Friday, February 29, 2008

Are You Watching Closely?

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called 'The Pledge'. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called 'The Turn'. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call 'The Prestige'." ~ Michael Caine, The Prestige

There were two really great films about magic and magicians in late 2006. This one, The Prestige, and The Illusionist. I saw the latter first, starring Edward Norton, and thought it incredible. I loved it and planned to tell my brother he should see it. I was surprised when he replied that he had just seen a great movie about two magicians called The Prestige. He was not wrong.

All my brothers and I grew up intrigued by magic. Maybe a lot of kids do, but our dad brought home tricks whenever he was on the road, and we collected such an assortment of gadgets and card decks that we could, and did, put on whole shows.

I didn’t practice enough to be a great showman, but certainly did well enough to entertain nieces and nephews at a birthday or Christmas gathering. When you’re on it is really fun. As noted in the film, the best part of doing a good trick is seeing the look on their faces.
Michael Caine, as Cutter in The Prestige, had some great lines. One favorite... “Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it because you're not really looking. You don't really want to know the secret... You want to be fooled.”

An especially fun surprise was seeing David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in a role that had some illuminating historical elements thrown in. Here’s a line from Bowie: “You're familiar with the phrase ‘man's reach exceeds his grasp’? It's a lie: man's grasp exceeds his nerve.”

Enjoy the show!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thevam the Master Story Teller

Thevam the master story teller has redefined the worst that can happen. It may be the corn rations or the two trees on the horizon, but in one way or another the derelict de Jeanne has given all he can afford.

The boots are mere symbols. But life begins and ends with a bed number. What is it we seek? What is it that we understand. No matter, since all is none and life ends in death. The fortune is unfortunate.

Stream of consciousness writing is probably no more significant than doodles, but even doodles can be entertaining from time to time. We skim the surface of the subconscious and occasionally dredge up a whirl of insights from the depths. More often we catch water spiders, dead bugs and gum wrappers, but what the heck, it can be illuminating at times, since you never know what you'll find next.

James Joyce did it for a portion of a lifetime, and frankly, that can be a bit much. But whatever. I'd be curious to know... on second thought, I don't really care. Let the pigeons have their way.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Today is Monday

The stories we dream and the stories we live have roots in previous cycles of time. Seeds drawn from memory strive within us, nourishing hope and strengthening our resolve.

In more primitive times, the dangers were clear. In our modern era the enemies are abstract. Navigating career paths, real estate transactions, legal fine print, investments, taxation and the complexities of a modern age… alas, so many decisions that require measures of understanding for which we’re not entirely prepared.

In the midst of all, our imaginations run free. Hence we have a culture that breeds a passion for the arts, creative energy splashing outside the lines in color, sight, sound, words, and all manner of wonder.

The following image has been formatted to fit your screen.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Modern Times

The version de jour fone rife with strife, devouring all things subordinate, denying and decrying the wicker schemes of gold diggers. Destructo environs dementia, with a buzzing sound expelled from twin rods, speeding up through the wheels of progress. Modern times, the scrip of scraps and all things hinging on bolt tightening individuals cranking and cragging through eight hour shifts, till speed exceeds the capabilities of sanity. Twitch and itch, demeaning dementia, the work of maddening and monstrous systems, pressing forward as if progress were measured in output.

Charlie Chaplin, in his exemplary role, defying the times. Depth of understated volley gags, within a format rare, the lost air of former fair as dream shifts to realidades, formenting insurrection and other confections. Her smile a favored robust dream, frequentd by denial. Vagrant fortunes, undismissed, defying vagrant summer mist. No question how it came to this, the drilling cakes of cheese and wine, cracker service overtime, denying hours of luscious pain and driving patrons to the vein of measured and unmeasured schemes. If only we could live in dreams.

No matter how you cut it, this roast duck is no Finnegan's Wake... just a simple facsimile. Knock over the tables and when he who is able rises up, let him be first to cherish the cup.

Born To Be Wired

>>>To the tune of Born To Be Wild

Get yer modem runnin'
Head out on the Highway
Lookin' for adventure
In whatever comes our way...

Any minute you can make it happen
Take the Net in a love embrace
Fire all of your gigs at once and
Explode into Space

Like a true 'lectric child
You were born, born to be wired,
You can fly so high, you never want to die....

Born to be Wired (echo riff)
Born to be Wired (echo riff)
(intense riff)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sci Fi

Science fiction is a category of fiction that blends the craft of fiction with scientific speculations based on current or future science and technology. My grandmother was a huge fan of the genre, her shelves packed with works by Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clark among others.

My first Michael Crichton read was The Andromeda Strain which I read back in the sixties. I also pulled Planet of the Apes from off her shelf, among others of such caliber that many became Hollywood films of note during my lifetime.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is an early example of the form, which captivated the imaginations of many writers. H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds and his Time Machine both advanced the sci fi appetite amongst readers, as did Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Whereas readers of science fiction are many, the general culture more often encounters the great sci fi writers when their works become fleshed out on the silver screen. Jurassic Park, Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Johnny Mnemonic, the latter an example of the cyberpunk school by William Gibson. His nihilistic worlds bring dark future scenarios to bear upon people striving to remain human in an increasingly oppressive environment. The first Gibson novel I read was Mona Lisa Overdrive.

One writer whose works have captured an audience through Hollywood is Philip K. Dick, who has had at least nine stories transformed into film. His cult classic Blade Runner was based on a story he wrote called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? Other well known big name films include Total Recall (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Minority Report (Tom Cruise).

Alas, as a writer I have myself amused myself with the writing of a few stories of a sci fi character. Perhaps you would enjoy reading something a little different for a short time away from whatever else you are doing in this moment.

The Angry Visitor from Xon

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Panther

It was during the heart-wrenching 1990 film Awakenings that this absolutely remarkable poem was popularized. In the film, the Robert DeNiro character, who is trapped within himself, makes a connection with Robin Williams as Oliver Sacks, the doctor who has been treating these special situation patients. Using a ouija board, DeNiro successfully leads his doctor to this poem, which expresses his situation.

The poet Rilke wrote in German, so that one eventually discovers that there are a range of translations, some inferior to others. This here is my favorite version of the poem, but I have included a link below to a website which has numerous additional translations.... each more or less successful in its own way. In the end, the tragic notion contained in the poem should be sadly clear.

The Panther

His vision from the passing of the bars
is grown so weary that it holds no more.
To him it seems there are a thousand bars
and behind a thousand bars no world.

The padding gait of flexibly strong strides,
that in the very smallest circle turns,
is like a dance of strength around a center
in which stupefied a great will stands.

Only sometimes the curtain of the pupil
soundless parts--. Then an image enters,
goes through the tensioned stillness of the limbs
--and in the heart ceases to be.


Alternate versions of The Panther

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

You, Too, Can Make A Difference

"At some point in your life, you probably had someone believe in you when you didn't believe in yourself. They scripted you. Did they make a difference in your life? What if you were a positive scripter, an affirmer of other people?" ~ Stephen Covey

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vanilla Sky

"Open your eyes." So begins the adventure that is Vanilla Sky.

In 2001 Cameron Crowe created an incredible film. Now why it is that some movies resonate with us and others fail to connect, I am not sure. In part, the masterpieces simply have no hollow notes. The director somehow brings out stellar performances from his cast and makes no compromises along the way. It helps, of course, to have a magical script, and the film Vanilla Sky explodes with layers of meaning that go deep to make it a very special film.

I can think of two reasons this film has been panned by a segment of the public. One is that Tom Cruise is the star, and for this reason alone it might be dismissed by some. This is an incredible performance, however, and can’t be so easily dismissed. A second reason is that the film is a remake in English of a Spanish version of the same story, starring the same Penelope Cruz. Who cares? I did not see the Spanish version. I saw this one.

The film is complicated, and requires a measure of work on the part of the viewer. If you have to see it twice to see that the continuity is there, maybe that is OK. The film hangs together and is not a manipulation with a twist ending. Yes, the ending twists, but is a logical extension of the story.

For me, the scene in the middle where Tom Cruise is dancing with the mask on the back of his head is so fabulously conceived for its symbolic value, for Cruise become Janus, the Roman mythological figure with two faces. Janus was the god of gates or doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. In this film, though we know it not, the scene telegraphs the pivotal transition for David Aames, who has been tragically disfigured as a result of his own choices. Sometimes, you can learn from the past but can’t change it.

I am not certain what it is that so resonates with me about this film. In part, it may be the philosophical questions it raises about who we are, and the life we would live if we could truly live our dreams. Or maybe, it is simply the identification with the profoundly tragic thing that happened to this man, the pain he inflicted on his friends, the grief he must have experienced.

It is interesting, too, that the Cruz character is named Sofia, the Greek word for wisdom. The symbols, the erudite references throughout, the layers of complexity may be simply too much for a typical audience given to pop entertainment values. Or maybe I am too sentimental to be properly critical, since at least one poll rated this one of the worst films of all time.

On its most basic level, Vanilla Sky presents the philosophical conundrum of the “brain in the vat.” What is reality when it’s all in your head? And what’s wrong with a perfect fantasy, even if we are nothing more than a disembodied brain hooked up to wires, stimuli and altered perceptions? The story line ultimately brings Tom Cruise to a place where he must choose whether he wants to live in reality or his perfect fantasy. Perhaps this, more than anything, is what speaks to me, because many people prefer their fantasies to the harder challenges of reality. How would you choose?

Here are some comments from a review at IMDB. For me its kudos to Cameron Crowe for a true achievement, and a great follow-up shot to his wonderful surprise, Almost Famous.

Director Cameron Crowe has crafted and delivered much more than just another film with this one; far more than a movie, `Vanilla Sky' is a vision realized. Beginning with the first images that appear on screen, he presents a visually stunning experience that is both viscerally and cerebrally affecting. It's a mind-twisting mystery that will swallow you up and sweep you away; emotionally, it's a rush-- and it may leave you exhausted, because it requires some effort to stay with it. But it's worth it.

As to the performances here, those who can't get past the mind-set of Tom Cruise as Maverick in `Top Gun,' or his Ethan Hunt in `Mission Impossible,' or those who perceive him only as a `movie star' rather than an actor, are going to have to think again in light of his work here. Because as David Aames, Cruise gives the best performance of his career, one that should check any doubts as to his ability as an actor at the door. He's made some interesting career choices the past few years, with films like `Magnolia' and `Eyes Wide Shut' merely warm-ups for the very real and complex character he creates here. And give him credit, too, for taking on a role that dispels any sense of vanity; this is Cruise as you've never seen him before. `Jerry Maguire' earned him an Oscar nomination, and this one should, also-- as well as the admiration and acclaim of his peers. Cruise is not just good in this movie, he is remarkable.

Penelope Cruz turns in an outstanding, if not exceptional performance, as well, as Sofia, the woman of David's dreams. There's an alluring innocence she brings to this role that works well for her character and makes her forthcoming and accessible,... Crowe knows how to get the best out of his actors, and he certainly did with Cruz.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Miracle of Dialogue

Notes and quotes from Reuel Howe's The Miracle of Dialogue.
"Every genuine conversation, therefore, can be an ontological event, and every exchange between husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and pupil, person and person, has more meaning than the thing talked about."

"Only as we know another and are known by him, can we know ourselves."
"The breakdown of community and, therefore, of dialogue occurs when there is an obliteration of persons. This obliteration takes place when one person or the other exploits the relationship for any purpose other than its true one."
Dialogue empowers both speaker and hearer. Monologue denies power.

"If we would love, we must listen to one another. This is the first work of love."

Friday, February 15, 2008

Stonehenge

I guess I learned something new today. When we look at photos of Stonehenge, we're not seeing the unaltered relic of ancient days. Rather, we have been seeing a "restored" Stonehenge, an "artist's rendition" as it were.

The photos here tell the story. The first shows us how the monuments appeared in an 1877 photo of their original disarray, ravaged by the centuries. The second shows how the British re-shaped and stabilized the pillars to give it the form they believe it once might have had in the mid-twentieth century.

History is probably a lot like this. Historians give us neatly packaged stories that attempt to explain everthing so that it is orderly and understandable. But the real histories are quite a bit messier because life is just a bit more complicated than what historians can effectively reproduce. People are simply too complex, with complex motivations and drives, both rational and irrational.

Makes it all the more fascinating to wonder what future historians will write about our place in history. Let's work together to make the story something good.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
If you think you might enjoy a strange piece of historical fiction, you might be interested in my story An Unremembered History of the World which also has its beginning in rural England.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Grim and Bearing It

I've been sicker than a dog this past several days. Too weak to do anything, and at one point almost too weak to roll over and play dead.

I keep hoping for a speedy recovery, but don't seem to find one in the making. So instead I console myself with rest and music.

Over the years I've found that a Dylan line or lyric captures so much of a specific moment, and in this instance one comes to mind as well, his Fixin' To Die Blues.

"Fixin' To Die Blues"
Feeling funny in my mind, Lord,
I believe I'm fixing to die, fixing to die
Feeling funny in my mind, Lord I believe I'm fixing to die
Well, I don't mind dying But I hate to leave my children crying
Well, I look over yonder to that burying ground
Look over yonder to that burying ground
Sure seems lonesome, Lord, when the sun goes down

Feeling funny in my eyes, Lord,
I believe I'm fixing to die, fixing to die
Feeling funny in my eyes, Lord I believe I'm fixing to die
Well, I don't mind dying but I hate to leave my children crying
There's a black smoke rising, Lord
It's rising up above my head, up above my head
It's rising up above my head, up above my head
And tell Jesus make up my dying bed.

I'm walking kind of funny, Lord
I believe I'm fixing to die, fixing to die
Yes I'm walking kind of funny, Lord
I believe I'm fixing to die
Fixing to die, fixing to die
Well, I don't mind dying
But I hate to leave my children crying.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Quotes About Books

Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends. ~ Dawn Adams

Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors. ~ Joseph Addison

Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life. ~ Mortimer J. Adler

You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. ~ Ray Bradbury

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. ~ Joseph Brodsky

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors. ~ Henry Ward Beecher

The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. ~ Jessamyn West

Books had instant replay long before televised sports. ~ Bert Williams

To feel most beautifully alive means to be reading something beautiful, ready always to apprehend in the flow of language the sudden flash of poetry. ~ Gaston Bachelard

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes. ~ Barrow

Reading is not a duty, and has consequently no business to be made disagreeable. ~ Augustine Birrell

The mere brute pleasure of reading --the sort of pleasure a cow must have in grazing. ~ G.K. Chesterton

A room without books is like a body without a soul. ~ Marcus T. Cicero

Friday, February 8, 2008

Innocence Lost: A Reflection on the Sixties

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me." ~ C. S. Lewis

These are the opening words of A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis' personal reflections on the loss of his wife Joy Davidson. Can it be that our nation itself received this same concussive blow on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963?

I find it interesting that C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day in 1963. The deaths of Lewis and Huxley, whose personal lives were more remote from most of us, were eclipsed by the dramatic assasination of our president... and the subsequent events surrounding his passing.

There have been few more powerful events in our personal histories. Television brought this president into our homes like none before him. His PR-created persona made him out to be more than a man. He was a mythological god. He rode a white horse. He was a knight in shining armor. With the vitality of Youth, he provided a euphoric hope that seemed necessary after two world wars, a major depression and the brooding tensions of the Cold War.
I was in sixth grade that day, Stafford School, Maple Heights, Ohio. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that we were all to go to the auditorium for an assembly. This was the same room where we assembled to see men from NASA demonstrate how a rocket would within the next ten years carry men to the moon.

As we shuffled along toward the nearly filled assembly room, I was distracted by a janitor who was stepping in from outside. I remember the grey November sky. And the janitor's tears, the janitor standing there, cap in hand, tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks, looking back toward the flag he had just lowered to half mast. I don't remember the assembly, or much of anything else. Only the image of that janitor weeping.

Few people knew it then, but that day was a portent of difficult times ahead for America. Medger Evers, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots in every major city, Kent State, My Lai -- the decade, stained with blood, left a generation of parents concussed and children confused.

Wrote Lewis in A Grief Observed, "I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in."

And when Nielsson sang: "Everybody's talkin' at me, I can't hear a word they're saying"... did we not find a resonance in our hearts because we, too, were grieving? What was it we had lost? What is it we were looking for? What was Joe Buck looking for? What did Joe Buck find?

I believe it was Gurdjieff who compared life experiences to the food we take into our stomachs. Eventually the food is digested, but it takes time, and some foods longer than others. Likewise, our experiences take time to digest before they are assimilated to nourish or poison us.

Even though more than 40 years have passed, we still sometimes don't know what to say about what we saw and heard and felt. We are still processing our experiences. While some of the experiences were uniquely ours, many were shared. For this reason it is my conviction that when we have gained a measure of understanding, we have a responsibility to share the light we have received. In this way, our pain becomes redemptive, a healing influence in an otherwise broken world.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Yes, but...

OK, you there in the back of the room. I see that hand. Please speak up so that we can all hear you.

My last three blog entries have been about Dinesh D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America, a book with much insight about many things, from why we are nation is hated by Muslims to how we came to be who we are as a people.

In response to this defense of America, at least one person has written to point out that “I think the ideal is great, but the reality is far from the ideal.”

He also took issue with my statement that America did not shove its ideals down other peoples’ throats by force. “And the U.S. government hasn't only been using guns, bombs, napalm, and chemicals to control people. They also use forced drugging; invasive Family Court orders that control people's personal lives, and use children as pawns; zoning laws that prescribe in Teutonic DETAIL what people can do, and can't do, and, HAVE to do with their own property; abusive police who almost never are found wrong even when they murder or torture, or are accomplices to murder or torture; secret surveillance of private phone calls with no court warrant required; food inspection laws that allow multi-million pound recalls of filthy rotten meat and vegetables from corporations, but forbid a farmer to advertise and sell even a few pounds of clean, fresh meat .... etc., etc., etc.”

“I've been adversely affected, more-or-less directly, by all of the above. I could write a book about my experiences in the ‘Free’ Vaterland. It's a funny kind of ‘freedom,’ in my opinion, and I wonder how it will look in the history books a couple centuries from now, should this world survive.”

And this is only the short list of grievances one could cite, I’m sure. The insurance racket, the sorry state of health care, the Washington lobby game, unspoken issues which even politicians can’t talk about because it would put them in a bad light to be honest….

In short, we live in a broken world, and America’s beacon may appear inviting for those in more oppressed parts of the world, but this country is not itself exempt from the brokenness.

I am reminded here of the way Bob Dylan puts it in the opening number on his Oh Mercy album.
Everything Is Broken

Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain't no use jiving
Ain't no use joking
Everything is broken.

Broken bottles broken plates
Broken switches broken gates
Broken dishes broken parts
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken
Everything is broken.

Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters broken saws
Broken buckles broken laws
Broken bodies broken bones
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath feel like you're chokin'
Everything is broken.

Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs
Broken treaties broken vows
Broken pipes broken tools
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling bullfrog croaking
Everything is broken.

editor's note: D'Souza's book is more than a polemic about America's achievement. He addresses a range of issues that need a fresh perspective, including race relations, multiculturalism, Colonialism and a better understanding of our global situation in regards to the Muslim world. The book is worth reading, wherever you stand on the issues.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rousseau’s Influence

One of the most compelling sections for me personally in D’Souza’s What’s So Great About America is the section on Rousseau. The reason is that he helps explain to me the source of many of my own ideas which, like our entire generation, seemed to originate within us, but were foisted on us by the mass culture and pop media.

“Do your own thing” and “Follow your bliss” (yes, this is Joseph Campbell, but rooted in Roussaeu) and the idea of finding within the truth of who you are and being true to that inner you, free from external constraints… this is all Rouseau.

The idea of freedom is powerful, but can also be out of balance, as the label for our generation later became the Me Generation. This ethic was glorified in magazines such as Life’s photo essays on the hippie communes which glamorized the “throwing off” of traditional family and exalted the hippie foray into communal families. The fruit of such follies only came later. Who would do the work? Who will raise the children? If I am doing my thing and watching the sunset on acid, and he’s doing his thing writing poetry, who will do the dishes?

Rousseau, D’Souza points out, was the guiding spirit of Bohemia. And the heart of it is expressed in our total embrace of the ethic of authenticity. Know who you are and follow your star. You must be authentic to yourself. It doesn’t matter if what you are doing is sick and perverse as long as it is honest. Check out where the art scene went in the seventies, with artists who groveled in feces or worse. One German artist filmed himself cutting off his penis, one inch at a time. It was a statement of some kind, I suppose. Bold, original and stupid. (He died, of course.)

I found the ideas in this chapter quite helpful in understanding the problems I see in broken marriages where “my happiness” is more important than our children, and where “self understanding” is more important than self sacrifice or service or understanding another. Our generation took pride in the overthrow of conventional wisdom, and now we’ve paid a price. The funny thing is, we thought we were all being so original. But our behavior was rooted in ideas as old as mankind, voiced more than a century earlier and shaped by a pop media that rejoiced in its power to influence.

There is power in the idea of freedom. But a deeper self-understanding reveals that we are less free than we would like to believe. And though freedom is a wonderful thing, to put it on a pedestal as the ultimate value is a truth out of balance. Someone still has to fix the toilet, and keep the bills paid. Guess that means that eventually one has to grow up.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Encore

Yesterday I mentioned Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About America. I thought I'd underscore my statements with a review from amazon.com.... this one representative of the general tenor of the more that 230 reviews there on this book.

What a shame 21st century USA is so polarized where being a liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican (etc.) means either entirely accepting without question ideas along party or ideological lines -- or entirely without question rejecting them. People don't want to give "the (domestic political) enemy" a full hearing, let alone even partly CONSIDER a foe's arguments, even if they're reasoned and make actually make SENSE.

It's a shame because this book (published by the conservative publishing house Regnery, which is itself like waving a red flag in front of a bull for some people) is so engaging,well-written, convincing and solid that Dinesh D'Souza may one day be considered a modern day Alexis de Tocqueville.

Three fascinating levels mark this highly perceptive book: 1. D'Souza, who became a US citizen in 1991, shares how his life would have been quite different if he had grown up in his native India. 2. He makes fascinating observations about how US life and culture differ from various parts of the world, especially the Third World. These are the ones future generations may consider on the same level as de Tocqueville's. 3. And then there is material directly related to the book's title. He makes the case, in a nutshell, that other cultures (especially fundamentalist Islamic) detest the United States because Americans are inner-directed and can write their own life's script, while Islamic culture seeks a life controlled and dictated by others.

One key conclusion certainly will not endear him to Islamic fundamentalists. He says the Islamic world is nothing without oil revenues."The only reason it (the Islamic world) makes the news is by killing people," he writes. "When is the last time you opened the newspaper to read about a great Islamic discovery or invention? While China and India, two other empires that were eclipsed by the West, have embraced Western technology and even assumed a leadership role in some areas, Islam's contributions to modern science and technology is negligible."

In this book, written after 9/11, he concludes that terrorism is merely "a desperate strike against a civilization that the fundamentalists know they have no power to conquer" so they try to "disrupt and terrify the people of America and the West."

The book is worth its price ALONE for his observations on how American culture differs from the third world and many Islamic countries: Americans have to be convinced they are fighting a war for noble reasons; young people go away to college and don't return, whereas in other countries this would be like "abandoning one's offspring"; other cultures cherish age, the US worships youth; people welcome visitors for long periods in the Third World where Americans want to get rid of visitors within days. And more.

D'Souza also takes on the "multiculturalists" who, he writes, detest the melting pot idea and "want immigrants to be in America but not of America." And he shows many flashes of great wit. Two examples... On French criticism of the US: "Many Americans find it hard to take the French critique seriously, coming as it does from men who carry handbags." --On calls for reparations for African-Americans (he completely DEMOLISHES arguments for reparations) he writes about debating foe Jesse Jackson: "I found the concept of this rich, successful man -- who arrived by private jet, who speaks at the Democratic National Convention, whose son is a congressman -- identifying himself as a victim of oppression a bit puzzling and amusing."

D'Souza decimates critics' arguments against American foreign policy, history and culture. But his greatest analysis is how World War II's "Greatest Generation," tempered by surviving the Great Depression and the brutal war, upheld traditional values by cherishing necessity and duty -- only to fail to replicate these values in their offspring who made answering their inner voices, pursing their own desires and personal authenticities the focus of their lives... until. Sept. 11.

"Only now are those Americans who grew up during the 1960s coming to appreciate the virtues... of this older sturdier culture of courage, nobility and sacrifice," he writes. "It is this culture that will protect the liberties of all Americans."

Monday, February 4, 2008

The American Experiment

Am reading a great book right now: Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About America. There are so many passages I'd like to reproduce here that I'd risk copyright infringement, so I'll try to be brief. This book comes with my highest recommendation.
D'Souza brings a uniquely personal perspective to his theme. He was a native of India, but became a U.S. citizen by choice in 1991.

America, he points out, is not a place. It is an idea. People come to America because of a dream.

I first became acquainted with this notion in a book by John Warwick Montgomery nearly thirty years ago. The Founding Fathers really did create something original in the American experiment. Democracy, science and capitalism have been woven together into a culture without peer in today's civilized (or uncivilized) worlds.

Another facet of our achievement is the notion that history is not a purposeless and meaningless sequence or random events. Americans dream of progress. If I don't make it, my kids can make it.

Certainly we see this played out in myriad ways in our various personal histories. I see it in my family, my wife's famly, my friends' families. D'Souza notes that one part of the American dreams is "that knowledge is cumulative and that its applications to human betterment are continuous and neverending, that the future is certain to better than the past."

Of course this Utopian dream is scoffed at by many cynics and critics of all stripes. Nevertheless, it was this conviction that brought our nation to world leadership, a role that we have a responsibility to not abdicate or feel ashamed of.

The remarkable thing about the American Ideal is that we did not force the world to desire it or adopt it. We did not use guns to win the minds and hearts of our foes.

In one story, D'Souza tells how the TV media attempted to make President Reagan look bad during the "Reagan Recession" by interview the unemployed persons who had been disenfranchised, who were not experiencing the American dream. The Soviet Union showed these documentaries behind the Iron Curtain with the aim of making capitalism look bad. But the footage had the opposite effect as the cameras revealed that even our poorest poor had TV sets and cars and three meals a day.

The ideas in this book are far more vast than these piecemeal scraps. Despite its depth, it is an easy read. Find the book. His reasoned defense of America is well worth your time.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday in Cincy

GLENDALE, Ariz.–Most Super Bowls never live up to the endless barrage of hype and tonight's 42nd version, held in a large Airstream trailer of a stadium parked in the desert, might not, either. But we'll either get history being made by the New England Patriots, who are on the verge of a level of perfection unknown in football, or we will see history denied by the New York Giants in a monster upset. ~ Dave Perkins, The Toronto Star

Well, there's nothing quite like having your own team in the Big Game. The Browns are not there, but Bill Bellicek, unquestionably one of the greatest pro football coaches of all time (unless they discover his brain is on steroids) used to coach the Browns early in his career. I liked him then so I will be rooting for him today. Go Patriots.

In case you have not heard, the Patriots are living a dream season. There are one step away from the magical undefeated season, only the second in NFL history, and the longest run yet. Supposedly football is a game where "any given Sunday" either team can win. But despite the era of free agency and huge egos, Bellicek has assembled a no nonsense, awe inspiring record of dynastic proportions. It's not supposed to happen this way, yet it has. Which means this guy is the real deal, worthy of being compaed to the greats, Lombardi and Landry.

For this reason, all eyes will be on Glendale. Or a least, seventy million will be... or is that seven hundred million? Who knows. I am sure the talking heads who host today's game will be letting us know.

In the meantime, however you spend the day, enjoy it. Preferably with friends. By tomorrow this game will be history, but a good friend is for ever.