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review 2019-02-18 18:04
Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith
Fires in the Mirror - Anna Deavere Smith

Derived from interviews with a wide range of  people who experienced or observed New York's 1991  Crown Heights racial riots, Fires In The  Mirror is as distinguished a work of  commentary on black-white tensions as it is a  work of drama.  In August 1991 simmering tensions in the racially polarized Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Crown Heights exploded into riots after a black boy was killed by a car in a rabbi's motorcade and a Jewish student was slain by blacks in retaliation.  Fires in the Mirror is dramatist Anna Deavere Smith's stunning exploration of the events and emotions leading up to and following the Crown Heights conflict.  Through her portrayals of more than two dozen Crown eights adversaries, victims, and eyewitnesses, using verbatim excerpts from their observations derived from interviews she conducted, Smith provides a brilliant, Rashoman-like documentary portrait of contemporary ethnic turmoil.





On August 19th, 1991, the motorcade of a Lubavitcher Hassidic rebbe was traveling through Brooklyn. While driving through the Crown Heights neighborhood, at 8:20pm, one car in the motorcade drove up on the curb suddenly, the car striking and killing seven year old Gavin Cato and also leaving his older cousin with a broken arm. Word quickly spread that a black child had been killed by a Jewish motorist. Some witnesses even said the driver appeared to be intoxicated. Three hours later and five blocks away from the site of the crash, a visiting Hasidic history professor from Australia was stabbed, dying at the hospital some hours later.


The basic timeline of events:


* August 19th, 8:20pm -- Seven year old black child Gavin Cato killed by car that jumps a curb
* Same night, 11:30pm -- visiting Hasidic Jew professor Yankel Rosenbaum, with no connection to the death of Gavin Cato, is stabbed five blocks away from crash site.
* August 20th, 2am -- Rosenbaum dies at the hospital from his stab wounds; later that day, Trinidad-American teen Lemrick Nelson, Jr. is arrested in connection with the stabbing. By August 21st, he is charged with second degree murder (but by October 1992 is acquitted).
* August 21st -- funeral of Yankel Rosenbaum; that same day marks the start of days of rioting and looting throughout the Crown Heights community. That first day, 16 arrests and 20 police officers left injured.
* August 22nd -- the arrest count during the riots rises to 107, the police presence increased to over 1500 officers.
* August 24th -- 1500 protesters led by Rev. Al Sharpton and Alton Maddox march through the streets of Crown Heights.
*August 26th -- funeral of Gavin Cato; Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy.
* Violent acts and courtroom drama in connection with the deaths of Cato and Rosenbaum continue back and forth between the black and Jewish communities through 1992 and 1993, both sides wanting justice and vengeance.


Image result for Fires In The Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith



In 1993, Anna Deavere Smith crafted a one woman stage play depicting these events, compiled from the numerous interviews she did with more than two dozen Crown Heights community members, representing both sides of the story, as well as the impressions of high profile members of the black community such as Rev. Al Sharpton and writer Nzotake Shange. Smith pulls from the interview transcripts verbatim to create the monologues for the stage show, ending on the words of Carmel Cato, Gavin Cato's father.


The early portions of the play explore the political and emotional environment that existed prior to the events of August 1991, while the later monologues get more into the course of events on August 19th itself (I was surprised to see the text here included one of the actual crime scene photos under one of the passages). Smith, in her foreword, writes of how it was difficult to get a clear, unbiased look of the events at the time when there was media bias from nearly every angle. It was her hope and goal to use the interviews, and later the play, to give a more honest, balanced display of this tragic and emotionally charged time. Also, prior to the start of each monologue, Smith gives contextual history such as when / where each interview took place, even what the person was wearing. For example, in regards to the use of the interview with rapper Big Mo, Smith notes that the interview used in the text was actually one done in 1989. 


"Fires In The Mirror is part of a series of theater (or performance) pieces called On the Road: A Search for American Character, which I create by interviewing people and later performing them using their own words. My goal has been to find American character in the ways that people speak... my goal was to create an atmosphere in which the interviewee would experience his / her own authorship. Speaking teaches us what our natural "literature" is. In fact, everyone, in a given amount of time, will say something that is like poetry."


~ Anna Deavere Smith on her process



Related image


While I appreciate Smith's unique approach to the subject matter, I'm not sure it entirely worked for me, personally. I was expecting for these passages to be more impactful. While some of them are quite good, there are others here where I was wondering about the relevance. The words themselves always didn't quite hit the mark for me, so I did a watch of the stage show itself. While better, even there something was falling short. Again, I can appreciate and acknowledge the work that clearly went into crafting this show, but the execution ... something was a little off for me. It didn't always strike me as unbiased a portrayal as Smith claimed she was aiming for and some of the acting did come off as at least a little bit too caricatur-ish. 


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review 2018-12-22 19:04
Disney Magic: The Launching of a Dream by John Hemingway
Disney Magic: The Launching of a Dream - John Hemingway

The dreammakers of Disney have done it again! Disney Magiccelebrates the creation of a cruise ship different from all others. This keepsake volume reveals how the Disney Cruise Line creative team turned a dream, long held by Walt Disney, into reality. It documents the care, innovation and originality that led to the birth of a remarkable ship. Discover why the Walt Disney Company decided to enter the cruise industry, what prompted the decision to design a fanciful, modern classic, and how the ship's storyline sets it apart from all others in the water today. Richly illustrated with more than 180 never-before-seen images, Disney Magic includes preliminary exterior design sketches, photographs of the ship's bow being towed up the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy for the "Float Together" and a vintage shot of Walt Disney himself aboard the Italian luxury liner The Rex. The images provide a taste of the ship's evolution, examining what went into designing and building not only its body, but the highly distinctive interiors. Be dazzled by insights into little known details of the Disney Magic.





Published in 1998, this keepsake book focuses on the development of the Disney Cruise Line, with special focus on the ship Disney Magic. This ship's build began in 1997 in the port of Marghera, Italy. Disney CEO Michael Eisner was inspired to create a cruise line exclusive to the company after touring various popular cruise lines and noticing too much of what he saw as "glassed over floating hotels".




...most suffered from self-imposed industrial constraints, that they all appeared to be built around a framework that was, at best, utilitarian. There seemed little romance, "little sense of Hollywood in contemporary cruise ship design." Yes, they were stylistically fleet, even elegant at times, but structurally they had been driven by a simple formula of compressing the maximum number of cabins into a hull. Where was the fantasy?


Eisner wanted the Disney ships to have a more classic look, something that harkened back to the halcyon days of luxury sea travel. He also wanted to offer a more magical and cozy experience to families. Following an initial billion dollar investment, the dream gradually became a reality.









"We are excessive," observes Michael Eisner. "I must have attended 5 meetings about every room on the ship. I went to see life-size mock-ups of the ship's staterooms in Italy before we committed to any design detail. We change everything 3 or 4 times at least."


"Creativity is an open process," concludes Judson Green, President of Walt Disney Attractions. "The technique that led to the perfection of the ship design is typical of Disney. I always say I'll never accept the first 'take' on anything --- no matter how brilliant. At Disney we have no shortage of ideas. Just turn on the spigots. We let ideas nurture. In the end, they always turn out better..."


Disney Magic, the flagship, was built with inspiration primarily being pulled from two sources: the Queen Mary and a general incorporation of Scandinavian ship design. This book gives readers not only text detailing the project but also a step-by-step visual of the ship (and thus the Disney Cruise Line itself) slowly coming to fruition. Looking at the pictures of the interior now, many will see the chosen fabrics seem pretty dated now (they read VERY 90s, lol) but still, there's something about the nostalgia it now brings forth. Along with the photos of the project itself, also incorporated around the text are vintage photographs of the days of sailing that inspired the vision for the Disney Cruise Line, sketches of the ship design (preliminary suggestions for styling, cabin set up, etc) as well as some rarely seen photographs of the man Walt Disney himself.



just partly built, already immense!



It's an interesting and easy read if you have interest in Disney history or shipbuilding techniques (or both!). The bonus of the photographs is extra fun! 

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review 2018-09-27 12:40
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felten
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue - Eric Felten

When looking for love and friendship—the things that make life worthwhile—we are looking for loyalty. Who can we count on? And who can count on us? These are the essential (and uncomfortable) questions loyalty poses. Loyalty and betrayal are the stuff of the great stories that move us: Agamemnon, Huck Finn, Brutus, Antigone, Judas. When is loyalty right, and when does the virtue become a vice? As Felten writes in his thoughtful and entertaining book, loyalty is vexing. It forces us to choose who and what counts most in our lives—from siding with one friend over another to favoring our own children over others. It forces us to confront the conflicting claims of fidelity to country, community, company, church, and even ourselves. Loyalty demands we make decisions that define who we are.






Eric Felten, a prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal, explores the subject of loyalty throughout the world, using as a basis various areas where this virtue is most strongly valued or illustrated:


* Examples throughout world history -- Felten puts a focus on the topic of loyalty as displayed in Greek history (Spartacus, Marcus Pacuvius) and mythology. WARNING: This book contains spoilers for the story of Pyramus & Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Eurpides' Orestes, Sophocles' Antigone, and Aeschylus' Agamemnon.


* World Literature -- Felten pulls examples of the theme of loyalty from works of Mark Twain, George Orwell, William Shakespeare and 1001 Arabian Nights. WARNING: There are spoilers for Orwell's Animal Farm, Twain's Huck Finn, 1001 Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's King Henry V, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, and O. Henry's short story, "After 20 Years". Felten also gets into the sad story of Graham Green's youth. Now known for such classics as The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, Green's younger days were marked with heavy stress building from divided loyalties between his family (particularly his father, the headmaster of his school) and Green's school friends. The pressure got to be so much that at one point Green became convinced suicide was the only remaining answer. But as we now know, Green later overcame this dark period but actually went on to denounce the idea of loyalty altogether, at least outwardly. Elements of his work suggest that even in his later years he still saw value in the concept.


* Business --  Felten explores the psychology behind brand loyalty people develop for certain products and loyalty programs businesses implement to snag and keep customers


* Military / Law Enforcement -- how loyalty / codes of conduct in these environments are developed, in what ways it is important in these groups; when discussing law enforcement and more specifically prisons, gets into "prisoner dilema" and Reid Technique



Felten even looks at loyalty in regards to the entertainment industry, citing as one example the demise of the marriage between actress Sandra Bullock and motorcycle  manufacturing specialist Jesse James, after Bullock weathered a very public airing of James' adultery. 


What makes it one of the most highly regarded virtues and what dangers does one face when loyalty is misplaced? Loyalty in a person is undeniably admirable, particularly when it stems from an honest place without ill intent or ulterior motive. Having people in your life who truly have your back allows one to be more brave, pursue more dreams, attempt more daring feats and ultimately develop a more fulfilling life all around. But what to do, when society places a burden on a person to be loyal to someone who does NOT seem to have the other person's interests at heart? Some will follow orders and remain loyal to the figure anyway, even when the figure's actions move beyond being merely selfish into flat out immoral or illegal. Even so, their followers can STILL get caught up in that sense of loyalty, making it difficult to convince a person to separate themselves from the unhealthy person in their life. It's just one of those things that rarely catches on, at least right away. Here enters Felten's point on how loyalty can become "the vexing virtue... creating moral conflicts".


Felten's book pleads the case as to why loyalty is still an important virtue worthy of lifelong pursuit. He writes with an enjoyable humorous tone but the text itself does not remain riveting throughout. This little book only lightly delves into the topic and even there, Felten's points sometimes become repetitive, his main stance being (as you can guess from the title) on the vexing quality of loyalty... but he hits upon the "vexing" idea A LOT.







* Here Eric Felten himself talk on the topic of loyalty in this short clip (book trailer of sorts?)

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review 2018-09-26 11:12
Zoom: Surprising Ways To Supercharge Your Career by Daniel Roberts
Fortune Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career - Daniel Roberts,Editors of Fortune Magazine,Marc Andreessen,Leigh Gallagher

With Zoom, Fortune magazine extends one of its most successful franchises, 40 Under 40, to bring you original insight on the best-kept secrets of top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and rising tech stars. Discover how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh built a uniquely attractive corporate culture, how Under Armour founder Kevin Plank took on Nike, and what Marissa Mayer told herself before leaping from a safe post at Google to the high-risk top job at Yahoo. Zoom features the fascinating profiles of these and other young innovators and provides readers with tips to fast-track their own career success. Additional contributors include: Omar Akhtar; Katie Benner; Ryan Bradley; Erika Fry; Miguel Helft; Michal Lev-Ram; Pattie Sellers; Anne VanderMey; and Kurt Wagner. 





Zoom offers an extended look at Fortune Magazine's "40 under 40" feature series. The book opens with a foreword by Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape who now sits on the boards of several major companies such as Facebook, Ebay. He is also an investor behind Twitter and Airbnb.


Daniel Roberts compiles success stories of some of the biggest names from business and entertainment industries, and incorporates pointers readers can use themselves. Some stories highlighted:


* Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour athletic gear, is friends with Pete Wentz, frontman for the band Fall Out Boy. When UA was still a smaller company, Wentz would often blog about his love of the clothing, which got word out on the street and helped grow his friend's business. Later on, Jaime Foxx was seen wearing a UA jockstrap for some of his scenes in the football film Any Given Sunday. In another story, John Janick developed a friendship with Wentz, went on to become president of Interscope Records and signed Fall Out Boy. Once again, Wentz fell into blogging about the two of them and it helped grow not only the band's popularity but also the label's.


Robert's lesson here: Don't be afraid to network! Build street teams, encourage word of mouth endorsements, look for ways to get free advertising when you're just starting out. This is actually kind of ironic, because nearly everyone that Roberts interviewed for this book actually recommended to STOP networking, instead citing education as most important to their success. Several also named "mom" as their mentor. :-) But then that actually ties back to another of Roberts' key points -- don't assume everything's already been done. Research! 


That is one issue I had with this book though, Roberts' tips, the way he words them, can come off confusing, almost contradictory, at times. For instance, he encourages readers to always stay humble, patient, and resilient, but also says that it's important to have a confidence almost to the point of cockiness about your product. 


* When Target was developing their in-store cleaning product line, Method, the company prided themselves on keeping things weird and fun. Method headquarters offers a game room with ping pong and bean bag toss tournaments, the opportunity for employees to make up their own fun job title (ie. admin asst. changed to "Zookeeper", consumer response manager now "Chatty Cathy"), and spin the wheel door prizes as work incentives. Method put time and energy into developing eco-friendly products in cute packaging and went on to break $100 million in sales in 2012. 


Robert's lesson here: Keep your sense of humor about you and your business. Yes, take your work seriously but not TOO seriously. He points back the story of Under Armour and notes that Nike jokingly is not spoken of in UA headquarters, but when interviewed, Kevin Plank admits their competition is needed to keep things interesting. As Plank put it, "Luke Skywalker was a lot cooler because of Darth Vader."


Other stories covered: how Kevin Systrom developed Instagram and how some of the technology was later bought up by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg; the professional path of Evan "Ev" Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Blogger; how Dolf Van Den Brink rose from a management trainee at Heineken to becoming their US CEO within 11 years. Roberts also looks at the saying "no such thing as bad publicity", using the story of Lebron James and his move from Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat as an example. In the summer of 2010, ESPN aired a special on his team move titled "The Decision" following him as he decided whether to stay with Cleveland or move to Miami. After it aired, GQ Magazine deemed the show an "accidental mockumentary", Cleveland Cavalier fans burned jerseys in the streets and a flood of Lebron James hate Youtube videos quickly followed. But that fall, James still went on to make Fortune's 40 under 40 list. 


My favorite section was the bit featuring the rise of South African multimillionaire Elon Musk and how he wants his space exploration company, SpaceX, to be the first to colonize Mars within the next 20 years. Many have dismissed his goals and ideas as absurd, but isn't that how so many eventually successful invention stories tend to go? I like where Roberts ends this portion of the book: "Will his ideas save the world? Maybe not, but the real risk might be not trying at all."


"I'm not satisfied unless I'm doing a little bit more than I actually have time for." 

~ Seth McFarlane, creator of animated series Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and the sci-fi series The Orville




At the very end of the book, there is a supplemental section where readers can look through the questionnaire Roberts posed to the book's contributors, in their own words revealing who their personal mentors are as well as hobbies, pet peeves (Instagram founder Kevin Systrom cites "lattes served in bowls" as his biggest peeve ... more irony! lol), time management tips and causes close to their hearts. 


Brian Deese's responses were my favorite. 



There's also a "Where Are They Now?" kind of follow up to 2012 (this book was published in 2013). 


All in all, a surprisingly FUN read with a largely light-hearted tone to the topic of working toward success. The backstories of the big names and how they got where they are now are cool and inspiring. You'll be surprised how quick you  "zoom" through this one.


Alright, I'll just see myself out now. 




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review 2018-09-26 07:27
The Five Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life by Bob Deutsch
The 5 Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life - Bob Deutsch,Lou Aronica

As a cognitive neuroscientist, anthropologist, and entrepreneur, Bob Deutsch has spent a lifetime studying people. What he has found is that most of us set the bar too low in our lives, both personally and professionally. We choose not to pursue our greatest ambitions because we feel we are incapable of reaching them. But he has also found that we are each born with the fundamental abilities to live the full, creative, dynamic life we dream about. Filled with great stories and interviews with inspiring people, including Wynton Marsalis, Richard Feynman, and Anna Quindlen, The 5 Essentials opens the door to a way of being more alive than you have ever been.  In this compelling book, Deutsch shows us how to access and use our five inner resources -- Curiosity, Openness, Sensuality, Paradox, and Self-Story -- to open our lives to unimagined possibilities.





Deutsch has a background in cognitive neuroscience and anthropology and believes that everyone has 5 basic innate gifts that, when tapped into and nurtured, can help develop a truly fulfilled life:


* Curiosity --- That knowledge-craving bit of you that is always driven to ask "What's that over there?" 


* Openness --- How well you allow yourself to be surprised... do you HAVE to know the details of everything beforehand, or are you okay with surprises once in awhile? How well do you adapt to life's curveballs? Sometimes allowing for surprises leads to a better outcome to a situation than you might have imagined. Deutsch refers to this as "directed serendipity".


* Sensuality --- Not talking about sex here, or at least not solely... but more about how actively you engage your senses in general as you move through experiences. Do you note how the air smells in a moment? The particular nuances of flavor in the food you eat?


* Paradox --  basically how well you embrace the unexpected... somewhat along the lines of Openness, but also incorporating the idea of comfortably living in life's gray areas, being okay with some of life's questions being a mystery with no clear cut answer, rather than requiring everything to have a black and white explanation.


* Self-Story --- Deutsch calls this area "the driving force of your authentic self", the yin-yang compartment of your soul where light and dark, beauty and warts, all sides of your core self find balance. Deutsch explains that when one explores their self story, it "illustrates something fundamental about you."


Knowing what you are about helps you to be at the same time very clear about what you are not about. This allows for the possibility of extraordinary growth, because when a new opportunity comes along, maybe even something you've never considered before, your self-story gives you a way to judge if that opportunity makes sense in your very specific case.


Self-story also makes you resilient in ways you can't possibly be otherwise. When you truly know what you are about, you know it in an unassailable way. Having a vivid sense of your self-story protects you from being completely thrown off your game in the face of hardship. This doesn't mean that the hardships themselves will be less difficult to endure, but it does mean that you're likely to bounce back from them faster. Those who thrive tend to understand their self stories... at a cellular level, and because they understand what they are genuinely about, they can get back on their feet more quickly when things trip them up.



Deutsch also describes research he garnered from hours-long focus groups he put together where he challenged people to "go beyond stereotypical or cliched talk" and really delve into who they were as individuals, instructing them to "stop and focus", "own your narrative" (Why yes, there is a healthy dose of self help buzz language in here! What'd ya expect? :-P ). 


The idea of these focus groups and of this book, is to get people to work toward a more honest, real, stripped down version of themselves so that they can finally sift through the muck and excuses of daily life and get to a clear vision of the life they TRULY want to live. Deutsch describes this part of the process as "Always Be On Your Way Home".


I've developed a strong thesis about popularity.... I call this concept FAP (Familiarity, Appeasement, Power).

{Sorry, it just gave me a giggle that this guy attributes popularity to fapping.... }


Through this book, Deutsch gets into the idea of "decentration" (rather than concentration), the idea of forcing yourself to pause, step back, and take yourself out of an equation to properly evaluate it. Step away from the external noise so that you may listen to clues from your internal self / internal monologue. It's a concept whose origin is attributed to Jean Piaget, a 20th century developmental psychologist. 


At its heart, this book basically just urges readers to live a life beyond a mere surface-level existence. It's not a bad book necessarily, but it doesn't really cover much new ground or offer any real earth-shattering revelations. For the author being someone who studies the field of neuroscience for a living, I was hoping for something a little deeper but the bulk of what he offers most will have come across before in dozens of other books. Additionally, there was something about the overall "voice" of the book in general I found irritating. 


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