Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: Movie Magic Screenwriter

I used to use Final Draft for all my screen/stage/teleplays, but after a new computer and an outdated version, I decided to check out Movie Magic Screenwriter (MMS) and I love it. The prices are roughly the same, and both offer serious discounts, so software costs are no longer the dealbreaker. MMS is a slightly older build than Final Draft 9, which has the better GUI, but MMS is simple enough to work with, at first use, and it has no trouble keeping up with me.

It’s got all the formatting squared away for you. WRITE. (Save often!)

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A Seuss-ish Butter Battle Cold War


The Yook Chief made deals with other like minded spreaders. At first for their resources, the Yooks found new friends, ‘ventually forcing a decision ‘bout best bread-buttered ends.  Their tropical friends had their own customs too, but elected new Chiefs to try something new.  These new leaderoos, figuring “never enough butter,” buttered both sides of bread, sending Yook hearts afutter. The Chief Yookeroo thought they had been swayed by the Zooks, and the media attacked them, calling them kooks.  The Giperoo was young and a hero on the tube. He would reassure the Yooks on what was best to do.  There would be no Zook nonsense, no it must be contained. The radical Zook ideas would need to be shamed.  “This can’t go on”, the Chief would say, to this heathen idea they could not fall sway. He picked his best men, and lied of their hypocrisy, and installed puppet leaderoos in the name of yooocracy.  Far flung places were picked from a hat to engage the Zooks by proxy in geopolitical spat.  The boom-eroo complex moved along with great speed, Yooks were once again drafted according to need.  Yookeroo young began to line up for war; no one was really sure what they were fighting for.

Still all of this time, with fingers on triggers, more boom-eroos were planned and made and delivered.  More silos and spending to match that of the Zooks, no money was spent educating the Yooks.  More taxes were collected, but less money was made, and Yooks ducked and covered and were always afraid. Each Yook Dollar spent went to straight to the cause, pushed through Yookongress with patriotic applause.  There would be more boom-eroos, and boom-eroos meant more jobs, for the out of work masses that had turned into mobs.  Sound bites would tout the creation of work, from Yook leaderoo mouths with a wink and a smirk.   But not all Yooks knew booms or even –eroos.  The ones that did had numbered in few.  So no “real” jobs would gainfully employ, but yooocracy would cheapen the cost of Yook toys. With no money for schools, more Yooks wound up in jail. Idealistic Yooks yearned for this old way to fail.  And just for a glimmer, fail it did, a stand-in Chief was elected and Yooks looked within.  The Gipperoo waited from his Hollyook home, four years out west while a stand-down was sown.  Tired of shilling and starting to age, he could barely contain his zeal for the stage. When he’d get his turn, the Zooks would be crushed; out on top would be bread, with the butter-side-up.

By this time the boom-eroos were biggered and baddered.  Bitsy Big-Boy had no longer mattered.  The potential for carnage had gadzupled by far, and the Gipperoo was anxious raise up the bar.  If only he were Chief, the Zooks would retreat. There would be no butter spread on bread-underneaths.   The Zook “question” should be pushed to the top concern.  The Yooks would get the number one spot they deserved. Because the Yooks were tired of settling for less, the old showman decided to perform the show he knew best.  A deal was arranged, and some Yooks came home, and the dovish Chief Yook was removed from his throne.  The Gipperoo rode into power on a wave of support, to a “new dawn for Yooks” and more building of forts.  We would make more bombs and profits would trickle down, to the poor Yooks living in the poor side of town.  This scheme was a myth, making more Yooks broke, and ever more weary unlike wealthy Yook folks. Weapons were passed on to fight Yook wars, to shady new friends quick to offer support. Monies were funneled through third world regimes, and the discovery of this: a Gipperoo bad dream.  There even was a Yook financial crash, but this had nothing to do with the inevitable Zook collapse. The Zook walls that went up a while ago, came down because the Zooks demanded it so.

Based upon the Butter Battle Book, by Dr. Seuss

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REVIEW: Hayden’s “Building Suburbia”

Analysis and Response to “Building Suburbia, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000” by Dolores Hayden  (it’s super cheap, used, on Amazon)

“Subsidizing Sprawl”


An example of where one teacher can change everything could be the day I found the book “Building Suburbia” by Dolores Hayden.  I hadn’t considered the planning field prior to that occasion, and I’m not quite sure what my motivation was in picking up “Building Suburbia,” but I was quickly consumed by the material.  Upon reading, I became familiar with much of the jargon associated with the planning field i.e. Greenfields, infill, etc.  It is this initial presentation that made me consider planning as a career avenue, while consuming my head with the idea of “what was this/what will this be” when confronted with any space.  In the book, Hayden describes the types of government-subsidized private developments in order, starting in 1820 America, and continuing to the present.  She classifies the development eras in separate chapters, which begins with “borderlands” (beginning circa 1820’s), “picturesque enclaves” (1850’s), “streetcar buildouts” (1870’s), “mail order and self built suburbs” (1900’s), “sitcom suburbs” (1940’s), “edge nodes” (1960’s), and “rural fringes” (1980’s-present).  It is the subject of “edge nodes” that resonated most with me.  The fact that there was still land and open space in America prior to that point made me think about the areas of open space I’ve seen developed in my life time; as well as realize that land is finite resource.

Dolores Hayden’s presentation of edge nodes focuses on what once was “a dusty, narrow road in Fairfax County, Virginia,” Tyson’s Corner.  No longer the “mom and pop gas station,” the surrounding area now contains “more commercial space than downtown Miami.” Hayden traces the history of Tyson’s Corner and explains that the growth of the area started with a shopping mall, led by a lawyer turned developer, Til Hazel.  Hazel made a career of handling the lawsuits concerning beltway entrance and exit ramps.  He then used that knowledge to his advantage to create what Hayden describes as “a knot of freeways and arterials…unrelated high-rise and low rise buildings, a vast assemblage of houses, apartments, garages, shopping malls, fast-food franchises, and corporate headquarters.”  The language she uses could be applied to hundreds if not thousands of cases similar to Tyson’s Corner.  She points out that much like other cities, class associated retail—“upscale and downmarket”—are located side by side.  Much of this is chain retail, void of local character and seemingly out of place.  Hayden muses at how, in this amalgamation, could “Gucci’s and McDonalds coexist?” The answer lies in the automobile, which brings the city that “has more jobs than bedroom” its workers and shoppers.

Tyson’s Corner was once a just thru point on the beltway, only accessible by automobile and void of any substantial native population.   The placement of freeway entrances and exits precipitated a need to justify the expense.  This wasn’t so much about the individuals desire to locate to Tyson’s Corner, Hayden believes.  Contrary, the new and improved Tyson’s Corner is what the individual was given, as “the activities of automobile manufacturers, commercial real estate developers, and the federal government have been far more important in determining patterns of transportation than consumer choice.” No doubt, many likely pined for the walkable, neighborhood street, as opposed to the wild nature of the eight lane major road and strip development that was haphazardly planned out for them.  Instead, when we conduct ourselves within this framework, its flaws are noticeable through observation.  Hayden brings up one dangerous intersection, which she  “decided to negotiate…(by) car rather than on foot,” calling it “drive to lunch syndrome.”  Why would anyone test their body to the demanding Leeburg Pike carrying “six to eight lanes of fast-moving traffic” and a shopping mall which lacked “an obvious pedestrian entrance?”  I have and it’s dangerous.  I’m sure many would chose to navigate this by automobile as well.  This dangerous environment, Hayden says, is “typical of edge nodes where nothing is planned in advance and all the development takes place in isolated ‘pods’.”

The boom to create spaces such as Tyson’s Corner began in the early Fifties, according to Hayden, when new legislation allowed “owners to depreciate or write off the value of a building in…a short time.  This created a “gigantic hidden subsidy for the developers of cheap new commercial buildings located on strips.” These new developments were mostly “greenfield,” in their placement; built on what was once open space.  Some housing followed, and “by the mid-1950’s real estate promoters of the commercial strip were attaching it to the center-less residential suburb.”  These practices were enabled further by federal subsidies, “but since these subsidies were indirect, it was hard for many citizens or local officials to know what was happening.”  And the wave took off “in the wake of the tax bonanzas for new commercial projects.”  Many of these roadside strips “boomed” after new tax write-offs were implemented federally, with “over 98 percent of malls made money for their investors.”

When jobs and commerce began moving to edge nodes, “few people wanted to live in them,” charges Hayden.  Her reasoning is that residential lots in edge node areas like Tyson’s Corner are “often the result of spot builders filling in leftover sites with ‘affordable’ housing units.”  Although convenient (debatable) the freeway which gave life to the node also impinges on its desirability.  To make the place more attractive and address the lack of planned center—which would account for public space and public facilities—“private developers responded…by building malls, office parks, and industrial parks as well as fast-food restaurants and motels.”  Assuredly this is done with the individual’s happiness at heart, rather than the profit motive.  Unfortunately, their intentions became “ugly environments” built on “cheap gas and subsidized freeways.” A commute became forced, if one was to take a job in Tyson’s Corner, and almost immediately, in my mind, it makes me consider “commute from where?”  Hayden suggests that the location is likely another edge node.

Upon reading about Tyson’s Corner, it made me wonder: Do we need all of this? It startled me that “by 2000, Americans had built almost twice as much retail space per citizen as any other country in the world.”  The fact that “most of it was in malls,” is also of concern, considering that the 1954 Internal Revenue Code changed to permit “accelerated depreciation of greenfield income-producing property.” Not only is the developments necessity suspect, but “by enabling accelerated depreciation, (government) encouraged poor construction…and discouraged maintenance.”  The disinvestment in these structures created an issue of abandonment, which I have seen readily in my travels across this country.  Quoting Robert Davis, of the Congress for the New Urbanism, from the 2002 Charter, Hayden notes that “‘Shopping centers built only in the 1960s are already being abandoned.  Their abandonment brings down the values of nearby neighborhoods. Wal-Marts built five years ago are already being abandoned for superstores.” Prior to reading this book, I wouldn’t have believed it, even having seen it with my own eyes. Very demonstrative of our throw-away cultural mentality, she continues to quote Davis who finishes by stating “’we have built a world of junk, a degraded environment. It may be profitable for a short-term, but its long-term economic prognosis is bleak.’” I concur.

This environment that was forced upon us with little public input, and with certainly none from the era’s progeny, is indeed ugly and callous, if not sinister, to the pedestrian and those who conduct themselves in that sphere.   Tyson’s Corner is not immune to the abandonment outcome, as new developments continue to break ground daily—it is almost destined to be replaced.  Citing a Bank of America report on sprawl in California, Hayden quotes “‘urban job centers have decentralized to the suburbs…New housing tracts have moved even deeper into agriculturally and environmentally sensitive areas….Private auto use continues to rise.” One consequence is foretold, when reading Til Hazel’s response of “So what?” when informed that twenty-eight acres a day were disappearing because of new construction.  Such a response is disappointing but predictable, and probably similar to the land ethic of other developers of the time.  To him, “The land is a resource for the people to use and the issue is whether you use it well… Is the goal to save green space so the other guy can look at it?”  I charge that it is there for ALL of us to look at—and if everyone had that attitude, there wouldn’t be any land!  There are consequences to the development of places like Tyson’s Corner, and continuing with the Bank of America report… “acceleration of sprawl has surfaced enormous social, environmental, and economic costs, which until now have been hidden, ignored, or quietly borne by society.” Those costs are coming to light more and more.

All from: Dolores Hayden (Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820-2000)


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REVIEW: “Endangered Minds”

Children Need Boredom

In the days before telev518RCp0rs0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ision, video games, and standardized testing, children were “bored”. Schools and media are always trying new ways to keep kids “engaged”.

Each new way eventually fails, like new fads; technology “one-ups” itself and creates a higher standard for instant gratification from the young learner. It is often forgotten, though, that children born in an era before the pervasiveness of internet and video games read more, played more, socialized more, appreciated more and actually really learned more.

In attempting to keep children happy and busy, parents and educators may forget development of the imagination and free curiosity which naturally comes with it is enabled by unstructured time away from the quick fix and “carrot” used to “motivate” children. “Free” time allows the mind to think, analyze and contemplate. Boredom itself, teaches.

Who children become is a result of what they learn and the behaviors they see by the people closest to them. A parent that makes smart decisions based upon sound logic provide a good model for the developing child. Justification using specific examples and reasoning gives structure, helping build cognitive ability, providing a reliable “life-solving” methodology to follow. The study of critical reasoning provides the platform in which to teach it. Understanding the “who”, “what”, ”when”, ”where”, “why’s”, and “how’s” of something, combining variables helps to make a claim and draw a conclusion. The context determines the logic used to present arguments; relating all concepts and providing a recognizable pattern. Willingham, in his essay Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard To Teach?, posits that “scientific thinking must be taught hand in hand with scientific content.”, and that upon analysis of teaching methods, believes “that effective approaches were those that focused on building complex, integrated knowledge bases as part of problem solving,” whereas,  “Ineffective approaches focused exclusively on the strategies be used in problem solving while ignoring the knowledge necessary for the solution.” (Willingham, 26)

People have come to have this habit of imagining the brain as a computer. It is assumed it can be programmed much like its technological counterpart. Modern learning methods capitalize on this idea, and have presented new ways to “program” the child using technology. But in all this, educators lose sight of the purpose of education. There is a difference between teaching someone and training someone. Greek philosopher Socrates believed in the concept that “the role of a teacher was draw out of a pupil the awareness, insight, and knowledge that would dispel ignorance and lead to clarity of thought”. In their book, The Child and The Machine, Armstrong and Casement expound on that philosophy adding “ entails the development of a certain frame of mind, one that includes the idea of meditative thinking based upon self-knowledge and careful observation of the world… It is not simply a matter of programming a machine, but teaching a child how to think.” (Armstrong/Casement, 37-38)

With all the promise of electronic educational material, it should be that children “these days” are smarter. While IQ scores remain comparable to previous times, teacher, Jane M. Healy, author of Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It, questions what kind of knowledge is really shown through that test, finding students that although “likable, fun to be with, intuitive and often amazingly self-aware” seemed “nonetheless, harder  to teach and less attuned to verbal material”, struggling with written assignments and admittedly “not reading much –  sometimes even the required homework.” Interviewing her colleagues she comes across comments such as:

“..every year I seem to “water down” the material even more.”

“Lectures can’t exceed fifteen minutes. I use more audiovisuals.”

“I used to be able to teach Scarlet Letter  to my juniors; now that         amount of reading is a real chore for them and they have more trouble following the plot.”

“I’ve modified my teaching methods because of their lack of attention span and their impatience.”

“Kids’ abilities are certainly different – I use with gifted sixth graders a lot of what I did with average fifth graders in ’65-’66.  They complain of the workload.”(Healy, 2)

She finds these modifications in the teaching process as connective of an underlying issue apparent in the interview that states “some of my seniors will graduate from high school reading on a lower level than the students who graduated from junior high in 1970.” Another teacher finds with a book like Tale Of Two Cities, once used in some eighth grade classes is lost in  its meaning among current high schoolers. “The syntax is just like a foreign language to them.” While documenting her colleague’s frustrations in teaching this generation of students, she questions the modern, fast paced learning procedures, lamenting “To read well, minds must be trained to use language, to reflect, and to persist in solving problems. Students may learn to sound out the words, but unless they possess the internal sense of responsibility for extracting the meaning, they are engaging in a hollow and unsatisfying exercise. With major efforts, we have succeeded in teaching students in early grades to “read the words.” Test scores jump off a cliff, however, when students must begin to plug the words into language meaning and grapple with the more advanced grammar, vocabulary, and the sustained intellectual demands of a real text.”  New learning software has taken the educational process out of the hands of teachers and parents, and placed it onto computer and television screens interrupting traditional methods of instruction that have been counted upon for decades. (Healy, 11)

As an externality of an increased standard of living, children spend fewer hours with the family.  The television, once a shared activity centered upon the household set in the living room, has become a solo act, relegated to the bedroom.  More fortunate children, when the thrill of television programming has been quelled, now have personal computers, and gaming systems at their immediate disposal, without having the need to change rooms.  Cellular phones and this new “age of the text message” keep people; especially children, more adept at assimilating the changing winds of technology, “connected”, more so than at any time in the history of human civilization.  Before the I-Pod and wireless connectivity, man, woman, and child were resigned to being within earshot of a radio or television.  Phones were sought out, if one needed to place a call from outside of the home.  Knowledge was learned from the pages of books or from parenting and educational instruction.  This learning method forced absorption, with no flash drives to enable a bookmarked link following quick scan of a Wikipedia entry at any random Wi-Fi hotspot.  Computers were connected to walls, and its only use for the young student was as an easier alternative to the typewriter.  Before these technological innovations, many hours of the day were spent on other activities; playing, reading, studying, and even doing chores.  A walk at one point in time was only just a walk, without an accompanying soundtrack.

These new items occupy the “down time” in most peoples’ lives; an area once reserved for conscious thought and introspection, curiosity and imagination.  While they sometimes serve to benefit intellectual interests, more often than not, they commandeer this time; decreasing attention spans and swallowing one up in a consumer lifestyle that demands new and exciting toys to replace the predecessors that have fallen out of style and appeal. These, possibly, fundamental flaws in modern educational techniques have essentially been committed with the best of intentions.  “Higher standards” in American education have generated “lower expectations” from parents, teachers, and schools; no longer trusting in children to keep themselves active in thought, spoiling them with whatever they wish in an effort to satisfy them. As much as technology can teach, over use limits time honored, traditional methods of learning. Adults may forget that the best lessons ever learned are the ones they learned themselves; reading a book, walking in the park, or spending time with friends. Lessons that are never learned if just glued to a chair in front of a television or computer monitor.

Work Cited

Armstrong, Alison, and Casement, Charles.  The Child and the Machine: How Computers Put   Our Children’s Education at Risk. Robbins Lane Press, 2008

Healy, Jane M. Ph. D “Endangered Minds:  Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It” 1990. 2008.          <>

Willingham, Daniel T. “Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard To Teach? American Educator Vol. 109 # 4  March/April 2008


Professor Sibicky – Comp 101

November 24, 2008

REVIEW: “Guns, Germs, & Steel”

“Taking Sides”

Geography as a Precursor to Economy, Capitalism, & Colonialism

Studied work builds upon studied work; and in this case as well, when questioning the European subjugation of Africa, two professors well versed in the history of human geography debate the issue of “cause”.  As a professor of physiology and biogeography, Jared Diamond argues that colonial powers were able to subjugate the African people because of technological factors, “widespread literacy, and political organization.”  At the core of his argument is the idea that these advantages were the result of “differences in real estate”[1]—that over time, the Europeans were better positioned, geographically, to acquire these advantages; and that the continent of Africa’s’ great landmass and isolating areas (either by desert, rainforest, or disease), had many natural barriers that prevented expansion and the growth of capital necessary to it.[2]   Lucy Jarosz, associate professor of geography at the University of Washington, finds flaw in Diamond’s evaluation, stressing that cultural and economic factors (including the spread of capitalism) were the main causes of colonialism in an imperial European quest for resources.  Jarosz questions Diamond’s assertions that geography played any role in keeping in keeping Africa “backwards” enough to subjugate.  She believes that by promoting this point of view, Diamond lends credence to the popular myth that Africa was indeed, backwards; in making her counterargument she uses the pre-colonial history of Madagascar as a discussion example.[3]

Diamond begins his evaluation by first acknowledging that “Africa was the sole cradle of human evolution for millions of years” adressing the paradox that the “birthplace of humanity” would eventually become subject to Europe following an “enormous head start”[4] by the African continent.  He pinpoints Vasco da Gama’s arrival to the African coast in 1498, and his subsequent return (with a fleet armed with cannons) to secure East Africa’s most important port, as the starting point of a “collision” that would ultimately favor Europe and their availability of “technology, widespread literacy, and political organization.”[5] He supports this theory by contending that these three advantages “arose historically from the development of food production” and summarizes the delay in food production, stating that it was a result of “Africa’s paucity of domesticable native animal and plant species, its much smaller area suitable for indigenous food production, and its north-south axis, which retarded the spread of food production and inventions.”[6] He argues that many native African animals, much unlike their European equivalents, were never domesticated—and, not for lack of trying; He concludes that if only some of Africa’s larger species were able to be domesticated, they could have posed a formidable threat to Europe’s imperialistic intentions. Native plant species faced a domestication issue of their own, and although Africa “did yield indigenous crops,” there was “fewer varieties than grew in Asia.”  He attributes this to the axis of travel; Africa’s being north-south with “…zones differing greatly in climate, habitat, rainfall, day length,” whereas in Asia, “crops and animals moved easily between Eurasian societies thousands of miles apart at the same latitude and sharing similar climates and day lengths.”[7]

In Lucy Jarosz’ counterargument, she shows appreciation for “Diamond’s emphasis upon the role of geography” but concern over what she perceives as a “narrow definition” of the term.  She believes that “geography encompasses the realms of the humanities and the social sciences in its examination and explanation of society-environment relations.”[8] Jarosz cites waves of colonial and cultural influence in Madagascar by Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and East Africa that had much different consequences than that of European conquests.  She contends that the country had a foundation of livestock, agriculture, and political structure with the Merina monarchy “when Diego Diaz ‘discovered’ Madagascar in 1500.”[9]  The Merina held political and economic “relationships with Britain and France (that) were used by competing political units on the island…to advance their political and economic agendas.” The Merina held on to their sovereignty for many years with treaties and trade, even conducting diplomatic negotiations with the United States in 1863.  Only when the monarchy aligned itself with Britain for defense from French conquest, did it lose its independence. The British would “trade” for Zanzibar while “relinquishing” Madagascar to the French, defeating the purpose of the pact.  “In 1896, the French claimed the island as one of its colonies, abolished the Merina monarchy, and ended trade with Britain and the United States, while a system of French monopolies and oligopolies dominated trade and credit.”[10] She asserts that the pre-French wave of “colonization established settled forms of agriculture and developed international trade in agricultural products to build and maintain the wealth and power of local, regionally based elites,” and that the French “goal was to reshape the economy and commerce so as to reorient and extract wealth and profit for French companies and creditors, rather than for the further enrichment” of the indigenous population.  She challenges that racism and the cut-throat nature of capitalism was the death knell for Madagascar’s independence.[11]

Ultimately, the conclusions of both professors have merit, although from my personal position, I find fault with Jarosz’ accusation of oversight Diamond’s behalf, of racism and imperialism, charging that “the emphasis upon environmental difference in Guns, Germs, and Steel lets us off the hook in terms of thinking deeply about geopolitical and economic relationships and the contributions of human ingenuity, imagination, and even cruelty to agricultural development and change.”[12]  I find her tone and lesson she provides in defining “geography,” pedantic, considering his credentials and position[13] relative to hers.  There was no “oversight” in my interpretation of the reading:  Diamond acknowledges racism[14], but it isn’t the topic he is focusing on; his evaluation seems “pre-racism” (or at least how we would commonly define it). His focus is not on guns, literacy, or politics, but on the geographical factors necessary to advance those things–and that Europe had those factors in its favor.  Jarosz’ points throughout her essay cannot and should not be ignored, as her and Diamond’s positions are easily and naturally reconcilable.  She puts it very straightforward in stating “environmental history and differences alone do not explain why today Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world.  The importance of geopolitical relationships, the development of capitalism, and the dynamics of regional, national and global food networks within specific environments are critical components of an accurate understanding of inequality and poverty.”[15] Diamond’s position DOES lay the groundwork for hers.  Jarosz’ work can stand equally alongside his, as a reminder in critical study and evaluation of context.  She puts it eloquently with her closing words,

We must not neglect the complex linkages and relationships among European and African societies and environments, as well as the realities of imperialism, power, and racism, when explaining the harsh realities of inequality and poverty that surrounds us.[16]

ALL sources from the reading:  TAKING SIDES : Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #3

[1] TAKING SIDES : Clashing Views on African Issues, Issue #3: 40.

[2] I had never considered the scope of the geographical challenges faced by Africa’s “travel axis”

[3] Ibid., 40.

[4] Ibid., 42.

[5] Ibid., 42.

[6] Ibid., 43.

[7] Ibid., 43-44.

[8] Ibid., 45.

[9] Ibid., 46.

[10] Ibid., 47.

[11] Ibid., 48.

[12] Ibid., 48.

[13] Jared Diamond, professor of physiology and biogeography at UCLA Lucy Jarosz, associate professor of geography at the University of Washington, Ibid., 40.

[14] Ibid., 41.

[15] Ibid., 48.

[16] Ibid., 49.


REVIEW: Trinity’s “Dreams of Antigone”

Trinity Repertory Company, Providence Rhode Island (2008)


At first glance upon stepping into the theatre, one could possibly believe that they were about to witness an off day performance.  The set appeared cluttered with building materials, such as scaffolding and buckets.  My first impression was one of curiosity:  was the show going to start late, so that stage hands could tidy up?  But alas, the story began.  The actors filtered out on to the stage and within moments, those building materials were magically transformed into props, a catalyst for a common theme of utility throughout the presentation; one that would capitalize on the economical use of stage, theatre, and props expected of quality repertory performance.

The scaffolding, at one time doubling as the ceiling of a kitchen and later effectively (and artistically) used as a vehicle to convey battle, was likely used at some point to dress the set.  This minimalist use, while cutting the cost of production, took away the glitter of “the prop” to further assist the viewer in focusing on the weight of the presentation.  The costumes, not set to period, and not exactly “our own,” were simple enough for the audience to show that a “dress is a dress” and a “uniform is a uniform,” so that this performance was not necessarily “our time,” but “anytime.”  The use of colors helped to differentiate flashback/dream scenes from “the reality”.  The striking uses of black and white in the officers uniforms, made it simple enough to know you were witnessing something that had passed, and that those in white were conspicuously absent from that reality.  You could almost immediately surmise that these men are the dead that which this story revolves around.

The characters were people we could empathize with:  Antigone’s distress over the loss of loved ones and her commitment to do what she sees as morally right; and Creon’s dilemma as a person in a position of power that has to live with the consequence of a hasty executive decision.  All of this is presented in language, mannerisms, and attitudes familiar to the audience.  These were no longer the ancient Greeks, but friends and neighbors; real people.  The “chorus” has been turned into the voice of the “crowd”.  Really, as it has always been, but now adapted and modernized in an artful way that carries the tradition to a fresh set of eyes and ears; representing the “crowd” in our current dictionary definition understanding of it.

Though it would be beneficial, isn’t necessary to have read the original story of Antigone or Oedipus.  This performance deviates from a direct telling, providing the exposition of the Theban plays that catches the viewer up, condensing the saga for thorough understanding in a two hour or so time period.  It looks at the story in a new way, but still keeps the substance and message of the original; the creative force behind the performance has tailored dialogue to the modern audience, providing fresh language and perspective to a timeless story of individual tragedy and political tyranny.  A Greek classic told again, cognizant of the strength of the original’s power to resonate through strong performance and quality oration to tell a struggle that still has relevance in modern times.


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REVIEW: “Treatment of Cholera” (1854)

“A Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water.”

L0012076 Patients suffering from cholera in the Jura during the 1854

In the treatment of cholera, Dr. C.C. Schieferdecker felt that doctors were quick to offer the pop drug of choice while the simplest, most effective treatments were ignored.  He recalled the testimony of a Dr. Cahill, who wrote of “extravagant doses of mercury and opium” administered as a treatment of cholera; to no effect, of course, but the satisfaction of the doctor who prescribed it.  With regularity, as Cahill claimed, “death was the consequence of the treatment, rather than of the disease.” Sometimes, these treatments would cause those who survived the cholera to die of “narcotism,” an addiction to the opiate that was their supposed cure. Cahill also spoke of doctors who used saline treatments as a cure for cholera; some of these people would die of air in the veins. Cahill would use the term “luck” to describe those who were able “to escape both the doctor and the disease.” [1]Even still, some of these people would be debilitated from the preventive measures of mercury inoculation.

Cahill postulated that since “no treatment had any influence over it; the best plan was to do as little as possible.”[2]  Schieferdecker respected Cahill’s remarks, and felt that his own work in developing the idea of a “water cure” fit the idea Cahill expressed in prescribing the simplest, most logical treatment available.  Schieferdecker wrote that more than two thousand cases of cholera had been treated by “hydriatric” methods, and “not one patient was lost by death.”  He believed that this was the cure, so long as it was administered by someone sensible and thoroughly acquainted with the water-cure,” while criticizing the practitioners “who suddenly start up with no other claim but the desire to make money.” While Cahill felt that cholera a disease of an “unknown nature,” Schieferdecker believed that it was it was mentioned in the Old Testament and its symptoms mentioned by Hippocrates and others in ancient Greece.

Schieferdecker felt that when “men left nature’s ways” by moving into industrialized cities, the more virulent and prevalent cholera had become. Schieferdecker felt that populations which were “intemperate, unclean, and ignorant” were where “cholera reaped the largest harvest.”[3]  These traits of civilization, obvious inducements to cholera were ignored, Schieferdecker felt, and just as well, a similar attitude would persist in the mindset of most physicians. According to Schieferdecker, instead of attempting to understand the benefits of hydriatric treatment, many contemporaries would attack it, “so fixed in their idea, that diseases must be cured by drugs, and that they alone have the stone of wisdom.”[4]

Schieferdecker would describe a successful application of the hydriatric treatment by Dr. R.O. Baikie in Madras; where the patient, deeply affected by the Asiatic cholera, was healthy within a day of the procedure.  The treatment included room-temperature baths, cold water enemas, wrapping in wet towels, and the drinking of cold water.  Although the diarrhea was still prevalent and vomiting occurred with every glass of water, the patient was made comfortable by the procedure; relieved of cramps, and able to retain some of the water by ingestion and by way of the enemas.  By the evening of the first day, the patient stools were normalizing, urination had returned, and the patient had “rapidly recovered.”[5]  The hydriatric treatment, in that case and others, would prove very successful at relieving pain from the cramps and spasms symptomatic of cholera.[6]  Schieferdecker mentioned, also, the statement of a Dr. Maxwell of Calcutta, who felt that adding as much water as possible to the body helped to “relieve the bowels of the fermenting contents.”[7]  The treatment would bring back the patient’s ability to perspire, signifying the return of the body’s natural ability to self-heal.

Schieferdecker would go on to recall many other successful instances of cholera cured by water therapy. Instead of avoiding the intake of water because of the vomiting and diarrhea that it induced, he argued that it was of great importance, because it helped to regularize the excrements.[8]  He had complete faith in the positive benefits of hydriatric treatment, and he hoped that practitioners would abandon their fruitless treatments of cholera by way of drugs, in favor of this more logical and comforting cure.  He held that his skeptics, who were not ready to accept the truth of the arguments listed in his pamphlet, could not be convinced by the success “of a thousand cases.”[9] Treating the disease, practically incurable by “every pharmaceutical remedy,” had taken new life since the discovery of the idea to treat it with cold water.  Schieferdecker felt that “since that time a many patients have been and are saved by the cold-water application.”[10]


Schieferdecker, C. C. Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water. Philadelphia [Pa.] : J.W. Moore, 1854)

[1] Schieferdecker, C. C. Short essay on the invariably successful treatment of cholera with water. Philadelphia [Pa.] : J.W. Moore, 1854), 6.

[2] Ibid, 6.

[3] Ibid, 8.

[4] Ibid, 15.

[5] Ibid, 17.

[6] Ibid, 20.

[7] Ibid, 21.

[8] Ibid, 31.

[9] Ibid, 26.

[10] Ibid, 27.

REVIEW: Whitman’s “Learn’d Astronomer”

In Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” we are exposed to the tedium of academic study, contrasted with the slowness of casual observation.  The piece is, rather, two.  The clustering of scientific words at the beginning comes across as a chore list when put together with the second idea of the poem, making for a stark juxtaposition.  The two different polar moods balance the writing.  The diction shows sentimentality to the “perfect silence” and “mystical moist night air,” much opposed to the feeling of apprehension given the onslaught of obtuse facts and figures.

Whitman tells this from the first person, possibly for effect.  Strongly shown is his use of the word “I.”  It helps to point out the theme.  This is something that had occurred; or possibly, even, happened to him; and seemingly, important enough to immortalize on paper.  The two ideas have enough separation between them to question the relevance of both.  Ultimately, what the author gets from one, he does not get from the other.  Study and participation provide hard knowledge, versus visual observation providing perspective.  Both of them, balancing the spectrum of experience.

REVIEW: “The Life of a Slave Girl”

Slavery: A Corrupting, Futile Exercise

Amazon Thrift Edition or Free Text from Project Gutenberg


In her account of a servants in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs works in great detail to share with the reader the cold realities of institutional slavery, examining the morally corrupting influence it has upon the master and the degradation in the spirit of the slave; both human, but separated by color in a relationship that bears tragic consequences to both parties.

In her life as a possession, Linda, the character of which this story is centered around, grows up, at first, unaware of her role as a slave under white masters.  She is raised early on by her parents who protect her from the harshness of their situation, providing a loving and nurturing relationship.  It is from those early recollections she finds herself as capable as any other, longing for the normalcy of having her own home and family, and it is her persistence in this dream that carries her through the rougher moments of her servitude at the hands of an ill-willed and villainous master, Dr. Flint.  She takes pride in the levels of independence she is able to attain for herself, maintaining her own strong will and protection/control of her body by her knowledge and cunning.  Her hopes for herself become put on hold after motherhood, for the chance that her children will be able to have a piece of freedom, family, and shelter for themselves.  She sacrifices years of her life in hiding so that they will have an easier existence away from the control of Dr. Flint.

“I should never know peace till my children were emancipated.”  Linda

The antagonist of this narrative, Dr. Flint, is a morally bankrupt individual, lacking s any redeeming qualities. He is thoroughly one-dimensional, totally corrupted by the power that the slave system grants him. He sees no reason not to use and abuse his slaves in any way he chooses, and he never shows any signs of sympathy for them or remorse for his crimes. If he expresses kindness, it is invariably a ruse to try to get Linda to sleep with him. It often seems that forcing Linda to submit to him is more important to him than simply sleeping with her. He is infuriated by her defiance, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of breaking her will. Rather than simply raping her, he persists in his efforts make her acknowledge his mastery.  Dr. Flint seeks to lock Linda up in an isolated cottage in the woods so he can sleep with her freely.  When Linda escapes, he pursues her relentlessly, putting himself hundreds of dollars in debt to chase her to New York. After his death, his spirit lives on in the form of his son-in-law, Mr. Dodge.

“If I have been harsh with you at times, your willfulness drove me to it,.  You know I exact obedience from my own children, and I consider you as yet a child.”  Dr. Flint

This book shows the futility of such a practice.  It makes both the slave and the master less of a human.  Dr. Flint is cruel, hypocritical, and conniving, and he never experiences a moment of guilt, self-doubt, or sympathy for his victims. He never questions his right to do whatever he pleases to his slaves. Dr. Flint represents the cruelty, callousness, and treachery of the entire slave system.  He symbolizes the defining qualities that the system of slavery prerequisites: a lust for power, moral corruption, and a brutal nature. When Linda defies him, she threatens the legitimacy of slavery itself, and it is this defiance that propels his insistence on “mastering” her.

2008 – American History

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REVIEW: “The Bookseller of Kabul”

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Asne_Seierstad_The_Bookseller_of_KabulThe bookseller: Sultan Khan

Both professionally and at home, Sultan Khan is cold and demanding.  When discussing the issue of the carpenter who stole postcards from his shop, Khan is unsympathetic to the plight of his former employee.  While the rest of the Sultan’s family feels that the carpenter had faced punishment enough in the shame that he has brought upon himself, Khan sees little need for mercy, expecting more than just the beatings that the man received from his father.  When his son Mansur asks him over the phone if the carpenter can be released, the Sultan maintains that he has been insulted, shouting, “He wants to ruin my business, undermine my prices.”  This is not true; as the carpenter’s primary motive for the theft was to help feed his children, not the ruination of Khan or his business.

Khan continues to play the victim in the ordeal, still blind of reality saying, “I paid him well.  There was no need to steal.  He’s a crook.” The carpenter stole because the wages he received were inadequate to support his family—in such dire circumstances, there was a need to steal.  Khan, though, refuses to see this perspective and show mercy and he quickly judges the carpenter guilty. He feels “the truth will have to be beaten out of him” by police interrogation.[1]

Even after the carpenter implicates others, Khan’s son feels badly, remembering the interrogators promise of allowing the man to return to his family if only he confessed.  Mansur knows that the promise will likely remain unfulfilled, recalling his father’s final words before he had left for business in Pakistan: “I’ve worked my tail off to try to create something…and a bloody carpenter comes and tries to usurp my life’s work.  He will be punished.”[2] He ignores the concerns of his family and wife who hope that he will “show mercy” before subjecting the man to a prison sentence.  They are concerned that they will be responsible for the death of the carpenter’s children, should he not be around to feed his family.  They also worry that he could die during the six year sentence, saying that “many never make it through the six years” because the prison is “riddled with infection, tuberculosis, and lots of other illnesses.”  When Mansur mentions to his father that the carpenters children could possibly be dead by the time the six years was up, Khan responds with antipathy saying “If he gets sixty years, I couldn’t care less.  He is going to suffer…”[3]

Khan is ever the master of his domain, and his word dominates above all others in his household and family.  The family accepts this treatment with (mostly) silent and resigned indignation. Khan’s sister accepts his “moods,” crying the whole day when he sends her son Fazil home from the bookstore job that the child had performed so well.[4]  The boy had worked twelve hours per day, under Khan’s promise to his sister to feed and shelter his nephew. However, one day, before the end of the arrangement, Khan scolded the boy, saying, “I’m fed up with you.  Go home.  Don’t show yourself in the shop anymore.” Meanwhile, no explanation was given to the both the heartbroken mother or the boy for the banishment from the bookstore.[5]

The author of The Bookseller of Kabul, Åsne Seierstad, puts it best when she describes the Sultan’s role in the family, likening him to a king who took over “the throne” after the death of his father.  She says “not only does he lord it over the household, but he also tries to rule over the siblings that have moved away.”  She describes Khan’s relationship with his brother, who “kisses his hand when they meet.” Khan demands respect from his younger brother and Seierstad falls short of hypothesizing when she says “God help (the brother) if he even dares contradict the Sultan or, even worse, lights up a cigarette in front of him.”  She suggests that when scolding and hitting no longer work for the Sultan, “the next punishment is rejection,” as was the case with another brother, Farid, who defied his older brother in setting up his own book shop.  Baring rare exception, Khan gets what he demands from his family, or they are disowned.  “Farid’s name is no longer mentioned” as if “he is no longer the Sultan’s brother.” “His word is law,” Seierstad says, and “anyone who does not obey him will be punished.”[6]

[1] P.237

[2] P.244

[3] P.244

[4] P.200

[5] P.187

[6] P.114-115

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