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John P. Jones III RSS Feed (Albuquerque, NM, USA)

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As You Like It
As You Like It
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4.0 out of 5 stars All’s well…, June 27, 2016
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This review is from: As You Like It (Kindle Edition)
…that ends well! Well, “sorta”.

I’ve undertaken a project to attempt to re-read, or in most cases, read for the first time, all of Shakespeare. This is a first time read. I commenced with a re-read of the heavy tragedies assigned in high school, like Macbeth (Folger Shakespeare Library), Hamlet and King Lear (Folger Shakespeare Library), in which the vast majority of characters die at the end. In sharp contrast, at the end of “As You Like It,” not only is every character alive, the two bad guys (and they are men… with sibling rivalry issues), repent their evil ways, and make restitution for their wrongdoing. As the title states, happy endings seem to be the preferred scenario for the audience. Though there is that ironic “sorta” catch that I’ll cover at the end of this review.

The play was first produced at the beginning of the 17th century, yet some of the issues are as topical as today’s headlines: cross-dressing and gender identity. In those simpler times, Shakespeare did not address the complex issues of bathroom access. There are also seeming animal-rights issues and remorse shown over the killing of a deer. Shakespeare even chimes in on the “secret” to achieving an active old age, or, as he calls it, “a lusty winter”: “For in my youth I never did apply Hot and rebellious liquors in my blood; nor did not with unbashful forehead woo the means of weakness and debility.”

“All the World’s a stage” and “The Motley Fool” first made their appearance into the English language in this play. Shakespeare outlines the “seven ages” of man who “plays many parts” on that proverbial stage.” I’ve always marked in the books that I’ve read what I consider significant passages or bon mots, and certainly “the world’s a stage” is so marked. Thanks to Amazon’s Kindle arrangement, I can also see what other people considered to be significant passages, including their numbers. Of the passages that I marked, by far the most were uttered by the magnificent Rosalind, one of the best developed female characters in Shakespeare.

Consider a few of Rosalind’s formulations: “Men are April when they woo, December when they wed: maids are May when they are maids, but the sky changes when they are wives.” “Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.” “No, faith, die by attorney.” “A traveler! By my faith, you have great reason to be sad: I fear you have sold your own lands to see other men’s; then to have seen much and to have nothing is to have rich eyes and poor hands.” Concerning love, she expands upon Caesar’s pithy: “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Rosalind is a strong character, who provides some teasingly provocative and not “politically correct” advice on the well-trodden path to a man’s heart: “But, mistress, know yourself, down on your knees, And thank heaven, fasting , for a good man’s love; For I must tell you friendly in your ear,- Sell when you can; you are not for all markets.”

And the “sorta” happy ending? Duke Senior, who was forced into exile by his nefarious brother, proclaimed the joys of a bucolic existence in the Forest of Arden: “Hath not old custom made this life more sweet Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods more fee from peril than the envious Court? … And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.” Yet he does! Since he re-acquires his Court. Overall, 4-stars.

The Journey from Abandonment to Healing: Revised and Updated: Surviving Through and Recovering from the Five Stages That Accompany the Loss of  Love
The Journey from Abandonment to Healing: Revised and Updated: Surviving Through and Recovering from the Five Stages That Accompany the Loss of Love
by Susan Anderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.92
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4.0 out of 5 stars SWIRL…, June 24, 2016
Susan Anderson has more than 30 years of clinical practice helping individuals address the issue of the loss of love, which is often perceived as abandonment by these individuals. Her clinical practice is based in Manhattan. Anderson herself has personally experienced this abandonment when her spouse left her. I believe that paradigms which provide an overall structure for understanding a specific issue, particularly medical issues, can be useful. It is well-known that such models may not apply in every case, and certainly Anderson indicates this. She posits that there are five stages in the overall “abandonment” process: shattering, withdrawal, internalizing, rage and lifting, and utilizes the subject acronym to describe them. In order for individuals to recover from their perceptions of being abandoned, she has found useful a process that she calls “Akeru.” It is a Japanese word whose meaning is broad, and conveys a sense of piercing, and a process that is both an end and a beginning. Anderson has developed specific exercises for the individual to practice – note: PRACTICE – and not just read, in order to have them overcome their sense of abandonment.

As part of my overall reading process I have read several books on medical conditions that I do NOT have. These books include: A Twist of Lyme: Battling a Disease That "Doesn't Exist", Living on a Tightrope: Coping with Diabetes, Med Free Bipolar: Thrive Naturally with the Med Free Method(TM) (Med Free Method Book Series) (Volume 1), Coping with Kidney Disease: A 12-Step Treatment Program to Help You Avoid Dialysis. I have been motivated either through a general interest in the subject, or because someone I knew was affected with the condition. Each of these works falls roughly into the category of books now called “self-help,” and Anderson’s work is specifically so labeled. In evaluating this work, I had to consider that virtually all the readers would feel they themselves had been personally abandoned, and therefore what I considered repetition and redundancies might be useful, in order that a particular phrasing of the problem or resolution might strike a responsive personal chord.

Case histories are often a strength in a work, and the author’s long clinical practice has provided her much rich material that she effectively selects and conveys. The sense of abandonment causes specific chemical changes in the body. I found Anderson’s knowledge and explanation of physical changes in the body to be excellent and well-researched. For example, I knew of “pheromones,” but did not know that the nose had a specific receptacle – vomeronasal – to detect them.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was never defined as such in the 1960’s. It was Dr. Robert J. Lifton who defined, and lobbied to have approve this diagnosis with the American Psychiatric Association. Dr. Lifton specifically states in his book Home from the War that it was his work with Dwight H. Johnson, who won the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, that was the catalyst for defining PTSD. Anderson adopts the “PTSD” concept, and specifically states that abandonment is not like a car accident, but more like months on the battlefield. She even italicizes the concept, and says: “post-traumatic stress disorder of abandonment – and discuss the shock, disorientation and numbness that are common to this disorder.” I find this concept troubling, both as Anderson uses it, as well as much of the media today. If PTSD is defined so broadly that most humans have it, then it really loses all meaning. I also found some other statements made to be exaggerated if not downright false, for example under the stage in the author’s paradigm: “withdrawal.” She says that withdrawal is “you becoming you for the first time.” Does that mean there was no real you before the marriage or relationship? Also, overall, I have a problem with “victimhood.” And the structure of the book is largely predicated on this model also. The “bad” person is the one that did the abandoning. The reader, you, are the innocent victim, caught totally unaware, and did not deserve your fate. In reality, in marriages that fail, both parties almost certainly played a part in its dissolution, and I believe Anderson would help the “clients” in her practice if she emphasized that they examine their own actions and outlook that might have led to their sense of “abandonment.” Overall, 4-stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2016 9:09 PM PDT

Flatland (Xist Classics)
Flatland (Xist Classics)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Multidimensional…, June 22, 2016
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Edward A. Abbott was a 19th century theologian and schoolmaster. He published this work in 1884. Based in part on the number of Amazon reviews, it remains well-read today. I first learned about this book when I was in school, a half century ago, and regret it has taken this long to have finally read it. The work is “multidimensional” as it were. It not only pushes the reader’s imagination to envision the concept of four or five dimensions by positing a world in which people live in one dimension LESS than the 3-dimensional world in which we are most familiar with, that is a 2-dimensional world known as flatland. It also is a social satire on the social customs of the day, including hierarchical relationships, in-group / out-group fads, and the role of women in society.

Shape is destiny! The more sides one has, the better. Women, alas, aren’t even 2-diminsional. They are a simple one-dimensional line. Men are the only ones that have breadth. The simplest are isosceles triangles, low on the societal pecking order. Equilateral triangles a bit higher, squares higher still, then pentagons… and on, to ones that have so many sides they approximate a circle, who effectively are the High Priests. And the ones that are irregular shapes: they are the outcasts.

Abbott pushes the reader’s imagination by examining the question of how various entities recognize each other in 2-dimensions, when, on first glance, everyone should appear as a line. He posits that the fog in northern climates provides a mechanism for recognizing if an object is more than a line, since the brightness of the line would fall off in the fog. With careful training, how fast the brightness falls off would denote shape and societal status, not much different, I suppose, from how clothes labels do today. One could imagine Abbott chuckling to himself when he proposed that there was a movement called the “Chromatistes” who felt that shape recognition could be enhanced by simply requiring each shape to have a standard color. There was a conflict on this issue, and the “lines” (the women) and the “circles” (the high priests) were aligned against all other shapes on the issue of the “Universal Color Bill.”

Other dimensions are visited… both below, that is, 1-dimensional space, and no dimensional space (periods), as well as above, 3-dimensional and beyond. Each dimension has grave difficulties envisioning any other world, much like we do in our own. In fact, those who advocate recognition of worlds with different structural dimensions are subject to criminal prosecution. Abbott does recognize a serious flaw in his “flatland” model in that in true 2-dimensions, no shape could really see another, so he fudges the issue a bit by indicating that each shape does have an intrinsic height, and fudges it more by calling it “brightness.” Oh well, all too many paradigms contain their own contradictions.

Overall, a stimulating read, which paved the way for the “space-time continuum” universe of four dimensions. Still, there is the flaw in his 2-dimensional world of “brightness,” the status of women, and some archaic prose. 4-stars.

The Mays of Ventadorn (National Geographic Directions)
The Mays of Ventadorn (National Geographic Directions)
by W. S. Merwin
Edition: Hardcover
103 used & new from $0.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “The recurring burden of Bernart’s song is distance…”, June 20, 2016
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…the distance between the lover and the beloved, between the present and the past or an imagined future, between one place and another…”

Thanks to a fellow Amazon reviewer, I’ve again experienced those unlikely threads of history, in particular, how a troubadour in the High Middle Ages could speak meaningfully to me today, with the same force of a Bruce Springsteen or Leonard Cohen song.

W.S. Merwin has written a charming and informative book, illuminating both an historical period and a corner of France that I was only dimly aware of. It was Ezra Pound, the famous poet whose rebellion against the horrors of the First World War would take the very twisted path of providing propaganda radio broadcasts for Mussolini during the Second World War, resulting in his incarceration in St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital in Washington, DC, who would encourage Merwin to learn Occitan (the ancient language of southern France) in order to understand the great poets. Shortly thereafter, Merwin was on the boat for post-WW2 France.

Who was the first troubadour? Merwin posits that it was Guilhem IX, of Poitiers, who was one of the most powerful rulers in Europe. It was Guilhem’s second marriage, to Philippa, widow at 22, of the deceased King of Aragon, who brought with her the Arabic dancers of her court that provided the catalyst for the promotion and patronage of poetry, song, and all the associated pleasures. Alas, instead of staying at home, and enjoying life, Guilhem was influenced by Pope Urban II, who came to nearby Clermont, in the Auvergne, in 1101, beating the drums for “Holy War,” which resulted in the First Crusade. As wars so often do, Guilhem came back much the poorer. Guilhem’s granddaughter was Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose son was Richard the Lion-Hearted, and who was King of England, could barely speak English, and who led the Third Crusade, and was taken hostage on his way back home. Lots of historical threads that Merwin weaves into his account of his personal relationship with the area around Ventadorn.

When Guilhem was one of the most powerful rulers in Europe, Ventadorn was one of the most impressive and impregnable castles, located in Limousin, between Clermont-Ferrand and the Dordogne Valley. When Merwin arrived, it was one of the poorest areas of France, and he managed to buy an uninhabited farm house for $800. The surrounding “terrain” reminded him of his youth in Scranton, PA, of all places. The “Mays” in the title are hawthorns, and they are the herald of spring, blooming in the eponymous month. They are also the symbol for love, before roses were imported into Europe, as that proverbial sap rises in the spring… and many people who had been in cold, dank castles all winter took some overdue baths.

Bernart, in the court at Ventadorn, is Merwin’s favorite troubadour. Eleanor, who played in “the big leagues,” appeared to be his patroness, and Merwin teases with: and perhaps a bit more. He provides an introductory account of the structure of the poems and songs, much derived from the Arabic spoken in Spain. If Bernart did win Eleanor’s heart, we’ll never know the winning “bon mots.” As for Merwin, he has plenty, and the following resonated, since I have seen it done so often: “Reading a guidebook and then glancing up to identify what the resume has been summarizing is likely to seem to me, quite soon, like an exercise in alienation.”

I was impressed with Merwin’s far-ranging erudition, and the smoothness by which he relates his personal experiences with the historical antecedents. Ah, then there is also that matter of the distance that was known by Bernart way back when. 5-stars, plus.

Scenic Driving New Mexico, 3rd
Scenic Driving New Mexico, 3rd
Price: $9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The next best way of seeing the Land of Enchantment…, June 17, 2016
…after hiking.

Laurence Parent is the author of numerous books on travel, including others in the “Scenic Driving” Falcon series, for example the one on neighboring Texas. The particular one on New Mexico is composed of 30 drives that covers much of our vast state. The formatting of the book is standardized with the works that cover other states. It commences with a good “Locator Map” that identifies where the 30 drives are within the state. Then there is a legend that covers the specific map symbols that the author uses in his individual pictorial maps for each drive. Finally, there is a workable introduction to the state, and its many “enchantments.”

The description of each of the individual drives is formatted as follow: a General description, Special attractions, Location, Drive Route Numbers, the Travel season, Camping available, Services, Nearby attractions, and contact information for more information. My particular copy is the 1996 edition, which I purchased shortly after moving here in 2003. Certainly today much more “contact information” will now be available via the Internet. The drive itself is described in 2-4 pages of narrative. I found the pictorial maps to be well-done, and a particular strength of the book. The guide also includes a number of reasonable color and a larger number of black-white pictures.

Over the last 13 years of residency in New Mexico, I have driven approximately three-fourths of the recommended routes. I can attest to the accuracy of Parent’s description. I can also confirm that the principle route into Chaco Canyon is STILL a poorly-maintained (no doubt by design) washboard road. My favorite route is #19 in the book, the road across the Plains of San Agustin, pass the Very Large Array (VLA) from Magdalena to Apache Creek (and Reserve).

Alas, one-third of the state is missing from Parent’s account: the eastern third, the High Plains / Llano Estacado. True, a lot of people simply rush across this largely barren, windswept area, as apparently the author did. But I’d strongly recommend at least one drive in New Mexico’s “Empty Quarter” for its austere beauty. It’s easy to pick a route, and enjoy the contrast if one goes over through Cloudcroft. Overall, 4-stars.

Air Purifier P400 with Hepa & Activated Carbon Filter
Air Purifier P400 with Hepa & Activated Carbon Filter
Price: $299.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stylish, quiet, and effective…, June 14, 2016
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I’m with the vast majority of other reviewers on this excellent product. First, it is simply stylish, and blends into a room unobtrusively. As with all Vine products, a review must be posted within 30 days of receipt, so, of necessity, the product “set-up” is unduly weighted in the review. The set-up in this case is not much more than taking it out of the box, and installing the filter. Then turn it on. There are four different speed setting, available at the touch of a button. Even on the highest setting, the unit is extremely quiet.

How effective is it? Fortunately I do not have allergies, but I do live in a desert-like climate, and thus the dust in the air is higher than “back East.” And it does seem to have reduced the amount of dust in the bedroom where it is located, both in the breathable sense, and literally what is on the furniture.

Will the filter last a year? That is the estimate of the manufacturer, but is the estimate valid for a dusty climate? Time will tell. And I will tell, in this review, when the “replace filter” light goes on. The purifier is not available to the general public yet (the release date is June 27) so there is no link to replacement filters at the Amazon website. I note from one other review that a replacement filter costs $60, which, to me, is acceptable, if it lasts a year.

I buy specially filtered drinking water from a nearby distributor, and it only makes sense to also filter the air that I breathe, in the place I breathe it the most.

Overall, unless I find some deficiency, I give products 5-stars. This is an excellent product… so far, and until that changes, it gets the 5-star rating.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.97
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three opportunities to make the earth move…, June 13, 2016
I recently re-read The Old Man and the Sea, and that proved to be the catalyst to re-read his masterpiece, which was the prime reason he won the Nobel Prize in 1954. He was a “man of action” who was “also” a writer. He actively sought, and eventually found the limelight, cultivating mentors like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. I first read this work in 1968, when I was obtaining some personal lessons in partisan warfare, which included the blowing up of bridges… but on the receiving end. I knew almost nothing about the Spanish Civil War, but recall a governmental form that I had to sign, indicating I was not a member of a whole bunch of possibly subversive organizations, including the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, whose last known member, Delmer Berg, died last month, at the age of 100.

Hemingway’s novel takes place over four days, in late May, 1937, in central Spain, in the mountains near Segovia, where it can still snow, and does. The Republican forces are attempting an offensive against the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. Robert Jordan, an American, is a Spanish professor from the University of Montana, with a long-term interest in Spain, nurtured by extensive travel there. In summer jobs in construction and mining, he learned the art of dynamiting. As other Americans did, with dollops of idealism, Jordan volunteered to fight for the Republicans. The commanding general for this particular offensive, Golz, has ordered Jordan to go behind fascist lines, link with a group of partisans, and blow up a bridge in order to prevent reinforcements from joining the attacked fascist forces.

I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of the novel, and the manner in which Hemingway reveals information. For example, the paragraph immediately above is pieced together from information gradually revealed in the course of the narrative. Hemingway had gained penetrating insights into a range of people. There is excellent character development, often via the technique of flashbacks. Anselmo is 68, tough, who Jordan knows can still outwalk him in the mountains. Pablo and his wife, Pilar, are two of the most complex characters. The official diagnosis of PTSD did not exist during the Spanish Civil War, yet Pablo clearly had it. In one of the most searing portions of the novel, via a flashback, Hemingway describes when Pablo was fearless and ruthless. He led his forces in seizing a village under fascist control, executes the civil guard who have surrendered, and then forces “the fascist” members of the village to run a gauntlet, where they are flayed. It further degenerates into a drunken orgy of killing. And then Pablo says: if you think that was bad, you should have seen what happened when the fascists seized the village back three days thereafter. Pablo says: “If you have not seen the day of revolution in a small town where all know all in the town and always have known all, you have seen nothing.” It immediately brought to mind Salvador Dali’s “Soft Construction in Boiled Beans: Premonitions of the Spanish Civil War.”

The unique character of Spain appears in the bullfight, the men who prove their manhood thusly, and the women who love them. Pablo was once a bullfighter, and Pilar loved the ritual, and cared for his wounds, all related via flashbacks. Hemingway also relates how the pre-Christian religion and rituals still impacted the fighting during the civil war. Small unit tactics and the hardware of war, coupled with the terrain, is depicted with care and accuracy. Who enjoys the killing, and who does it “as a job”? This was one of the questions raised in the movie Hearts and Minds (The Criterion Collection) about a latter war, and is a recurring them in this novel. The military leadership? Hemingway has Jordan say: There are no Grants, Shermans or Stonewall Jacksons, only McClellans. And the civilian leadership? Jordan has a brief interlude away from the war at the Gaylord Hotel in Madrid where the leadership congregated. He notes the cowards have fled to Valencia, and in Barcelona there are only political clowns acting out revolution. “He believed in the Republic as a form of government but the Republic would have to get rid of all of that bunch of horse thieves that brought it to the pass it was in when the rebellion started. Was there ever a people whose leaders were as truly their enemies as this one?”

Love, life, commitment. It is there too, in Jordan’s relationship with Maria, whose parents had been executed by the fascists, and she had her head shaved and was repeatedly raped. With death all around them, there love-making is intense, and it is Pilar who notes that it is an old gypsy belief that one has three opportunities in life to have love-making that is so intense that it can move the earth. Maria and Jordan have had that, and Pilar, now older and ugly, claims to have had it twice in her life. Is moving the earth in our past, or still to come, as it were?

There is much, much more, including the dramatic tension involved in Jordan sending a message to Golz about the upcoming offensive. Will it get there in time? Alas, how many interfere with the delivery of critical intelligence to the decision makers? And there is Jordan’s relationship with his grandfather, who fought in the American Civil War, and taught him about life, as well as his own father, who committed suicide, a cowardly act the author claims – and one must reflect on Hemingway’s own suicide a few years thereafter.

Overall, a beautifully written complex novel that incisively looks at war, and the range of human behavior surrounding it, as well as love, and its intense moments. 5-stars, plus.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2016 7:58 PM PDT

The Two Cultures (Canto Classics)
The Two Cultures (Canto Classics)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sixties semi-classic…, June 10, 2016
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…that I missed the first time around, and have finally read. Admittedly, in the 60’s, I felt there was only one culture, the scientific one, which was reflected in my environment as a student at what was somewhat pejoratively, and perhaps all too accurately called “the North Ave. Trade School.” Our English department was definitely of “step-child” status, and courses in English and the social science area were only required for the first two years. Realistically, if I had read this book back then, I would have missed much of its significance.

C. P. Snow was a British scientist and novelist. His life straddled “the two cultures,” the scientific and the “classical” one, and thus he was in an ideal position to expound on the subject, which he did in 1959, in the “Rede Lecture” series. This series of lectures dates back to the 16th century, named after a British Chief Justice, and is given at Cambridge. They still exist, though they seem to be held on a more intermediate basis in the 21st century. The current Kindle edition is composed of 10 introductory essays, which is almost half of the work. The other half is Snow’s actual Rede lecture presented in 1959, and then a “second look” by Snow at the original lecture, which he presented four years later. The latter lecture addressed the impact and response to the original.

Naturally the 10 introductory essays are of variable quality. For me though, they provided much background on Snow himself, as well as the issues of the day which his central thesis addressed. And that that thesis is, per the introduction: “The ‘two cultures’ he identified were those of ‘the literary intellectuals’ (as he called them) and of the natural scientists, between whom he claimed to find a profound mutual suspicion and incomprehension, which in turn had damaging consequences for the prospects of applying technology to the alleviation of the world’s problems.” Further, a perceptive comment where his thoughts are today: “Snow and his ideas are beginning to encounter a fate which is common among episodes of recent intellectual history: they fall into a murky limbo, no longer accurately recalled as part of living contemporary culture but not yet beginning to benefit from patient historical reconstruction.”

I found the original lecture witty (helps to kept those in the back row awake), incisive, and blunt. Consider: “Most of our fellow human beings, for instance, are underfed and die before their time. In the crudest terms, that is the social condition. There is a moral trap which comes through the insight into man’s loneliness: it tempts one to sit back, complacent in one’s unique tragedy, and let the others go without a meal.” Describing the atmosphere at the “Trade School” succinctly, Snow says: “We hadn’t quite expected that the links with the traditional culture should be so tenuous, nothing more than a formal touch of the cap.” On the other hand, Snow found that none of the members of the “literary culture” had any idea what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, which he considers to be the equivalent of a scientist never having read Shakespeare.

Snow proclaims that all too many intellectuals are Luddites. Only second after the agricultural revolution (the first one, when it was established) is the industrial-scientific one that started, initially in England, in the 19th century, in terms of changing the way we live. Yet, as he notes, “…almost none of the imaginative energy went back into the revolution which was producing the wealth.” He cites Ibsen as the only writer who truly understood the industrial revolution. The fundamental issue facing mankind, then, and even more so, now, as Snow formulates it: “for the sake of the poor who needn’t be poor if there is intelligence in the world.”

I found his “second look” equally informative. It included a devastating critique of the social outlook of the “supreme reactionary,” Dostoevsky, who he says is one of the greatest writers ever. Well, I’m glad I waited until now, when I have a better understanding of the issues, and the experience to appreciate Snow’s insights, and also have two feet which attempt to straddle these cultures. Finally, love the cover to the Kindle edition. 5-stars.

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of The Marquis de Sade (or Marat Sade)
The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of The Marquis de Sade (or Marat Sade)
by Otto Georges Weiss
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.62
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kelly’s Seed and Feed Theater…, June 8, 2016
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Way back in the ‘70’s, there was one avant-garde theater in Atlanta, located, fittingly enough, in an old warehouse in the downtown area, with the subject name. For me, seeing every play produced there was de rigueur, and that is where I first saw this memorable play. I decided to read it this time. In part, and no doubt the current Presidential campaign is serving as a catalyst, it raises that frequent quip: Are the only sane ones inside the asylum? I found that so many of the lines still reverberated across the decades.

The play (which has also been made into a movie) is based on the true events that occurred in France in 1793, during the period of the French revolution. As the full title indicates, the play depicts the assassination of one of the leaders and firebrands of the revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, by Charlotte Corday, who was of the Girondist faction within the revolution, and had come from Caen, in Normandy, to do the deed. She acted alone. She knifed him in his bath, where he had to sit for hours due to a debilitating skin condition. She was guillotined four days later.

Peter Weiss, the plays author, has the above events portrayed – brilliantly in my opinion – by actors playing the part of the inmates of the insane asylum at Charenton, which used to exist, outside of Paris. In the play, the reenactment of the assassination is directed by the Marquis de Sade (yes, the one whose name now denotes painful sexual acts), who, in real life, spent 13 years incarcerated in Charenton. The play is set in 1808, and nominally at least, the events are well-settled “ancient history,” but many of the lines in the play were relevant to the political and social conditions of 1808 … as well as 2016.

Weiss skillfully uses three different “overall views” of the action, which are woven together, presenting contradictory points of view with delicious irony. There is a “Herald,” who omniscience of the action fulfills the same role as the ancient Greek chorus. One of the Herald’s quips, appropriate today as it was in 1808: “Work for and trust the powerful few, what’s best for them is best for you.” “Coulmier” is the asylum’s director, a “liberal” barely 5% to the left of center. He states that the play will be good therapy for the inmates… but, of course, they are not allowed to say anything too radical, and he is repeatedly rebuking de Sade for including portions that “they had agreed to cut.” One rebuke: “That’s enough. We’re living in eighteen hundred and eight and the names which were dragged through the gutter then have been deservedly rehabilitated by the command of the Emperor.” And there is the overview of de Sade himself as he tries to direct the action.

Marat and de Sade are foils for presenting different points of view on the French revolution (as well as critiquing today’s society). One of Marat’s laments: “We invented the Revolution but we don’t know how to run it. Look, everyone wants to keep something from the past… a souvenir of the old regime… this man decides to keep a painting… this one couldn’t part with his shipyard… this one kept his army, and that one keeps his king, and so we stand here and write into the declaration of the rights of man the holy right of property… we stand here more oppressed than when we began and they think that the revolution’s been won.” Or later, “And you still long to ape them those powered chimpanzees Necker Lafayette Talleyrand.”

The music is great too, with witty verses. The classic that has reverberated across the decades: “And what’s the point of a revolution without general copulation copulation copulation.” Yes, ‘Make love, not war’ repackaged. A sentiment for our age too. 5-stars, plus.

Troubled Mission: Fighting for Love, Spirituality and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru
Troubled Mission: Fighting for Love, Spirituality and Human Rights in Violence-Ridden Peru
Price: $9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another bridge…, June 6, 2016
It has been a while since I read my last book on Peru… perhaps the ONLY book I have read that was set in that country: Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. And Wilder’s account involved events on one day in the early 18th century. So, when I was offered this book to review, I decided it was long past time to update my knowledge. The book commences on January 01, 1991. John Wagner, the author, is a divorced, middle-aged, non-practicing Catholic who decides to walk away from a law partnership, inspired by the spirituality of the mountains in Nepal. The cliché, “a middle age crisis,” was thrown up at him during one interview. Such is the pejorative expression for undertaking an honest self-assessment in one’s 30’s: Do I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life? I understood the issue well, having decided to change course in my own 30’s, and likewise sought a “foreign adventure.” Wagner, a bit concerned about his very lapsed Catholic status, nonetheless links up with a Catholic lay order, St. Joseph’s and goes to Peru. His book has provided an excellent “bridge” to much more recent life in Peru.

It is an old “siren’s song”: YOU can make a difference. I’ve also been there. And how difficult it can be, particularly when it involves an organization, which invariably means bumping egos. Wagner goes through an orientation with St. Joe’s in Boston, where he meets others who are also motivated to personally improve poverty in developing countries. He then goes to La Paz, Bolivia, for language training, and it was sufficient for him to become conversant in Spanish. Then off to Lima, where he is confronted with his most significant challenge: finding a job! At some level, there should be jobs aplenty, with work that is intrinsically self-evident, and even overwhelming. Alas, though, see the “bumping egos” above, and the in-fighting among NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) for “turf.” His legal analytically skills are desperately needed, yet they are mainly wasted. He eventually choses to work in a mountainous region, and has an appallingly dysfunctional boss.

Time and time again I found myself in complete agreement with his sentiments and analysis. On the social level, there were the “NGO crowd” who would noisily party at the local’s expense. He’d be embarrassed about their behavior, but felt he could not be seen as holding back, as “aloof.” On the macro level, the country is experiencing the “shock therapy” of Milton Friedman’s “neo-liberal economic policies” that was described well, but not in relationship to Peru, by Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Prices of some basic household necessities had risen 2,500%! It was the newly elected President, with the Japanese name, Fujimori, who imposed what would be called “Fujishock” after promising NOT to during his election campaign.

The country is dangerous. Sendero Luminoso, known as “Shining Path,” in English, is conducting a brutal terrorist campaign, of nihilistic proportions, which includes blowing up elementary schools (like the Khmer Rouge, the Algerian GIA, et al., mindless destruction because “the worst things are the better…”) Fujimori is operating an equally brutal counterterrorism campaign, and a lot of innocent people are in the middle, including NGO workers. He seizes complete power, and bizarrely, even jails his wife.

And there is also some romance with a local woman that, due to church policies, Walker needs to keep hidden. Strangely, although St. Joseph’s will recruit married couples, if a marriage occurs during a single’s tour, then they are immediately sent home!

Overall, I was impressed with his incisive analysis and attitude towards the political situation in Peru, the work (or not) of the NGO’s “trying to make a difference,” as well as his personal role (and reservations) about his own work (or not!) I might have made some different decisions, like “pulling the plug” on a situation that was both dangerous and seemingly futile, long before Wagner did. But he was counseled to be “patient,” and indeed he was. Overall, 5-stars for his insightful experience.

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