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The Old Roman

A Notebook of what I am reading, listening to, watching and doing

Updated: 2014-10-04T23:47:49.192-04:00




On Poetry - Robert Hass’s Empathy and Desire -


On Poetry - Robert Hass’s Empathy and Desire - "Hass’s greatest strength as a poet, however, is his equanimity, a quality that sets him apart from peers who rely on a sense of imbalance. That imbalance can register as pressure (that is, the language of the poem may seem inadequate to the task it’s asked to perform), or it can involve deliberate disjunctions in voice, tone, syntax and so forth. Reading a good Hass poem, though, is like watching a painter whose brush strokes are so reassuringly steady you hardly notice how much complex and unsettling depth has been added to the canvas."

If You like Bill Evans


Found this while listening to Pandora



Video Review--A Dance to the Music of Time


A Dance to the Music of Time
 I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Description from Netflix:

Based on Anthony Powell's literary opus, this miniseries centers on Brit Nicholas Jenkins (James Purefoy) who, over the course of decades, observes the upper crust's uncanny ability to maintain propriety while keeping their secrets and scandals under wraps. Tea cakes ar...e spread with infidelity, failure, scandal and politics in this epic tale that spans from the 1920s to the '60s. John Gielgud, Miranda Richardson and Simon Russell Beale co-star.


Enjoying this book about William Howard Taft


 Let's face it--it would be tough for anyone to be sandwiched between the monumental and office defining presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Sadly, Taft was a very talented guy who just did not have the political temperament necessary to be President .  Taft had  distinguished career as an appellate judge, Governor of the Phillipines,  and a Secretary of War before his Presidency. And, he was a very capable Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court following his one term. Perhaps, Taft serves as a cautionary tale for all of us that just because you are excellent at one thing, you may not be excellent at everything and the difficulty of taking a role that is just unsuited to your fundamental personality.

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Trollope Quote


A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules
. --Anthony Trollope.

NYRblog - Girls! Girls! Girls! - The New York Review of Books


NYRblog - Girls! Girls! Girls! - The New York Review of Books
This piece by Tony Judt is interesting just as memoir. But it also raises the question whether our hyper-sensitive education and work environment has made mentoring more difficult. I often feel like I keep younger colleagues at greater arms length than my mentors did. This avoids the risk of being misunderstood, but my mentors knew a lot more about me as a person than I will ever learn about the younger people I coach. Knowing more about me as a person enbale them to give better advice.

Three by Powell and Pressburger


Three of Powell and Pressburger's World War II movies are especially dear to me because of their exploration of the Anglo-American Entente. The first, 49th Parallel (1942), is a very open appeal by the British to Americans to come in on the Allied side against the Axis. One of the most interesting scenes is set in a German Mennonite community in Canada. It underscores that the community of interest the British are appealing to is a community of values, not ethnicity.

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The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1945), is the most British of the three. It both is sympathetic to Germans, led astray by Prussian and then Nazi militarism, but also seems to warn against loss of honor by adopting an enemy's values in defense of one's own values.

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A Canterbury Tale (1949) suggests commonality of values between the British and American's.

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All are good watches with fine character actors.

Scoop by Waugh


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Although considered by the Observer as a near masterpiece, Scoop is a short, light and very broad satire of the British newspaper industry, british foreign policy and African kleptocracies that European nations compete for and maintain. The decline of the newspaper industry and European influence in Africa has lessened the force of Waugh's satire considerably. Lampooning the mighty has a fine tradition; send-ups of the once mighty pack lees force. In addition, sixty years of sad post-colonial history makes Waugh's satire of the government of Ishmealia (Waugh's fictional African state based losely on Abyssinia) less funny too. The characters are less well etched than those in Waugh's other novels, and its tough to care too much about most of the novel's parade of cartoons. in particular, many of the puns embedded in the characters names are easy to miss for the modern American reader. But it is a fun, light, short read if one is in the mood for something highly satirical.

WXPN Welcomes Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: An Evening with Sid ‘n’ Susie


A fan of Power-Pop, I have always liked Matthew Sweet. "Under the Covers, Volume 1," was a nice homage to to some Sixties' classics. "Under the Covers, Volume 2," which covers a number of Seventies' pop songs is just as good. This should be a good show.


Ben Folds Coming to the Grand, October 5, 2009


Saw him last Septemeber at the Mann Center. Very entertaining.


Voltaire Quote


A Quote and a Thought on Wrting


A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules
. --Anthony Trollope.

Trollope apparently rose each morning at four a.m. and wrote for three hours. This allowed him to churn out his prodigious catalog of literary works and work for a living. Graham Greene is said to have used a similar method. Two hours a day equalled 500 words of prose a day for Greene, or 180 thousand pages a year. That comes out two a little more than two good length novels and a novella each year.

Book Review--The Beatles by Bob Spitz


This was a Christmas gift nearly two years ago that I picked up and put down several times. I finally finished it and I was glad i saw it though to the end. At 856 pages, it was at some times, especially in the pre-Beatlemania slow going. The Beatles do not hit the big time until page 383 almost half-way through the book. It is here that the book really takes off. The book s fairly convincing in delivering on its unstated thesis that Beatlemania was extraordinarily had, physically and emotionally on the Beatles. Spitz is also a good sketch artists of the various personalities that float in and out of the story. For the Beatles later songs, he also provides interesting tid bits about their origins and how they were created. The earlier part of The Beatles is slower going for three reasons. First, Spitz tends to put his subjects on the couch , which is tedious to begin with. But it also gives rise to the notion that individual events in peoples childhoods are highly significant as to how they will act on particular occasions in their adulthood. This causes Spitz to bang on far too long about all sorts of boring trivia about the Beatles adolescent years. Second, although his insights into the composition of the Beatles songs from Rubber Soul on were interesting, the Beatles earlier songs just don't bear the weight of Spitz's exposition. Put differently, it is more fun to listen to "Please, Please Me," than to read or think about it. Third, life in obscurity tends to be more boring than stardom. if nothing else, the Beatles could afford to be weirder once they had money.

All and all this is a must read for Beatles fans. Just don't let the first 300 pages or so bog you down.

Book Review--The World Crisis


At 800 plus pages, Winston Churchill's 1931 overview on the First World War probably only appeals to Churchill and WWI junkies. Like many WWI overviews, the World Crisis is highly anglo-centric. The Somme, Dardenelles, and Jutland get through treatment, but developments in eastern Europe do not get much attention. And, as a political participant in Britain's prosecution in the first two years of the war, Churchill has some scores to settle and positions to protect. But the prose sparkles and Churchill clearly possesses the rare gift to see issues in broad and strategic terms. Alas, that strategic vision was not unerring.



It is difficult to imagine If being made today. The art house sensibility and the glorification of adolescent rebelliousness have become enduring thought cliches. But the denoument, the misunderstood and wrongfully repressed rebels mowing down their school masters and mates is impossible to stomach in light of a decade of school massacres, a la columbine. When it was written, it probably intended to shock because the slaughter was so outlandish, that one could only contemplate it as an outlandish allegory. Now that the allegory has been outstripped by reality, the slaughter does not shock and seems like grim exaltation.

Two quotes by Samuel Johnson


What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.

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Churchil quote from"World Crisis"


Regarding his reorganization of the munitions ministry in 1917.

"Instead of struggling through the jungle on foot I rode comfortably on an elephant whose trunk could pick up a pin or uproot a tree with equal ease, and from whose back a wide scene lay open. "

A Piece of the Philadelphia Parkway Art Puzzle Falls Into Place


Art palace is right fit with Phila. | Inquirer | 09/02/2007
"In the Art Museum's new Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, Philadelphia has at last acquired a modern civic building that is a true Philadelphian. *** Richard Gluckman's conversion of an opulent Roaring '20s office building into a safe house for the Philadelphia Museum of Art's most fragile collections reflects this town's essential verities: its commitment to craft over splash, substance over surface, and architecture with a strong work ethic."

And some day the Barnes Foundation will join it down the street and finally giving the Parkway a boulevard that one should want to stroll.

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Philly Orchard Project


Philly Orchard Project is a modest enviromental project that is worthy of support. It reclaims abandonned lots by planting fruit trees and berry bushes. This adds green space and provides local food. I have long thought that locally grown food is better tasting than food grown far away and then shipped great distances. That it saves energy is nice too.It appears to be community and grass root driven and not the product of some galactic planning process.

Developing Good Judgment


One of life's more difficult tasks is figuring out what you actually like--as opposed to what you have been told you should like. This is understandable and perhaps to be expected with adolescents. But it is surprising how much misery is caused by grown ups earnestly trying to like something they don't care for. Once you figure out what you like, the next challenge is to avoid letting others you are wrong, and that you should really like what they like. At the same time, one needs to avoid becoming a completely close minded block-head. At a friend's father's funeral a few years ago, one of the son's was the eulogist and recalled his father's advice as follows. "You have to have enough confidence in your own judgments that you do not lways just go along with the crowd; at the same time you cannot be so focussed on your position that you cannot take good advice from others." The successful balancing of these two sometimes conflicting forces is the essential prerequisite to developing good judgment.

Chris Gondek


Gondek does podcast author interviews. He is very good at it. I first subscribed to his "Invisible Hand"; series of interviews that focussed on books by business school professors. During the last year, he has started doing interviews of authors publishing under the Yale University Press and the Harvard University Press that include a wider array of subjects. All are available for free on iTunes. Good listening for the train or car commuter.

For Some Real Political Debate, Try Prime Minister Question Time


Nothing matches the off the cuff eloquence and gentle humor of prime minister questions time (PMQ's) in the British house of commons. A free BBC video podcast of PMQ's is now available at Itunes Having the opposition put questions to the government, rather than television journalists (i.e., entertainers)seem to enhance the debate. First, the leader of the opposition usually has a better grasp of policy that the average TV jouno. Second, because the opposition and the government need to cooperate on a wide number of issues, the debate tends to be more civil. I recommend you watch. It is difficult to imagine many american politicians showing this type of speaking ability and grace.