Tag Archives: books

pony express

Joe loves things Western: ranging from the rugged, restive beauty of mountains and vales to the legend of the ghost riders, to the saga of pony express, and the unforgettable Magnificent Seven. But above all the aforesaid, Joe is fascinated by the sprit of go-aheaditiveness conflated with unquenchable curiosity thanks much to his literary and cinematic proclivities for the history and culture of the West. In the spirit of a Pony Express Rider who used to deliver important mail from California to Missouri on a horse relay in the mid 19th century before the advent of transcontinental telegraphic network, Joe likes to run an errand for his customers in the town. So this video shows one of Joe’s regular routes that is always bustling with activities, businesses, and people, the wholesale picture of life in kaleidoscope that makes you realize you are not alone.

‘The Power Of Habit’, by Charles Duhigg – review

The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And BusinessThe Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business by Charles Duhigg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

William Shakespeare’s convivial axiom of “A merry heart goes all the day” contains a profound secret of the power of the mind. It tallies with the tenets of quantum physics that consciousness is the foundation of the universe. Accordingly, the significance of willpower has always been the subject of philosophy, literature, and science because that is a prerogative of our humanness, our sovereign power and right of exercising the great faculty of mind to the extent possible, just as John Milton in Paradise Lost advised us: “Mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” Further back in the antiquity, Aristotle corroborated that habits reigned supreme in connection with our construction of reality: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” In the tradition of Milton’s existential observation of the mind and Aristotle’s epistemological truth about the power of the mind, Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit propounds an auspicious argument that explains how habits are formed and how to discontinue bad habits based upon the scientific findings of the brain and factual evidence in lay terms.

In order to give the reader the importance of habit formations and its relation to the neurological functions of the brain and the physiological effects on the bodily functions, Duhigg first avers that subconscious mechanisms that impact the numerous choice that seem as if they were the products of sound logics are actually influenced by habits of thinking. This habit formation results from the evolutionary progress of the brain’s mechanism for saving efforts, so that we can stop thinking constantly and redundantly about basic behaviors to devote mental energy to inventing irrigation systems, letters, waterwheels, printing machines, and other technological artifacts.

Then how are these habit formations programmed in our brain? Duhigg provides the reader with the simple but potent secret of 3-step loop as follows: (1) Cue: a mental trigger that commands the brain to go into automatic response and which habit to use; (2) the routine: physical and mental response to outward stimuli; and (3) a reward: feedback from the brain to parse if this particular loop is worth the remembering for the future. It is also quite reassuring to learn that even the smallest shift in the routine stage can upend the pattern and that every habit is malleable and fixable, however complex it may seem. Once the entire loop is established through a steady period of time, the brain stops fully participating in decision-making, letting an action put in auto-pilot mode. Hence, a habit is born. This also means that we can take control of the loop if we learn to create new neurological routines to overpower our less desirable or undesirable habits as long as cues are present.

To illustrate, the case of Travis Leach is the most compelling and realistically substantive in proving the power of habit formations fueled by willpower. Leach dropped out of a high school aged 16, wasn’t mentally strong enough to withstand criticisms and indignities, resulting in his frequent changing of odds-and-ends jobs. Then goddess fortuna must have winked at Leach when he got a job as a barrister at a newly established Starbucks store that made him turn over a new leaf in life. At the age of 26, Leach became the manager of 2 Stabucks stores overseeing 40 employees. He never got upset by irate customers or felt utterly powerless in a drip of criticism due to the company’s education of empowering willpower to their new employees based upon the science of habit formations. To dismiss it as a tactful advertisement for Starbucks’s business umpire is to discredit Leach’s hard-won triumph of will over his sociological disadvantages and psychological scars as a result of his unhappy childhood.

Duhigg’s vastly informative and highly entertaining guide to the habit of success does not bestride a vox populi bestseller list of common self-help books. With his thorough research of evidentiary neurological impacts on habit formations and use of everyday examples thereof, Duhigg marshals his knowledge of the subject and willingness to help people in plain language that is accessible to the initiated and the uninitiated. He then delivers a burst of scintillating pep to the reader with steadfast belief that the right kind of habit formations supported by willpower will transform the raw material of the mind into its Excellency through a process as mysterious as a “caterpillar transforming mulberry leaves into silk,” as his like-minded intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson agreed two centuries ago. This is not a self-help book per se, but a modern day version of Aristotelian principles of ethics examining the nature of and relations between virtue, the mean, pleasure, and happiness that can make your life different.

‘The Signal-Man’, by Charles Dickens – review

The Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): AnnotatedThe Signal-Man (Original 1866 Edition): Annotated by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charles Dickens wrote this short story of a lonely signalman in 1866 based upon the Clayton tunnel crash in 1861. The setting of the story was a station by this tunnel with a dismal and eerie atmosphere around it, which dovetailed with the ambiance of the story itself. But while I was reading the story and thereupon, I was unsure of who’s the ghost here: the narrator or the signalman? First of all, the image of the narrator calling the signalman’s attention to him from above seems to me uncanny enough to conjure up the calling of a spectre wandering about the haunted tunnel. Or it might be that the signalman, the station, and the train per se were all in fact illusions, bewitched elements of the tunnel crash victims eternally haunting the place, not knowing their demise. Or in terms of modern psychoanalytical perspective, either the narrator or the signalman saw his own representations of the reality in his own mind, the hallucinations, which were different from and invisible to the others. And that is what I found this story at once hauntingly rueful and lingering with the images.

Academy of Ancient Music: “Baroque Journey” with Lucie Horsch – review

img_0202-1The recorder is a wonderful woodwind musical instrument: light in weight, affordable in price, delightful in timbre, and easy to learn, it has been adopted as a part of music curriculum at many elementary schools, just as ancient Greek schools necessitated students to learn an aulos or a lyre. However, this seemingly insouciant musical instrument was the centerpiece of Baroque music because of its florid and vivacious sound that strikes the chords with busy, sophisticated, delicate melodies of Baroque, the term which originally means irregular shapes of pearls in Portuguese. So much so that Vivaldi, Handel, and Bach had composed music just for the recorder long before the cello, the violin, or even the harpsichord came into the scene and outclassed the lovely recorder.

Ergo, the wanting of its significant contribution to the history of music and of its tainted beauty of the timbre has recently been brought to light, especially in Europe. The heroine of this jubilant revival of the Baroque recorder music is Lucie Horsch, a young Dutch recorder player whose musical finesse characterized by her vivaciousness of technicality and instinctive understanding of baroque music makes her exquisite musicianship look effortless and seamless. That classical music is not for the old conservative snobs but for anyone who has an ear for beautiful music is a tenet of the Arts on the grounds that the standard of taste and reason is universal in all humans as regards the principle of sentiment and judgment is common in humankind.  As illustrated in this music video, Horsch and her musician friends represent the democratizing of classical music in general, making it accessible to enjoy for all, not a prerogative of a few fortunate in a stuffy concert hall.

If you are a novice in Baroque music, then Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey is a choice introduction to the world of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi. She will be your Beatrice who will guide you to Paradise of the music, as she did for Dante in the Divine Comedy. In my opinion, the best number is The Arrival of the Queen of Shiba by Handel, for it best shows Horsch’s dexterity of playing the recorder flawlessly, delivering the best of her musicality with a burst of pep like a vivacious sprite.

Author’s Note: You can download Lucie Horsch’s Baroque Journey from your iTune on your iPhone to enjoy the delightfully whimsical world of a Baroque Recorder. The music will cast out from you a momentary vertigo of worries and anxieties and elevate your mood to an instant jolly caprice 🙂

what i liked about “Upstairs, Downstairs” (TV Series) – review


upstairs-downstairs

A long time ago, somewhere in London there lived two families under one grand roof: one lived in downstairs, and the other upstairs, all behaving according to their modus vivendi that seemed only natural to accept without a shadow of doubt to contest. It was the time when a lady would require a parlor maid to groom her in her boudoir and a butler would act in the capacity of a superintendent of a household as well as a messenger incognito for his master. But to dismiss those “good old days” as an obsolete oppressive social institution is to deny the memories of those cherished in their everyday lives as portrayed unforgettably in a British television drama series, “Upstairs, Downstairs” (1971).

This is not like the overhyped “Downton Abbey” in the sense that the plot of the story involves these two opposite classes (the benevolent master and the content servant) in a very fashionable mansion. Contrarywise, this classic series of “Upstairs, Downstairs” is rich with feelings and thoughts that make the viewer empathetic to the characters and absorbed into each episode for the reason that they touch upon the heart of the viewer, let alone the fine performance of the cast and the elegant screenplay attuned to all.  On the point of purely subjective note, the character of Rose Buck, an excellent parlor maid who is beautiful both inside and outside is what gives to the ethos of the drama: she is all humanity, showing compassion toward the eccentric but tragic footman Alfred who was shunned from others. Notwithstanding her goodness and beauty, Rose is unlucky with her personal life, ever finding herself out of reach of love like the forlorn nymph Echo. Her character is universally appealing regardless of time, ethnicity, and class. And Butler Hudson may seem prejudiced and stuffy, but he has a heart, too. In fact, he’s a good father figure: stern but fair, strict but kind. No one in Downstairs is sacked coldly, come what may.

The residents of Upstairs are not your proverbial snobbish English aristocratic family whose haughtiness and zero regard for their subordinates are something to be enshrined in the temple of Marxism; the Bellamy family, headed by the magnanimous and highly respectful viscount Richard Bellamy, who was originally a son of a country parson, were all too human, woven into intricate relationships of love and loneliness, betrayal and misunderstanding. To put it in a nutshell, the Bellamys are a paradigm of noblesse oblige. No wonder Butler Hudson and his Downstairs family show such a high, heartfelt regard for the family like they are their real family.

If you are accustomed to the splendid British manor scenes that typify your image of the classic British class distinctions, then you might find this drama rather antiquated and boring as a period drama. But those of you who value stories and characters, not to mention fine scripts, this will feast your senses and sensibilities. What’s more, you don’t have to be British to enjoy this excellent drama that fuses historical backgrounds as factual grounds of each episode with interesting and empathetic characters with stories to tell which we could relate to one way or another. Good dramas are contemporaneous with any period of times, theirs and ours. 

Author’s Note: Since the acquisition of a Kindle Fire, I have been wallowing in the enjoyment of quality TV shows of the past. People ask me why I am hooked on the dramas or comedy shows of the bygone eras before my coming to the world. But as I firmly believe that pathos of humankind are transcendent of time and universal in every culture, my sensibilities channel me to the dramas that know no boundary of zeitgeists. I am open to all good TV shows so long as they are worth the viewing.