Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Elvis Presley: The Influence of a Hero

Call it the influence of a hero or ‘the great cloud of witnesses’ but there is no doubting the inspirational impact of an effective model in any sphere.

In the realm of music, Elvis Presley, not only wowed his generation of fans but he inspired many other musicians to exercise their gifts. Read what William McKeen says about the influence of the King:

"It took a while, but radio sparked a musical revolution that led to a social revolution. Elvis was the visible embodiment of the musical revolution. ... 'Hearing him the first time was like busting out of jail,' Bob Dylan recalled. 'I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody; nobody was going to be my boss.' ... Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones--they all said they did what they did because of Elvis. Keith Richards said he'd likely be an accountant today ... if he hadn't heard rock'n'roll."

William McKeen, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Elvis," American History, August 2007, pp. 24-25.

Source: Delancey Place, which sends an excerpt or story to your inbox every day. Their address is:
Delancey Place. Com

Image: Elvis Presley.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

German Soldiers Using 10 Rolls of Loo paper a Day

There is a curious story about the ‘Mystery of why German Soldiers Use 10 Rolls a Day’.

Don’t wipe away the yarn too quickly. It might be a story more about the accounting than the rolling. Prepare to be flushed but try and figure out the moral of this story.


Roger Boves, ‘Mystery of Why German Soldiers Use 10 Rolls a Day’, The Times, October 30, 2007.

Image: A decade of Loo Rolls

Humans as Bundles of Contradictions

When Dr. Burroughs, Bishop of Ripon, was here in Australia, he told a story of a small boy who had been drafted in at the last moment to fill a vacant place at a fashionable dinner-party—the sort at which the menu offers a choice for nearly every course. Hardly had he settled down when a problem confronted him on which his previous experience threw no light. In a low, compelling voice, the waiter put the alternatives to him: ‘Thick or clear?’ Playing for safety, our young friend answered Both!’

What the waiter did is not related; perhaps he brought a mixture; but it really does not matter. The thing that does matter is that in saying 'Both!’ that boy described himself and every other human being. No boy is altogether thick or altogether clear; altogether kind or altogether cruel; altogether good or altogether bad. He is both! He [and all of us!] is an everlasting anachronism, an animated ambiguity, a bundle of contradictions; and he is all this for the simple reason that, first and last, and through and through, he is so essentially a boy.

F W Boreham, The Fiery Crags (London: The Epworth Press, 1928), 15-16.

Image: “he is so essentially a boy.”

This story is one of the more then 200 stories that are contained in the newly published book: F W Boreham, All the Blessings of Life: The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

Discover the places where you can buy this book at the site New Boreham Books. While you are there, follow the link to Abe Books and see the growing range of F W Boreham resources.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Robert Dessaix: Why Whiling Away Your Life is So Important

In his novel Corfu, writer Robert Dessaix has this to say about spending time being or pottering about:

“What is so seductive about this chronicle of a year in Molyvos—especially for a reader setting out in the sun, as I was, on a bend in the road in Gastouri, just the odd cat stirring, old Spiros with his walking-cane grunting and greeting as he hobbles past—is that it dawns on you as you read why whiling away your life in an insignificant Greek village is so life-enhancing for many foreigners—at least at first; here, magically, everything matters all of a sudden—a broken flowerpot, the priest’s wife’s gossip, your neighbour’s sprained ankle, the beauty of the mountains against the molten evening sky, a funeral, a drowning, fried sardines with friends down by the water… and also doesn’t matter.”

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (A Novel) (London: Scribner, 2001), 251.

Image: Molyvos at sunset.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Last Supper on Internet: One Picture is Worth…

Last year I was one of the 350,000 people who visited Milan’s Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and one of our ‘must sees’ was Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

I wish we could have lingered longer but the crowds were pressing in behind us.

Now a 16 billion pixel image of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper has been posted on the internet, giving art lovers a detailed view of the 15th Century work.

The image is 1,600 times more detailed than those taken with a typical 10 million pixel digital camera.

People will be able to see segments as though just centimetres away and examine otherwise unavailable details.

The link is here:
The Last Supper in Detail

Image: Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

Taking Your Prospective Partner for a Ride

CSM has an interesting story about a honeymoon couple in which the new bride makes some timely discoveries about her husband from the decisions about who get’s in the driver’s seat, whether they will mooch along and view the sights or head on briskly to their destination and which way they should go at the crossroads.

When he senses she is upset, the conversation goes like this:

“You want to drive, then?” He raised his eyebrows and winced.

“No, it's more than that.” I had trouble finding the words. “It's driving in the bigger sense of the word. I don't want marriage to mean that you make all the decisions.” How bad was this sounding? I brushed at a tear. “I don't want you mapping out the rest of my life.”

To read the full story, follow this link:

Elizabeth Brown, ‘They Learn to Share the Driver’s Seat’, CSM, 22 October 2007.

Image: “who get’s in the driver’s seat.”

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mark Haddon on the Police and My Mind as a Bread-Slicer

Christopher Boone, the fifteen year old narrator in Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident, has these things to say about the police and his mind:

“Then the police arrived. I like the police. They have uniforms and numbers and you know what they are meant to be doing. There was a policeman and a policewoman.

The policewoman had a little hole in her tights on her left ankle and a red scratch in the middle of the hole.

The policeman had a big orange leaf stuck to the bottom of his shoe which was poking out from one side.” (p7)

Christopher is then interviewed by the police about the murder of Mrs. Shear’s poodle:

“He was asking too many questions and he was asking them too quickly. They were stacking up in my head like loaves in the factory where Uncle Terry works. The factory is a bakery and he operates the slicing machines. And sometimes the slicer is not working fast enough but the bread keeps coming and there is a blockage.”

“I sometimes think of my mind as a machine but not always as a bread-slicing machine. It makes it easier to explain to other people what is going on inside.” (p8)

Christopher is taken away by the police in their car and he writes:

“The police car smelt of hot plastic and aftershave and takeaway chips.” (p11)

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (London: Vintage, 2004), 7, 8.

Images: Police and industrial bread-slicer.

Other stories from this book can be found at:
Cultivating the Observant Eye
Mark Haddon on Timetables and France

Friday, October 26, 2007

Khaled Hosseini: Time Like a Piano Accordion

In his book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, author Khaled Hosseini, is musing on time:

“Laila had learned a fundamental truth about time: like the accordion on which Tariq’s father sometimes played old Pashto songs, time stretched and contracted depending on Tariq’s [her lover] absence or presence.”

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2007), 98.

A review of this book can be found on my site:

Reviewing Books and Movies

Image: “like the accordion.” (an exceptionally long one!)

Billie Holiday: Prophetic Singer about Strange Fruit

Today’ posting from Delancey Place is another good reason for you to sign up and subscribe to their daily email. Read and reflect on this story and then follow the link to hear Billie Holiday singing a song that can be described as prophetic.

In today's excerpt--Billie Holiday (1915-1959), considered by some the greatest female jazz vocalist, introduces "Strange Fruit," a song about lynching, into a world of songs about love and romance:

"A few years back, Q, a British music publication, named 'Strange Fruit' one of 'the ten songs that actually changed the world.' Like any revolutionary act, the song initially encountered great resistance. Holiday and the black folksinger Josh White, who began performing it a few years after Holiday first did [in 1939], were abused, sometimes physically, by irate nightclub patrons--'crackers' as Holiday called them. Columbia Records, Holiday's label in the late 1930s, refused to record it. 'Strange Fruit' marked a watershed, praised by some, lamented by others, in Holiday's evolution from exuberant jazz singer to chanteuse of lovelorn pain and loneliness. Once Holiday added it to her repertoire, some of its sadness seemed to cling to her; as she deteriorated physically, the song took on new poignancy and immediacy. ..."Lynchings--during which blacks were murdered with unspeakable brutality, often in a carnival-like atmosphere, and then, with the acquiescence if not the complicity of local authorities, hung from trees for all to see--were rampant in the South following the Civil War and for many years thereafter.

According to figures kept by the Tuskegee Institute--conservative figures--between 1889 and 1940, 3,833 people were lynched; ninety percent of them were murdered in the South, and four-fifths of them were black. Lynchings tended to occur in poor, small towns--often taking the place, the famed newspaper columnist H.L. Mencken once said, 'of the merry-go-round, the theater, the symphony orchestra.' ... And they were meted out for a host of alleged offenses--not just for murder, theft, and rape, but for insulting a white person, boasting, swearing, or buying a car. In some instances, it was no infraction at all; it was just time to remind 'uppity' blacks to stay in their place. ...

"The night that she first sang 'Strange Fruit' [at Cafe Society in New York] 'there wasn't even a patter of applause when I finished,' she later wrote in her autobiography. 'Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everybody was clapping.' The applause grew louder and a bit less tentative as 'Strange Fruit' became a nightly ritual for Holiday, then one of her most successful records, then one of her signature songs, at least in those places where it was safe to perform."


Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

David Margolick, Strange Fruit, Harper Collins, Copyright 2001 by David Margolick, pp. 8, 19-20, 3-4.

Listen to this Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday on YouTube

Image: Billie Holiday

Sign up or visit the Delancey Place web site here

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Distilling a Lifetime into a Suitcase

In the heat of the Californian bush fires there are many stories emerging about what evacuees are choosing to take with them to a safe place.

LA Times reporters, Janet Eastman and Bettijane Levine say:

“The decisions are made in a scary, smoky instant. A wildfire is blazing toward the front door: What to take to safety? What to leave behind?”

“One woman in Malibu grabbed her old wedding ring and divorce papers. A Santa Clarita man showed up at an evacuation center with four suitcases but little memory of what he and his wife threw into them. ‘Probably not what we need,’ he said, clutching his pillow. An Escondido woman, her head cloudy with panic, rescued her $1,000 Christian Louboutin shoes.”

“Practical or sentimental, irreplaceable or as inconsequential as a carton of orange juice, the belongings that fire evacuees packed up before fleeing home speaks to the daunting task of distilling a life into a backpack, a suitcase or the trunk of a car.”

Police and emergency officials are using this opportunity to say that all people, everywhere, should prepare an evacuation plan to be followed in a time of emergency.

That is wise advice but an interesting thought rising from the Californian smoke is this question: “What do I have that is of value to me? If I had to “distill [my] life into a backpack, a suitcase or the trunk of a car, what things, people and animals would I take?

To read the entire article, follow this link:

Janet Eastman & Bettjane Levine, ‘Stuffing a Lifetime into a Suitcase’, LA Times, 25 October 2007.

Image: ‘Stuffing a Lifetime into a Suitcase’

Hillary Clinton on Marriage

"I know the truth of my life and of my marriage, my relationship and partnership, my deep abiding friendship with my husband. It's been enormously supportive to me through most of my life. Now obviously we've had challenges as everybody in the world knows. But I never doubted that it was a marriage worth investing in even in the midst of those challenges . . . and I'm really happy that I made that decision. Again, not a decision for everybody. And I think it's so important for women to stand up for the right of women to make a decision that is best for them."

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), responding to a question about her marriage in an interview with Essence magazine, excerpted online yesterday. Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Image: Hillary and Bill Clinton

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Three Cups of Tea in A Thousand Splendid Suns

The Pakistani and Afghani custom of drinking three cups of tea, that is told by Greg Mortensen and which makes the title of his book is wonderfully reflected in Khaled Hosseini’s, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Maraiam and Laila are the wives of Rasheed and for many reasons they are not getting on with each other. In particular, childless Mariam is jealous of the younger wife, Laila, who has produced a baby called Aziza. The two women exist in this Kabul house avoiding each other.

In the middle of one night there are signs that the relationship is thawing and this becomes the turning point for a bond that grows very strong.

When Laila gets up and goes down to the kitchen she finds Mariam still hard at work. Despite the anxiety the two of them feel, Laila makes a conciliatory move. She says:
“The Chinese say it’s better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one.”
Mariam gave a half smile. “It’s a good saying.”
“It is.”
“But I can’t stay long.”
“One cup.”

They sat on folding chairs outside and ate halwa with their fingers from a common bowl. They had a second cup, and when Laila asked her if she wanted a third Mariam said she did. As gunfire cracked in the hills, they watched the clouds slide over the moon and the last of the season’s fireflies charting bright yellow arcs in the dark. And when Aziza woke up crying and Rasheed yelled for Laila to come up and shut her up, a look passed between Laila and Mariam. An unguarded, knowing look. And in this fleeting, wordless exchange with Mariam, Laila knew that they were not enemies any longer.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2007), 223-224.

A review of A Thousand Splendid Suns is at this link.
A review of Three Cups of Tea is at this link.

Image: Preparing the tea in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Taliban: How Fundamentalism Takes the Fun out of Life

Khaled Hosseini’s poignant book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, tracks the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 1996 the Taliban had become a powerful ‘guerilla force’ that conscripted young men to uphold their law and discipline the dissidents.

The words of this flyer give an example of how far distorted religion can become and how effective a means it became of sucking the life out of a people:

Our wantan, is now known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. These are the laws that we will enforce and you will obey:

* All citizens must pray five times a day. If it is prayer time and you are caught doing something other, you will be beaten.
* All men will grow their beards. The correct length is at least one clenched fist below the chin. If you do not abide by this, you will be beaten.
* All boys will wear turbans. Boys in grade one through six will wear black turbans, higher grades will wear white. All boys will wear Islamic clothes. Shirt collars will be buttoned.
* Singing is forbidden.
* Dancing is forbidden.
* Playing cards, playing chess, gambling, and kite flying are forbidden.
* Writing books, watching films, and painting pictures are forbidden.
* If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
* If you steal, your hand will be cut off at the wrist. If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.
* If you are not Muslim, do not worship where you can be seen by Muslims. If you do, you will be beaten and imprisoned. If you are caught trying to convert a Muslim to your faith, you will be executed.

Attention women:
* You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
* You will not, under any circumstance, show your face. You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
* Cosmetics are forbidden.
* Jewelry is forbidden.
* You will not wear charming clothes.
* You will not speak unless spoken to.
* You will not make eye contact with men.
* You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
* You will not paint your nails, if you do, you will lose a finger.
* Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
* Women are forbidden from working.
* If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.
Listen. Listen well. Obey. Allah-u-akbar.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 2007), 245-246.

A review of A Thousand Splendid Suns is posted at this link:
Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: “You will cover with burqa when outside.” A woman walking in Afghanistan.

Charles Schulz: A Life Transforming Experience

In today's excerpt--Charles Schulz, creator, author and illustrator for nearly fifty years of the cartoon strip Peanuts, which at its peak was read by over 300 million people:

"When called on to discuss his life, Charles 'Sparky' Schulz never began at the beginning, never with his birth, on November 26, 1922, or his early years, but always with his mother's death on March 1, 1943, his own departure for the war, and the merciless speed of it all: in that week, Dena Halverson Shulz had died on a Monday, she was buried Friday, and by Saturday the army had taken him away. ...

"As early as his sophomore year in high school, Sparky had come home to a bedridden mother. Some evenings she had been too ill to put food on the table; some nights he had been awakened by her cries of pain. But no one spoke directly about the affliction; only Sparky's father and his mother's trusted sister Marion knew its source, they would not identify it as cancer in Sparky's presence until after it had reached its fourth and final stage--in November 1942, the same month he was drafted.

"On February 28, 1943, with a day pass from Fort Snelling, Sparky returned from his army barracks to his mother's bedside. ... She was turned away from him in her bed against the wall, opposite the windows that overlooked the street. [Late that evening] he said he guessed it was time to go.

"'Yes,' she said, 'I suppose we should say good-bye.'

"She turned her gaze as best she could. 'Well,' she said, 'good-bye, Sparky. We'll probably never see each other again.'

"Later he said, 'I'll never get over that scene as long as I live,' and indeed he could not, down to his own dying day. It was certainly the worst night of his life, the night of 'my greatest tragedy'--which he repeatedly put into the terms of his passionate sense of unfulfillment that his mother 'never had the opportunity to see me get anything published.' "

David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts, HarperCollins, Copyright 2007 by David Michaelis, pp. 4-5, xii.

This story is today’s excerpt from Delancey Place. If you are a regular communicator this web site and the daily excerpts that can be emailed to your inbox, are a wonderful resource that I am glad to recommend.

Image: Charles Schulz and a cartoon.

Lesson in Origami Illustrates the Value of Teaching by Doing

An English teacher shared a highlight from her 35-year teaching career and revealed some important keys for teachers and anyone in the communication business.

Dorothy Fletcher copied a page of instructions on making birds from origami, gave her students sheets of paper and told them to get on with it.

Sounds simple enough but the instructions were in Japanese and none of the students were fluent in that language. After a flood of protests, the students surprised themselves as before long, paper cranes were flying around the classroom!

Fletcher was eager to illustrate one of life’s challenges—making sense out of difficult instructions on tax forms and computer manuals, even when they are written in your first language.

The effective teacher said this was one of her most memorable lessons and news of the origami class quickly spread through her school.

Why was it so remembered by her students? Because it involved these important ingredients:
* Learning by words and visuals
* Learning by helping each other
* The importance of asking for advice
* Enjoyment in learning and
* Much more

To read this fascinating story, see:
Dorothy Fletcher, ‘What do Paper Cranes Have to Do with English Class?’, CSM, 22 October 2007.

Image: Visual Aids

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jerry Seinfeld: If You Don’t Use it…

Ever wondered what’s become of actor/comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, after he blew the final whistle on his ‘Seinfeld’ television sitcom?

A New York Times journalist catches up with the star, traces the gigs he has got in these last nine years including the project he has buzzing at the moment.

Speaking about the value of a one-hour stand-up show that he currently does, Seinfeld feels that he’s not performing enough at the moment saying: “No matter how many times you’ve done it in the past, it’s got to be polished or it goes away…The act just packs up and starts walking away.”

There’s much more to this interesting update that can be read at this link:

Dave Itzkoff, ‘What Do You Do After Nothing? New York Times, 21 October 2007.

Image: Jerry Seinfeld, ‘That’s All Folks!’ Or is it?

Margaret Forster on Childhood Memories

In her superb novel, The Memory Box, the main character Catherine, is revisiting her childhood memories:

“Everyone says that two is too young to be sure a memory is ‘true’, and that it is more likely that what is recalled is an adult’s telling of the memory, but I believe mine to be what I myself do remember.”

Margaret Forster, The Memory Box (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 140.

Image: Front Cover of The Memory Box.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Robert Dessaix on Rituals and the Longing for the Unnatural

In his novel Corfu, Robert Dessaix has this to say about the impact of rituals upon him:

“The most dispiriting thing about failing to be moved by others’ rituals is that it brings you face to face with your own ordinariness. And, if you’re feeling even slightly oceanic, that ordinariness swamps everything in sight.”

“Who doesn’t long at times, in the midst of piles of washing or slumped in front of the television set, for something utterly unnatural to happen?”

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (A Novel) (London: Scribner, 2003), 49.

Image: Eucharistic ritual.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Nick Hornby on Growing Up and Developing a Critical Faculty

“A critical faculty is a terrible thing.”

“When I was eleven there were no bad films, just films that I didn’t want to see, there was no bad food, just Brussel sprouts and cabbage, and there were no bad books—everything that I read was great.”

“Then suddenly, I woke up in the morning and all that had changed. How could my sister not hear that David Cassidy was not in the same class as Black Sabbath? Why on earth would my English teacher think that The History of Mr. Polly was better than Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie?”

“And from that moment on, enjoyment has been a much more elusive quality.”

Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch (London: Victor Gollancz, 1992), 29.

Image: “there was no bad food, just Brussel sprouts and cabbage…”

Friday, October 19, 2007

Joyce Oates on ‘What is a Family?’

In her novel, We Were the Mulvaneys, Joyce Oates reflects on families:

“Always it seemed, hard as I tried I could never hope to catch up with all their good times, secrets, jokes—their memories. What is a family, after all except memories?—haphazard and precious as the contents of a catchall drawer in the kitchen (called the ‘junk drawer’ in our household, for good reason)….

“For the Mulvaneys were a family in which everything that happened to them was precious and everything that was precious was stored in memory and everyone had a history.”

Joyce Carol Oates, We Were the Mulvaneys (New York: Plume, 1997), 4, 5.

Image: “Precious as the contents of a catchall drawer in the kitchen.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

P D James: On Being a Privileged Spectator of life

The writer, P D James, describes in her autobiographical fragment, Time to Be in Earnest, a day with her friends exploring the natural world:

“One of the delights of being with [friends] Tom and Mary [Norman] is their knowledge of natural history. There isn’t a bird, butterfly, flower or tree which they can’t name. They spend much time traveling, often in some discomfort, in remote areas of Asia searching for and photographing rare orchids. One, which Tom was the first to discover and describe, is named after him.”

“At Covehithe we saw a butterfly that Tom said was called the Holly Blue and which he recognized as female because of the darker hue round its wings. It lives for just three days, and I wondered whether ours were the only human eyes that had actually seen it during that brief span.”

“As Tom and Mary moved through the gate leading to the abbey ruin, the butterfly fluttered to a leaf close to me and rested motionless. It was one of those rare moments in which a fugitive beauty, briefly contemplated, untouchable, is experienced with a peculiar intensity, the sense of being a privileged spectator of life which, however brief, is part of a mysterious whole.”

P D James, Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (London: Faber & Faber, 1999), 22.

Image: The Holly Blue

Mark Haddon on Timetables and France

Christopher Boone, the fifteen year old narrator in Mark Haddon’s novel, The Curious Incident, has these things to say about timetables:

“When I used to play with my train set I made a train timetable because I like timetables. And I like timetables because I like to know when everything is going to happen.”

“And this is why I like timetables because they make sure you don’t get lost in time.”

“And at the weekend I made up my own timetable and I write it down on a piece of cardboard and I put it up on the wall… And that is one of the other reasons why I don’t like France because when people are on holiday they don’t have a timetable and I had to get Mother and Father to tell me every morning exactly what we were going to do that day to make me feel better.”

Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (London: Vintage, 2004), 192, 195, 193.

Image: Train timetable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

George Schaller: 'In the Mountains … life has a new importance'

“In the immensity of these ranges, at the limit of existence where people may visit but cannot dwell, life has a new importance…. But mountains are not chivalrous; one forgets their violence. Indifferently they lash those who venture among them with snow, rock, wind, cold.”

Source: George Schaller in Stones of Silence. Cited in Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 108.

Image: “the immensity of these ranges..” (Mt Cook, NZ)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paul McCartney: “Music is a great healer”

Former Beatle Paul McCartney has compared his divorce from former model Heather Mills to going through hell in a recently published interview.

Wanting to keep his dignity he remained tight-lipped about the proceedings but he did say the experience was "a very painful thing".

Recognizing the difficulty of going through a public divorce McCartney indicated where he looked for solace:

"But music is a great healer. Music is the therapy for me. In fact, going through difficulties has only concentrated my desire to make good music."

‘McCartney talks of Divorce Hell’, The Age, 16 October 2007.

Image: Paul McCartney

Monday, October 15, 2007

Why Didn’t I Encourage My Kids to Paint More When They were Toddlers?

An article in the LA Times has caused me to kick myself for not giving my children an easel, some brushes and a box of paints for their birthdays when they were toddlers.

Even before Marla reached her second birthday, her father, Mark Olmstead set up an easel for her so she’d be occupied while he painted (he was a manager of a business but dabbled in art in his spare time).

When Marla began producing some colorful creations, her proud parents got permission to hang one of them on the wall of a local coffee shop in Binghamton, New York. The painting was displayed and promptly sold for $250! Since her first takings Marla had her first solo exhibition in 2004, which was a sell out and 18 months later she scooped $20,000 for a single painting.

The money doesn’t seem to be the motivator for young Marla for while many are debating her prodigy status, she applies the paint for the sheer enjoyment of the craft.

Yes, I got distracted by a lost dream of my children making millions for their poor parents but how many gifts and talents might we discover if we gave our children, our friends and ourselves some brushes, paints, an easel (or their equivalents in other spheres) and oodles of encouragement?

For the entire story, here is the link:
Meghan Daum, ‘Art as Child’s Play’, LA Times, 13 October 2007.

Image: Marla Olmstead.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

John Howard: The Advantages of Being Average

In an interview on national television shortly before his election as prime minister for the first time, Howard described himself as “an average Australian bloke”.
“I can’t think of a nobler description of anybody than to be called an average Australian bloke,” he added.

That line is crucial to understanding the success of the less than charismatic former suburban solicitor ridiculed by cartoonists for his small stature, bushy eyebrows and imperfect teeth, analysts say.

“The key to Howard’s appeal lies in his very lack of charisma,” political commentator Hugh Mackay wrote on the 10th anniversary of his election as prime minister.

“His appearance of ordinariness is perhaps his greatest political asset: he looks and sounds like ‘an ordinary bloke’ and that triggers the almost instinctive feeling that he must be ‘a decent bloke’ as well.

“Even his harshest critics, people who believe he has actually lied to them, remark that he does it so convincingly and appears so sincere, it’s hard not to be seduced.”

Howard’s detractors say he has damaged his credibility by bending the truth to ensure political success or reneging on promises, giving rise to the mocking use of yet another nickname—‘Honest John’.

‘An “average, cunning, man of steel’”, Associated Foreign Press, 14 October 2007.

Image: John Howard

Cards to Send to Prisoners: Finding the Words to Say It

Journalist, Sandy Banks, writes of discovering a new range of greeting card—cards to send someone who has been arrested or incarcerated and cards to be used by those on the inside to thank people for their support.

A couple of them read:



The messages inside are blunt and to the point. The article goes on to tell how these cards were created. The idea came when a lawyer’s brother-in-law was imprisoned and the woman picked up her pen but didn’t know what to write.

The article tells how this new range is selling. Not very well it seems at the local card and gift shops. It is a big hurdle purchasing one of these arresting cards when the shop assistant may think your family is a bad lot. Perhaps they will sell better online.

This story illustrates the difficulty we all have in such circumstances, finding the words to say something that is true, real and devoid of sentimental piety.

To check out some of the range of cards and read the entire interesting article see:
Sandy Banks, ‘Cards for Inmates Say it all for you’, LA Times, 13 October 2007 [LA Times does require a free sign in for first time online readers]

Image: A card from the arresting range [click to magnify]

Parents Giving Time to their Children

Henry Porter tells this story in today’s Observer:

In July, during the worst of the summer rain, I saw something that struck me as quite rare. A family of five had paused on their walk along a country lane so that the three children could scramble up a bank where there was a surprisingly good crop of wild strawberries. The children were wet and caked in mud. They were made to share out the strawberries like precious sweets. Then they went on their way, the parents oblivious to their children disappearing into the woods and ambushing each other with handfuls of mud. I haven't seen three happier children for a long time.

On that Saturday afternoon expedition in the rain, you have nearly everything that children need - exercise, attention from their parents, but not undue fussing, a feeling of security and of family, simplicity of entertainment, natural surroundings and a chance for the two sisters and their brother to relate to one another away from TV, their friends and Facebook. The only thing required from the parents was time.

To read the rest of this interesting comment on the political and personal challenges facing children and parents see:

Henry Porter, ‘Turn Off the TV. Forget Facebook. Just Give Your Kids Some Time.’ The Observer, 14 October 2007.

Image: “Strawberries like precious sweets.”

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Greg Mortensen on Faith and Religion

Mountaineer and school builder, Greg Mortensen, reflects on the influence that his parents had on him when he was growing up in Tanzania:

“With both Dempsey and Jerene wearing their faith lightly, the Mortensen home became more of a community than a religious center. Dempsey taught Sunday School. But he also laid out a softball diamond with the trunk of the peppertree as a backstop.” (p36)

With that beautiful phrase, “wearing their faith lightly”, I don't think that Mortensen is meaning that the faith of his parents was not real or was superficial. He seems to be referring to the holistic expression of their faith as it took flesh in their lives and their community.

Mortensen does not write a lot about religion in his book, ‘Three Cups’, apart from pointing up the dangers of fundamentalism and the way such an approach opposed his goal to provide an open education, especially for girls.

He does, however, write about religious leadership:

“I came to respect and depend on the vision of Syed Abbas,” [Greg] Mortensen says. “He’s the type of religious leader I admire most. He is about compassion in action, not talk. He doesn’t just lock himself up with his books. Syed Abbas believes in rolling up his sleeves and making the world a better place.” (p201).

Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Tea in triplicate.

Friday, October 12, 2007

E L Doctorow: Tasting God on The March

As the American Civil War wound towards its conclusion, General Sherman marched 60,000 Union troops through the southern states, leaving a sixty mile trail of destruction, rape, looting and death.

The story of The March is retold by novelist E L Doctorow who specializes in writing cameos to personalize the impact of the long trudge as experienced by farm owners, soldiers and slaves.

In one chapter that deals with the plight of the deserters, Doctorow records the conversations of two who are in prison.

Arly, says to a young boy:

“Are you for religion, young Will?”
“I never did countenance it.”
“Well I look at it this way. God has raised his hand to give us respite. It could be that he has something more in mind for us. With this time on our hands, we should try to figure what it is. Because he don’t do pointless acts of charity.”

Some time later these two come across the dead bodies of some Union soldiers and they decide to take their uniforms, escape and join the march. Changing uniforms, they try to remember what the word was for the next thing down from ‘deserter’. With new uniforms they get themselves a horse. In their new dress, new allegiance, new transport and new spirit the strongly religious conversation continues:

“We are rich men with that horse,” Arly said. Patting his tunic, he found a flask of bourbon in his pocket. He unscrewed the cap and took a swig. “Whoeee! Taste this, young Will. Go on. If you had any doubts God meant us to survive, just you have a taste of this!”

E L Doctorow, The March (London: Random House, 2005).

Image: Front cover of The March.

Eric Clapton: Creativity out of the Crucible of Suffering

Eric Clapton’s new book, ‘Clapton: The Autobiography’, is a warts and all account of the author’s rollercoaster ride to rock and rock divinity and his decline into drug-taking decadence and darkness.

It is fascinating to see the way that Clapton’s songs were often written when he was in the pits. Like the song Layla (written by Clapton and Jim Gordon). The musician had fallen for a woman by the name of Pattie Boyd. The only trouble was that Pattie was the wife of the Beatle, George Harrison. Clapton said, “I also coveted Pattie because she belonged to a powerful man who seemed to have everything I wanted—amazing cars, an incredible career, and a beautiful wife.” His dilemma inspired the song ‘Layla’. These words take on a new meaning with the background information supplied:

What’ll you do when you get lonely
No one waiting by your side?
You’ve been running and hiding much too long.
You know it's just your foolish pride.

Layla, you’ve got me on my knees.
Layla, I’m begging, darling please.
Layla, darling wont you ease my worried mind.

After getting in the grip of heroin and drinking heavily Clapton descended to the depths when his four year old son, Conor, fell to his death from an apartment building. This incident, however, marked a spiritual awakening and this song that honours the memory of his son:

Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven...

Would you hold my hand if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand if I saw you in heaven?
I'll find my way through night and day
'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven...

Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees
Time can break your heart, have you begging please..
Beyond the door
there's peace I'm sure
And I know there'll be no more tears in heaven....

Would you know my name if I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven...

Reflecting on the creative seasons as well as the dark periods of his life, Eric Clapton writes about the role of music to lift him and bring peace: “For me, the most trustworthy vehicle for spirituality has always proven to be music.”

Source: Eric Clapton, Clapton: The Autobiography (London: Century, 2007).

Image: Clapton on his cover.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hirsi Ali: ‘Victim to the Intolerance of Tolerance’

Hirsi Ali fled to the Netherlands as a refugee from Somalia in 1992 after declining to submit to a forced marriage to a man she did not know. Ali is still running.

She has worked as a cleaning lady, a translator, an activist, a politician and an author.

Hirsi Ali has spoken publicly about the repression of women who have been abused and forced into sexual subjection and compulsory child bearing. She has been critical of Islam and as a consequence has received death threats.

Hirsi Ali’s story is retold and some important questions raised in today’s LA Times article:

Sam Harris and Salman Rushdie, ‘Ayaan Hirsi Ali: Abandoned to Fanatics’, LA Times, 9 October 2007.

Image: Cover of Hirsi Ali’s latest book, Infidel.

Comedians and Actors Protesting and Risking their Lives in Burma

There’s a good article in the Times today on the strategic role of comedians, satirists and actors in society and the danger that these people put themselves into in Burma:

Story: Kenneth Denby ‘The Burmese Jokers who laugh in the Face of Danger,’ Times Online, 9 October 2007.

Image: Some of the Burmese comedians.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Zorba Diet Endorsed by Barbara Kingsolver: Stuff Yourself with Cherries

Writer, Barbara Kingsolver tells this story in her journal, written during her ‘food sabbatical’:

“In Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel, Zorba the Greek, the pallid narrator frets a lot about his weaknesses of the flesh. He lies awake at night worrying about the infinite varieties of lust that call to him from this world; for example, cherries. He’s way too fond of cherries. Zorba tells him, Well then, I’m afraid what you must do is stand under the tree, collect as big a bowl full, and stuff yourself. Eat cherries like they’re going out of season.”

Source: Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L Hopp & Camille Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating (London: Faber & Faber, 2007), 22.

A review of this book is found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: “Eat cherries like they’re going out of season.”

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Marion Jones: Power and Popularity alter Moral Compass

Athlete Marion Jones' admission of steroid use in a New York courtroom has sent shockwaves around the world of athletics.

In today’s LA Times article, John Hoberman, a University of Texas professor and expert on steroids in sports contended “that the Jones case testifies to how the pressure to excel alters moral compasses and drives a surprising number of elite athletes to performance-enhancing drugs.”

Michael A. Hiltzik and Lance Pugmire, ‘Jones; steroid case will affect all athletes’, LA Times, October 6, 2007.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Barbara Kingsolver: Who Wants to Eat Dirty Vegetables?

In her book in which she writes of her family’s experiment to try and grow enough vegetables and meat to support them, Barbara Kingsolver addresses a prevalent resistance among children and adults:

“I used to take my children’s friends out to the garden to warm them up to the idea of eating vegetables, but this strategy sometimes backfired: they’d back away slowly saying, ‘Oh, man, those things touched dirt!’”

“Adults do the same by pretending it all comes from the clean, well-lighted grocery store. We’re like petulant teenagers rejecting our mother. We know we came out of her but ee-ew.”

Source: Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L Hopp & Camille Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating (London: Faber & Faber, 2007), 29.

A review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Dirty veges.

Great Intercultural Faux Pas

Heard the one about a worldwide survey conducted by the UN? The only question asked was: “Would you please give your honest opinion about solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?”

The survey was a failure. In Africa they didn’t know what “food” meant; in India they didn’t know what “honest” meant; in Europe they didn’t know what “shortage” meant; in China they didn’t know what “opinion” meant; in the Middle East they didn’t know what “solution” meant; in South America they didn’t know what “please” meant; and in the USA they didn’t know what “the rest of the world” meant.

Source and to read more of this article: Mark McCrum, ‘Embarrassing Travel Gaffes’, The Sunday Times, 30 September 2007. Extracted from, Going Dutch in Beijing: The International Guide to Doing the Right Thing, Profile Books.

Image: Warm and intense cross-cultural fellowship.

Barbara Kingsolver: ‘Ridiculous or Reverent?’

In her new book that details her ‘year of seasonal eating’, Barbara Kingsolver describes the time that it takes to grow asparagus. Then she says:

“Gardeners are widely known and mocked for this sort of fanaticism. But other people fast or walk long pilgrimages to honor the spirit of what they believe makes our world whole and lovely.”

“If we gardeners can, in the same spirit, put our heels to the shovel, kneel before a trench holding tender roots, and then wait three years for an edible incarnation of the spring equinox, who’s to make the call between ridiculous and reverent!”

Source: Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L Hopp & Camille Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Our Year of Seasonal Eating (London: Faber & Faber, 2007), 29.

A review of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: The Kingsolver clan harvesting and weeding.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

P D James: ‘Women waiting for a Man to Give Status and Purpose to Their Lives’

P D James, in her novel, ‘The Skull Beneath the Skin’, writes of a group of people at Courcy island (off the Dorset coast) on tour.

As they passed along the gallery Roma said to Cordelia:

“There’s a William Dyce in my room called ‘The Shell Gatherers’. Not badly painted, rather good, in fact. A crinolined group of ladies examining their finds on a Kentish beach. But what’s the reality? A group of overfed, overclad, bored, and sexually frustrated upperclass females with nothing to do with their time but collect shells to make their useless shell boxes, paint insipid watercolors, entertain the gentlemen after dinner at the pianoforte, and wait for a man to give status and purpose to their lives.”

Source: P D James, The Skull Beneath the Skin (New York: Warner Books edit., 1982), 92-93.

Image: A William Dyce painting [I don’t think it is the one mentioned above!]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Greg Mortensen: Be Careful What You Read to Your Children

In his book Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen, pays tribute to his parents and reveals the secret to how he was inspired to be a mountaineer and then a builder of schools in the remote parts of Pakistan:

“As a child in Tanzania, my parents Dempsey and Jerene Mortensen, read fastidiously to us at bedtime by candlelight and, later, electricity. These stories filled us with curiosity about the world and other cultures. They inspired the humanitarian adventure that shaped my life.”

Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 334-335.

A review of this book is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Reading to your children.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Understanding Amish Forgiveness

A fascinating story by Donald Kraybill reveals why the Amish community in Elizabeth town, who suffered so painfully, was able to forgive so quickly.

Donald Kraybill, ‘Why the Amish Forgive so quickly’, 2 October 2007, CSM.

Other postings on the Amish on this site:
Deciding Not to Become Hostage to Hostility

Are You Qualified for What You’re Doing?

Image: Amish children.

Pilgrimage to Walden: ‘Living Deliberately’ with Nature & Thoreau

A reflective story about visiting Walden Pond to get in touch with nature and the thoughts and home of Henry Thoreau can be found at this link:

Tom O’Malley, ‘An Icy Plunge into Walden Pond is a Lesson on Savoring Nature’, 2 October 2007, CSM.

Image: Walden Pond.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bill Clinton on His new Mission: ‘This picture says it all’

In the Introduction to his new book entitled ‘Giving’, author Bill Clinton sums up with one picture [posted here], why he is involved in many projects through the Clinton Foundation,

President Clinton writes:
“I’ve included one picture in this book, opposite the title page, that says it all. It captures the beautiful face and bright eyes of a Cambodian orphan born with HIV. Basil was ten months old when this photo was taken. His mother died when he was only one month old, and her doctor arranged for him to be taken in by New Hope for Cambodian Children, an organization that cares for HIV-positive orphans and other vulnerable children. When Basil arrived at the home, he was six weeks of age and had both HIV and tuberculosis. His doctor, a Clinton Foundation fellow, treated him for both conditions, giving Basil lifesaving pediatric AIDS medication through my foundation’s partnership with UNITAID, which funds our efforts to treat children across the globe. Basil responded well to the treatment, gained weight, and, as you can see, is now healthy. He has a chance. That’s often all one person can give another. But it can make all the difference.”

Image: Basil; photo courtesy of the Clinton Foundation web site.

Source: Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (London: Hutchinson, 2007), xiv.

A full review of this book, entitled ‘Jon Stewart & Clinton Talk about Bill’s New Book’, can be found at my site: Reviewing Books and Movies.