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review 2017-01-10 12:59
The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season -- Bonus Entry
Der Weltensammler - Ilija Trojanow
Collector of Worlds, the - Ilija Trojanow

I blacked out my card on Dec. 19 using the "activity" entry for the Kwanzaa square, but since thereafter I did read a book set (partially) in Africa, too, here's my "bonus entry" post ... sorry for reporting in belatedly; blame it on BookLikes posting issues and a surfeit of things going on all at the same time in my life at present. :(


Not that it still seems to matter greatly to begin with, alas ... (sigh).


Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds) is a novelized biography of 19th century polymath and explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, who traveled widely in India, the Middle East and Africa, visiting Mecca (disguised as an Arab) and seeking -- partially successfully, though he didn't know it -- the source of the Nile (he did make it to Lake Victoria, but failed to confirm that the Nile actually does originate from there).  He is best remembered today for his translation of The 1001 Nights.


Interesting, though quite obviously largely fictitious insights into a fascinating life, and a voyage back through time to the Orient, Africa, and British Empire of the 19th century.


Snow Globes: Reads
Bells: Activities


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url 2016-12-15 12:16
BookRiot: Happy 200th Birthday, The Nutcracker!
The Nutcracker - E.T.A. Hoffmann,Maurice Sendak,Ralph Manheim

At this time each year, thousands of little Claras across the world pull their Victorian nightgowns over their heads, lace up their toe shoes, and prepare to take their place on stage in one of the most coveted roles for an aspiring ballet dancer. But the history of Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet goes beyond twirling Sugar Plum Fairies and pirouetting Rat Kings.

The character we’ve come to know as Clara originally appeared in a story written by E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816, by the name Marie Stahlbaum. At a holiday party thirty-odd years later, the legendary Alexandre Dumas told his own version of Marie’s surreal fever dream at a party after being tied to a chair by some of his daughter’s friends who demanded they be told a story. The resulting version of Hoffman’s fairy tale was less dark and more suited to a young audience. That was the version that Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky adapted nearly 50 years later for a performance at the Russian Imperial Theatre.

The original performance sold out on opening night (December 18, 1892) and a holiday season has not since passed without a curtain rising on a gorgeous Christmas tree, in the midst of being decorated by the Stahlbaum family and their friends.


Happy 200th Birthday, The Nutcracker!:


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review 2016-10-20 11:42
Die Ausnahme und die Regel - Bertolt Brecht

This is another of Brecht’s short plays that he referred to as Lehrstucke, or more precisely morality the plays, though this one is a little longer than the other three in the book. Anyway the play is about an unnamed merchant who is wandering across the desert to look at selling some oil that he has discovered. However he becomes lost and it appears that the water is running out. His guide, or more precisely the Coolie, had been given some extra water but decides to let the Merchant have some because if he survives and the merchant dies (or at least comes back a lot weaker than when he left) then the Coolie believes (quite correctly mind you) that he is going to get into serious trouble. However the Merchant is hallucinating at this time, believes that the Coolie actually has a rock, and then proceeds to shoot him.


Long story short, the merchant makes it back to civilisation and finds himself in court having to answer charges of murder, and also a suit that has been brought against him by the Coolie’s wife. The thing is that while we know what went on, the judge is only going by the evidence that has been brought before him, and the evidence is coming from two different avenues – the Innkeeper, who supports the merchant, and the Guide, who supports the murdered Coolie. Okay, we also have the Merchant, but the Merchant is always going to be a biased witness.


However, the problem is that I can’t say all that much more without basically giving away the end of the play (which would be a real bummer for somebody who actually wants to read it), but the thing is that based on the outline that I have given you, you can probably work this out anyway, particularly since Brecht is a communist. Mind you, I can sort of see this at work in our world anyway, especially if you happen to be rich and powerful. There are stories of newspaper moguls here in Australia committing outrageous acts of contempt of court (and parliament), yet getting away with it scot free. In a way this the what the title of the play is about – there are the exceptions and there are the rules.


What Brecht is getting at here is that while we may have a rule of law, there are always going to be exceptions to these rules, and the events in this play are clear in that regard. Well, it’s not so much an exception but rather a rule for one person, and a rule for everybody else. When the Merchant says that he was suffering from heat stroke, hallucinating, and acted irrationally because he was hallucinating, then it is accepted. However the Coolie is correct when he decides to be generous with his water because if he isn’t, and the merchant dies, then he is going to be brought to account. However the exception in the eyes of the judge is that the Coolie acted against his character by being generous – what is expected is that when the merchant is weak then the Coolie will take advantage of him, therefore the Merchant was well within his rights to act in self defence.


This brings me to the question of white privilege; or more particularly white male privilege. While there is a huge debate raging as to whether it exists or not, from my experience it does and the reason I say that is by looking at where I am. I am currently gainfully employed, have a university degree, and live a comfortable existence where I want for little, however if I was not white then it is unlikely that I would be in the same position that I am in now. However the catch is that in our society, at least in Australia, it isn’t so much a question of white privilege – if you are Southern European, Indian, or Asian, then no doubt you will be afforded the same privileges that I am. Sure, there are some extreme racists out there that will target people who are not white, but in general as long as you are not an indigenous Australian then you will pretty much be okay.


Yet there is also a question of money – somebody who grew up in one of the lower class suburbs in Australia is less likely to have the same opportunities than those who grew up in the more affluent suburbs. In fact I knew people that would specifically move into a suburb so that their children could go to a specific public school. Therefore I don’t necessarily believe that it is always a case of white privilege, until you realise that the proportion of Aboriginals in goal far outweighs those of the others. In fact it is more likely than not that indigenous Australians are going to find themselves living in areas where the socio-economic situation is much lower – and don’t even think that you are going to have an easy time getting a rental property in the upper class suburbs if you happen to be aboriginal – it is hard enough for middle class people to get rental properties.


What Brecht is on about is that there is human nature, and there are the exceptions to human nature. This comes about through racism, even if the person making the stereotype doesn’t come across as racist. It could be considered a form of racial profiling – such as indigenous Australians (and Americans) are nothing more than alcoholics that are so desperate that they will resort to drinking methylated spirits. In a way it is similar with Afro-Americans who are generally viewed as violent criminals. This is what Brecht is challenging us with here – the idea that we will categorise somebody of a certain race, and certain class, into a certain mould and will not let them break out of it.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1789348475
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review 2016-08-17 21:30
Suffering Leads to Enlightenment
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

My first impression of this book was that it read a lot like Narcissus and Goldmund, but I can't really critique it for that because Narcissus was actually written after this book (by about eight years). However, having read Narcissus it felt as this thing book was pretty much going over the exact same ground and that there was really nothing all that new that came out of it. Well, come to think of it Siddhartha (who isn't the Buddha, but rather a character that just happens to have the Buddha's birth name) does not lead the exact same life as does Goldmund, nor is he running around sleeping with as many women as he can encounter – he only sleeps with one, though she does happen to be a courtesan (which is basically a prostitute for people that happen to have lots of money, though we don't seem to get courtesans these days, well we do, we just call them escorts, though I much prefer the name courtesan – it is a lot more dignified).


Anyway, I did manage to read this book in Germany, even if it involved sitting at a heavy metal bar in Kolbenz for fifteen minutes (and a second bar which was rather boring, and then ironically, as I was walking back to the car I found another bar that looked really cool, but since I had already had two beers, and needed to get to Luxembourg before 11:00 pm, I wasn't able to pop in there for a beer – at least parts of the German motorways don't actually have a speedlimit, though they do recommend that you don't drive any faster than 130 kph, which quite a few people don't seem to bother with), since the rest of the six odd hours I was in Germany I was behind the wheel of a car (on the motorway of course) so I wasn't able to read it. At least I managed to time myself so I could say that I read this in Germany, but that is beside the point.


Anyway the book is about a guy named Siddhartha who sets out to find enlightenment, and begins by becoming a penniless beggar. This actually raises the question (I was going to say 'beggars the question' but I thought that might be a bit too lame) as to whether such a person could actually survive in modern Australia (or even Europe, though I actually haven't seen as many beggars here than I have seen on the streets of Melbourne, but I will be hitting London in less than a month so that is probably going to change a lot) as a religious beggar. I've seen it in Thailand where the Buddhist Monks literally survive on the goodwill of the people, and in fact monks get a short cut through passport control (I wonder if all you need is to be wearing one of those yellow garments), yet I suspect that this wouldn't actually work in the European world. In fact, I highly doubt that any of the beggars on the streets of our major cities are actually doing it to seek enlightenment, and if they did they would most likely be competing with all the other beggars who are trying to raise enough money for their next score.


However, that is the thing with Buddhism, or in fact any religion, in our Western world – it is considered quaint. I invented a term back in my university days called a 'Christo-Buddhist'. They are basically people of European stock that think Buddhism is cool, and even have a Buddhist statue in their house, but they have no idea what Buddhism is actually about. When I visited the Tiger Temple in Thailand we were told that a lot of Westerners come over to volunteer in the temple, thinking that Buddhism is really cool, but when they discover that Buddhism involves no sex, no alcohol, and basically a bowl of rice every day for food, they pretty quickly become disenchanted and return home to their hedonistic lifestyle – so much for seeking enlightenment.


Yet this is what ends up happening to Siddhartha. He spends time as a beggar, and then meets up with the Buddha himself, but decides that enlightenment doesn't come about through following a teacher but through discovering it for oneself – which I have to admit actually has a ring of truth to it – there are many people who join up with a religious movement that end up becoming nothing more than sheep. They discover a teacher that sounds really cool and end up following the teacher and in then end sign over all their wealth and commit suicide because a flying saucer will be entering Earth's atmosphere and they can only be picked up when they are in their spiritual form – people can be so gullible at times.


I guess that is why when people came to Jesus and said that they wanted to follow him Jesus was actually right down the line and basically said that if they wanted to follow him then they had to basically give up everything. In fact people who were confronted with this stark truth ended up turning away because even though they believed that Jesus had the answer to the meaning of life, the sacrifices that needed to be made to reach that understanding were simply not worth it – materialism in the end got in the way.


Siddhartha does end up going down the materialist route however due to his time as a beggar it doesn't seem to entrap him as much as it does others – such as his son. In a way many of us who have grown up in a wealthy lifestyle become addicted to that lifestyle. This is why it has been suggested that the people of the Great Depression, who were the parents of the Baby Boomers, were much more frugal than today's generation. In fact the Baby Boomers, who had not experienced a recession, or even a depression or war, were trained by their parents to be frugal and to save (which is why the Baby Boomers are so wealthy). However, generation-X, and the Millenials, have pretty much had everything handed to them on a silver platter, and much like Siddhartha's son, react violently when it is suggested that all of these goodies are going to be taken away from them. We look at our parents and those of the older generations – those who could retire at 50 and live a comfortable life traveling the world – and demand that we have that as well, yet spend all their money on big houses and fancy cars. In the end, as Siddhartha discovered, comfort and wealth is in the end meaningless and doesn't bring about fulfillment. In fact for one to be able to reach enlightenment one needs to suffer because it is through suffering that one truly comes to understand the world. Living a life of wealth and luxury where insurance pays for all the mistakes that we might make ends up leading us in the wrong direction.


Bruxelles 17 August 2016


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1728400506
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review 2016-08-05 06:35
Morality of the Execution
Measures Taken and Other Lehrst├╝cke - Bertolt Brecht,Ralph Manheim,John Willett,Carl R. Mueller,Wolfgang Saueralnder

This is actually a really short play, so short that it only took me four beers to finish it. Mind you, these plays generally aren't available in English (which I didn't realise until I started reading this particular book). Anyway, Brecht himself says that the idea of the plays is that they are morality plays, and further more, he wrote them not to be performed by professional actors, but amateurs. Also, as should be noted, this was written during the time when he was basically a communist so there is a lot of communist language used (and one should also note that it was also written during the rise of the Nazi party, however at this time Hitler had yet to seize control of Germany, and the parliament was divided between two extremist groups – the communists and the National Socialists).



The play is about the revolution in China (though one should note that as of its writing, the Maoist revolution was still a long way off – that was to really hit full swing after World War II, though there was still the beginnings of the revolution sturing) and about how a group of revolutionaries executed somebody, and then tell a story to the chorus (who are obviously the judges) as to why the execution was necessary.



The interesting thing that continued to arise during the play is that the nature of the proletariat and the question as to whether the soldiers (and the police) are the friends or the enemies. One sometimes feels that in such a dictatorship the best job to have is in the security forces, but Brecht suggests otherwise. In fact the security forces are being oppressed just as much as the rest of the population – instead of fighting them one should attempt to sway them over to their side. However, it is hard not to view the security forces as being the enemy in that they tend to oppose your movement, as is the case in the play where the police officer is challenging the revolutionary and the worker over handing out leaflets (which the police officer believes is far, far more dangerous than any bomb or gun).


This leads me to the concept of the power of ideas. Sure, there is a suggestion that political arguments are not won or lost on Facebook (or even during a dinner party), however what many people seem to forget (usually those trying to shut down such an argument) is that you're not actually trying to win over the person that you are having the argument with (because in many cases it is nigh impossible to be able to win them over), but rather you are attempting to persuade those whom are listening as to the validity of your argument as opposed to the other side. The same is the case with Facebook because you're not trying to change your opponent's views, but persuade those who may be listening – it is true that arguments aren't ever won or lost, but it is the audience who are the targets – which is the key to many debating contests, and it is also why the audience are the ones who determine the winner in the debate.

As such this graphic actually isn't true:





Finally, I wish to touch on the idea of winning over the security forces. We saw this in Egypt, and also the case with other revolutions – they are never won or lost through the organisers but rather through bringing the military onside. Sure, there are instances where revolution descended into civil war (as was the case with Libya, and is also what is happening in Syria), but this is because the military has disintegrated and they have split off to their respective teams, or that the military was generally made up of a minority, and the majority who are revolting were able to arm themselves effectively. However, in the case of Egypt, the revolution would never have been won and Mubarack deposed were it not for the support of the military (and this was also the case with France, while in Russia the military had been so decimated by the World War that they weren't able to fight the communists, and by the time the West had managed to mobilise against them they had become pretty much entrenched – and also the communist troops were pretty fresh while the troops representing the White Russians had been exhausted through four years of war).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1717827045
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