Category Archives: book review

‘Let Me In (2010)’, by Director Matt Reeves – review

71wrP9sh2IL._RI_SX300_Love is really everything except what it is.  In the moments of violent delights of the ecstasy, it creates synchronicity of the two minds by surrendering to each other and becomes inseparable from one another. Whether it is erotic or agapeic, everyone regardless of any biological, social, or existential plane deserves this sweet surrender of love. George Sand, the French novelist whose love story with Frederic Chopin is better than a fiction, affirms: “Everyone deserves to love and be loved.” That is everyone, even if that one is a vampire or a misfit.

“Let Me In” directed by Matt Reeves is a story about this love based upon his Shakespearean interpretation of ‘Love”. It is about friendship that develops into love because the word “Friend” is derived from a Proto-Germanic word “fraendi,” meaning “lover.” As it is a recurring theme of William Shakespeare’s plays, the meaning of friend and love is interchangeably conveyed on screen by the cinematographic recounting of the fateful love in the veneer of friendship between the two main characters, Owen and Abby, who are bound by loneliness and heartaches. In fact, the story of these two very young characters will conjure up the very young figures of lovelorn Romeo and Juliet by the side of the screen lurking in the corner eager to deliver their legacy of love that means to be forever beyond River of Styx. The only difference is that Abby, who is a vampire, never tells her love, but her concealment feeds on her crimson lips by devouring other people’s lives. She only sees Owen, the sensitive boy with a beautiful heart, for none other than a woman’s reason. Abby pines in thought, and with a red and gray melancholy, she watches Owen like Patience on a tree, smiling at grief for what she is.

There is an original Swedish version of this selfsame film, but this Reeves’ version is more intelligently rendered and is hauntingly riveting with its surrealistic imagery and the stellar performance of the cast beautifully alloyed in the alluring alchemy of cinematography. It is an innovative synthesis of  artistic European neo-realism and a burst of the American no-nonsense realistic pep in the straightforward screenplay. This is a kind of film that makes you walk on the borderline of fantasy and reality, revolt and conformity, fear and courage, and doubt and trust, all of which will make you long for everything that love can come by. Forget Fear. This film is at its most compelling when you follow it with your open mind and let it in.

first woman orbits solo in space on 06/16/1963

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Astronaut Valentina Tereshkova

Surely, it must have been the Soviet’s ambitious plan to claim superiority of its scientific advance and social progress over the capitalist imperialists. However, in recognition of its achievement, free from bias and embellishment, we should transcend the subjectivity of the political ideology and reach universal truth and applicability, which is a principle of studying history as championed by the ancient Athenian historian and general Thucydides that still reverberates down to date.

Fifty-six years ago from today was when twenty-six year old Valentina Tereshkova successfully orbited alone in a rocket named “Vostok 6” with her call sign “seagull.” It was two years after Yuri Gagarin had commenced the age of spaceship, and it was the first time of womankind to be in space. Coming from a model proletariat family of a tractor driver father killed in action in the Winter War against the Finns and a textile worker mother, Tereshkova was the “It” poster woman for the Soviet Union’s social and cultural ideological emblem. Raised by her mother, she didn’t go to school until the age of eight and left six years later to work in a local factory. It was during this period Tereshkova discovered a singular hobby of parachuting.

The Soviet authorities were looking for candidates to become the first woman to go into space two years after Gagarin’s space travel. Goddess Fortuna winked at her and inspired her to apply for the candidacy, which was the job to be had only for the asking, because she was the woman they were looking for: (1) there were relatively few she-pilots to endure the rigorous training requiring mental as well as physical strength; and (2) she was the child of a war hero whose life was sacrificed for a patriotic cause with immaculate proletariat family credentials. That is, Comrade Tereshkova was the Soviet’s ideological manifesto incarnate in all aspects.

After fifty-eight orbits lasting more than two days, Tereshkova returned to earth and found herself famous. But she deserved such recognition and respect because she demonstrated courage, go-aheaditivess, and strength eloquent of womankind in the most elegantly powerful way without brandishing a banner of feminist screed that the equality of women’s rights must be also exercised in space by orbiting in a rocket. Moreover, her non-elitist social and cultural backgrounds in comparison to those of famous Western European or American woman notables was worth noting that true equality meant for all regardless of rank and meritocracy because it would reveal everyone’s adumbral talent.

‘The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine’, by Lindsey Fitzharris – review

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian MedicineThe Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One thing that inspires me to utter “Thanks be to God” is to be born after the age of butchering, so to speak,  without the use of anesthesia during an operation or any invasive surgical procedure. And never forget a bottle of Listerine that has become a household name. In consideration of the aforesaid, the preeminent triumph of medical science in the west is arguably the invention of antiseptic methods that has saved thousands of lives. The linchpin of this epochal achievement in the history of medical science is Joseph Lister, an English Quaker surgeon whose dedication to the profession was wonderfully interacted with his altruistic character and diligent pursuit of knowledge in his profession. The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris enlightens the reader about the macabre world of nineteen-century surgery and its progress by advancement in antiseptics pioneered by Promethean Lister.

In this highly entertaining and informative book, Fitzharris guides the reader to Lister’s medical path with fittingly concomitant case history of surgery, hospital care, and germ-theory, all of which essentially contribute to his advocation of antiseptic methods in post-operative treatments. The author’s vivid illustration of the horrifying surgical procedures before the advent of anesthetics is not surely for the faint-hearted, but it is an axiomatically effective means to introduce the reader to the staging of a young medical student named Lister, who was solemnly determined to prevent a patient who endured such demonic pains from dying aftermath due to the persistent infection caused by putrefaction of germs in the operated area. Fitzharris’s employment of in-between vignettes about his contemporaries, family members, and others who influenced Lister both personally and professionally also intends to provide the reader with a variety of causes that led Lister to his dedication to the championing of antiseptics in the applicability for precluding unnecessary deaths of patients. She does it all with her consummate narrative skill that grabs the reader’s attention on every page.

Although this book is about Joseph Lister and his benevolent medical munificence to humanity, it is hard to strictly categorize it as biography because it does not purport to deify him with an Olympian laurel wreath. Rather, the book is focused on the magnificence of scientific triumph over human frailty, which is achieved by a collective effort to find the sine qua non thereof on the principle of betterment for humanness. Fitzharris does an excellent job of delineating this collegiate endeavor to make human life better by reconstructing Lister as a practical idealist with a vision to match in his revolutionary invention of antiseptic methods based upon a scientific theory and his zeal for continuous pursuit in learning of knowledge. Drawing on a wealth of research on the subject and her erudition, Fitzharris creates polyphony that intelligently interweaves multiple strands of her learning. This is a scintillating read that educates the reader on the history and science without a bore.

‘Socrates: A Man for Our Times’, by Paul Johnson -review

Socrates: A Man for Our TimesSocrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the constellation of philosophers in the intellectual firmament, there is none other than Socrates whose influence on humanity, ranging from academic disciplines to everyday cultural memes, strikes the chords with the contemporary minds at its simplest form. It is this essence of Socrates’s simple but profound moral philosophy that has been enshrined in the pantheon of Immortal Knowledge of our collective human civilization for thousands of years. In Socrates by Paul Johnson, this immortal philosopher is hard to resist and difficult to find fault with through the author’s cicerone guide to the streets of the ancient Athens, where Socrates is in his usual convivial mood to speak in public and welcomes the reader with his genuine warm smile to join his conversation.

The stratagem of moral education in the form of philosophy is to tame the appetites (the senses or the id) and to guide spirits (emotions or the ego) in man to reach the highest level of humanness, which is the reason (the judgment or the superego). The process of this moral education is civilization, a standard by which barbarism is judged and separated from the educated mind, and Socrates thought it essential to implement it in all aspects of Athenian life because it was the surest avenue to happiness, meaning of human life. In fact, Socrates was the first philosopher to democratize the concept of philosophy from lofty abstraction of an academic plane to practical realism of a living guide. Johnson describes Socrates as something of a Prometheus, who translated the heavenly into the terrestrial in the sense that Socrates wanted to unlock the goodness of life for the benefit of mankind. For Socrates was the one who brought philosophy down from the wondering skies, domesticated it the huts and villas of people, and familiarized it with the ordinary life in examination of good and evil.

Socrates seems even more likable thanks to Johnson’s historical accounts of Socrates’s personal traits and physiognomy: the corroboration comes from his young, handsome, controversial, but nonetheless valiant aristocratic friend Alciblades that (1) Socrates was a selfless comrade in battle, fearless in fighting, and artless in helping his battle buddies: (2) commendable hardiness enabled him to wear thin clothing despite the cold and the snow; (3) he disliked letting his emotions show on his face; (4) he regarded poverty as a shortcut to self-control; and that (5) he kept fit in the stadium and gymnasium and even danced because he believed that a healthy body was the greatest of blessings. It is also well known that Socrates was an ugly man with a flat, broad nose and beer belly, especially by the standards of Greece in the 5th century that highly valued regularity of features we would call Byronic today. And yet, Socrates, ever imperturbable and optimistic, was not depressed by his ugliness because to Socrates beauty was not inherent in itself but was by the virtue of its use. It was more of utilitarian nature for practical purpose. Socrates’s way of accepting himself as he is relates to logotheraphy, neuroplasticity, and habit of positive thinking, now bestriding the domain of self-help literature.

I have always been a fan of Paul Johnson’s writing style in harmony with his wealth of erudition and fountain of humor, a fascinating combination that makes his reads so likable and interesting. And here again, he did it again: with his customary witty narrative packed full of lots of unknown anecdotes and personal tidbits on subjects he writes about, Johnson tells the reader about Socrates as precisely and candidly as possible based upon historical evidence to resurrect him in the textual theater of literature. His interpretations draw on his exceptional knowledge of the philosopher and the history of his time, but he wears his learning lightly and always writes with a general reader in mind. Hence, the figure of Socrates in his book is no longer seen as the ancient adumbral thinker but a jovial, avuncular teacher who really cares about the lives of his students of all walks of life in this highly entertaining book. This book presents a pleasant banquet of the mind and spirit hosted by the consummate storytelling narrative of Johnson in the honor of Socrates, the people’s philosopher.

Blasphemous

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The state of my heart is incarnate in Snoopy. The collective criticism on me is expressed in Charlie Brown.

It’s 10 minutes before regular Saturday Vigil mass begins, and I am sitting on my regular pew, feeling responsible rather than faithful. I wonder if I am being irreligious or irreverent toward the existence of God and the observation of the ancient rite of faith that has been performed for a long thread of centuries from the Last Supper to this Modern Day of Social Media. For my trinity of Heart, Soul, and Mind is not one with this belief when my emotions run counter to the teachings of the Church that seem incongruent with everyday reality. If this sentiment had been read aloud in the 16th or the 17th century Europe, then I would have been labelled an immoral atheist, a pariah cut adrift from the traditional mooring in the canonical faith and morals of Christianity.

My anxiousness about the existence of God is emotional, rather than logical in the working of the intellect, which has been shared by writers, philosophers, and even canonized saints of the Church. According to Professor Alec Ryne’s article of “The fury that filled the rise of atheism” as featured in this month’s BBC History, the workings of emotions and the first-hand experiences of uncharitable Christians and dogmatic clerics laid out a foundation of atheism in the 16th and 17th centuries, which later became nourishment of modern western civilization.

The French polymath Blaise Pascal knew about the power of emotions: “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” In fact, humans make the great choices of beliefs, values, purposes intuitively, unable to articulate how and why they have been made. This means that prior to the establishment of conformed sets of moral code and religious doctrines, the Creator has already imprinted moral and ethical guides in the human mind. This can be also meant that you can be an atheist or unbeliever with a good heart because your conscience, the law of nature, can be a guide to an outward moral virtue.

In fact, the Enlightenment’s prime critique of Christianity, that is the churches in a broad sense, was that it was “immoral.” Thinkers, such as Voltaire and Thomas Paine declaimed against the churches because of their moral revulsion. Paine furthered his vehement subjective on religion as a human invention, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, bereft of advanced metaphysical views on the churches. In other words, religion as an institution should not govern human free will to decide moral choices laid out by arbitrary set of invented rules.

Thanks to the works of philosophers based upon humanism, a discovery of belief in contemplative retreat to natural wonder percolated institutionalized belief through individual spiritual reformation. That you can find God in the beauty of nature and the wonder of how the human body and mind work is a way you can affirm the existence of God as a manifestation of God because all of it could not have created itself. As a matter of fact, this natural way of finding the existence of God was St. John Paul II’s favorable method of praying during his lifetime because being a former student theater actor, he could see the clear signs of God in the workings of nature. Which coincides in the Enlightenment thinkers’ views on belief, free from institutionalized doctrines of belief.

In light of the above, my crisis of belief was more of emotional than of intellectual. The temptations that there was no God, also sprang in the minds of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of Cross, and other saintly men and women. Even Jesus on the Cross cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Which indicates the workings of emotions in the face of existential strife, a vantage point from which belief they had steadfastly held no longer or momentarily felt true. From angry unbelief that religion was morally intolerable to anxious unbelief that religion was an ethical institution, the history of atheism has ironically redefined the notion about belief, authentic faith, by pointing out the corruption of the churches and purifying the understanding of God as the modern world is familiar with. For me, it’s high time I went hiking on the nearby mountain trails to seek a manifestation of belief for My Own Reformation of Belief.