Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween- Night of Magic

Halloween- a celebration based on chocolate! What better to unite us in these troubled times? We had quite a turnout for about 2 hours. The usual assortment of X-Men and Super-heros, along with a sprinkling of princesses and fairies. It's a great holiday to meet your neighbors, you know the ones you have nod and wave relationships with. Suddenly they are at your door and you confront one another in a face to face, verbal human transaction. And it's cultural,too.

We have some Indian families here in our community. They have had their homes decorated for about a week or so in celebration of Diwali, which is their Festival of Lights (kind of like Chanukah and Purim rolled into one!) and commemorates the death of the Evil King who kidnapped Prince Rama's wife. He returned after 14 years in exile to reclaim her love. It is also the beginning of their Lunar New Year and the tradition is to share sweets with your neighbors.

So we are all alike. I keep mulling it all over and always come up with the same answer. We are all alike- we all want some free candy and a smile from our neighbors. We all want to see the magic that we once felt, reflected in the eyes of the children at our doors. And we want them to pass that along to their children.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz

In a time when we have all become conscious of Islamic Fundamentalism it is a pleasure to read a book by a normal, run of the mill Islamic Man. How he has escaped the wrath that was shown to Salmaan Rushdie for his fictional writing is a conundrum.

This book is non-fiction and describes the authors journey from a childhood in Pakistan to his current residence in the United States. Along the way he has been an Islamic student in Pakistan and in America. This gives him a unique perspective on the subject of Fundamentalism, whether Islamic or Christian.

Enamored of Islam from an early age when he is taken to Mecca on a pilgrimage the story progresses to his youth in Pakistan and his wondering about the things that are forbidden to him- and why.

When the family moves to America they begin a journey that takes them across the United States. This offers the author, as well as the reader, an unusually frank look at Islam and how it relates to America and her values of religous freedom and thought.

By drawing comparisons to our differences Mr. Eteraz has shown us a mirror of our common values. The book is laid out in such a way that you needn't be a religous scholar to understand the rituals or practices that are the same in all 3 major religions. We share so much in our respective cultures yet the politics of discontent seem to have overtaken these similarities, pitting us all one against the other. Can this really be the Will of God?

Interspersed along the way is a story of a young mans journey to find himself. And in his self discovery the reader finds a piece of himself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Ever since the release of Kaffir Boy I have made it a point to read all of the African memoirs that I have come across. With their lyrical use of the English language these books have a way of reaching out to the reader and making you a part of the story. Coupled with the natural gift of storytelling these books can be enjoyable and informative at the same time. In “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba these assets are combined, making this book a joy to read.

Coming of age amidst the turmoil that is Africa today, Mr. Kamkwamba, with the skillful aid of Bryan Mealer, tells the story of his life in his village in Malawi, located in Eastern Africa.

Through the trials and setbacks arising from changing politics to the devastation of famine Mr. Kamkwamba persists in his quest for knowledge. When he can no longer afford to attend school he spends his time at the village library absorbing all he can about science and electricity.

His plans progress from the simple desire to hear music to the concept of what electricity really means. An extra harvest each year, no more carrying water several kilometers to water the crops. And so he begins a quest to find the materials he will need to make his vision a reality. He is going to build a wind driven turbine.

The most amazing thing about this book is having Mr. Kamkwamba, who had never seen a power plant, describe the basics of electro magnetism in a way that anyone can understand. And when his dreams become actions that reshape the way his family lives you simply want to cheer!

Another aspect to this book is the feeling that so much is wasted in our own lives- so many opportunities squandered. You read this book and feel the loss of ambition that plaques our own society.

A lyrical and exciting read by an author who takes you on his journey of discovery. And that journey leads you to examine your own life and what effect you have had, or not had, on the world that surrounds you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Packing the Court by James MacGregor Burns

This is a very controversial and thought provoking read. The author is the Woodrow Wilson Professor Emeritus at Williams College (no relation) and is widely regarded as the most leading authority on the Ethics of Leadership.

His previous 20 something books include the outstanding “Roosevelt: Soldier of Freedom” which won a Pulitzer Prize. I read it and found it most insightful- both as to the man and the politics surrounding him.

This book begins with a 5 page Prologue which is so enticing you just have to read the book to see where he is going with it all.

The biggest Court Packer in history was Roosevelt with his attempt to “stack” the court by adding 6 more judges. The idea was shot down and FDR had to find a new way to launch his NRA, which had been struck down by the court. He did so in the form of the WPA and other agencies.

Mr. Burns proposes that due to the lifetime appointment of Justices to the Court, that there is a disconnect between what the country needs and what the Courts will allow. The NRA and Franklin Roosevelt are good examples. Sometimes change can take too long.

He also questions the apparent lack of a Review of all legislation by the Court prior to something becoming the law of the land. He states that this lack of review amounts at times to a lifetime Veto which is in direct opposition to the Powers of Separation which make our country so unique. And remember, this is only the Prologue!

The book goes on to review the various incarnations that the Court has taken over the 200 plus years that it has been in existence.

For instance, he reviews the Conservative Court of the 1920’s and compares them to the Liberal Court that reigned throughout the last 50 years until the current shift in the Courts’ decisions. Given the disparities in times and social moors I am not sure this is a valid comparison. To compare them is almost to refute the notion of having a “Living Constitution.”

At the end of the book he proposes changes to the Court and thus the Constitution, particularly Article 3, which outlines what the Founding Fathers thought prudent for a Supreme Court within the confines of a stable and workable government.

The book is fascinating and is wide in scope. It may take another read to fully comprehend all of the information imparted here before I rush to judgment on it’s merits or flaws. I am no scholar.

I do find that the idea of changing the way the Supreme Court operates disturbs me. Since the time of Marbury v. Madison this issue has never been entirely settled, although the decision remains undisturbed. Even with all of its flaws the Court represents to me the swinging pendulum of this Republic. At times we have swung too far left and at other times too far right. But we have never gotten stuck in either position. To me this is the embodiment of what is called the “Living Constitution.”

To add justices, or even have them elected to finite terms of office, appears to me as an attempt to politicize the Court as well as second guess what the Founding Fathers were trying to do when they left Supreme Court review of all legislation out of Article 3(This is Mr. Burns interpretation- not mine.)If I have learned anything of the history of this nation it is that the Founding Fathers aims can more often be discerned by a careful review of what they did not include rather than a focus on what they did include.

A very provocative read for anyone interested in the Supreme Court; where it has been and where it might be heading.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Movie Review- Charlie Bartlett with Robert Downey, Jr.

This film is a unique look at today's high schools and the choices/pressures faced by todays students.. Think of it as today's "Rock and Roll High School" but on designer drugs. The big difference is that this movie has a message and draws a conclusion.

As seen thru the eyes of a former prep school boy suddenly thrust into a Public High School, Charlie Bartlett comes to understand power and the great responsibility that goes with it. At the same time he and the Principal, played by Downey, both come to understand that we are all equally screwed up. And that can be a strength, rather than a weakness, when we let it serve to unite us.

With crisp and clear performances by all this is a very unusual film and worth the time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Halsey's Typhoon by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

If someone were to tell you that Admiral Halsey, the great American Naval Hero of World War Two, had almost been Court Martialed at the height of the war, you would not believe it. I know I didn't! And I am a big fan of history- Naval History in particular.

In December of 1944 Douglas MacArthur was due to return to the Phillipines, just as he had promised 3 years earlier. Admirals King and Halsey had made this possible through a series of "island hopping" invasions. They were highly sucessful in their endeavors and so by the time of these events all was in place for that return.

But a seies of lapses, most notably in the weather predictions, led the fleet into one of the worst typhoons in history. Almost 800 men from 4 different ships perished in this storm. Aboard one of the vessels was a young Seaman named Gerald Ford, who would later go on to become President of the United States.

This book will have you white knuckled all the way through. And leaves me wondering, once again, why I bother to write about my own life at all. Any of my worst experiences pale in comparison to what these men went through.

As an interesting aside, this book describes in great detail, the events that were later captured in the best seller by Herman Wouk, "The Caine Mutiny." Mr. Wouk served in the Pacific during the time of these events. His experience certainly led to the realistic description of that storm. As a matter of fact the chapters describing the mutiny on the ficticous USS Caine are right in line with what actually took place aboard the USS Hull at the height of the real typhoon.

This book is a must read for all Naval History buffs. And also for those looking to see beyond the legend of Admiral Halsey. Written with great energy and style, this book is a page turner.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Today Is My Birthday!

This is me the day I was born. At 3 AM my Mom woke my Dad and they had to get a cab to take them to the hospital. We wouldn't have a car until I was about 3 years old. My Dad, having waited on my older brother's arrival for 12 hours, figured he had enough time to go out and get something to eat and pick up a present for my Mom. He got back and fell asleep in the waiting room, waking up at about 10:30AM and wondering how my Mom was doing.

Approaching a nurse, he asked, in that timid way that only expectant Fathers can,how my Mom was doing. She looked at him as if he were the dumbest thing she had ever laid eyes upon when she informed him that my Mom had given birth to me several hours ago at about 7:47 AM.

I know this story as my Mom told it to me every year for the 30 years of my life that she was here. I never got tired of hearing it and I never get tired of telling it. Hell, I was almost born in the taxi! And to top it off I was a full breech baby- arriving feet first- ready to hit the road. You can see it in the picture, my fists are all balled up and I'm leading with my left, holding back that right until it's needed.

Here I am today, at 55. I don't see much of a difference. However,feel free to draw your own conclusions. I just know that I wouldn't be who I am if it hadn't been for all of the colorful,and not so colorful, people that I have met along the way.

So, from all of me to all of them- Happy Birthday to all of us! And thanks...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Movie Review- Nanking with Mariel Hemingway and Woody Harrelson

This is a movie that needs to be seen. The Rape of Nanking has been covered in many books and documentaries before. But never with the intensity of this one.

Mariel Hemingway and Woody Harrelson potray the 2 American Diplomats who refused to close the Embassy and flee. Along with Stephen Dorff playing the Nazi businessman who also found himself morally bound to remain and help, this documentary reaches out and draws you in. It becomes real to you.

The insanity of war aside, the horrors of war crimes are particularly applicable today, when all sides seem to have lost their collective reason.

Remember, this is a documentary, not a movie as I had expected. The stars mentioned appear only as characters reading from their own diaries and letters. It is an intensley researched film. Also of note is that the Chinese witnesses and diplomats speak in Chinese with English subtitles. This adds to the multi-national color of the story.

And the back story is the co-operation betwen the Nazi run German Embassy and the United States as they try to avert the impending tragedy. A strange alliance considering what would take place in only a few short years.

A worthwhile experience, this docu-drama will affect you. And that's what makes this film so important.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Movie Review- A Man For All Seasons with Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw

I'm not much of a fan of old English Royalty type films. This movie however is an exception. It explores the battle of wills between Sir Thomas Moore and King Henry the Eighth. The battle, of course, stemmed from the King wanting his childless marraige to his wife Anne annulled.

Sir Thomas' silence on the subject was tantamount to a rebuke of the King as well as the hypocrisy of the aristocracy. Retribution was sure to come. And come it does.

With strong performances from Shaw as the King (he positively roars at times)and equally matched by Paul Scofield as his quiet but firmly defiant Royal Adversary,this film will keep you engaged and interested.

The direction keeps the film flowing and the portrayal of Oliver Cromwell by Orson Welles will chill you with it's utter ruthlessness.

This film was first released in 1966 and won the Oscar for Best Picture of the Year. I don't know how I missed this one...

And I hope you don't.