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Yesterday, a man drove a delivery truck over a crowd of people celebrating France’s Bastille Day. 84 people are dead.

As I write this, the New York Times digital edition screams

Coup Attempt Plunges Turkey Into Chaos; President, on iPhone, Urges Resistance

A neighbor intercepted me for a pleasant chat as Rhea and I trudged back just now from our evening run. A pleasant woman, a decent soul, a salt-of-the-earth neighbor, no wide-eyed fanatic, she. ‘We are spinning down incredibly fast’, she commented.

Entropy is about. Order and the too easily assumed blessing that comes with it, is everywhere in peril. Even certified non-conspiracy-theorists like this blogger know that something is afoot. And it ain’t good.

And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, struck him down. These were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 20:5–21:1 ESV)

The biblical witness presses in on us who are uncomfortable with its instruction—as on people throughout the world who find it a merely reasonable description of what they know to be true—that there is enmity. And it’s personal.

It is also opportunistic, unrelenting, and savage.

When the not-so-long-ago-crowned David comes to rest for a bit over his increasingly formidable kingdom, Satan—not so openly named in the Hebrew Bible—seized his moment. He ‘incited’. The word is carefully chosen, both in the Hebrew text and in the English translation quoted here, which seeks to  pass on to us something of the sinister nature of this seldom acknowledged sinister power.

The biblical witness does not train us to fear this reality, this force, this enemy. But it calls us a fool if we deny its reality. In polite company, we choose to believe almost anything before this.

‘Believe it’, the ancient voice speaks into our suburban calm, our entitled sense of order, our bare-bones, pragmatic secularism. Or be fooled. Badly, savagely fooled.

 

I must confess that my expectations for this product were modest to low, based on past experience with different keyboard overlaps. They’ve been far exceeded.

As a long-time writer of academic work that integrates right-to-left Hebrew script into majority-English documents, I’ve recently returned to the craft to discover that Unicode fonts have fast-forwarded a writer’s capacity but presented him or her with an entirely different set of keyboard combinations to master. The Kuzy Hebrew Language Cover is solidly built, yet it allows me to type comfortably on my Mac laptop’s keyboard *almost* as though the keyboard cover were not there.

When I’m working on something else, I have the Hebrew Language Cover at arm’s reach. When I need to do any writing in Hebrew, I slap it on and get to the task.

After a week of working with this product, I don’t see any negatives. A person writing Hebrew-dominant documents will not want or need this product. But for those of us for whom writing Hebrew is a common task in documents that are not Hebrew-dominant, it’s a real find.

This grim and superbly casted film reminds its viewer that war isn’t over when the boys come home. Too often, it gets inside the boys and lurches on in quiet, painful and sometimes devastating directions.

Yet Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron have not lent their formidable gifts to a monotone anti-war flick. The film’s focus does not ascend to the larger question of the war in Iraq and its justification or the absence thereof. The lens is far more personal than that. A gritty man’s son has been inexplicably murdered. The film opens with the deep irony that Jones’ Hank Deerfield knew where his soldier son was when he was in far-away Iraq, but the boy goes missing immediately upon his return to the US.

Susan Sarandon’s Joan Deerfield appears relatively briefly, but long enough for her powerful presence to communicate a mother’s calamitous grief in spades.

It is largely up to Jones’ Deerfield and Theron’s underrated Detective Emily Sanders to provide the grim grit and relentless investigative rigor that will not let things go until solved. The other characters in this drama would prefer to sweep things under the rug, let sleeping dogs lie, and otherwise not get to the awful bottom of a returned platoon that has turned in upon itself.

This is not an easy film to watch. In this reviewer’s eyes, it chooses not to wave flags for or against the larger arguments of war. It simply pounds the emotional pavement relentlessly until a crime is solved and a soldier’s disappearance is explained. That’s not everything. But that’s something.

Idiosyncratic as Glenn Gould was as a human being, his performance of Bach’s music comes as close to ‘authoritative’ as the term—with all its needed caveats—allows. I say this as a music lover and a music consumer, not as a music critic or even much of a musician. And I do so because amateurs like this one often wonder ‘which version (of a certain musical piece) to buy or stream’.

You will never go wrong purchasing a Glenn Gould performance of J.S. Bach.

This transference of Bach’s French Suites to the piano’s keyboard is performed with the lightest touch, the warmest panache. The lines of Bach’s complex polyphony—whether quick as a dragonfly or stately as a swan—come across almost as the texture and pace of a living being. Nothing is forced, nothing gets in the way. Gould’s notorious nonverbal at the keyboard, bane of his recording engineers, are undetectable. The music simply flows.

Slow down and listen to Gould’s left hand interacting, intertwining, conversing with his right. This is Bach performed, well, authoritatively. If you want Bach’s French Suites or at a more superficial level (like the one at which this music consumer listens), just his exquisite Baroque polyphony performed on the piano, you can do no better than imaging, scrawled in Johann Sebastian’s own hand across the front of this recording: ‘Start here.’

This exceptional film adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s novel of the same title deserves more credit than the box office paid it a decade ago.

Set amid the Nationalist Revolution in China (and filmed in that country) in the 1920s, the plot teeters atop the the wall of emotional and political meltdown. Ed Norton (as the bacteriologist Walter Fane) and Liev Schreiber (as the philandering British consul Charles Townsend) turn in solid performances, but in this reviewer’s eyes it is Naomi Watts who shines as Kitty Garston. Ignored by the husband who prefers the thrill of infectious diseases to his hot wife, she turns to Townsend and his bed for comfort.

The film splits time between early-20th-century Shanghai and the remote location to which Dr. Fane compels his adulterous wife to follow him as punishment. The camera captures both venues sumptuously, but it is the peaked landscape of the countryside that the visuals reach their dazzling potential, all amid the human chaos of a ravaging cholera epidemic.

When the bored Kitty finds both her place and her passion in tending to the children of a Catholic orphanage, Norton’s Dr. Fane realizes what he has lost. His cruelty towards Kitty melts and love is re-born, just in time for cholera to snatch him away from Kitty before they can reinitiate the life that might have been if  hearts were softer and memories shorter. Her chance encounter with Townsend on a London street years later is a jaw-dropping emotional finale.

The Painted Face is a strong story well told, well spoken, well shot, and well framed by a gorgeous score.

What, no Oscars? 2006 must have been some year at the movies.

Though my acquaintance with cuisine is limited largely to eating it, this delightful little food flick drew me in and held my attention through its somewhat formulaic but whimsically executed plot line.

Indians can poke fun at Indian idiosyncrasies as, well, as only Indians can. There’s plenty of that, almost but not quite to the point of slapdash humor as Samir (Aasif Mandvi)—the emphatically assimilated son of a small-time New York restaurenteur—finds out that Indian cooking is not below him after all. In the process, he finds the success, the love, and the satisfaction that had eluded his pursuit of the American dream, or at least of the New York variation on that theme.

If every good story requires a shadow, life is usually not slow to oblige. Samir’s family lives under the shadow of the unexplained death of his brother and the hold in the hearts of Samir’s match-making mother and legacy-craving father that their late son’s absence has torn.

The star turn in this picture is Naseerudin Shah’s ‘Akbar’, the bohemian taxi-driver cum great chef who probably *has* cooked for Indira Ghandi, just as he’s claimed. He came to his kitchen mastery somehow, and cooking for the Great Ones emerges as at least as plausible as all other explanations as Akbar gains Samir’s respect, teaches him to cook from the soul, and then departs for Akron, Ohio, leaving Samir to do just as his improbably tutor has exhorted him to do.

Hardly an action flick, this little film may well fill up the evening of a viewer who relishes the cultural quirks and nuances that make people-watching one of life’s great sporting endeavors.

Enjoy!

When I first met Rhea, I was lying on indoor-outdoor carpet under a table at the Lucky Dog Retreat, trying to coax the scared little girl and her puppy sister Asa to have something—anything!—to do with me.

Thing were not going well.

Robin, the proprietor of Lucky Dog Retreat, accompanies Indianapolis’ animal control officers into what are gingerly described as ‘bad situations’ in an effort to keep some of our city’s hapless animals from being destroyed. A dark look came across Robin’s face as I asked her about Rhea’s and Asa’s origins. ‘There were too many human beings and too many dogs in that apartment’, she responded, clearly not wanting to go any deeper into her description. Rhea and Asa, alone among a tribe of dogs, were to be saved. Their fear of this big stranger lying on the floor suddenly sounded entirely reasonable, at least as far as Puppy Logic goes.

Rhea was improbable from the start, one of just two survivors out of ‘too many dogs’.

Rhea’s tough beginnings—she was clearly not treated well in her first, chaotic home—haunt her still.

My fiancée was half a country away. I described Rhea on the phone, the scared little monster with wan hope of a future. It was impossible to make Rhea sound like the Ideal Dog. Nothing about this waif’s life has ever come close to ideal. Karen was not absolutely opposed to adding a dog with a past to our collection of two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the new life we would soon share. If we went through with this, Rhea would join a sister who had been the runt of her own boiling, brown tribe back in Costa Rica and a blind and badly abused brother Ridgeback from northern Indiana. Yet Karen’s assent could not be described as enthusiastic.

I was to marry an adventurous bride amid a pack of rejected dogs.

After a few more visits to Lucky Dog, Rhea came home. Improbably. We would live to regret our decision. And then, eventually, to celebrate it. And her.

 

 

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