Friday, August 31, 2007

Depressed in Paris

Dans Paris

Consider a depressed young Parisian and then add a younger brother and quizzical father and you have the makings of this enigmatic film. Directed and written by Christopher Honore and starring Romain Duris (who I loved in The Beat that My Heart Skipped - a much better film), this film is a mixed bag with avant garde moments and some serious philosophical discussions. The film begins with Jonathan, the younger brother, played naturally by Louis Garrell, narrating an introduction directly to the camera. After this bit of pretentious nonsense we get a story of sorts basically introducing us to the characters through events in their lives and some interesting dialogue, particularly in the latter part of the film. Paul, the older brother, is seriously self-destructive and his attempts to analyze himself through meditation and dialogue at least get him through to the end of the film. If your film tastes run to the slightly bizarre this may be the right film for you.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Village Blacksmith

If you want to learn about the ethos of early 19th century America and the foundations that made this country great you need to look no further than this classic poem from the pen of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In it the smith is a strong, honest and "brawny" -- one who "owes not any man." The poem praises the work ethic and shares the sight of young children mesmerized by the power of the "flaming forge". The smith relies on love of his work and children for he is a widower; but in spite of the tear in his eyes he rejoices in each days' work, as we see in the penultimate stanza:

Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.

Concluding with the vision that our fortunes are made by ourselves with "each burning deed and thought." This inspiring lyric is indeed a strong foundation for each individual American and the nation that they built.

The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pied Beauty

What sound, what glorious music is present in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Pied Beauty is my favorite although others share in this result of his extravagant imagination. The lines defy analytical description, we hear first:

Landscaped platted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plow;

and later:

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

The beauty of all things soars in his poetry. I relish the sound of beauty, music of the spheres.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Park, Storm and Trees

An early morning run often brings some interesting sights, but none more fascinating than those I encountered this morning. The remnants of the storm from last Thursday were strewn everywhere. Most notably tall trees were ripped from the earth with their roots exposed and some were torn in two with jagged trunks exposed as the tree tops fell to earth. The park crews had cleaned the path so its normal curve did not require any new swerves from me, but I marvelled at the power of nature and the change that ensues leaving the landmarks I had grown used to gone forever.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A High Wind in Jamaica

Richard Hughes has crafted a unique tale of children at sea in the Caribbean. His novel is well written, bringing just the essential details of the world of the Bas-Thornton children to our attention. He also portrays a psychology of children that is precursor to that of Golding's Lord of the Flies. Hughes more carefully introduces the character of the children (especially Emily) slowly building suspense. The pirates do not have a chance. Their voyage is a violent voyage from innocence to experience, yet, as the novel accurately portrays them, they will probably gradually forget most of what has happened. This can be seen as an allegory on the level of those by Melville and others who have gone before.

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, New York: Harper & Row, 1929.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Against the Dead Hand

This is the book to read about globalization to understand its role and and relationship with economic progress. Brink Lindsey from the Cato Institute has written a thoughtful history of the demise of the central-planning mentality even while its' "dead hand" still exerts significant pressure on much of the world's economy. Both thorough in its historical detail and incisive in its analysis this book challenges those who claim that globalization is inevitable. The continuing specter of central planning as represented by the "dead hand" of the "counter-industrial revolution will only be vanquished with continued expansion of free trade and free enterprise wherever it is currently in abeyance.

Against the Dead Hand by Brink Lindsey, John Wiley & Sons, New York. 2002.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

August: Osage County

The pen of Tracy Letts has given us an epic drama in this fine play. As performed at Steppenwolf Theater tonight it was a marvelous vehicle for some very good if not great actors. I especially enjoyed seeing Deanna Dunagan as the matriarch, Violet Weston, give a superb performance. There were others of course, notably Dennis Letts and Amy Morton as her husband and eldest daughter. The program notes were very helpful including a family tree to map the various relationships presented over the evening. This is a long play of three acts, but like all good long plays it got better as the evening went on. The suspense built to the very end when all that we heard was a final murmuring reference to T. S. Eliot, echoing the opening moments of the play.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The World is Flat

This is a stimulating look at the changes in the competitive world of business enterprise at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Thomas Friedman has filled his book with examples of the changes taking place, in particular those special ones that are "flattening" our world, i.e. bringing us closer together in time and space. When I was working in systems support at a large bank I would tell my team that we were working to reduce the time and space needed for the operations that our systems supported. Friedman is telling us this on a global scale with this book. His style is easy to read and he has a compelling narrative with fascinating examples. However the more of the book that I read, the more I have the feeling that he is focused primarily on the superficial, the symptoms of change, without really examining the true basis for these events.

Change in business is not new and the main features of the changes noted by Friedman that are different than previous eras are 1) the speed with which the changes are taking place, and 2) the medium, primarily information technology. The book seems to be more a catalog of these events which the author neglects some fundamental ideas and does not clearly provide serious overall conclusions. One example of a fundamental element that is neglected is the importance of the consumer in motivating and validating the changes. All the new technology in the world will not survive if it is not used. The supply chain revolution of Wal-Mart is driven ultimately by consumers who have chosen to shop at these stores.

A consumer glancing at the cover of this book would see the subtitle "a brief history of the twenty-first century". Hopefully he would explore a little further before purchasing the book because it is neither brief nor "history". Interesting as it may be it is merely an extended foray into business journalism that provides some information about our current world, but leaves a bit more to be desired.

The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, 2006.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Treatment

This movie, based on the book of the same name by Daniel Menaker, is a unique comedy of love mixed with Freudian (?) analysis. In some ways Ian Holm, as the analyst, steals the show with his wonderful performance. But he is almost matched by a great turn by the lead , Chris Eigeman as Jake Singer, a teacher who is conflicted by just about everything in his life. The relationships he has with his former girlfriend (Stephanie March), new love interest (Famke Jansen) and his father (Harris Yulin) are all well-portrayed. I found Harris Yulin's performance was particularly subtle. While I read the original book several years ago, I do not remember enjoying it nearly so much as I enjoyed this movie.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Becoming Jane

A delightful, albeit unbelievable, imagining of the youthful affair between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, a young Irish barrister-to-be. The film had luscious settings with cinematography reminiscent of similar literary tales. The acting was also excellent, especially Julie Walters and James Cromwell as Jane's parents, however small their role. I enjoyed the youthful passion displayed by James McAvoy as Tom (similar to his outing in Starter for Ten which I also enjoyed). All in all a pleasant way to spend two hours, then return home and pick up a good book, perhaps something by Jane Austen.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

John Brown

I am trying to catch up on comments for books I have read in the recent past. Last year I read an enlightening biography of John Brown by David S. Reynolds. His book, John Brown, Abolitionist (subtitled: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights), impressed me in several ways. Reynolds thoroughly explored the connection between the leading Transcendentalists of New England and John Brown. He analyzes in-depth the violence on both sides in Kansas and provides a basis for attempting to understand the complexity of this man. He also provided an informative cultural background highlighting the activities in areas where Brown lived and raised his family. Well-written, the book was a good read and rival to the excellent biography of John Brown by Stephen Oates.

John Brown, Abolitionist by David S. Reynolds. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.