Sunday, October 25, 2015

Some Recommended Reading

A few articles I found this week that I hope others will find interesting, too:

"Further and Farther," from the New Yorker magazine: Does etymology determine usage? I think it does, but most speakers of modern (contemporary) English don't think so!

Best Video You Will Ever See: a little boy explains vegetarianism as no one else can.  Here's the video, which I first saw on the Feed Me Darling Facebook page:

Daniel Craig tells us a couple of truths about James Bond: First, "I guess that one of the biggest reasons why the character has endured for so long is because he represents the eternal struggle between good and evil." But also: "...let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist."

And also about distinguishing between heroes and role models: "Don’t confuse role models with heroes. My heroes are very personal to me. Both my grandfathers fought in the Second World War—one was in Germany, the other with the Royal Air Force in Siberia. But let’s not harp on about that. They hated talking about what was a terrible time. We should respect that. "

Dan Price, the guy who is giving his employees a minimum wage of $70,000 per year, has gotten a lot of flak from the usual suspects. But his experiment is working, and other employers are trying it.

What about the guy (David Siegel) who said he would FIRE all his employees if Obama was elected? (Because he would have to fire them because the economy would go to hell and he wouldn't be able to pay them, etc., etc., etc.)  From The Daily Kos:

Instead of firing, Siegel has had to hire more people.  Since his employees were finally able to get reasonably-priced health insurance, he was free to invest his money in all kinds of things.  He bought the Orlando Predators.  He also bought a massive hotel/casino in Las Vegas.  Saints be praised, he was even able to finally start work again on his gaudy, 90,000 square foot house complete with a bowling alley, a 30-car garage, and a roller-skating rink.
Turns out that he never had any intention to flee to the Caribbean.
Turns out Obama has been great for him.
Turns out he was just another rich, entitled a$$hole.
(And may I recommend The Daily Kos for all kinds of interesting articles, like the one above. I'll try not to take more than one of my recommendations from this Web site each time.)

Finally, contrary to what anti-religionists say, truly religious people don't see much conflict between religion and science. "The people who are farther away from religion themselves tend to see stronger conflict, because they’re not as close to actual religious people," according to Robert P. Jones, a religion scholar and CEO of the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute.  “They aren’t seeing all those people who don’t have a conflict.” Jones explains that anti-religionists just see "waht's depicted in the media: all-out warfare."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Sunday Book Review, October 18, 2015: The Book of the Dun Cow

Can you judge a book by its cover? Well, yeah, obviously. That's why the paperback romance novels all look essentially the same, the damsel with the ripped bodice leaning up against the hunk with the no-bodice. That's why the science fiction books all have that certain shade of dark blue somewhere on the cover. That's why the mystery novels all have that certain candy-apple red shaded with darker tones somewhere on the cover. And so on.

I found this book at a library book sale a few years ago and picked it up because of the title and the great cover. I liked how a rooster in front of the sun dominated the cover while a dun cow barely peeked out behind him.

 And I wondered what this book could possibly be about: life in Iowa? Election politics? An expose of big farming in Iowa?

Kidding. I'm reviewing this book now because I found it at the library, again, this time in the row of paperback books the librarian told me are "honor-system" checkouts. You have to check these books out like other books, and they have an electronic tag in them so you can't sneak them out without checking them out, but when you try to renew them, the librarians wave their hands and say, "Psh. Just bring it back when you're done with it."

I'm mentioning that because on the bottom of the book someone has written with Sharpie, "SF." Most of the books in that section say "M" (for mystery, I guess), or "T" (for thriller).

So I checked it out, because I knew I would never find the copy of the book I'd bought years ago anywhere in my own library collection at home. I thought I would just skim through it to remind myself of the plot and enjoy the antics of the rooster Chauntecleer, his would-be nemesis Cockatrice, the Dog Mundo Cani, and the other animals.

But I couldn't just skim. I had to read, really read, and I got into the book even more deeply than I did the first time I'd read it. It's like an extended fable, it's like "Animal Farm," it's like "Watership Down," and it's like none of those. It left me with an almost religious feeling of wonder and awe.

How could a so-called "sci-fi" book written in 1978 affect me so much? I looked it up on Wikipedia, and got just the facts, the bare facts. Wikipedia says the book is "loosely based upon the beast fable of Chanticleer and the Fox adapted from the story of "The Nun's Priest's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales."

But I think it's so affecting because the would-be hero, Chauntecleer, is not any more of a hero than any of us: he's vain and petty and sometimes mean, but he tries to do what's right. And when he's called upon to lead his people and save them from evil, he succeeds, almost in spite of himself and certainly because of the Dun Cow and the Dog Mundo Cani.

Another interesting thing I learned on Wikipedia is that a musical produced as an off-Broadway show came out of the book, and the author, Walter Wangerin, Jr., wrote a sequel, "The Book of Sorrows," which I'll look for in the library or find online. (I just followed the link to the sequel on Wikipedia and read that it was published by Zondervan, which Wikipedia says "is an international Christian media and publishing company located in Grand Rapids, Michigan."  And I found it on Amazon, so I'll order it and let you know what I think.

Meanwhile, here's an interesting review of "The Book of the Dun Cow."

SNL: Democratic Debate

Finally! A real debate!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fiction Friday: Oct. 9, 2015: The Martian

When I reviewed the book "The Martian" earlier this year, I wrote, "What's so great about this book is that it's not 'fantasy' and it's not hard-core 'sci-fi,' you know, those books from the 60s with the most unrealistic characters anyone could ever imagine, zipping around in unrealistic (not sci-fi, just unrealistic!) space ships and conquering new worlds while having unlimited sex with nubile and even more unrealistic and unrealistically acquiescent female aliens and astronauts."

Right? It's real science-driven fiction, what we all have been wanting all along, fiction based on real science.

And so, what about the movie? Well, the movie does the book justice and more so. The plot of the novel is brilliant, the screenplay adapted from the novel is brilliant, the directing is brilliant, the effects are brilliant, and Matt Damon is brilliant as the astronaut who is left behind when his 5 crew-mates have to abort their mission.

The movie asks the questions, what will life for Earthlings be like on Mars, and how can anyone survive there if all the NASA fail-safes fail? It answers the questions: It will be incredibly hard, but if you want to live and you follow the training you've received and don't let yourself panic, and if your crew comes back for you, and you have NASA and the whole world hoping and waiting, you might make it.

Because, as the trailer says, "Help is only 140 million miles away!"

The book was so incredibly good, and, guess what, the movie does justice to it. Great plot! Great screenplay! Great characters! Great acting! Great effects! Great planet! Great everything!

The movie is my favorite in the last few years, maybe my favorite of all time. Here's the "official" trailer:

If you're concerned about language, the movie is rated PG-13, so you know it has some strong language. There is also a scene showing the very skinny naked astronaut from the back toward the end of his long ordeal on the inhospitable planet (I'm guessing this is not the actor Matt Damon), and there are some views of a bloody injury and the astronaut sewing that up. In other words, if your 13-year-old sees this movie, she will not hear or see anything she hasn't already been exposed to for the last 6 years of her life.

Should you see it? Yes. Please see this movie. And maybe you'll know why I keep hoping that *I* can go to Mars someday.