Thursday, February 11, 2016

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body

CURE: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 19, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385348150
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385348157

  • I set out to read this book with an open mind. Actually, I was very happy to read it because since I battle certain so-called incurable illnesses and since my son is diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum I figured I would read a book to give me faith in the human body and spirit. And hey, it’d be a scientific book so that would be better!

    But the book pretty quickly got on my last nerves. First there was the introduction where she pretty much disses anything (and anyone) who might be “unscientific.” It wasn’t even her idea about homeopathy, which really to me is pretty much the precursor of vaccines. They both deal with something being diluted and “like curing like,” after all? It was her insistence on how science validates the flaky stuff New Ager types have been saying. Yes, I thought to myself (although I’m not a New Ager), here we are dealing with someone who looks down on any kind of knowledge or tradition which isn’t rooted in the Western Scientific medical tradition. Nevertheless, I soldiered on. Cause I want to believe, and all that. After all, the book is written by a science journalist who was going to –in a small way—affirm some of the stuff flakes like me believe. She was, after all, on our side. Kinda.

    So the first chapter: Marchant discusses the secretin trials and how it had seemed as if secretin would be a cure for autism because a young boy suddenly improved. But then in subsequent trials – between secretin and a saline solution—it was shown that people of both the secretin group and the saline group had some improvements. Hence, she hints, there is a placebo effect. (The first chapter is called “Faking it” by the way.)

    While I do believe in the so-called “placebo effect,” I really had to groan at this particular scientific methodology of supporting the mind over matter placebo effect. Why? Because from the first chapter I began to see the narrow-mindedness of the scientific mind. I expected Marchant to discuss other trials that did not include the saline solution. Why? Because perhaps saline is not really a placebo. And in a science trial –or a book about a scientific trial--, shouldn’t a scientist or writer step back to see if an assumption is being made. But that is the point, the scientific mind doesn’t realize its assumptions. An example, there are countless studies and papers detailing the fact that people on the autism spectrum are often dehydrated, and often their mothers were dehydrated during their pregnancy. Shouldn’t a science writer be aware of this and include a chapter to help build her case? In addition, what happens to people who go to hospitals? They are usually put on a saline drip? There are scientific reasons for that. And in hospitals in Asia, going to the hospital to get hydrated is common. Doesn’t this science reporter know this? Shouldn’t a writer know how to build her case for science?

    And that was just the FIRST three pages of the first chapter. This kind of thing goes on throughout the book! If one has eyes to see it, one can see clearly how scientific types don’t seem to understand their assumptions.

    Once one accepts that the trials Marchant espouses often miss out on some  aspect because the scientists and scientific journalists don’t even see, then reading the book becomes a kind of perverse search for What Is Missing. I swear! It was just plain infuriating.

    And i did laugh when I read on page 212: "Carol feels that the doctors ignored factors such as her caffeine addiction and how anxious the tests were making her." Cosmic moment: Because I (Carole) had been spending the book thinking, "These scientists and their trials are ignoring factors." I love serendipity and weirdness like that.

    I’m not saying this book is bad. It’s actually quite good in some places. The “Looking for God” chapter was quite good, for instance. It wasn’t as sneery as I expected it to be. But for those who already believe in the power of the mind this book is old news. Buy this book as yet another book to put beside all those other self-help health books that encourage and inspire you. Or buy it for someone who thinks he’s scientific who won’t see through ignored factors (the assumptions and unexplored holes) in these examples and trials.  I suppose I should recommend this book. It’s flimsy, definitely (or perhaps it is only the scientific methodology of scientific trials that are flimsy) because it says nothing new. But it might be able to help those who are afflicted with stress-related illnesses, or illnesses rising from the feeling of being unloved.

    Of course, religion has already told us all that.
    Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23

    Jesus did say:
    But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. -- Matthew 15:18-19

    I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, January 30, 2016

    Film Review: 11 am

    11 a.m. South Korea 2013 CJ entertainment. Written by Lee Seung-hwan. Directed by Kim Hyun-Seok.

    It’s no secret that I am a lover of time travel movies. After dwindling down the choices from the many time travel flicks I’ve seen this month, the remaining contenders were Time Lapse and 11 a.m. So, the first: 11 a.m. because I like Korean (and non-US) speculative fiction.

    The story is pretty basic. Our hero Woo-seok is leading a time travel research project called Trotsky -- so named because it concerns the past and alternate timelines and because Trotsky would’ve been the great Soviet leader instead of Stalin had if time had turned out differently. I need not tell you that Team Leader  Woo-seok has a past he wants to change, do I? We pretty much know that all Mad Scientists have some horrible event that happened in the past from which their passion came. So, yes, this passion for time travel originated in the death of our hero’s beloved wife. Ah, if he could only go back in time and fix things.

    But her death happened waaaaaaaay back when. And so far the Trotsky team have only been able to (theoretically) go back in time for 24 hours. Not a bad start! But apparently not good enough for the Russians who have been backing this project and who now are on the verge of shutting it down.

    Disappointed but valiant --and (as I’ve already stated) led by a somewhat obsessed Team Leader, our scientists decide to try to send Trotsky into the future. “For real, this time.” No more theories or transporting non-humans into the future. Woo-seok and Young-eun are sent a day ahead. At exactly 11: a.m. But when they arrive there, they find much amiss. The station’s ablaze, some crazy guy is attempting to murder Woo-seok folks have died, the CCTV tapes are scrambled and the walls are crumbling.  Dear me! What do these things mean? How did matters come to this pass? Have the Russians been doing shady things? Or has knowing the future caused this bad future to happen?

    This is a fun flick. It’s fast-paced and it comes together well. I didn’t find any plot holes -- which is what one looks for in time travel flicks-- but it’s possible I was so caught up in the story I missed them. This film is streaming on the web.

    Time Lapse 104 minutes  USA 2014  Written by Bradley D King and BP Cooper. Veritas Production

    Time Lapse is not exactly a time travel pic. It’s more of a fortune-telling advanced infomation pic. And it turns out to be the perfect complement to our Korean time travel piece, 11 a.m. We have three best buds -- consisting of Callie, Finn, and Jasper. Finn and Callie are dating and Jasper is well, hovering around them as best friends who are in love with their friend’s girl often do.

    A neighbor goes missing. In their search for him, they discover a camera that takes pictures of coming events. Exactly 24 hours in the future. Dear me! What a difference a day makes! Well, for one, it can make a difference between winning a lot of money on gambling and winning a little. It can prevent -- or cause?-- murders. And if one or two of the main characters are obsessed with greed or lust or passion, well, who knows what will happen?

    The funny thing about the course of events is that yet again knowing the future creates the future. In 11 a.m., the characters try to fight against what seems inevitable. In Time Lapse, the hipster ever-so-sure-of-themselves friends believe that since a future scene appears in a photograph, they are obligated to recreate what they see in the picture. But like the scrambled CCTV tapes in 11 a.m., these folks are working with incomplete information. I definitely recommend this movie. This film is available on DVD and is streaming online and on Netflix.

    Friday, January 15, 2016

    Review: Art Students League of New York on Painting

     Art Students League of New York on Painting
    Lessons and Meditations on Mediums, Styles, and Methods
    James L. McElhinney and the Instructors of The Art Students League of New York.
    • Hardcover: 304 pages
    • Publisher: Watson-Guptill (November 10, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0385345437
    • ISBN-13: 978-0385345439

    Back in the day, I used to paint. And play the violin. And play the piano. And do calligraphy. But I've kinda let those arts and crafts fall to the side as I focused on my writing and my fabric designs. But this book is seriously inspiring.

    If you've seen art books, they tend to fall into the following categories: art how to's, art history, art culture, memoirs by art professionals. This book is a little of all those categories. First of all, it's a book with really great paintings. In this day of photoshop and illustrator, one generally doesn't see acrylic, oil, etc paintings unless one visits galleries and museums. And realistic paintings are often done by cameras. This book reminds the reader of the craft of painting. Simply speaking, it's not a book that one has to read. But I would recommend reading it.

    Cause these artists have some important stuff they want to say.

    I've run into this before where people have been resentful because of the way critics and teachers of modern art have derided realism as passe and unimportant. So yeah, there is a whole lot of that. But hey, they're telling the truth and they're speaking their art. With the advent of people like Lucien Freud and Philip Pearlstein and others, realism with an emphasis on figure realism has come back into vogue in many quarters of critical opinion.

    The commentary and personal histories of the artists will definitely help many modern artists understand the paths and pitfalls of the art life and will also give information on the state of contemporary realistic painting to future artists. This is a great book to give to any artist interested in realistic painting. I will add though that there are a lot of nude paintings. I don't really mind it. (I was a model for painters in college but I was one of those models who never removed her clothing. Imagine then me being dressed and my partner being fully nude! Ah, those days!) But some folks who have a problem with seeing the nude human body --even in a painting-- might be perturbed.

    Founded in 1875, the venerable Art Students League of New York still instructs some 2500 students each month. In this copiously illustrated  book on painting, we get an in-depth look into the methods and inspirations of contemporary artists teaching at the League. The book is divided into three parts: Lessons and Demos, Advice and Philosophies, and Interviews. Some of the artists  in Part One include Henry Finkelstein (On Painting, with a Critique); Thomas Torak (A Contemporary Approach to Classical Painting); Naomi Campbell (Working Large in Watercolor); and Costa Vavagiakis (The Evolution of a Concept).
        Part Two features, among others, William Scharf (Knowing that Miracles Happen), Peter Homitzky (inventing from Observation), and Deborah Winiarski (Painting and Encaustic).
        Part Three features three interviews: Frank O'Cain (Abstraction from Nature); Ronnie Landfield (On Learning and Teaching); Knox Martin (Learning From Old  and Modern Masters).
        Most of the art is representational, with emphasis on the human figure. After every chapter there is a student gallery which reproduces recent paintings from the students.
        There are lots of good tips in the illustrated demos that would profit an  experienced artist as well as the beginner. I received this book free of charge in exchange for a honest review.



    Thursday, January 07, 2016

    Review: Money-Making Mom by Crystal Paine

    Money-Making Mom How Every Woman Can Earn More and Make a Difference

    By Crystal Paine

    • Hardcover: 240 pages
    • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (November 3, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1400206480
    • ISBN-13: 978-1400206483
    Okay, I'll admit it. I was prepared to hate this book. I assumed it was a get-rich-quick kind of book written by some happy peppy mom which promised happiness and wealth for anyone prepared to work hard. It's kinda like that but not really.

    As a writer I read a lot of blogs and books about how to make a living as a writer. Because... let's face it, the internet has opened up and anyone can use his or her talents to make a little cash. And writers aim to make more than a little cash: writing is a bit like a mom-and-pop store nowadays. It is a lifestyle, a commitment, a vocation to bring goods to others, and a means of helping to make ends meet.

    Like other books that promise advice on success, it must be read and applied. There is no real good to reading a book like this -- a book crammed with insights such as finding your talents, marketing yourself, building your business, budgeting one's time, money, and affections-- without actually committing to act on the advice.

    And this is where the book excels. Crystal Paine gives solid advice. It's not hype and it's not superior. It's like a good friend sitting you down and telling you what she has had to do in order to make her own life successful. She's spiritual too and believes in giving back, which isn't a bad thing.

    Now, the reader of this book (writer, artist, typist, butcher, musician, baker, candlestick-maker) might not become as successful as Crystal Paine is but I suspect that any woman (or man) who reads and diligently applies the suggestions in this book could definitely find a way to create extra bucks for their family's income.

    I received this book free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, December 26, 2015

    Film Review: The Beauty Inside

    The Beauty Inside 2015 South Korea. Yang Film. Directed by Baek Jong-yeol

    What a Difference a Day Makes! But this movie involves not time, not space, but the human body and it has the feel of a transgressive fairy tale. Or perhaps it would be more transgressive if it hadn’t played it so safe. I will say though that some folks --especially those who are uncomfortable with non-normative sexual relationships-- might not find it such a safe watch. (This film is based on the original Intel and Toshiba “social” film, which I have not seen so alas, no way for me to compare.)

    On his eighteenth birthday, Woo-Jin discovers that he is a monster. He wakes to find that he is not himself. Not externally anyway. He soon realizes that it is his fate to look differently everyday. He wakes not knowing what sex, race, or age he will be. The only way he can keep any one face is to not go to sleep. But sooner or later sleep overtakes him and he awakes to a new self. One can imagine that this could be a problem. He lives an isolated life as a furniture maker with only his mother and his best friend privy to his secret.

    Then one day he falls in love.  At first he is content to simply visit Yi Soo, the object of his affection everyday. Since he looks like a different person, he can just pretend to be a customer. But after a while, he decides to show her who he is. After the initial shock -- and worry that she is dealing with a nutcase--  Yi Soo accepts him. But this acceptance takes a toll on her mental health and on her reputation. After all, her co-workers think of her as a man who sees a different man every day. And the poor girl only knows who her boyfriend is when he takes her hand in the morning or when he emails a photo of himself in the morning.  We come to understand that although human love is based on the beauty inside, there is comfort in the routine of seeing the same person’s face everyday.

    So then, the safety and discomfort factor. True, there are scenes where we see two girls lying in a bed caressing each other’s faces but that’s pretty much it. Not that I wanted a full-on gay sex scene but if the filmmakers are going to  challenge society, they really should step up and make some of us conservative folks in the audience cringe or cover our eyes. But perhaps some conservative folks in Korea had that reaction. It would’ve been neat too to have an interracial kiss on one of the days when our hero is a Black person. Heck, I wouldn’t have minded a scene showing him as a Black person walking around town.  But the biggest problem in this incredibly sweet and wonderful angsty movie is how incredibly sweet and wonderful and angsty it is. And you know what that means, don’t you? While there are the occasional ugly, old, plain, middle-aged folks thrown in as our main lead, the guys who play our heroes are all incredibly hot and gorgeous. Korea’s culture of beauty obsession is not challenged at all. So, how can one dislike a movie when all of one’s favorite Korean stars are in it? Highly recommended. I suppose the film does say something about love and appearances. I just don’t know what. But it is beautiful and touching to watch.  This film is showing in art theaters.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    Film Review: End of Animal or The Apocalypse Comes to the Korean Countryside

    Director and Writer: Sung-hee Jo   



    There are so many American evangelical Christian movies out nowadays. Movies such as War Room, for instance. On the whole, these films are generally only received well by Christians...primarily because American evangelical Christian filmmaking is so bad. Notice, I keep saying "American evangelical Christian." And the reason I am so specific is because non-American evangelical films are generally rather good. And American Christian non-evangelical films are also generally good. (See "The Mission," for example.) There have, of course, been a few good evangelical Christian movies. The Apostle, for instance. But in all honesty, evangelical Christian movies made by Americans are usually pretty bad.

    One of the reasons why Evangelical America Christian movies are so terrible is that they are so finely-woven together with American culture, American filmmaking, and American Church tradition. American culture has certain racial and social ideas that have seeped into American Christianity. American filmmaking aims for blockbusters; thus American Christian movies tend to be large-scale affairs rather than indies. And American Church tradition is illustrative, preachy, expository, combative, and informed by such siege mentality that it often feels the movie is all too aware of possible enemies/unsaved folks/detractors in the audience. Because of this debate mentality, many Christian movies are not about characters but they often seem to be about polemics and doctrinal points.

    Given all that, it's always refreshing to see Christian films that are simple stories. It's refreshing when the films are plain old stories but it's downright exhilarating when a Christian filmmaker tackles Christian a perfectly cinematic way. 

    End of Animal, which is streaming online in various places, is an apocalyptic film that is a far cry from the likes of would-be blockbuster Left Behind. The story begins with a cab ride. Our heroine, Soo Young, is heavily pregnant and is pretty much due any minute. Because of this, she is driving to her mother's house where her mother will take care of her before, during, and after the birth. The cabbie is a friendly older guy. But a stranger soon joins the group in the cab. He's wearing a hood, and a baseball cap and he knows way too much about the lives of the two people he's traveling with. He also knows the world will be ending soon. Is he an angel? God? Or "an angel of the Lord" (an angel who pretty much is so full of God that the angel is almost a walking manifestation of God.)?

    Well, the angel starts telling them all will go black within a few seconds and gives them some advice. Even after the blackout occurs, electricity stops, and good folks disappear off the face of the earth, he keeps giving advice to our heroine. Via a walkie-talkie or by other means (dreams, notes, words spoken off the cuff by casual strangers, etc.)  Note, I said "advice." Because one cannot really call the words "commands." This being is protective, testy when not listened to, omniscient, but by no means a "bully."

    This is one of the first areas where this movie differs from American movies. In an American Christian movie, we would have been given a long dissertation on who this being is and why He is being this way, complete with chapter and verse. There is no such exposition in this movie. Korean filmmakers are notorious at trusting their audiences. American filmmakers are equally notorious for introducing characters, showing their character traits, and generally not trusting their audiences to figure stuff out.

    I said earlier that this being is testy. And really, after watching Soo-Young repeatedly follow her own logic, disobey intuition, disobey clear commands, and get into deeper and deeper more harrowing circumstances, the viewer understands why this unknown protector of hers gets annoyed. Like Israel of old, and like Christendom now, Soo-Young is willful, stiff-necked, and self-trusting to an inordinate way too logical degree. Like the poor man beaten on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, she has traveled a road and has been beaten. But unlike the beaten man, she continually refuses the help provided by the Good Samaritan.

    We the viewers consider her a "good" character because she is clearly a decent person. But she is not an obedient character. We consider her a character whom another character loves and wants to save. But at the end, one wonders if this woman is beyond salvation. And with the film's devastating last lines of dialog, one understands the exasperation of God.

    There is one character who is reminiscient of the malefactor on the cross and it's a bit jarring to see his redemption. But, if one is a viewer of Korean dramas and movies, one has come to understand the almost-ubiquitous redemption arc.

    The other thematic layer is social and historical. Our heroine has suffered in much the same way that modern Korea (or even modern African-American) culture has. Does she come out of her suffering with any sense of gratitude? No, she repairs her woundedness with the desire for stuff.

    If this movie had been made in the USA, the bad guy would have been killed and our heroine would have seen the light.

    This movie is not to everyone's taste. If you aren't a religious person, avoid it. But if you like scifi apocalyptical films, films about the spiritual nature of human beings, and Christian films that are a notch above the rest, this film is Highly Recommended.

    Friday, November 13, 2015

    Review: The Time Garden by Daria Song

    The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book (Time Series)

  • 80 pages
  • Watson-Guptill; Clr edition (September 1, 2015)

  • ISBN-13: 978-1607749608

  • $8.79

    I recently reviewed the second book in this series, the Time Chamber and I liked it a lot. But now that I've seen the first book, I think the second pales in comparison. It pales because the first is so rich.

    The Time Garden is essentially a coloring book with a story thrown in to frame the pictures. The typefont for the story is pretty small for a kid's book -- and yes, although this is supposed to be an adult coloring book, I definitely think it'll probably be bought for kids. The vocabulary in which the story is told is a bit unwieldy for a kid but it's perfect for adults. The story itself is good for kids but there is no resonance for adults. It would've been good if there could be a story that really does connect symbolically to the adult mind. But, maybe I'm nit-picking. The book is after all, primarily, a coloring book.

    Which brings me to why I like this book so much better than the first. The pictures here are just more complicated period. There are lots of nooks, crannies, patterns, geometric, man-made, and natural shapes in the world. Birds and flowers are on one page while axles or buildings or gears or balloons are on the next. Although it is not fantastical in the sense of fantasy, it does present the world in a way that enables the viewer to see how beautiful and eerie the world can seem if one only looks. It's fun. More aimed for girls but boys might like them. Because some of the drawings are so complicated and the coloring space so small, I wouldn't recommend this book for children who don't know how to color within the lines.

    The pages have so far been able to withstand magic markers but because the pictures are on both sides of the page, i would be careful with the kind of media one uses. Crayon, colored pencils seem best.

    Very recommended for adults and kids who like coloring.



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