Content by Orrin C. Judd
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Orrin C. Judd "brothersjudddotcom" (Hanover, NH USA)
5.0 out of 5 stars
our Thucydides, June 6 2004
Plenty of folks can tell you where they were when JFK was shot or the Challenger exploded or what have you--Red Sox and Yankee fans can tell you where they were when Grady Little sent Pedro out to pitch the 8th, or when Dave Righetti pitched a 4th of July no-hitter, or when Bucky "F'in" Dent hit The Homerun.. For all those fans we highly recommend this new book by Harvey Frommer, a long-time chronicler of the Yankees, and his son, Frederic.
They've combined a history of the two teams and their many contests with personal reminiscences--their own and those of players, other fans, and the rich and famous--and a host of terrific photographs to create a kind of scrapbook of the rivalry that some refer to as the American version of Athens (Boston) vs. Sparta (New York). In a book awash with great anecdotes it's hard to pick just one, but here's a Don Zimmer quote from the period when the tension between the two great catchers, Carlton Fisk and Thurman Munson, was as fierce as that between the teams in general:
Fisk hated Munson, Munson hated Fisk, and everyone hated Bill Lee.
Such hatreds have never been more enjoyable than they are in these pages.
2.0 out of 5 stars
opposition to the war clouds his judgement, June 6 2004
Rick Atkinson's Army at Dawn--for which he was awarded a Pulitzer, while embedded in Iraq--is a terrific first volume in a projected trilogy on the American infantry in WWII and he's already written one of the better volumes on the initial Iraq War in 1991, Crusade. So, it's easy to see why he'd have jumped at the chance to cover the desert warfare of the second Iraq War up close and personal.
Many will already be familiar with the dispatches he filed for the Washington Post during the conflict and he brings the immediacy of such reportage to this memoir of being embedded with the 101st Airborne, but that's both a strength and its weakness. It's a strength in so far as he provides us a gifted reporter's ground-eye-view of the challenges and confusions soldiers and commanders face in the midst of combat and in the build-up to and aftermath of war. But it's a weakness in that the intentional lack of perspective makes people--not least himself--seem silly and petulant at times. For instance, the most controversial story he contributed to while in theater was War Could Last Months, Officers Say (Thomas E. Ricks, March 27, 2003, Washington Post):
Despite the rapid advance of Army and Marine forces across Iraq over the past week, some senior U.S. military officers are now convinced that the war is likely to last months and will require considerably more combat power than is now on hand there and in Kuwait, senior defense officials said yesterday.
The combination of wretched weather, long and insecure supply lines, and an enemy that has refused to be supine in the face of American military might has led to a broad reassessment by some top generals of U.S. military expectations and timelines. Some of them see even the potential threat of a drawn-out fight that sucks in more and more U.S. forces. Both on the battlefield in Iraq and in Pentagon conference rooms, military commanders were talking yesterday about a longer, harder war than had been expected just a week ago, the officials said.
"Tell me how this ends," one senior officer said yesterday.
Read with the knowledge that the regime fell 21 days after the start of the war this can't help but seem even more hysterical now than it did then. Moreover, it seems likely that the Post and its correspondents, including Mr. Atkinson, were being used by the uniformed military, which wanted more troops, in bureaucratic infighting against the Pentagon's political leadership--Secretaries Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the like. In that case the story wasn't just absurd, as becomes obvious in retrospect, but an instance of the press allowing itself to be manipulated, willingly or not. At any rate, it's singularly unedifying and such despair is not uncommon in the book. One wonders how much easier the victory could have been but perhaps the answer is that for the men fighting them all wars just suck and every day is a quagmire. If so, that's a valuable enough lesson to learn, especially for those of us who get to sit home and send others out to fight, but it does suggest that we shouldn't take their complaints terribly seriously.
Somewhat allied to this problem of quagmirism is Mr. Atkinson's obvious opposition to the war. He has every right to disapprove of it, but he makes a couple of disturbing comments along the way. At one point he makes fun of two soldiers for arguing that it was not a war about oil. As events have shown, and as all but true partisans surely recognized at the time, they were right and he wrong. Another, even more galling, instance of his cynicism comes when the great journalist and fellow embed Michael Kelly is killed in an accident and Mr. Atkinson refers to it as "senseless." Now, perhaps he just means the accidental nature of the tragedy is senseless, but the death of a reporter in the very act of reporting on a dangerous situation seems the very opposite of senseless. It is noble.
On the plus side, and the plus side is considerable, Mr. Atkinson centers the book around the compelling figure of Major General David Petraeus, who he also >profiled extensively for the Post. The General exemplifies the intelligence, political sensitivity, hypercompetitiveness, and ambition of the modern officer corps. The portrayal of General Petraeus and of other senior officers in the 101st, like Lt. Gen. William Wallace, are excellent and give us much cause for pride in our armed forces. Also interesting are Mr. Atkinson's reports on events he was able to experience in real time--or at least their aftermaths--like the grenade and shooting attack by an American G.I who'd converted to Islam that took place just before the war kicked off while the 101st was stationed in Kuwait. And, as mentioned above, Mr. Atkinson's own confusion about the events going on around him--as well as that of the officers he was talking to--reminds us of the wisdom of Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace, that the belief that commanders are in control of events is an illusion. War is by its nature a chaotic enterprise where what you think you know at any given moment is more than likely wrong.
Of course the story ends before we know how things will turn out in Iraq. By the end of Mr. Atkinson's stay it had already become obvious that diehards and extremists were going to cause significant problems as they resisted American, allied, and Iraqi efforts to reform the nation. But the pessimism with which the book concludes will hopefully turn out to be just one more case of being lost in the fog of war. When Mr. Atkinson sits down to write a history of the second Iraq War a few years from now it will be interesting to see how the perspective afforded by temporal distance changes the judgments he made here, while he was in the thick of things.
3.0 out of 5 stars
Not Penman, but not bad, June 6 2004
Two centuries after it was built by the Emperor Hadrian, a Roman couple has come to Britannia to take charge of the Wall, which keeps the barbarian Celts out of Roman Britain. Young Valeria is the daughter of a senator, as dowry she's brought this command to Marcus Flavius, who badly needs some military experience to advance his career. But plumping down the beautiful Valeria and the Marcus in the wilds of Rome's frontier provokes jealousy and passions that lead to war. In particular, the brutal and ambitious soldier Galba Brassidias and the Celtic chief Arden Caratacus are both drawn to Valeria and despise her husband.
If some of the characterizations seem kind of idiosyncratic and ahistorical--their actions, emotions, and openness are awfully modern--there's nonetheless ample enough action and romance to speed us past any tendency to overanalyze it as a work of history. There's also a fascinating tripartite culture clash, with the conflict between the somewhat rigid social conventions of Rome and the wilder, freer life of the Celts and then percolating beneath both the burgeoning influence of the new religion, Christianity, which will plow them both under eventually. It's all framed by the device of an investigation into events that have already transpired, which allows for some discursive passages on the background of the tale but does fracture the narrative at times. You may find yourself wondering why Mr. Dietrich doesn't just get back to the main story.
As historical romances go it's not up to the standards of a Sharon Kay Penman, but it's an ideal beach book, one that you can hand to the spouse when you're done with reasonable confidence they'll enjoy it.
5.0 out of 5 stars
Making the ancient fresh, June 6 2004
First a disclaimer: Ms Kohn is a neighbor and a friend--so some partiality is likely unavoidable in this review. That said, it was a considerable relief to open the pages of the book and find that no partisanship would be required to sing its praises. I read the first hundred pages in one gulp and was captivated. The story of Esther is one we know so well that we may cease to consider what it really means. Its characters are become so iconic we may forget they were human beings. Ms Kohn makes the story fresh and exciting, not least by expanding upon the character of Esther so that her actions are those of an engaging woman whose motivations we understand and whose courage we respect. Granting us a new look at the old tale, Ms Kohn makes us consider its lessons anew and they are as timely today as they were thousands of years ago.
The Biblical account of Esther is intact here, but Ms Kohn does take some liberties around it. For one thing, she has the young Jewish girl Haddasah initially betrothed to Mordechai, before being sent to the harem of King Xerxes. Mordechai himself has taken on the coloration of the court and of the worshippers of Ahura Mazda and urges the young Haddasah to: "Let yourself be known only as Esther, foster daughter of Marduka the Babylonian." Then the great bulk of the action occurs in the harem. The novel focuses on how Esther learns to wield political power within that closed world, which will serve her in good stead when she later needs to affect the wide world. She develops believable relationships with the other women, servants and eunuchs of the harem and Ms Kohn is particularly good at portraying the internal conflict that being Jewish and loving Mordechai causes Esther as she is forced to disguise her true religion and serve a king she does not love:
I could eat the food of the harem. I could submit myself to the authority of a eunuch. I could go in to the king as a virgin and return to the harem as a harlot. I could live a life like [her servant] Puah's, with little joy over the generations.
But I could not worship the gods that were an abomination to my father. I could not betray Avihail, whose living seed remained in none other than me. I could not crush the memory of his righteous ways.
I had hoped to fulfill my days in Mordechai's household and to give him strong sons. Mordechai was a stranger to his people's ways, but my father would have lived on through the generations of our children's children. For Mordechai was still a Jew in his heart. He would walk among the idolaters, but he would not worship a stranger's gods.
And I could not do so now.
This doubleness is, of course, the key to the story, indeed to much of Jewish history. The struggle of a stateless Jewish people to conform sufficiently on the outside to fit into hostile societies but to maintain their faith and their traditions internally has played out for thousands of years, often with tragic results. As we look back at the story of Mordechai and Esther through the tragic lens of the Holocaust we can see how dangerous the tale is with its suggestion that if only the Jewish people are sufficiently righteous before G-d and pleasing in the eyes of their temporal rulers they will be spared, or at least empowered to protect themselves. Here are the most fateful Bible verses:
[E]sther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mor'decai;
All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or woman, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days.
And they told to Mor'decai Esther's words.
Then Mor'decai commanded to answer Esther, Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews.
For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father's house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
It's almost unbearably harsh to contemplate, but perhaps the lesson of the Holocaust is that the charge Mordechai places upon Esther applies to every Jew, to speak and act against injustice directed at their people lest they fall prey to it themselves.
At any rate, if the fictionalized portions of the book flesh out the characters it is when the biblical events return that the novel achieves great drama. The contest between Haman and Mordechai, with Esther ultimately determining the outcome, is thrilling even in the Bible's bare bones version, but all the more so once Ms Kohn has personalized it for us. At a time when every women's book club in America is fretting about its next choice and the box office and best-seller charts are topped by religion-themed works, the novel should find a wide audience and it richly deserves one.
4.0 out of 5 stars
Orwell for the Middle East, June 6 2004
What George Orwell did for (or to?) the Russian Revolution in Animal Farm Robert Zubrin does to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in this very clever satire. When the Western Galactic Empire relocates the unpopular race of Minervans to their original homeland in Kennewick, WA, the Americans take it poorly. The corrupt Christian fundamentalist administration in Washington, DC first tries to expel them using force, but when that fails they decide to make a play for galactic sympathy, so people are herded into "refugee" camps around the new Minervan land, to live in ostentatious misery. From these camps they launch suicidal terrorist assaults on the Minervans. Later, when the vital energy source helicity is discovered in America, the administration uses its wealth to set up training camps in far flung locales in order to have plausible deniability when it launches a spectacular 9-11-style attack on the Western Galactic Empire itself.
All of the elements of the conflict in our own Holy Lands are present here and there's great pleasure to be had in seeing how Mr. Zubrin draws the parallels. Likewise, the absurdity of these tactics is even clearer in a fictional setting than it is in real life. The Americans have no chance against the Minervans, who are decent folk and just want to live peacefully in the land that is rightfully theirs. The American political leaders cynically manipulate their own people and the galactic press and they engage in truly criminal behavior. But, something seemingly unintended does happen--even with the deck so stacked--this reader, at least, found his sympathies ultimately did lie with the Americans as against the Minervans. Sure, one would wish the leadership less corrupt and their means less vile, but tribalism/nativism is a powerful force and, in the end, it seems only natural to prefer Christian Americans who are rather similar to us, even if flawed, to the quite different Minervans. And, realistically, imagine that the Native Americans, who have a not un-Minervan claim to American soil, set up a state for themselves--how do you think we'd all react, no matter the abstract justice of their case?
As I say, I'd assume this reaction is not what Mr. Zubrin intended, but in a way it makes the book even more powerful. Once you recognize that you can abhor your own leaders methods but still find their cause somewhat compelling, you gain a genuine insight into the insanity that has infected the Palestinians. This insight can in no way justify terrorism but does suggest why more moderate and ordinary people are reluctant to disavow the extremists in their midst.
4.0 out of 5 stars
follow the signs, April 1 2003
With all due deference to the author, I assure you this is meant to be wholly complimentary, we offer the following
analogy: Imagine, if you will, a young man in a penny arcade. He's had one too many Mountain Dews and the
Whack-a-Mole game is stuck in the "On" position. The vermin keep popping up endlessly and the lad is only too
happy to keep hammering them mercilessly. As we observe him, we are struck as much by his enthusiam as by his
persistence. Now, imagine him a grown man. Give him a cudgel formed of his own wit and intelligence, and turn
him loose on all of the nonsense that keeps popping up from the Left on topics like energy, the environment, animal
rights, education, the UN, and Islamicism. Alan Caruba--one time PR man, lifelong resident of the great County of
Essex in New Jersey, and now a prolific conservative columnist--is that man and this collection of essays his
weapon. He's just as much fun to observe, if not quite as manic, as our caffeine-stoked kid, as he pounds away at liberal myths, mistakes, and
outright lies, even though they just keep coming.
Here, for instance, is a particulary appalling example of what he's up against, -ESSAY: Greens Attack US Military (Alan Caruba, September
2001, Conservative Monitor):
"Endangered species has power to halt war training" was the headline on an article in an October 2000 edition of the Washington Times.
Written by Steve Miller and datelined Fort Irwin, California, the article began "What may be one of the most formidable threats to
national security today has a craggy face, scaly arms and, well, he likes a little grass now and then." He was referring to the desert
Soldiers on the Army training center's battlefield were instructed to call a commander if a desert tortoise crawled out of a hole. At that
point, the entire training exercise would stop. This insanity has been repeated on every military base in the nation in one fashion or
The US Defense Department oversees and controls 17 million acres of US land, down from 30 million acres after World War II. It has
been losing the fight for space to train a modern military for years. When asked about the need for national security, a spokesman for the
Bureau of Land Management (the same one that shut off water to the farmers of Klamath Valley) was quoted in the article as saying,
"It is not in our purview to make a determination related to national security. Ours is to make sure the Endangered Species Act is
And, after reading that and what follows, it's hard not to agree with his conclusion:
[T]he Greens have infiltrated our military establishment, just as they have done in our nation's schools, and throughout federal and state
government agencies. In every case, they have instituted and supported programs that will continue to have serious consequences for our
national security and sovereignty.
It is time to identify and root out these enemies of our military. A good first step would be to rescind the DoD Office of Environmental
Security. This would help to begin restoring our nation's ability to wage war effectively against its enemies at home and abroad.
Next, this nation has to rid itself of the Endangered Species Act and, ultimately, the greatest enemy of our national security, the
Environmental Protection Agency.
Sure, Saddam's Fedayeen can't stop our troops from driving across the desert, but a bureaucrat and a freakin' turtle can?
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, the good auspices of web-based magazines like the excellent Enter Stage Right, and the fecundity of his own
mind, you can find many of Mr. Caruba's writings on-line (see below). This book though is an entertaining compendium of his commentaries from
the past couple years on the full range of issues he addresses week in and week out. It will, as he says, "mostly please people whose political choice
is conservatism." Of course, on finishing, you'll wonder how anyone could ignore all the warning signs and choose otherwise. But they do, so
maybe we'd all better grab mallets; here come some more moles...Grade: (B+)
4.0 out of 5 stars
something's going on in suburbia, April 1 2003
The central conceit of recent films like True Lies and Spy Kids has been seeming mundane husbands, wives, and
parents who turn out to be top secret agents. John Maxim goes them one better and imagines that much of
Westport, Connecticut is peopled by semi-retired agents, loosely led by Paul Bannerman, who have all gotten out of
the game (almost) and are trying to settle down to stable marriages, child-rearing, running small shops, and an
especially adept neighborhood watch program.
In this entry in the successful series, Bannerman has to set his travel agency business to one side just long enough to
deal with Artemus Bourne, a megalomaniacal villain (is there any other kind) who's threatening Westport with a
bioterror attack because he wants help finding famed assassin Elizabeth Stride, the Black Angel, a former colleague of Bannerman, whose
supposedly-dead ex-boyfriend, an East German named Martin Kessler, has interfered in his African diamond and arms smuggling business. The
interference in this case takes the form of sending Bourne the heads of three evil minions. Bannerman's "Ghosts", so called because they've
disappeared from the world of black-ops, are galvanized into reasonably exciting action amidst presumably tongue-in-cheek worries about their
domestic situations. Mr. Maxim utilizes just enough realistic background setting--like the genuine threat of Marburg virus--to give the story
weight, but a light enough touch to keep it amusing, rather than melodramatic.
Fans will be gratified that he brings together characters from a host of his prior books, while newcomers will have no trouble catching up. It's brisk
entartainment with just a hint of satire, or so one assumes.
5.0 out of 5 stars
up to snuff, March 1 2003
First, a confession: I feel somewhat like a husband whose been disloyal, if only in his heart, to a faithful and altogether wonderful wife, just because he's
grown bored by the very routine of their relationship. I've been reading John McPhee since I was a kid and he was writing about Princeton and
Knickerbocker hero Bill Bradley. In those nearly forty years I can't recall a single uninteresting piece he's written and many of them are marvelous. But
when this book came over the transom was my reaction: great, a new John McPhee!? No. To my shame, it was: oh geez, 350 more routinely excellent pages
from McPhee. Are there so many good authors out there that one can afford to be blasé about one of the best? Would I rather a book that might quite possibly
stink, written by someone else, just for the uncertainty involved in reading it? How callow.
In my own defense though, this time out Mr. McPhee is writing about the American shad. I'm as big a fan of fishing literature as anyone, but who does not
feel, when they see a new fishing book nowadays, the way C.S. Lewis felt one night at a meeting of the Inklings, when J.R.R. Tolkien prepared to read to the
assembled from his latest work: "Oh, no! Not another [freaking] elf!"? In your heart of hearts, don't you say to yourself: "Oh, no! Not another freaking fishing book!"?
All the more reason to feel like a fool now, having read the book, when Mr. McPhee has demonstrated once again that he's one of the finest non-fiction writers in our history and that there's still plenty
of life in the fishing genre. Mr. McPhee may not quite have invented the technique of taking a topic and looking at it in detail from top to bottom--the shelves are packed with books that have
borrowed the technique, books with names like: Salt; Cod; Tobacco; and Coal--but he is the master. And so, in this book, we get the entire natural history of the fish and no one will finish the last page
wishing he knew more about the shad. However, there are two segments that stand out and definitively lift the work out of the ordinary. It opens with that most hackneyed of scenes, an epic battle to
land the big one, but in the author's capable hands it somehow seems new and fresh. It goes on for page after page, until the cops have even shown up--at his wife's request, to make sure he's not
dead--until the climax can't possibly be worthy of the fight, but still he manages to make it satisfying.
The other highlight surprises because it's so politically incorrect. The final chapter takes on not only PETA and other animal rights groups but well-intentioned fishermen everywhere to challenge the
notion of catch and release. Honestly and guiltlessly discussing the inevitable damage that just landing a fish does to the animal, he leaves little doubt that however good releasing them may make
fishermen and activists feel about themselves, it does little to help fish or fisheries.
This ability to make the old seem fresh and to look at the seemingly sacred from a fresh perspective, make Mr. McPhee, even in his twenty-sixth book, a writer of currency and pertinence. I repent of
my sin and I shan't ever doubt him again.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
counter-revolutionary, March 1 2003
When I heard about the French Revolution, my reaction was that I was against it.
I think that in order to build, we mustn't destroy... That's why, politically, I'm a reformist rather than a revolutionary.
-Eric Rohmer, 1983 interview with Jean Narboni
The first of the several pleasures in this terrific film is its great beauty and unique look, which Mr. Rohmer described in an interview (-INTERVIEW: with
Eric Rohmer (Aurelien Ferenzi, Senses of Cinema)):
AF: How did you have the scenic backgrounds made?
ER: They were painted by Jean-Baptiste Marot. We designed them together in the appropriate period style and according to the
requirements of the mise en sc?ne. Herv? Grandsart did the preliminary documentary research. We worked from pictures and engravings, but
also from street maps of the period. The interiors are not real locations. They were all built in an adjoining studio by the set designer, Antoine
Fontaine, and the rigger, J?r?me Pouvaret. To me, this work was not just a matter of being meticulous it was about striving for an authenticity
that underpins the whole film. At heart, I wasn't especially intent on making a film about the Revolution. I don't much like being pegged as an
18th century buff! Even though I've sometimes been compared to Marivaux, it isn't my favourite century.
AF: Was your approach comparable to the way you made Perceval: using pictures from the period to depict the period itself?
ER: Yes. I don't much care for photographic reality. In this film, I depict the Revolution as people would have seen it at the time. And I try to
make the characters more like the reality you find in paintings. The opening scenes of the film are pictures, and I'd be pleased if the
uninformed spectator thought they were period paintings and was surprised when they suddenly come to life.
The Wife and I, being "uninformed spectators", were completely fooled by this opening, which is almost magical, with the characters seeming to spring to life.
The story that follows is nearly as unique, a magisterial dismissal of the French Revolution, all the more surprising for having been directed by a leading light of the French cinema, Eric Rohmer. Grace
Dalrymple Elliott--whose memoir, Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, Mr. Renoir stumbled upon--was an upper class British woman, former mistress of the Prince of Wales, who left
England for France and became the lover of the Duke of Orleans, cousin of Louis XVI. By the start of the film their liaison has ended, but they remain friends. In the background are the early stirrings
of the Revolution. The Lady (Lucy Russell) is fiercely loyal to the King and Queen, but the Duke (Jean-Claude Dreyfus), for reasons, mostly, of jealousy and hurt feelings, is no more than ambivalent.
As the pace of events quickens--though not the pace of the film, which, be warned, is rather stately--the interests and passions of the two begin to diverge. The Lady remains loyal to King and
Queen, despite the dangers from increasingly unruly revolutionaries, while the Duke imagines that he can use the Revolution to rise to power, and that he can control its path. Tensions between them
flare when the Lady takes in a wanted man, the Marquis de Champcenetz, and expects the Duke to help him escape Paris. The Duke, whose royal origins make him suspect anyway, fears being
caught and only reluctantly agrees to help.
The true break between them comes when the fate of the King is being decided. Grace secures a grudging pledge from the Duke that he will not vote for death at the King's trial. He agrees that
though he can not vote with the King and still maintain his own political viability, he will arrange to be absent from the vote on punishment. However, as Grace and friends are gathered together, with
messengers bringing them news of the proceedings, the Duke proceeds not only to betray his promise but is the deciding vote in favor of regicide.
France proceeds to descend into terror, claiming many of Grace's friends and the Duke, who she reconciles with when it's clear he's doomed, as the Revolution eats its own. There's one frightening
episode where she's discovered to be in possession of correspondence between a British officer and the politician Charles Fox, so she's suspected of spying. But she first shames the committee
interrogating her by her refusal to read a letter not intended for her and then when they try to read it but realize they've no translator, they have to turn to her, and the letter contains nothing but
(misguided) praise for the Revolution, leaving her accusers further dishonored.
The Lady obviously survived to write her memoir which in turn captured the attention of Mr. Rohmer. Here he's told the story entirely from her perspective and the result--whether entirely accurate
or not--is a portrayal of her as embodying all of the best traits that were supposed to be associated with nobility--she's loyal, brave, generous, and devoted to God. Meanwhile, the revolutionaries
are no more than a destructive rabble, with no redeeming qualities. Between them are a few soldiers who, though sympathetic to the Revolution, try to behave decently. And, of course, the Duke, who
comes off worst of all--he debases himself and abandons the ideals of his class in the mistaken belief that revolution can be a restorative for a sick society. Instead, as it must, the Revolution destroys
The cumulative effect of the film is like walking through an exhibition hall, and studying the unraveling catastrophe of the French Revolution in a series of beautiful but eventually grim paintings. Some
may find it lacks action, but it certainly has drama--the human drama of one woman who kept the faith. And the aptly-named Grace emerges as a genuine counter-revolutionary heroine, of film
5.0 out of 5 stars
signs, March 1 2003
We are here to abet creation and to witness it, to notice each thing, so each thing gets noticed. . . so that Creation need not play to an empty
The key scene in M. Night Shyamalan's film Signs comes when Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) and his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) are discussing the
implications of what seems to be an alien visitation, signaled by a number of lights that have appeared over Mexico City:
People --- break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck or a
coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence that there is Someone out there watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck, a
happy turn of chance. Well sure there are people in group number two are looking at those 14 lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the
situation isn't fifty/ fifty could be bad, could be good , but deep down they feel that whatever happens, they are on their own, and that fills them
Yeah, there are those people, but there's a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights they are looking at a
miracle. And deep down they feel that whatever is going to happen, there will be Someone there to help them, and that fills them with hope.
So what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles, or do you believe that people
just get lucky? Or look at the question this way --- is it possible that there are no coincidences?
Luci Shaw's poetry is based on the thrill of finding those signs in the everyday, of having faith that it is God who has placed them there and hope because of that.
A few examples will serve to give the flavor of the batch and speak far more eloquently than can I:
We know this to start with:
If we understood everything we wouldn't
be baffled. But mystery lives; somehow
without witchcraft or chicanery
we collect sounds and colors in a skyward
dish, like fruit in a bowl, and channel them
into verisimilitude--faces talking at us
from the tube's glass eye. Hallways of fog
enfold us in enigma. And then, the marvel of
window glass--how can anything be
hard enough to stop the hand and
hold its smudge while letting through this
soft light? The one wheat kernel that
breeds a thousand--a miracle of
loaves over and over again.
The stars, invisible in the blind day
revealed, thick as pollen, by the absence
of light. A billion spiky grass blades that melt
into a perfectly flat horizon. The Holy Ghost
waking me in my bedroom, drenching my
dry heart with fluid syllables, breathing
flesh into the fetal bones of this poem.
Rising: The underground tree
(Cornus sanguinea and cornus canadensis)
One spring in Tennessee I walked a tunnel
under dogwood trees, noting the petals
(in fours like crosses) and at each tender apex
four russet stains dark at Christ-wounds.
I knew that with the year the dogwood flower heads
would ripen into berry clusters bright as drops of gore.
Last week, a double-click on Botany
startled me with the kinship of those trees and bunch-berries, whose densely crowded mat
carpets the deep woods around my valley cabin.
Only their flowers--those white quartets of petals--
suggest the blood relationship. Since then I see
the miniature leaves and buds as tips of trees
burgeoning underground, knotted roots like limbs
pushing up to light through rock and humus.
The pure cross-flowers at my feet redeem
their long, dark burial in the ground, show how even
a weight of stony soil cannot keep Easter at bay.
I watch it being blown, swelling and rising
from my grandson's red plastic ring, fresh-filled
with eager air, tenuous as just-spilled
dandelion silk, a fluid wobble, quite surprising
me with its likeness to our cosmic bubble,
all greens and blues, each continent and sea
etched in bright enamel by God and gravity--
a film's fine iridescence fixed. The trouble
is: before the shivering, frail balloon has hovered
long it bursts in a star of spray that pricks my skin
with cool fireworks, so that, in vanishing, it winks
at my comparison just as the simile is offered.
But mind's a watercolor paper. This visual spasm
has brushed me with its indelible, swift
rainbow strokes of form and gleam. My visions shift
between the micro- and the macrocosm,
ephemeral both, as radiant as grace,
glass globules in the furnace air, both sealed
off after a creative breath, and then annealed,
floating their minor vessels into space.
Reading these poems awakens us to the wonder of the world around us and, if we've a mind to allow it, transforms the mundane into the miraculous. You can't help but observe your surroundings
more closely and ponder existence more fiercely. And it's certainly possible that you'll choose to be the kind of person who views it all as lucky chance and insists we're alone and nothing means
anything. But, there's also a possibility that you too will see signs and miracles and be infused with hope. Ms Shaw enhances the latter possibility. Her poems, in that sense, are an extraordinary gift to