Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Greetings


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pu'd the gowans fine.
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld lang syne.

Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne,
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld ang syne.

We twa hae sported i' the burn,
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne.
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

And ther's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The best for all of you the coming year.

Some great films viewed in 2010

This is not a list of the best films of 2010. In fact, many appeared long ago, and one is even a silent film. This is simply a list of the most enjoyable or interesting or intriguing films that I watched during 2010, some of which I have posted comments about during the year.

They are in alphabetical order. To rank them would be a waste of time as tomorrow my ranking would be different. And, if I made up the list tomorrow, it probably would be different in some respects.

A Walk in the Sun

Blade Runner: Theatrical Cut

District 9

Fantasia (Original)

Fata Morgana

Glass: A Portrait of Philip Glass in Twelve Parts

Ken Burns: Jazz

Jesse Stone: No Remorse and Thin Ice

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Yukio Mishima)

Natural City

The Book of Eli

The Haunting

The Man from Earth

Youth without Youth

Let me know if you have watched any of these and what you thought of them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Something to think about

The native vision, the gift of seeing truly,
with wonder and delight into the natural world,
is informed by a certain attitude of reverence and
respect. It is a matter of extrasensory as well as
sensory perception. In addition to the eye, it
involves the intelligence, the instinct, and the
imagination. It is the perception not only of
objects and forms but also of essences and ideals.

N. Scott Momaday

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Great Reads from 2010

It seems to be traditional that summing up the year takes place now. So, here's a list of what I thought were memorable reads for 2010. This is not a list of the best books or whatever--just a list of books that I most fondly remember reading, some of which I have posted comments about during the year. They're in alphabetical order by author, so there's no attempt to rank them. The chances are that the ranking would be different tomorrow, and possibly even the list might be slightly different.

Greg Benford: The Furious Gulf and the rest of the "Galactic Center Series"

Walter van Tilburg Clark: The Ox-Bow Incident

Ivy Compton-Burnett: The House and Its Head

Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

Loren Eiseley: Another Kind of Autumn (poetry) & The Immense Journey

Michael Gregorio: Critique of Criminal Reason & Days of Atonement

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House

Bernard Knight: The Tinner's Corpse

Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness

N. Scott Momaday: The Way to Rainy Mountain

Eliot Pattison: Prayer of the Dragon

Albert Sanchez Pinol: Cold Skin

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

Kim Stanley Robinson: Vinland the Dream

Michael Shea: Nifft the Lean

Charles Todd: The Red Door

Jessie L. Weston: Quest of the Holy Grail & From Ritual to Romance

If you decide to read some of these, please let me know what you think of them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice: 2010

Night People Rejoice: this is your time!
Day People Rejoice: your time is coming, beginning tomorrow!

This is the shortest day of the year, or from a different perspective, it will be tonight, the longest night of the year. It is also the first day of winter, or so say the powers-that-be, at least for this part of the planet. Other parts, other powers-that-be, other rulings.

Buddha on the hill . . .
From your holy nose indeed
Hangs an icicle
-- Issa --
From The Little Treasury of Haiku
Nobody has ever accused Issa of being overly reverent.

Going snow-viewing
One by one the walkers vanish . . .
Whitely falling veils
-- Katsuri --
From LTH

Snow in the Suburbs

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute;
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again,
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
-- Thomas Hardy --

Wind and Window Flower

Lovers, forget your love,
And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
And he a winter breeze.

When the frosty window veil
Was melted down at noon,
And the caged yellow bird
Hung over her in tune,

He marked her through the pane,
He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by
To come again at dark.

He was a winter wind,
Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
And little of love could know.

But he sighed upon the sill,
He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
Who lay that night awake.

Perchance he half prevailed
To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking-glass
And warm stove-window light.

But the flower leaned aside
And thought of naught to say
And morning found the breeze
A hundred miles away.
-- Robert Frost --

No. 1316

Winter is good -- his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield --
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World --

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty -- as a Rose --
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.
-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

In the wintry moon
Gales raging down the river
Hone the rock-edges
-- Chora --
From LTH

My very bone-ends
Made contact with the icy quilts
Of deep December
-- Buson --
From LTH

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rubiayat: Quatrain XXXV

Quatrain XXXV is a difficult one for me. I don't know quite what to make of it. He seems to be suggesting that the Vessel, the earthen bowl of the previous quatrain, was once alive, and perhaps human. It does relate back to Quatrain XXXIV, and the theme of the earthen or clay pot or cup or bowl is carried forward to Quatrains XXXVI and XXXVII.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXV

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXIX

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and that impassive Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXVI

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and Ah! the passive Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

As you can see, the only changes that occur are in the third line, for the first, second, and fourth are identical. "(M)erry-make" in the first edition now becomes the more prosaic "drink" in the second and fifth editions. The Lip in the first edition is cold, and then becomes impassive in the second, and then passive in the fifth. The "Ah!" in the fifth edition seems to be added solely to keep the number of syllables at ten.

It's an interesting progression that Lip undergoes: from cold to impassive to passive. A "cold" kiss suggests perhaps death or lack of feeling. It strikes me as being unfavorable, but at least there's a hint of a response. An "impassive" kiss clearly indicates a lack of feeling or an unemotional response or possibly even one incapable of feeling, a physical action with no warmth behind it, while a "passive" kiss conveys the idea of receptivity but with neither a positive or a negative response here.

The "fugitive Articulation" posed a problem until I found that one meaning of fugitive is "difficult to comprehend or retain, elusive." This would relate back to the previous quatrain where it stated the Vessel "murmur'd," which suggests that it could have been hard to understand.

The Koran in at least four places states the Allah created man from dust or clay, which leads me to think that the earthen Vessel might have been human at one time--one that engaged in merry-making or at least drinking. I prefer the first version: merry-making seems more enjoyable or cheerful than just drinking.

The last line--"How many Kisses might it take -- and give!"-- is a problem, especially if one considers the changes that Lip has undergone. In the fifth edition, it's a passive lip, which suggests that it might take many kisses, but it doesn't give any. Perhaps it's a movement from the poetic to the realistic in that one can "kiss" a drinking vessel, but that vessel can't give any kisses in return.

As I stated at the beginning, this quatrain is a puzzle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Loren Eiseley--the immense journey

Loren Eiseley's The Immense Journey contains a number of essays, the first of which, "The Slit," ends with a brief statement that includes an explanation of what he has attempted to do in this book and of what the reader should expect. It also includes hints of what he believes, something of his personal philosophy.

"Through how many dimensions and how many media will life have to pass? Down how many roads among the stars must man propel himself in search of the final secret? The journey is difficult, immense, at times impossible, yet that will not deter some of us from attempting it. We cannot know all that has happened in the past, or the reason for all of these events, any more than we can with surety discern what lies ahead. We have joined the caravan, you might say, at a certain point; we will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or learn all that we hunger to know.

The reader who would pursue such a journey with me is warned that the essays in this book have not been brought together as a guide but are offered rather as a somewhat unconventional record of the prowlings of one mind which has sought to explore, to understand, and to enjoy the miracles of this world, both in and out of science. It is, without doubt, an inconsistent record in many ways, compounded of fear and hope, for it has grown out of the seasonal jottings of a man preoccupied with time. It involves, I see now as I come to put it together, the four ancient elements of the Greeks: mud and the fire within it we call life, vast waters, and something -- space, air, the intangible substance of hope which at the least proves unanalyzable by science, yet out of which the human dream is made.

Forward and backward I have gone, and for me it has been an immense journey. Those who accompany me need not look for science in the usual sense, though I have done all in my power to avoid errors in fact. I have given the record of what one man thought as he pursued research and pressed his hands against the confining walls of scientific method in his time. It is not, I must confess at the outset, an account of discovery so much as a confession of ignorance and of the final illumination that sometimes comes to a man when he is no longer careful of his pride. In the last three chapters of the book I have tried to put down such miracles as can be evoked from common earth. But men see differently. I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there.

Finally, I do not pretend to have set down, in Baconian terms, a true, or even a consistent model of the universe. I can only say that here is a bit of my personal universe, the universe traversed in a long and uncompleted journey. If my record, like those of the sixteenth-century voyagers, is confused by strange beasts or monstrous thoughts or sights of abortive men, these are no more than my eyes saw or my mind conceived. On the world island we are all castaways, so that what is seen by one may often be dark or crosscurrent to an other."

Loren Eiseley
from The Immense Journey

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane Austen: Dec. 16, 1775--July 18, 1817

Jane Austen's propensity for making strong statements and then subtly taking them away or quietly qualifying them is one characteristic that I really enjoy in her writing. Take, for example, the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, probably one of the most famous openings in English literature.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

That's strong clear statement--universally acknowledged--something that everybody agrees with. Austen doesn't equivocate here. And the truth that's universally acknowledged--he must be in want of a wife. There's no question here either--he must be. There's no doubt here.

Then comes the second paragraph:

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rughtful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This universal truth doesn't seem to be that universal since the feelings of such a man are really little known. So, this universal truth seems to be limited to the families in the neighbourhood.
However, the following conversation between Mr. and Mrs Bennet suggests that perhaps this truth isn't universally acknowledged by all members of the families.

Mrs. Bennet says, response to a question from Mr. Bennet, "Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune, four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? how can it affect them?"

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes."

While Mr. Bennet is obviously teasing his wife, it also seems clear that he doesn't share in the universality of Mrs. Bennet's truth. Perhaps, after reading the opening paragraphs, one might say that this universally acknowledged truth resides mostly in the mothers of the unmarried young ladies in the neighbourhood, while the fathers play along solely to get some peace in the house, especially with a wife such as Mrs. Bennet. The fathers, no doubt, also consider the financial outlay associated with wedding ceremonies and tell themselves that after the wedding, the husbands will now be responsible for future expenses as they live happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Something to think about

No. 10
Fortune and Fame: the one as fleeting as the other is lasting. The first for this life, the second for the next: the one against envy, the other against oblivion: good fortune is desired and may perhaps be wheedled, but fame must be won; the wish for fame is born of quality; Fama was and is the sister of the giants and she follows only the extraordinary, either the prodigies, or the monsters, that men acclaim, or hate.

Baltasar Gracian
The Art of Worldly Wisdom
trans. by Martin Fischer

Is this true? Is Fortune fleeting and Fame lasting? Given a choice I wonder how many would chose fortune over fame or fame over fortune. I know which my creditors would choose for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: "Differences," a poem

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: 1872--1906


My neighbor lives on the hill,
And I in the valley dwell,
My neighbor must look down upon me,
Must I look up?--ah, well,
My neighbor lives on the hill,
And I in the valley dwell.

My neighbor reads, and prays,
And I -- I laugh, God wot,
And sing like a bird when the grass is green
In my small garden plot;
But ah, he reads and prays,
And I -- I laugh, God wot.

His face is a book of woe,
And mine is a song of glee;
A slave he is to the great "They say,"
But I -- I am bold and free;
No wonder he smacks of woe,
And I have the tang of glee.

My neighbor thinks me a fool,
"The same to yourself," says I;
"Why take your books and take your prayers,
Give me the open sky;"
My neighbor thinks me a fool,
"The same to yourself," says I.

-- Paul Lawrence Dunbar --

If I must be a fool, then I know which type of fool I'd rather be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson: Dec. 10, 1830--May 15, 1886

I find Emily Dickinson's poetry to be fascinating, illusive, and allusive. Some of her poems just confuse and bewilder me while others are crystal clear, or so I believe. Some are very short and remind me of haiku, a favorite type of poetry of mine. Perhaps this is one reason I enjoy her poetry.

New feet within my garden go --
New fingers stir the sod --
A Troubadour upon the Elm
Betrays the solitude

New children play upon the green --
New Weary sleep below --
And still the pensive Spring returns --
And still the punctual snow!
-- ED --

Amidst all the changes, some good and some sad, the seasons still return. Shushiki's haiku suggests a similar view:

Dead my fine old hopes
And dry my dreaming but still . . .
Iris, blue each spring
-- Shushiki --
Little Treasury of Haiku

Or perhaps the power of some objects to bring faraway places to mind, even perhaps those one has visited only in one's imagination:

Many cross the Rhine
In this cup of mine.
Sip old Frankfort air
From my brown Cigar.
-- ED --

Perhaps something can only truly be appreciated after it's lost:

Water, is taught by thirst.
Land -- by the Oceans passed.
Transport -- by throe --
Peace -- by its battles told --
Love, by Memorial Mold --
Birds, by the Snow.
-- ED --

Her bare, spare language perfectly reflects in this poem the experience of pain--there is nothing but pain alone--nothing fancy or flowery or fine:

Pain -- has a Element of Blank --
It cannot recollect
When it begun -- or if there were
A time when it was not --

It has no Future -- but itself --
Its Infinite contain
Its Past -- enlightened to perceive
New Periods -- of Pain.
-- ED --

Or perhaps one offhand, careless comment could have consequences far beyond that which the speaker intended:

A Man may make a Remark --
In itself -- a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature -- lain --

Let us deport -- with skill --
Let us discourse -- with care --
Powder exists in Charcoal --
Before it exists in Fire.
-- ED --

Sometimes I wonder if Emily Dickinson is a member of a that infinitesimally small group of true American mystics, for there appears to be an intense personal relationship between the narrator poet and the subject of her poetry, be it nature, another person, or the deity.

All of Dickinson's poems come from
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Combination Plate 17

Combination Plate 17

Some books and some films and some thoughts about them--

1. The Purple Plain, a film set in Burma during WWII

2. Michael Connelly: The Narrows, a thriller that brings together several of Connelly's characters from previous novels--Harry Bosch, Rachel Walling, The Poet

3. The Book of Eli, an SF film, post-holocaust

4. Anthony Trollope: Doctor Thorne

5. Eric Frank Russell: Wasp, an SF novel

6. Fantasia, the original Disney animated classic film

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and endings in some cases.


The Purple Plain (1954)

This is a WWII film set in Burma. Bill Forrester (Gregory Peck), a Canadian fighter pilot, risks his life and those of his crew when he takes unnecessary risks in combat. What appears to be driving him is the loss of his bride on their wedding night during a bombing raid on London. One of his fellow officers insists on telling Forrester that his problem is that he has nothing to live for back home, as he himself does--his wife and children. That's what keeps him going. It isn't clear if the obnoxious officer is aware of Forrester's personal tragedy. Forrester is forced by the unit's medical officer to socialize and eventually meets an attractive young Burmese woman at a party.

The obnoxious officer is transferred and Forrester is to fly him to his new station. During the flight, Forrester is forced to make a landing in rough terrain. Forrester and the obnoxious officer escape with minor bruises and scrapes, while the co-pilot suffers a broken leg.

The officer wishes to remain with the plane and wait for rescue. Forrester insists there won't be any search for them and their only hope for survival is to walk out, hoping to find a river and the inevitable village.

The rest of the film is predictable. The ironic twist is that the obnoxious officer who kept saying that he had something to live for is the one to give up in the end. The question is whether Forrester was able to go on even though he had nothing to live for, which would prove the other officer wrong, doubly wrong since the officer presumably did have something to live for and still gave up hope, or did the potential relationship with the Burmese woman give him that "something to live for.''

Overall Reaction: definitely not a large scale epic but a rather quiet film with more of an emphasis on a somewhat superficial focus on character rather than on action in combat.

What does the film have going for it? Gregory Peck! As expected, he gives a competent, convincing performance.


Michael Connelly
The Narrows
Mystery Type: Paid professional
Setting: West Coast, contemporary

This is sort of a sequel to Connelly's Blood Work, in which Terry McCaleb, an FBI profiler, tracks down the killer of the woman whose heart he had received as a transplant. It is set less than a year later. Disgraced FBI agent Rachel Walling, exiled to Rapid City, Iowa, gets an order to come to the Mohave Desert. The Poet, an ex-FBI profiler turned serial killer, is back. He's killed again and left a message: "Hello Rachel."

Harry Bosch, no longer with the LAPD, is contacted by McCaleb's widow. McCaleb died a short time after the events of Blood Work. She's not satisfied that his death was the result of an heart attack and wants Bosch to look into it.

Eventually the two supposedly separate investigations collide and conflict arises. Bosch and Walling find that they are on one side and the FBI on the other. The plot is a bit convoluted, as those who have read any of Connelly's other works can testify. As usual, things aren't what they seem to be, most of the time anyway. The fun is deciding which are what they seem to be and which aren't.

Connelly also has some fun with shifting levels of reality. In the novel, Blood Work, Terry McCaleb has a friend, Buddy Lockridge. During his investigation into McCaleb's death in the second novel, Bosch meets up with Lockridge. Lockridge is very unhappy and spends a considerable amount of time complaining about what happened to him in the film version. In Blood Work the film, Clint Eastwood plays the role of Terry McCaleb, and Buddy Lockridge suddenly becomes a villain who's only pretending to be McCaleb's friend in order to keep an eye on McCaleb's investigation. So, we have a fictional character complaining about his treatment in a real world film.

Overall Reaction: good, fast-paced complex thriller. Recommended.


The Book of Eli, a film

This is a post-holocaust film set some 30 years after the war. It has the same feel and some of the same elements as A Boy and His Dog (1975) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, along with numerous other films. A lone traveler encounters a small community set in a wasteland, in which the inhabitants struggle to survive, partially by cannibalizing the ruins of pre-war cities and towns. The Boss of the town maintains control with a group of thugs. If the town survives and prospers, a century or so in the future, the Boss's heirs will be the nobility and the thugs will be either a military or a police force. Bards will sing of the ruling prince's noble ancestors.

This film, though, is a bit different. One can call it a quest film for the Boss has a goal. Carnegie (Gary Oldman) believes it's his destiny to reunite all of the area under him and that he can do it quickly and almost painlessly if he has the Book. For in the Book are the ways to say things that will convince people to follow him.

Eli (Denzel Washington), the lone traveler, also has a quest. A Voice has told him he must take to the West Coast the Book that he will be shown. There he will find people who can make copies of the book and share its wisdom with others. In this way, people can begin to rebuild and avoid the mistakes of the past. The Voice promises him that he will be protected as long as he follows the Path (a touch of Taoism there?).

Carnegie learns of Eli's book and decides that's the one he's looking for. He gives Eli a choice-- give it up voluntarily or involuntarily. This provides the major conflict in the film.

As can be expected, the film is action-oriented as Eli, with sword and pistol, routinely disposes of groups of five or more attackers. While the message of the Book is peace, the film focuses mostly on the other path.

Overall Reaction: action film primarily. Washington makes Eli a different sort of post-holocaust hero. Eli is almost comes across as a simple soul or perhaps Holy Fool in that he says what he means and expects others to accept what he has to say. Washington does a decent job in the part but I kept wishing that Morgan Freeman had been cast for the part.


Anthony Trollope
Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is the third of the six novels in Trollope's Barsetshire series. I've read a number of his other works, and this one is a bit unusual. In most of Trollope's novels, there is a central problem: who is to get a particular position? who is the owner of the Eustace diamonds? how does one get elected to Parliament? what happens when a highly competent man is made prime minister but is no true politician? The main plots do not always end satisfactorily for those involved.

In addition to the main problem are one or more subplots, one of which invariably involves the young lovers. The course of true love does not run smoothly for Trollope's lovers, or at least not for the first 600 or 700 pages. Trollope manages to throw every obstacle he can think of in the path of the young lovers; feuding families, status or class differences, or as in this novel, financial concerns. Frank Gresham, the young heir, must "marry money," or the family estate will go bankrupt.

Regardless of the way the main plot turns out, Trollope always manages to bring the young lovers together in the last chapter or two. The only real question, therefore, is the way in which he manages to accomplish this.

The Greshams are deeply in debt to the Scatcherds. It's the classic contrast: the Greshams have status but no money, while the Scatcherds have money but no status. If Frank Gresham doesn't marry money soon, the Greshams will lose everything, for the Scatcherds are beginning to lose patience and are preparing to call in the loans.

The predictable happy ending for the young lovers is what makes this novel different, for if the young lovers do marry, then all will be well. Since Trollope's young lovers have always won out in the end, or at least they have in the ten or more novels I've read, then there is no question that Frank will "marry money" and in addition will wed his true love, Mary Thorne, the niece of Doctor Thorne. But, the main obstacle, aside from her somewhat suspect heritage, is that she is penniless. There is no way that marrying Mary will save the Gresham estate. Or, at least no way that anyone knows of, except for Doctor Thorne. Thus, the Gresham's are absolutely opposed to any marriage between Frank and Mary.

What Doctor Thorne knows and what nobody else knows is simply this. He knows the full story of Mary's parentage. Her mother, now living in Canada, is a Scatcherd. Old Scatcherd, about to die of alcoholism, has made his will and named his son, Young Scatcherd, his heir. If the son dies before he marries and has a child, the new heir will be the oldest child of Mary's mother, who is Mary. Young Scatcherd is also an alcoholic, but he lacks the physical stamina of his father. Doctor Thorne has warned him that he must change his ways or he will never reach his twenty-fifth year.

The characters are well-drawn and interesting. Frank's mother is the classic "mother from hell." One knows exactly what her reaction will be once she learns that Mary, whose possible marriage to Frank she was so violently opposed to, will not only inherit a sizable fortune, but also will be the Gresham family chief creditor.

Doctor Thorne is an extremely honest individual. Unfortunately, he also speaks his mind. He considers his fellow physicians to be quacks, and he says so. This makes him an outcast among the local medical fraternity. In fact, one of the main targets of Trollope's satirical pen in this novel is the medical profession.

Overall Reaction: although this lacks the drama of Trollope's other novels--the ending is known a short way into the story-- it still is an enjoyable read.


Eric Frank Russell

Although first published in 1957, Wasp is even more appropriate today than it was then. It is not because of any scientific advances but simply human psychology.

Earth is at war with the Sirian Combine. It's been going on a long time, and the Terrans decide it's time for a different tactic. Agent James Mowry lived at one time, before the war, on a Sirian Combine planet and speaks the language flawlessly. He is surgically altered to resemble the native population on Jaimec, after being trained "in the arts of espionage, subversion, and propaganda." They sent him there alone to work behind the lines and do what he could to disrupt the manufacturing and shipment of war materials, to tie down troops that should be on the front lines, and to increase or create as much disaffection and dissatisfaction among the civilian population as possible.

My copy has an introduction by Jack Chalker, an Sf novelist, that was written in 1986. Chalker writes: "Wasp has a certain timeliness that transcends the ordinary SF adventure. We can not believe that one man could have such an impact; yet watching, step by step, we see not purple aliens but our own culture being rattled in the just the fashion the Sirians are here. We know that it will work. Today, when one terrorist act can panic an entire country and when whole armies are tied up chasing down a few hundred guerrillas, Wasp holds even more urgent message for us, particularly as Russell gives a blueprint for how one man may confound a nation--but so rooted are his successes in human nature and modern culture, he provides no clue as to how to deal with it. And that, perhaps, is this book's disturbing, serious message.

This book is great fun, but its underlying principles are, alas, timeless."

Chalker wrote this in 1986, yet when I read "when one terrorist act can panic an entire country" how can I not think of 9/11 and what that has done to our freedoms?

Overall Reaction: One of Russell's best novels and certainly one that is the most prophetic of his many stories, unfortunately.


Fantasia, an animated film by Disney

I think Fantasia is the best film Disney has ever made. It is a sheer joy to watch and listen to. The film is a celebration of color and sound and motion. I don't think I've ever seen anything that can match it, even with today's far more sophisticated computer graphics. The program ranges from Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" (probably best known for its appearance in The Phantom of the Opera) which uses color and motion to illustrate the music to "Rites of Spring" in which the Disney animators provide the story of the evolution of the Earth and its life forms beginning with a single-celled animal and ending with the passing of the dinosaurs.

Probably the most famous part is the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" featuring Mickey Mouse who casts a spell on a broom and forgets how to stop it. My favorite though is Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (probably because of the music), which is set on Olympus and features flying horses, cupids, fauns, centaurs, various gods, Bacchus, and satyrs and a storm. And, who can forget those silly hippos, and knock-kneed ostriches, and slithery crocs (or gators?) in "The Nutcracker Suite."

Overall Reaction: now that it's been remastered and available, I'll be scheduling it for viewing at least once a year.

The Malevolent Willows--once again, but briefly

Yesterday, I discovered the following haiku, by Basho of course. It has a Buddhist flavoring, but why the willow?

Yield to the willow
All the loathing, all the desire
Of your heart.
-- Basho --

Does this fit in with my original post on The Malevolent Willows?

the haiku is from Silent Flowers
trans. Nanae Ito

Friday, December 3, 2010

Joseph Conrad: December 3, 1857--August 3,1924

Joseph Conrad is a remarkable writer; his short stories and novels range from tales of the sea, to tales of spies and espionage, to a massive novel about South American politics. And always, the focus is on character--who are the people in these stories and what are they like? How does their character almost drive them into these situations and what do these situations bring out about them--the best in them? or the worst in them? or sometimes both?

excerpts from the first chapter of Heart of Darkness:

"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.

. . . . .

Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns--and even convictions. The Lawyer--the best of old fellows--had, because of his many years and many virtue, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol.

. . . . .

The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.

. . . . .

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway--a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.

'And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth.'

He was the only one of us who still 'followed the sea.' The worst that could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them--the ship, and so is their country--the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine."

. . . . .

'I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago--the other day . . . Light came out of this river since--you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine--what d'ye call 'em--trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north . . . the very end of the earth . . . and going up this river with stores, or orders or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages--precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, . . . cold, fog , tempests, disease, exile , and death --death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. . .' "

Conrad's point is that the reactions of the Romans nineteen hundred years ago when they first came to England parallel those of the English and Europeans who now go to Africa. It's the perfect prologue to his tale of his river journey into the heart of darkness, at the center of which was a cultured and civilized European.