Friday, 27 August 2010

A book and other thoughts....

I’m going to review George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four today but first – a few things that have caught my attention this week.

Right along the theme of today’s book review is this article. One of the most potent insights of Orwell’s book is the observation of the power of the past, the power of our history, or our perception of it, on our present. We have all heard “It’s the victors who write the history”, or some variation of it. As a society we must also take note of those who would re-write history for their own purpose in the present. Mr. Beck is not the only person to be attempting this feat at present, and it has been done in the past (the place of the cultures of natives in America, Australia, Tibet, and other countries have been rewritten more than once to justify a political agenda), but he is the most effective at present.

Another item that caught my attention this week is the trial of Roger Clemens. He lied to Congress. Excuse me? He lied to Congress? Check me on this if I am incorrect but are not those the very people who lie on an almost daily basis, both small and beyond belief, to the public who elected them? I have two questions: should we really be that put out when someone lies to them? And is this trial really worth the millions of dollars it is going to cost the taxpayers? Are there not more important matters that should have the attention of this elected body and more profitable arenas for this money? Mr. Clemens inflicted an unknown amount of damage on his own body while giving baseball fans a great show. I’m a baseball fan. I’m just not that upset. We are going to nail Mr. Clemens but allow those who were smarter or slipperier (Mark McGuire) to get away with the same offense? Nonsense I say.

Finally, I found this adorable and encouraging piece. I mean if this many men actually admit to it, I think that means many more are engaging in the practice aye? I think it’s grand myself.

Now to this week’s selection – Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has not only held up through time but is as applicable today, if not more so, than when it was written.

Lifespan: b.1903 (India), d. 1950 (England)
First Published: 1949
First Published by: Secker & Warburg (London)
Given Name: Eric Arthur Blair

The book is written as “a beautifully crafted warning against the dangers of a totalitarian society. Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling party in London whose every move is monitored by telescreens. Everywhere Winston goes, the party’s omniscient leader, Big Brother, watches him. …thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Winston, who works at the Ministry of Truth (Harry Potter anyone?) altering historical records …is frustrated and oppressed by the prohibitions on free thought, sex, and individuality. He illegally purchases a diary to record his thoughts and spends his evenings wandering the poor areas where the “porles” live, relatively free from monitoring. Winston starts an illicit affair with Julia, …they are caught by a party spy, and in Room 101, Winston is forced to confront his worst fear. Giving up his love for Julia in terror, Winston is released, his spirit broken and his acceptance of the party complete."

When the book was written in 1949 the nuclear age was only beginning and television was too expensive to be yet mainstreamed. “This is an important novel not only for its stark warning against abusive authority….but also for its insights into the power of manipulating language, history, and the psychology of fear and control.”

I remember reading this book for school when I was in my young teen years, and it terrified me then – I find it more frightening now with what I have seen of the world. I believe all told I have read it through three times and bits of it here and there through the years. I highly recommend this book as a read, and if you have read it once, do so again in the light of present day.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Friday Book Review

Thank you, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Lifespan: b. 1881 (England), d. 1975 (U.S.)
First Published: 1934
First Published by: H. Jenkins (London)
Full Name: Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.” Wodehouse, 1956

I am a fan. I think you either are or you are not, there is no middle ground here. You will not find a great plot, nor great comic lines, or interesting characterizations. You will find “the world that he created, an everlasting midsummer England untouched by either of the world wars, peopled with characters endowed with the psychology of a prepubescent”.

The writing of Wodehouse is the sheer wonder of his prose. He brings you into his world and you are laughing at you know not what exactly. “His ability to weave from nothing a supremely comic metaphor or simile is still unmatched in the novel form. He is most famous for the Jeeves and Wooster series.”

“The stories seem to turn upon Jeeves’ dislike of Wooster’s clothing or music. Wooster always seems to get mistakenly engaged to someone frighteningly serious and intelligent, whereupon he is then victim to the violent suitor whose place he has usurped. All such events will be set in train by the unpleasant combination of purple socks and red cummerbund, or ownership of a stolen cow creamer. Floating serenely on the surface of all this silliness, though, is Wodehouse’s utterly inimitable prose.”

I recommend you give him a try and see if it is for you.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Friday Book Review!

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Lifespan: b. 1920 (Russia), d. 1992 (U.S.)
First Published: 1950
First Published by: Gnome Press (New York)
Original Language: English

I agree with the reviewer here that this is “one of the most important works of science fiction in the history of the genre.”

Asimov blends together in his collection of short stories that make up the complete novel, the science of robots and the philosophy of man, as well as the conflict that arises when science and man meet in conflict.

A reporter putting together a profile of the robotic scientist Dr. Susan Calvin who works for the large corporation that manufactures the robots writes the stories. The stories are a collection of interviews.

“In I, Robot Asimov coined the term ‘robotics’ and set out the principles of robot behaviour we know as the Three Laws of Robotics, followed by science-fiction writers ever since. The three rules read: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey orders given by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.”

In the interviews Dr. Calvin reflects on the evolution of robots, and as well the lack of understanding of the majority of humankind about what they have created. “Each story illuminates a problem encountered when a robot interprets the three fundamental laws, and something goes awry.”

Even though this was written when the computer age and software was in its infancy, the laws have never been changed, and Asimov shows an uncanny foresight into the future. His views of the possible conflict between man and machine are insightful and current as of today.

As a hardcore (E.E. Doc Smith) science fiction fan, I think this is a book not to be missed. The fact that the ‘three laws” have maintained their integrity through the decades shows that no one has come up with anything better. If you missed it, read it now by all means.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Playing catch up!

6 August 2010

Book Review Friday!

Another one of my personal favourites: The Once and Future King by T.H. White.

Lifespan: b. 1915 (India), d. 1964 (Greece)
First Published: 1958
First Published by: Collins (London)
Full Name: Terence Hanbury White

“White’s complex and often brilliant retelling of the Arthurian legends was written over a twenty-year period as a sequence of four novels and first published as a single volume in 1958.”

I shall not here digress into the various saccharine Disney versions of this work. You are on your own there.

The Once and Future King was based on Thomas Malory’s ambitious prose romance of the Arthurian court, Le Morte d’Arthur, written in the fifteenth century. White does not update the story, but he is always conscious of the parallels that can be made between the brutality of the dying Middle Ages and the rise of fascism in his lifetime. In the course of the four published novels, Arthur grows from a gangly, nervous youth (“the Wart”) into a vigorous military leader. He is eventually forced to emulate the actions of the Naxi-esque Celtic forces assembled by his nemesis, Mordred, in an attempt to try to preserve the innocence of England. The result id disastrous and, as he rides out to meet his death, Arthur concludes that only without nations can humankind be happy. There are some magnificent set pieces, notably when the Wart, transformed into a perch by Merlin, is nearly eaten by the pike, Mr. P., who warns him that the only reality is that of power.

The Once and Future King is a messy sequence of novels that is not always properly integrated, as the author acknowledged. Still, it is a powerful, disturbing work about the evil that men can do and the desperate struggle for values in a hostile world. “

All quotes in my reviews are from 1001 Books You must read Before you Die. For this particular text I took the quote almost intact as I thought the author said it much better than I could.

This is one of my all time favourite legends, books, dreams, warnings, particulates of my personal philosophy, etc. If you have not read this book, this is truly one that as thinking human I think you must read.

30 July 2010

Book Review Friday!

Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.

Lifespan: b. 1789 (U.S.) d. 1851
First Published: 1826
First Published by: J. Miller (London)
Full Title: Last of the Mohicans, a Narrative of 1757

This was for me one of those pivotal books we all have in our youth. I remember well being taken away by Cooper to the old west, the thrill of battle (the massacre at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War), and the possibility of beings so different from me described in the characters of the two Delaware Native Americans, Chingachgook and his son Uncas. The forbidden possibility of a romance between the genteel Cora (who has in the book a black mother; scandalous in my world at that time); and the deep friendship between the scout Hawkeye and the two Indians brought up possibilites I had never entertained.

I do remember being rather disappointed that the two women spent much of the novel being captured, rescued, or escorted to safety. I wanted them to pick up a gun or spear and help out!

I had met Hawkeye earlier in Cooper’s The Pioneers (1823) as frontiersman Natty Bompo. Cooper was “the first internationally renowned American novelist. He creates a template for much American popular fiction, particularly the Western.”

Cooper’s racial politics are conservative; thought the novel raises the possibility oif interracial romance and a child of mixed heritage. He does not follow thorugh as he kills off the two young lovers before they can consummate the relationship.

“Cooper laments the destruction of the wilderness, and of the Native Americans who inhabit it, but all are shown to succumb inevitably to progress, typical of the ideology of the nineteenth-century America.”

If you somehow missed Cooper’s vision of the Old West I highly recommend both Last of the Mohicans and The Pioneers.

Friday, 6 August 2010


When something is working very well why change it and screw it up? Argh! Picasa added some FUBAR update and now I can't get my photographs to upload. The Internet connection here is very slow but I will figure it all out and post photographs soon; meanwhile most of them are making it to Facebook sans captions.

We are off to the 51/2 hour rafting trip today through white water. Huzzah! We shall then drive to Calgary, drop off the car, and hopefully a good night's rest. Then back to Texas on Saturday. I imagine I won't be posting until Sunday, but I shall catch you up then, hopefully with illustrations, shall I?

Thursday, 5 August 2010

He’s a cheeky horse named Dandy…

2 August 2010

These were the first words I heard at the stable after we arrived from the Fairmount hotel in Whistler. And then our notably cheery guide Sarah pointed me out and called me over. He was indeed a cheeky horse, like riding a 1600-pound toddler, but we came to an understanding and he was a fine ride. The rest of my family and the other tourists saddled up and our two guides led us out across the field of blooming seed potatoes toward the mountains. It was a grand ride with just enough steep hills, hairy turns, and great views at the top to make it fun. As it turns out S. mounts a horse and becomes the young Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet”! She has an enviable seat and rides like she was born on a horse.

There was a lovely lady named Loraine in our group and we discovered that the guide Sarah is her daughter, and there is a story there – Sarah came out to Whistler to train for the Olympics – snowboarding was her sport, and she broke her back. She has been in Vancouver the past year and a half, only recently returning to Whistler, at which point coming over the mountain and looking down she said to herself, “Why did I leave?” She is very happy once again and now leading the trail rides and training in dressage. She is one of those people who you can only look upon with admiration and wonder how you would have done faced with such challenges.

Dandy, even when he was being good was ready to be back at the barn and spent half the ride down the mountain nipping at Lucky’s butt (Magnus was riding Lucky) who was very placid about the intrusion – made you think it wasn’t the first time. Later down the trail, given any chance he would break ahead in the line, and one of the four Russians had not secured his cash – it went flying out of his pocket and down the line, fortunately we were out of the mountains by this time and riding across a field so it didn’t spook any of the horses. As he dismounted and ran back to secure his cash, Dandy, very smoothly I thought, slid himself right into his slot scaring the Russian who was now riding in front of us as Dandy nicked the butt of his horse who did not take it well and kicked back to nail Dandy in the right shoulder. I was sure this was not the first time as Dandy simply and very smoothly maneuvered himself to avoid the blow. I fear I was more amused than annoyed and that did not sit well with the frightened young man on the now skittish horse. We also had along one of those Americans that no doubt inspired the phrase and book, “The Ugly American”.

Our driver from and back to the hotel was a lovely young man named Roberts from Australia who informed me that none of the British ski resorts could run without Aussie staff. Apparently they set aside a certain number of slots for Aussies from the beginning of planning. So there U.K.!

I had a lovely and delicious Afternoon Tea for one in our lovely room as himself entertained the teenagers – there are many advantages to being the wicked stepmother.

Leers and cheers: on my shopping trip to tourists-r-us in Whistler Village to pick up a couple of shirts for my missing child who was somewhere underwater in the Caribbean I noticed myself keeping count of the leers – I think that must be an age thing as I cannot remember doing that when I was younger. I was simply happy they were there to be counted!

In a shop where I found a talking shirt (which normally I abhor) for the adorable husband that I could not resist (“Old guys rule” in a discreet circle on the left side of the front, and “aged well” (on the back). The young woman checking my ID said, “You are sixty?”


“You look fantastic.” What does that mean when you are 60? You look good to have lasted this long? With me it’s not the years, it’s the mileage – which I realize every time after a hard climb or a day with a cheeky horse named Dandy!

As I exited the shopping I came upon the village Firehouse, Police Station, municipal building, and a nice shiny fire engine sitting outside. I love fire trucks and engines and am very fond of firemen. As I was getting my shot a young man who should never wear a shirt, I mean really – even to a formal affair he should just wear the jacket. His chest was an advertisement for trips to the gym and his abdominal muscles reminded me of that waterfall we saw on the train ride…”May I help you?”

Once I could get my voice to work, my mouth went dry for a moment there …. “Oh no thank you. I’m just getting a photograph of your fire engine.”

“You like fire trucks?”

“Yes, I always have.”

“Well you know firemen have a real fondness for redheads.” Cocky young thing he was.

“That’s nice. I have to go. My husband is waiting for me.” I was, as Magnus pointed out upon hearing the story – flustered! Um hmmm..

There was a Farmer’s Market with much fresh produce and many local products lining the walk next to the Fairmount, and a wonderful children’s play area. I managed to get a couple of great shots of future risk takers in the making.

A wonderful day.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

1 August 2010

It is not at all that yesterday went badly, but that it was quite different than expected.

We boarded the train in Vancouver expecting an observation car and private seating as described in the brochure. The train was quite lovely enough with big picture windows and comfortable chairs, but not private and not second story. The scenery was brilliant and unending. The service was good but, oh my, we did wish the attendants would stay off the mike, do a bit less talking, and simply let us enjoy the ride.

Whistler is brilliant. The hotel is very comfy and lovely, with a magnificent view of the mountains and the shoppes below.

Zip line called due to lightning, storms, and fire!

We settled into our rooms and I decided that I would let the rest of the family go zip lining without me as I have done it before and I was lagging a bit. I wanted to be up for the half-day horse ride and picnic today. I have been so lucky so far as the Red Bull has held the migraines at bay. The adorable husband has been a hound in pursuit when it comes to keeping me supplied.

About an hour later I got a call from the adorable husband – the three of them were stuck in Whistler underneath a shelter, in the rain, which was pouring down to such an extent they could not move. (I later learned that Whistler had not had rain for 29 days! Quite a dangerous hot spell this time of year, and explanation enough as to why the lightning was able to ignite such a large fire).

Apparently my family had barely started into the valley when the thunder and lightening (which I saw strike the mountain top) began and then the guide pointed to a reddish glow in the sky on another ridgeline and said, “Lightening fire.” At that point smoke began rolling down into the valley. The um…zip lining was canceled.

After the children were fed and put abed we had wicked deserts in our room and watched Travolta in “From Paris with Love”.

This morning we are off for a half-day horseback ride and picnic. I forecast much brilliant scenery.