only appearance.  In fact there is an incredible amount of detail depicted in the “simple” drawings and there is also extensive use of grey-shading used to convey visual depth and emotional content.
The author uses animal “heads / faces” to characterize the various groups in the story: Jews are mice (hence the title); Germans are cats; French are frogs; non-Jewish Polish are pigs and Americans are dogs (with African-Americans being black dogs).  To clarify a bit, the body forms are humanoid (mostly).  It is only the face and head which is “animalized” (reverse anthropromorphism).  This isn’t “zoomorphism” (as I understand the term), like the Peter Rabbit stories, because the rest of the body (as mentioned above) is humanoid.  The one exception is when a cat’s hand (normally) is depicted as a cat’s claw.  But, this is an exception which makes it noticeable.
As to the story…  Well, it is horrifying and completely captivating.  If you haven’t seen the films made at the end of WWII by the U.S. military to document the Holocaust and release of the Jewish prisoners from the camps, you might not believe the factual basis for this story was actually possible.  I viewed the films back in high school, in a history class, and there were portions where you could feel nothing pure emotional hatred for the Nazis and any Germans who could participate in the atrocities.  You have to understand, our instructor repeatedly pointed out this was not “only” six-million Jews, it was also, millions of others (Slavs, Gypsies, Communists and Catholics) whom the Reich felt were inferior / sub-human and therefore subject to “the Final Solution”.
So, the survival story is the bulk of the book.  The “binding” story – the family relationship – is actually every bit as interesting.  The father is notoriously “thrifty” (cheap) for items he is paying for and yet oblivious to the societal costs of things he isn’t paying directly for.  He doesn’t want his son to use wooden matches because the father pays for those, yet he doesn’t care how many paper matches are used because the father gets those for “free”.  The father insists the son does not know the value of anything, because his life has been too easy.
Curiously, there is no resolution to this portion of the book.  The son never does gain an insight into his father.  He (the father) simply is who he is and the son loves him, but never comes around to liking him.  Throughout the book, the son (author) expresses his insecurity and on the last page we finally get the “Citizen Kane” “Rosebud” moment.  As the father lays in bed falling asleep, he addresses the son using his first son’s name.  The first son died in the camps during the war.
Is this book good?  Is it great?  Is it satisfying?  Yes!  YES!  And, ultimately no…
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!  This book is an extremely fast read.  Duh, it’s a comic book!  It’s almost three hundred pages, but I read it in two quick spurts.  It enthralled and then horrified.  I felt like I was back in high school watching the films again.  There were moments where I had to pause and just breathe because there was no other emotional release.  And that makes it a great book in my opinion.
But, it was also troubling for (at least) three reasons: the author goes to a shrink to understand his own need to get this story.  The side-story is brief and unfulfilling, but it does indicate there is some “story” there left to be told.  Second, the father never explains why he destroys the wife’s diaries.  The wife commits suicide when the author is mostly grown up.  It’s not clear to me from the book when this happens or why she does it.  There is no note.  The father is so distraught he destroys a great deal of their background information (nothing of monetary value).  Third, and I found this hinted at, but never developed.  The father’s second wife is a substantial character throughout the present day portion of the story.  She was also a survivor of the camps, but the son never asks her for her history / story.  It’s not clear if she was in the same camp(s) as the mother, but it’s never asked.  Yes, she’s not the author’s biological mother, but there is still a significant missed opportunity.
In conclusion, this is a powerfully emotional story which moved me.  I would caution that despite it’s format (comic book / graphic novel), it is far to difficult for any readers below senior high school level (young adults, but NOT young teens).
.
On This Day In:
2019 A State With No Business
2018 Reflections
2017 Opposites Attract
2016 Completely Unreasonable
Starting To Be A Reacher
2015 Avengers Assemble II
But If I Had To Perish Twice…
2014 Turning Pages
2013 We Are All Accountable
2012 American Sign Language
2011 Happy Disproof
2010 Book Review – Managing Your Government Career

Read Full Post »

Push-hands: The Handbook For Non-Competitive Tai Chi Practice With A Partner”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “Push-hands: The Handbook For Non-Competitive Tai Chi Practice With A Partner” (1997©), written by Herman Kauz.  This is one of those learn martial arts by pictures books.  Having said that, which makes my review sound disparaging – this is a valuable / useful book.
This is a very short book.  It is 128 pages (in my hard-bound edition), and the second half of the book has images on almost every page (at least a hundred images over the 50 pages).  If you are reading this book straight through, you can easily complete it in a day.  Unfortunately, you will get almost nothing from the book if you do this.  To borrow from Francis Bacon: this is a book to be “chewed and digested”.
I first became “aware” of push-hands as a teenager, when my uncle (who was taking Kung-fu lessons) demonstrated it to my brother and me.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have a partner close at hand for a LONG period, it is (IMHO) very difficult to get the prolonged experience necessary to learn from this practice.  I’ve never had such a partner.  At any rate, I have been a life-long dabbler / dilettante in several martial arts: boxing, wrestling, Hapkido, Judo, and Aikido.  I spent the most time playing Aikido, but even with almost a decade of intermittent practice, I was never very advanced.  With advancing age, I recently have become interested in Tai Chi as a form of exercise. I primarily wish to strengthen my ligaments and improve my balance.  “Push-hands” is one of the “forms” of practice which helps improve the Tai Chi students awareness of self and of others.
The author states early in the book, that one must have practiced the Tai Chi “first form” for a minimum of six months before attempting push-hands.  This is to establish the sense of self which will serve as your foundation for sensing others and establishing balance. I found this assertion to be very much in accordance with my own Aikido experience and from then on the book (author) had me “hooked”.  One note here.  The “balance” which I was seeking is not the same “balance” being used by the author.  I don’t want to fall down.  He wants more.  The author wants the reader (practitioner) to balance their personality and life – as well as – understand “balance” for martial purposes.
If the second half of the book is a picture-book tutorial of a martial art technique, what is the first half about?  History, philosophy, society and economics.  Huh??  Yup!  There are chapters on society, economics and history, the positive and negative aspects of competing, how we change what we think and why we should want to, the difficulty of doing so, seeing the world differently and then (finally) how we can use push-hands to develop ourselves as responsible / caring beings.
So, is this a good training / instructional manual?  Yes.  I believe it will be if you can find a partner to work with.  Is it interesting and / or well written?  Yes.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find it much better than (the many) martial art picture tutorials / books I’ve read in the past.  Final recommendation: highly recommended.  Of course, I do have qualifications, but they are mainly about trying to learn any physical activity by reading about it.  Having said this, I think most anyone who is willing to do the pre-training (the six months on the first form) will find this a valuable addition to their library and a source of material for deep thought about society and about Tai Chi tactics as a martial art – beyond it’s calisthenics / health usefulness.
.
On This Day In:
2019 I’m Still Struggling To Rise
2018 Once Suddenly Free
2017 What Is Childlike
2016 The Latter A Lot Quicker Than The Former
2015 Notes On My Nightstand
2014 Generations
2013 Two For One
2012 Seen And Heard
2011 The Hazards And Vicissitudes Of Life

Read Full Post »

Sharpe’s Eagle” — book review
Today’s review is for “Sharpe’s Eagle” (1981©) written by Bernard Cornwell.  This book was the first in the “Sharpe” book series which became (in the 1990’s) the Sharpe television series.  I became aware of the character via this TV series while living in Liverpool and was reminded of them when they came up as a suggestion in YouTube.
Richard Sharpe is a sergeant in the British army in Spain fighting against Napoleon Bonaparte and his French army.  Sharpe saves the life of the commanding general who then gives Sharpe a field promotion to Lieutenant.  The series tracks Sharpe’s rise through the officer ranks.  This book jumps in with Sharpe as a Captain and then begins dropping bits about how he got that far.
The book revolves around two main battles.  The first where his regiment loses the “King’s colors” (the British Flag) and Sharpe personally recovers his Regimental colors.  The two flags are normally kept fairly close together on a battlefield and if you lose one, you generally lose both.  The second battle is to win a Regimental Eagle, which is the French equivalent of the British Regimental colors.  The first battle is purely fictional, while the second is dramatized history – so, basically fictionalized history.  The battle occurred, the eagle capture did not.
So, is the book any good?  Entertaining?  Interesting?  Yes.  Yes.  And, yes.  I can easily see why this book became both a book series and a TV series.  Of course, I like historical fiction, military stories (and fiction), and good old action novels (and movies).  It is not “very” realistic that Sharpe survives the battles, let alone the book or series, but setting that aside, the book is actually much better at explaining the battles than the TV series.  The TV series was significantly scaled back, but it still retained the flavor of the book.  For example, in the battle where the flag (King’s color) is lost, the book’s battle is a battalion size engagement.  In the TV show, it’s a company fight.
One other point.  The author (Cornwell) is a serious military historical expert on the Napoléonic period and the book is full of details which high-lights his expertise in period tactics, weapons, social classes, food and geography.
Final recommendation: highly recommended!!  As I said, I saw some of the various series back in the 1990’s, so I jumped in with the YouTube offering.  I then read the book and re-watched this particular episode in the TV series again.  The episode was even better after reading the book.  I will add there were “somewhat” significant differences in the two versions, but (again), perfectly understandable given the time and space a book gives you and the cost limitations a TV adaptation does not allow.  And, yes, I bought a number of books in the series, so you’ll be seeing posts on those as I get through them.
.
On This Day In:
2019 #45: Who Lost By Three Million Votes
2018 Torn Between Two Loves
A Girl And A Boy
2017 I Think They Are Starting To…
2016 Living There
2015 Bookin’ West
Beyond My Reach
You Never Call Anymore…
2014 Winning?
2013 Still Inventing
2012 Motivated
2011 Waiting In Line At Starbuck’s

Read Full Post »

The Mask Of Command — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Mask Of Command” (1987©), written by John Keegan.  Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (Order of the British Empire) and FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) was an English military historian, lecturer (at Sandhurst – the English equivalent of West Point) and writer.  Keegan is considered (in my opinion) one of the “modern” expert military historians. I understand his basic premise to be that conflict in general and war in specific is cultural and not necessarily an extension of political governance.  This is in contrast with Clausewitz who stated that war is politics by other means.  Keegan is criticized for “disagreement” with Clausewitz.
As a secondary aside, I started reading about military theory (“strategy”) back in my early 20’s when I began reading about generals (mostly Patton) and the works of B. H. Liddell Hart were recommended to me by a roommate.  I read Liddell Hart’s book: “Strategy: The Indirect Approach“, which I must say greatly influenced my life by profoundly changing my view of the world.  My hope was to learn about leadership by studying the great generals.  Instead, what I found was that leadership is not the same thing as strategy and is, instead, founded on the person and the time in history the person lives, whereas strategy tends to be principled and more timeless.
This realization pretty much ties into the basis for this book, which is a study of four “great” commanders / leaders and looks at what made three succeed and one (ultimately) fail terribly.  The three successful commanders are: Alexander the Great, Wellington, and U.S. Grant.  The failure is: Hitler.
Keegan’s proposal in this book is based on “heroic” aspects (“title”) of military leadership: heroic, anti-heroic, non-heroic, and fake heroic.  To do this, Keegan establishes the cultural climate of each commander and then tries to explain it’s (the culture’s) effect on the military leader via their proximity to combat and personal exposure to danger.  Essentially, for most of man’s history, muscle and physical courage were the requirement of military leadership.  As the age of gunpowder emerged, the risk to the commander increased and they were forced to withdrawal from danger and thus “military” leadership changed.  Alexander had to fight hand-to-hand to prove his courage while leading from the front; Wellington could stay within sight of his forces, but had to stay a minimal distance from accurate musket range; Grant could not frequently approach the front lines; and, Hitler never exposed himself to physical danger (with the exception of possible assassination) and used propaganda to convince his forces that he was a soldier battling at their side.
The book has five main chapters (one for each leader / type) and the last is about leadership in the age of nuclear weapons.  I found this the most fascinating (timely?) chapter of the book as it proposes a “new” type of post-heroic military / political leader and attempts to posit President Kennedy as this “ideal” leader.
While I found the book to be an interesting (sometimes fascinating) read, it was not an easy read.  Keegan loves his erudite words and his complicated phrasing of sentences.  The punctuation is “British” (I guess), and I found many times I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  Frequently, his sentences appeared to be declarative, but were, in fact, interrogatory (questions), or vice-versa, and you (“I”) couldn’t tell until you (“I”) hit the question mark or period at the end of the sentence.  Occasionally, even though I was aware of this writing style, Keegan still caught me off guard and I had to go back and try to figure out what he was on about.  Which means I knew it was happening, and anticipating it, but continued to find it distracting.
Other than this (quibble), I found the book to be quite enjoyable.  Keegan has a keen method of describing battles and you can sometimes feel yourself seeing the carnage and tasting the spent gunpowder in the air.  At less than 400 pages, it seems also to be a quick read, but I suggest not rushing head-long through it in one or two sittings as the book is widely considered to be a classic and deserves a bit of contemplation as well as enjoyment.
Final recommendation: highly recommended! This book is a classic for a reason…  The battlefield descriptions are superb and Keegan’s argument is well presented – even if not wholly convincing (to me, anyway).  Still, regardless if you are new to military history or a veteran of any military genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book.  There will, of course, be a few quotes from this book appearing on my blog in the coming weeks / months.
Two final thoughts: 1) I was not (am not) convinced President Kennedy is THE model for the post-heroic commander.  I found Keegan’s reporting on / analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis a bit simplistic.  And, 2) even if I had read this book on first printing, I doubt it would have influenced my world-view the way Liddell Hart’s book did.  Both are classics for any military reader, just different.  Just sayin’…
.
On This Day In:
2019 #ContinueToResist
Except Willful Ignorance And Prideful Stupidity
2018 More Executive Time For #DumbDonald
2017 Watched The Inauguration
Two Geniuses
2016 Come Dance And Laugh With Me
2015 Looks Good To Me
2014 Desire For The Sea
2013 The Fierce Urgency Of NOW
Happy Inauguration Day!
2012 One Path
Sorrow And Joy
The Seven Year View
2011 Emergent Practicality

Read Full Post »

The Power of Myth”  1988©
Today’s review is for “The Power of Myth“, which is a book based on interviews of Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers that were the basis for the PBS television series of the same name and the same year.  The book was timed for concurrent release and follows the interview format with editing provided by Betty Sue Flowers.  In fact, the book chapters follow the episode breakdown of the series.
The interviews deal with the universality and evolution of myths in human history and how myths fit (or don’t fit) in the modern day social structure.  Campbell mixes personal experience with stories from many epochs, cultures and civilizations to offer up a thesis that modern society is moving from old mythologies and traditions unique to their times and locations to a new global (and possibly unified) mythology.
Campbell believes myths are the stories / legends / fables which make up their culture.  Campbell believes there are universal “truths” which mankind tries to describe using these myths and this explains why the myths are common around the globe.  To him a “myth” is a way of defining the rituals and oral histories we pass from parents to child.
Because the “myths” of any prior generation were limited by location and technologies of communication, Campbell believes we are in a transition period which is trying to integrate all of the “great” traditions (religions, beliefs and myths) of the past with the rapidly changing technologies of a modern life supported by increasing amounts of technology without concurrent social and moral reinforcement.
Basically, modern culture specifically lacks a social structure to transition males from childhood to adulthood – the traditional “rites of passage”.  Campbell feels this problem is significantly less for females because their rite of passage to adulthood is observationally physical.  On this point, I disagree with Campbell as I don’t believe the completion of puberty is the actual rite of passage from childhood to adulthood except in the most biologically literal sense for males or females.
I found the book fascinating but difficult to read. I find it curious that myths (creation, death, heaven, hell, reincarnation, resurrection and ascension) are common across epochs and continents. I am less convinced that all individuals seek to be “heroes” and to find their “bliss”.  It is my observation that the vast majority of folks (male and female) just want to get on with life and enjoy it (life) and their families with as little hassle as possible.
Final recommendation: highly recommended.  I feel the book is very deep and full of insight – both in word and ideas.  I will be including quotes from it periodically.  My own copy is now high-lighted through large passages of the book. (LOL)
One final note: this book took me almost two years to read, even though, at barely 230 pages, it’s not very long.  This is because it is (was) intellectually challenging (to me) and I felt the need to pause periodically.  The result was start, stop, weeks pass, start, stop, etc.  In the end, I moved on to other books and then (after 90+ pages), when I finally got back to it, I felt I’d lost the train of discussion and started over from the intro.  So, reader be warned…  Well worth your time, but you’ll need to be better disciplined than I am.
.
On This Day In:
2017 Happy Meeting Day 33 (And Counting)
2016 Picture Perfect
2015 Life Showed Compassion
2014 And Then I Met Her
2013 Defining Maleness
The Run Continues
2012 All Set
2011 Not Always

Read Full Post »

Book Review: “Pride And Prejudice”  (1813©)
Today’s book is a classic “romance” novel written by Jane Austen.  The edition / version I have is the “Annotated Edition” edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks which came out in 2010 and was a Christmas present to me from my wife (Hilary).  It was actually a present a couple of Christmas’ ago and I’m just getting around to reading it (and reviewing it).
The story is probably familiar to most: Prince Charming meets girl, they offend each other, they fall in love, lots of secondary story lines build the plot, they fall in love, Charming saves the day, they marry and live happily ever after.  Did I mention they fall in love?  Charming is a stuffy, rich aristocrat (hence “Prince”).  Girl is a vivacious, but prim and proper young woman who is from landed gentry, but not rich (only relative to Prince).  And, despite their both being “stuck up”, they fall in love…
I came to this book via the movie (2005), BBC mini-series (1995), movie (Indian version 2004), movie (1940) and a secondary source – “The Jane Austen Book Club” – movie (2007).  I have  reviewed the 2005 movie (here), and the Indian version (actually titled “Bride And Prejudice“, here), and the BBC and 1940’s version (here).  I recently viewed the “Book Club” movie, but I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it.  It did, however, prompt me to bump the book version up to my “read next” list from my “get around to” list.
So, if I’ve clearly enjoyed the movies so much, what did I think of the original story and – more specifically – this version?  This “book” started off a VERY hard read.  I have not read very many “annotated” versions of anything before and I found it quite a labor.  For one thing, the book starts off with a 20-plus page restatement of the book and why the editor feels it needs to be annotated.  If I had not read the original book or seen any of the movies, I would have been completely put off by the editor completely giving away the story.  If I wanted a summary at the start, I’d have simply purchased Cliff Notes to read before the book.
Next, the annotations “probably” doubled the length of the print in this version.  The original was about 350 pages, but was a small book.  This version is almost 450 pages, but half of each page is allotted as space for the notations and images.  Indeed, some of the notations, spill over either onto the next page (which makes for a confusing read) or take an entire page (which disrupts the flow of the reader).  Also, some of the notations highlighted the same information repeatedly or were used as citations of evidence to support arguments and interpretations made in the introduction / summary.  I would estimate it took me fully 80 to 100 pages before I got used to the notes.  Having said this, they were occasionally interesting additions which added to my understanding of the story.  I guess I’m saying that, in the end, I found the notes  a useful addition to the story.
Separate from the annotations, did I enjoy the book?  Yes!  Tremendously.  And, I highly recommend it!  Not being a student of English history, I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the book, but really, is that why anyone EVER reads a romance novel.  I certainly don’t…  What I would say is that as a fan of the various cinematic versions, I am very happy to have finally read the original novel.
Of course, now I’m sure to be tempted to read her other five books and see their movie versions.  At the very least, I’m going to go back and re-watch the BBC and 2005 versions.  Just ’cause that’s the way I roll…
.
On This Day In:
2017 Being Nice
2016 Zero To Some = Most
2015 Born More Obligated
2014 Rage And Fury
2013 Successful Children
2012 For God So Loved The World
2011 Go Cheeseheads!!
Structured Mentality

Read Full Post »

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)
.
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…

Read Full Post »

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.
.
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

Read Full Post »

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…
.
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

Read Full Post »

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]
.
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

Read Full Post »

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.
.
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

Read Full Post »

This evening’s post is a book review and a movie review.
Book review: Edward R. Murrow: and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism  (2004©)
This book was written by Bob Edwards and chronicles the life of the famous radio and TV news journalist: Edward R Murrow.  A little background – I grew up listening to the famous record series “I Can Hear It Now (1933-1945)“.  I’m not sure why my mom bought them for me as a child, but I have distinct memories of listening to these albums (actually, 78rpm LPs, as in “Long Playing” for all you music streamers) along with my copy of “The Lone Ranger“.  Incidentally, anyone interested can hear much of, if not all of, the records on YouTube.  You can certainly hear enough of Murrow’s voice to appreciate what he sounded like to Americans who were just discovering radio.
The book is a fascinating account of the parallel track of radio and TV news journalism with early to mid-20th century world / American history.  The main body is 166 pages in my hardbound copy and I found it a VERY fast read.  If you have any interest in the history of broadcast journalism this is a terrific introduction.  Having grown up during the 1960’s, when many of the names in the book were faces on my TV every evening, the book really brought back memories.  Of particular interest, the “Afterword” runs about 13 pages and more or less precisely describes the news we see on TV (broadcast and 24-hour cable) today.  The book would be highly recommended based on the “Afterword” itself, but I found the whole book fascinating.  Final recommendation: Highly recommended!  Needless to say, there will be quotes to follow on my blog…
Movie review: “good night, and good luck.”  (2005)
This is my second review of this movie / DVD.  The original review can be found at:  Journalism And Fantasy  from back in 2012.  My first review pretty much stands as is.  This is an outstanding movie about a critical time in American history – 1953 to 1958 and covers the conflict between Senator Joseph McCarthy and Edward Murrow.  McCarthy was trying to fight communism in the U.S. government (and then within the U.S. as a whole) and over-reached by using government intimidation to restrict free speech and association and, ultimately, freedom of the press.  When Murrow used the power of television to confront McCarthy and his bullying tactics, McCarthy fell from public grace.  He was censored by the Senate and, ultimately, died in disgrace as a cautionary tale about the abuse of power in a democracy.  Ironically, some of the individuals he “exposed / persecuted” were later found to actually be Soviet agents when the U.S.S.R. fell and some of their spying records became public.  This has not, however, vindicated McCarthy in the eyes of history.  Rather, these instances seem to be the exceptions which proved the rule of innocent until proven guilty.
If I have one critique of the movie, it would be that it leaves you hanging.  There is the drama of Murrow’s (probably) most famous speech – to the Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) convention in Chicago (1958) – popularly known as the “Wires And Lights In A Box” speech (which can be found in its entirety here), which leads into and then ends the movie, but there is no summing up.  The viewer is left to do their own research on Murrow’s career and life, and the result / reaction to his speech.  The fact the speech is actually a prophecy of the type of radio and television news we are experiencing today is also left for the viewer.  This is the type of DVD I would pay more for to get the extras (but I NEVER do this).
Even with that single criticism, this is a terrific movie and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in American journalism, history or the rule of law in a free and open society.
.
On This Day In:
2015 Not Mine, Anyway
2015 South By South East
2013 Don’tcha
2012 I Hear A Distant Thunder
2011 A Poison Tree

Read Full Post »

Book Review:
Last Thursday, I accompanied my wife downtown.  She likes to go to the Farmer’s Market and I like to go to the used bookstore.  While there, I picked up a copy of the book: “Inherit The Wind”  (1955©), written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, which I found on the $1 shelf.
The book is essentially the script of the play by the same name.  The story is a dramatization (fictionalized) of the Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee.  Although the book / play is arguably about the conflict between the theory of evolution and the creation of the universe as stated in the Book of Genesis, the authors claimed the play was actually about the conflict between freedom of speech / thought and “McCarthyism” in the United States in the 1950’s.  (McCarthyism is here defined as the practice of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.  It also means “the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.”  In this case, a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution without accounting for the substantial scientific evidence supporting evolution and an absolute dearth of evidence supporting Creationism / Genesis.)
The book is barely 100 pages and is a VERY fast read. It effectively points out the difficulties of trying to use a book of faith as a wall against scientific progress.  Essentially, you end up with a ridiculous speed bump instead of a barrier.  Although I found the book less powerful than the movie, it is still very engaging.  Final recommendation: highly recommended.
Movie Review:
Having read the book, I felt compelled to re-watch the movie: “Inherit The Wind” (1960).  The movie stars Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) the defense attorney, Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) the prosecutor and Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken) the out-of-town-journalist.
This is a “classic” black and white movie and one of my favorite works starring Tracy.  I have watched this movie well over a dozen times in my life and continue to watch it through to the end whenever I stumble on it playing on the TV.  Two other points bear mentioning…  This is my defining memory of March as an actor, which is both good and bad. Good because he is fantastic in the role.  Bad because he is SO good it has biased me against him in the few other roles I’ve seen him in.  March is so good, you almost think he is playing himself – much like John Wayne in “True Grit“.  It is only in seeing him in other roles that you realize it was all an act.  This is, I believe, the classic definition of a great actor.  As much as I love Tracy in this film, I am almost magnetically drawn to viewing and listening to (studying) March when I watch this film.  My second point is for those of you who think of Gene Kelly as purely a gifted “hoofer” (i.e. “Singing In The Rain” and many others), watch this film.  Kelly can act!  His face speaks a million lines and his sarcastic / comedic / cynical timing is impeccable.
Needless to say, the play the movie is based on is a fictionalized version of a real trial and the movie is a dramatized version of the play.  I first saw this movie as a youngster (probably pre-teens) and it had a profound impact on my life as I wanted to become a scientist and discover “Natural” law.  I wanted to be a “free” thinker.  Raised a Roman Catholic, this movie made me question at an early age – not my faith – but the Church and those who proposed an absolute belief in the Church (any church) and the Bible (any “holy” book).  It is only now, years later, that I realize the conflict between faith and science was not the basis for the movie.  As mentioned above, placing the film in historical context, it is actually about the fight against bullying and ostracism of those who are able to (and choose to) think for themselves and who wish to discuss their thoughts openly without fear of harassment (prison).
This is a powerful movie and is well worth watching and discussing with family and friends – at multiple levels.  This is particularly true in an age where there is a new law (wall) being discussed to protect us (America) from the threat of terrorists (“illegals” taking our jobs for lower wages).  As fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim or any other faith) cannot halt the progress of science, American reactionaries cannot halt the progress of macroeconomics.  Left to its own devices, corporate socialism / monopolistic capitalism will drive down the cost of labor just as water seeks its own level unless we, as a people decide as a matter of public policy that enough is enough.
Okay, climbing down from my high-horse, final recommendation: this is a very highly recommended movie.  An excellent story, told with great actors.
Movie Review:
My second movie review today is for: “Reign Of Fire” (2002).  This is a dragons destroy humanity movie starring: Christian Bale as Quinn Abercromby, Matthew McConaughey as Denton Van Zan, Izabella Scorupco as Alex Jensen and Gerard Butler as Creedy (Bale’s character’s best friend).  As a lad, Bale discovers a dragon buried under London.  Somehow, the single dragon begets a million other dragons and they, more or less, destroy human civilization.  There are a few pockets of survival and Bale and Butler are the bosses of one.  Along comes McConaughey, who proposes to destroy the dragons, not merely out-last them by hiding.  And, so, off we go to London to slay the dragon…
This is not a movie which bears much thinking about.  You either watch it and enjoy it, or you think about it and don’t.  I have chosen (frequently) to watch and enjoy.  It is what it is and it’s pretty good at being just that.  As an aside, the most interesting thing from my latest viewing is the way this movie presages “Batman Begins” with the fluttering birds and dragons in Reign being reminiscent of the fluttering bats in Batman and then the dark tunnel / the Bat Cave.  On the other hand, it could just be my recent marathon session of the “Dark Knight Trilogy” has me seeing things which really aren’t there.
Anyway, while it doesn’t stand much thought, it’s a surprisingly viewable movie.  Final recommendation: Strong.
.
On This Day In:
2015 Natural Shapes
2014 Seeing The Light
2013 Requirements
2012 Tricked Again
2011 Liberty And Justice For Earth
2010 Home Again, Home Again, Jig-A-De, Jig…

Read Full Post »

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.
.
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

Read Full Post »

Travels With Charley – In Search Of America – book review
Today’s review is for one of John Steinbeck’s later works, “Travels With Charley” (1962©).  The book is a “supposedly” non-fiction relating of a road trip Steinbeck made around the continental United States (about 10,000 miles).  Roughly, the trip is from his home in New York, up to Maine, across the northern states to Seattle, down through California, back east to New Orleans (via Texas), then up the Eastern seaboard back to his home.  Steinbeck says the trip is to allow him to get back in touch with the common American whom Steinbeck feels he based much of his writing on.  Having lost “touch” with his roots, Steinbeck seeks to rediscover America by seeing it again with his own eyes.  Steinbeck makes the trip in a truck with a custom built camper shell.  The truck is named “Rocinante” –  for the horse ridden by Don Quixote.
Although quite a number of books touch me (as a reader), there are relatively few which seem to strike an internal chord.  I am not a musician, so forgive me if I am misusing the term “chord”, but it is more than a single note.   It is a combination of notes which creates their own harmony.  This book is one of those few for me.  It is hard for me to adequately put into words the effect this book had except to say I consistently felt Steinbeck was writing it just to let me know I am not alone in how I feel about certain things.  From his description of his perpetual wanderlust, to his affection for his pet dog (Charley), to his observations about America – its history and its people – its cities and our civilization – I just felt a powerful bond of kinship with Steinbeck.
In the martial arts, it is frequently said that when the student is ready, the teacher will find him.  I think it ironic for me to “discover” this work as I turn sixty (“ish”) and that I feel its call to me to continue chasing my own windmills.  “On, Rocinante!!”  I cannot promise you this book will touch you as powerfully as it did me, but my final recommendation is Highly Recommended Book / Reading.
.
On This Day In:
2014 Changing Frequently
2013 Trifles
2012 Simple, Ordinary And Wonderous
2011 Humane Writers

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: