The Long Walk

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956) by Slavomir Rawicz


Rating: ★★★★★

The Long Walk, first published in 1956, is a gripping account of a Polish officer’s imprisonment in the Soviet gulag in 1940, his escape and then a trek of 4,000 miles (6,437km) from Siberia to India, surviving unimaginable hardships along the way, testing the seven men and their companion, a seventeen year old girl they came across on the way, to the limits. Its dramatic passages tell of extremes of exhaustion, starvation and thirst as they survived snowdrifts and storms and even the pitiless Gobi Desert.

In the shadow of death we grew closer together than ever before. No man would admit to despair. No man spoke of fear. The only thought spoken out again and again was that there must be water soon. All our hope was in this.”

Australian director Peter Weir, celebrated for contemporary classics such as ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Truman Show’, decided the account deserved filming. “As a feat of endurance and courage and the tenacity of human beings to survive, I thought it was superb. I asked, ‘Does it stay with you enough to want to pursue it as a film?’ And this was the case.” The film, inspired by the book, but not a straight re-telling, was released December 2010 as ‘The Way Back’.

The subtitle of the book is ‘The true story of a trek to freedom’ but there is a controversy over this. There was evidence that suggested that Rawicz had not told the truth about his past, and that although he had been a prisoner in the gulag, he never escaped, but was released under an amnesty in 1942, and the documents, discovered by an American researcher, Linda Willis, in Polish and Russian archives, also show that rather than being imprisoned on a charge of espionage as he claimed, Rawicz was actually sent to the gulag for killing an officer with the NKVD, the forerunner of the Soviet secret police, the KGB. This could of course, be a fabrication.

Peter Weir researched the controversy. “It was enough for me to say that three men had come out of the Himalayas, and that’s how I dedicate my film, to these unknown survivors. And then I proceed with essentially a fictional film.”

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Human Follies and Fallacies

Follies and Fallacies in Medicine (1989) by Petr Skrabanek and James McCormick

Books do not arise of themselves; they do not emerge from the primeval slime, but are grafted on to some bizarre selection of everything that has gone before, a selection which is determined by the past experience of their authors”.

The Interdisciplinary approach to science and human reasoning generally, has much to recommend it.* By this we mean new insights, or evidence weighing against established theories in one field, that may profitably be used to re-examine areas in another field of knowledge .There are books published that confine their criticisms to the field their writers are familiar with, or feel best placed to give examples, but which can often be applied in ways the authors themselves may not at first have reckoned with, or conversely, deliberately scattered seeds for others to cultivate elsewhere. One such book is Follies and Fallacies in Medicine. It is not easy to obtain.

The authors aim as stated, ‘is to reach inquisitive minds, particularly those who are still young and uncorrupted by dogma. We offer no solutions to the problems we raise because we do not pretend to know of any. Both of us have been thought to suffer from ‘scepticaemia’ (an uncommon generalised disorder of low infectivity. Medical school education is likely to confer life-long immunity) but are happy to regard this affliction, paradoxically, as a health-promoting state..’

Many examples of erroneous reasoning, obfuscation, faulty logic and accidental misinformation are given; they are not concerned with deliberate falsification, deception or fraud, which can at times pollute the scientific literature. It appears that there is a need to spell out cautions necessary to establish truth, for even the best intentioned author will have a personal bias, a tendency to form a conclusion or a belief before the evidence necessarily justifies it’..

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You feel feverish. Often taken as the first sign of an infection, you feel exhausted, and hot and clammy. The usual response is to go to bed, and take aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen- to lower the body temperature.

It has long been acknowledged that such drugs could, in theory, be counter-productive, they do after all, interfere with the body’s natural response to infection. These concerns have been largely set aside, however, for a variety of reasons, the need to relieve discomfort, fears about febrile convulsions in young children, simple habit, and some might add the psychological urge to do something rather than nothing.

Febrile convulsions, whilst frightening for parents, almost never cause lasting harm. In any case, they seem to be caused by a rapid climb in temperature, rather than a raised temperature as such. One paediatrician said: “I consider the thermometer a common source of undue parental anxiety. Physicians frequently are asked to ‘treat’ a fever, but this pressure to ‘do something’ should be tempered by the realization that, in most cases, fever is merely the body’s defence against a self-limited disease.”

The upshot is that the drugs, used as anti-pyretics, are routinely used in vast quantities for any feverish illness, from the sickest of patients in intensive care, to people using over-the-counter cold remedies at home. Standard medical advice for flu, for example, is to rest and dose up on paracetamol..

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Don’t stop the Carnival

Herman Wouk (1965) Don’t Stop the Carnival

Rating: ★★★★★

First it is only fair to say that since this book was written in 1965, you probably won’t find anywhere like Amerigo today. Caricatures maybe, but there are definitely Norman Paperman and Lester Atlas types still around. Paperman, the neurotic, over-worked, over stressed New Yorker enticed by Paradise, Atlas, the beligerent, asset-stripping moneyman (still likeable), and a host of other characters. Having lived a short while in the Bahamas, the attitudes of these people and their reaction to island life is authentic and hilarious! This is one of those books I will re-read when in need, and for that reason I recommend it. OK, its not a blockbuster, but is far easier on the eyes than some 800 pager. As a book to read for its own sake, or to get a taste of laid-back island style, give it a go!

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Henry II and Thomas a Becket

Out of the thirty four years of his reign (1154- 1189), Henry II spent twenty-one on the Continent. Socially and culturally, England was a backwater compared with the continental parts of the Angevin dominion.

Henry introduced several major reforms to England. Prior to 1166 trial by ordeal was a common way of determining guilt or innocence in criminal cases. Under this system, an accused person might have to pick up a red hot bar of iron, or pluck a stone out of a boiling cauldron. If their hand had begun to heal after three days they were considered to have God on their side, affirming their innocence. Henry gradually replaced this rather painful system with a jury of 12 men. He also introduced the first personal property tax. At the same time he forced Wales to at least nominally acknowledge the sovereignty of the English crown.

Henry was married to the forceful Eleanor of Aquitaine, the divorced wife of Louis VII of France, and in their squabbling she turned their sons Richard, John, and Geoffrey against him. The “Devil’s Brood” intrigued, fought, and rebelled against their father. By 1174 she was influencing the ‘young King Henry’ as well (see below). In the end, the crown went to Richard, while John “Lackland” received nothing, until 1185, when he was offered Ireland. Geoffrey received even less; He died before his father.

Henry desired to be absolute ruler of his dominions, both Church and State, and could find precedents in the traditions of the throne when he planned to do away with the special privileges of the English clergy, which he regarded as fetters on his authority. As Henry’s chancellor since 1155, Becket enforced the king’s traditional medieval land tax that was exacted from all landowners, including the churches and bishoprics, assisted by a force of 800 knights. This created both a hardship and a resentment of Becket among the English churchmen. To further implicate Becket as a secular man, he appeared an accomplished and extravagant courtier and a cheerful companion to the king’s pleasures. Thomas was devoted to Henry’s interests with a firm and yet diplomatic thoroughness.

It is not for his political successes that Henry is best remembered, but for his role in the murder of Thomas a Becket. In June 1162, Becket had been consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. In the eyes of many contemporaries, Becket did not deserve the highest ecclesiastical post in the land. Despite his clerical education, his appointment was without precedent (he was a secular cleric not monastic)..

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Heavens Fall- 2006 DVD

Heavens Fall [DVD] (2006) Starring Timothy Hutton, David Strathairn and Leelee Sobieski

Rating: ★★★★★

“Years from now, people will hear the word Scottsboro and it will mean something.”

This is the courtroom drama that depicts the same events that inspired the Robinson trial in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I post the following review for these reasons. Firstly,the interesting character of Samuel Leibowitz, who had a long career as a criminal defense attorney, secondly, the depiction of prejudice and its wider implications, and thirdly, the damage done to the lives of falsely accused individuals. It is all the more harrowing for being a true story, and a relatively recent one.

On March 25th 1931, nine young black men were pulled off a freight train by an angry Alabama lynch mob. Eight of the nine (the ninth was only twelve) were accused of raping two women and subsequently sentenced to death in the electric chair. The United States Supreme Court eventually granted a re-trial for all the defendants. Skilled New York defence attorney Samuel Liebowitz went to Alabama to defend the Scottsboro boys at the behest of the International Labor Defense. His journey into the Deep South symbolized the deep racial divide of the times and set in motion a legal battle that ultimately changed the course of American jurisprudence. The Scottsboro case was a tragic chapter in American history and a story of epic injustice. From their arrest in 1931 to the release of the last Scottsboro defendant in 1950, the rights of nine young black men were violated. During the re-trials, one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, admitted going along with the rape story and asserted that none of the Scottsboro Boys ever touched either of the white women. Certain that the strength of the evidence would win the case, Leibowitz  wasn’t prepared for the deep racial prejudice he found. Heavens Fall is the tragic true story of jurisprudence undone by racial prejudice. The case is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice and also led to the end of all-white juries in the South..

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Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare (2006) by Clare Asquith

Rating: ★★★★★

This book is a revelatory new look at how Shakespeare secretly addressed the most profound political issues of his day, and how his plays embody a hidden history of England.  In Elizabethan England many loyal subjects to the crown were asked to make a near impossible choice: to follow the dictates of the State, or their conscience. Four hundred years removed from the English Reformation, it is nearly impossible for us to know what it must have been like for the country to have been ripped asunder and subjects actively persecuted, or even tortured and killed, for their religious beliefs. The era was one of unprecedented authoritarianism: England, it seemed, had become a state dependent on espionage, fearful of threats from abroad and plotters at home. This age of terror was also the era we know as an artistic ‘golden age’ with the greatest creative genius the world had ever known, William Shakespeare. How, then, could such a remarkable man born into such volatile times apparently make no comment about the state of England in his work? He did. But it was hidden. Why? There were sound reasons for not addressing political events directly. Two of his most gifted contemporaries, Kyd and Marlowe did not fare as well. Kyd died after undergoing torture, and Marlowe was almost certainly murdered at the instigation of government.

Revealing Shakespeare’s sophisticated version of a forgotten code developed by 16th-century Catholic dissidents, Clare Asquith shows how Shakespeare was both a genius for all time and utterly a man of his own era, a writer who was supported by dissident Catholic aristocrats, who agonized about the fate of England’s spiritual and political life and who used the popular playhouses to attack and expose a regime which they believed had seized control of the country they loved. Shakespeare’s plays offer an acute insight into the politics and personalities of his era, as well as reflecting the feelings and beliefs of ordinary people. For example Hamlet, interpreted here as a drama of the hesitancy and indecision of the Catholic party in the country, is modelled on Sir Philip Sidney, who was outwardly Protestant but secretly a Catholic sympathiser. Of course there are many candidates for the model of Hamlet; such boldness in identification here simply underlines her own belief in this theory..

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The Shakespeare Authorship Question

Abridged from “The Shakespeare Canon of Statutory Construction”
UNIVERSITY of PENNSYLVANIA LAW REVIEW (v.140: no. 4, April 1992)
by Justice John Paul Stevens @

The Oxfordian position on the Shakespeare authorship question is that Edward de Vere, Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare. This abridged essay focuses on examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting, whether the author was noble, and, in the context of authorship, does it matter? Edward de Vere’s relationship with Elizabeth I, Lord Burghley and the character of Polonius, the education of Edward de Vere and legal reasoning in the plays are all considered here.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was quoted as saying in 1987: “‘I have lingering concerns…. You can’t help but have these gnawing doubts that this great author may perhaps have been someone else…. I would tend to draw the inference that the author of these plays was a nobleman”. Stevens was conditional in his view of the matter, saying, “And I would say, also–perhaps departing from my colleagues–that I am persuaded that, if the author was not the man from Stratford, then there is a high probability that it was Edward de Vere.”

The plays and poems of William Shakespeare, sometimes collectively described as the “Shakespeare Canon,” are perhaps the most stimulating and exciting works in the English language. Canons of statutory construction, in contrast, are probably the dullest materials that law students have to study. For these reasons, this essay includes a mixture of comment on two apparently unrelated subjects: first, the unorthodox view that Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, is the true author of the Shakespeare Canon and, second, the utility of certain canons of statutory construction in the search for truth and justice..

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Closure is a popular term borrowed from Psychology. It refers to a conclusion, a resolution of a traumatic event or experience in a person’s life, such as a relationship breakup, the loss of a job or home, or the death of a loved one. Frequently, those recovering from a failed love affair yearn for closure. We’ve all heard about “closure”, that sense that you’ve put a nagging conflict or loss behind you. It’s a relief if it happens because it means you can move on with your life.

"I just can't stop thinking about Why!" "Mm, you lack Closure.."

The term became popular in the 1990’s due to use in the popular media. It describes something that is highly desirable but also quite vague. Those in emotional pain are said to need it, and many more hope to achieve it if they can figure out what it is and how to get it. The ‘need for closure’ is a phrase used by psychologists to describe an individual’s desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity, the possibility of interpreting an experience in two or more distinct ways. Closure describes the way scattered and troubling feelings can resolve themselves in coherent and stable mental patterns.

How do you recover and put the sadness, guilt, regret and overall bad feelings to bed? Especially when negative emotions can so easily haunt you?

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A Fish Caught in Time

A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg

Rating: ★★★★★

This is the modern history of the discovery of living Coelacanths (pronounced ‘seel-uh-kanths’). Since there have been exciting developments since 1998, it serves as a background text well worth reading especially for the human side of the story, the personalities involved, also a record of the petty exploitation and destruction these unique creatures have suffered since their rediscovery. Samantha Weinberg details the circumstances that led up to their protected status.

A few days before Christmas in 1938, a Coelacanth was caught at the mouth of the Chalumna River on the east coast of South Africa. The fish was caught by Captain Goosen and his crew, who had no idea of the significance of their find. They thought the fish was unusual enough to alert the curator of the local museum in the small South African town of East London, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer.

She almost didn’t make the trek down to the docks because it was hot and she was busy. It was fortunate she did. She saw the strange blue fish and, as she said later, declared it was “the most beautiful fish I had ever seen…” She bought the animal and proceeded to take it back with her. After an argument with a cabbie who didn’t want to take the smelly carcass in his taxi, Courtenay-Latimer got it to the museum. However, once she was there she had no refrigeration facilities in which to keep such a large specimen and neither the local cold-storage warehouse nor the mortuary would cooperate. Turning to a local taxidermist, she had the animal and its viscera preserved as best she could. Then she wrote to J L B Smith telling him the story and including a sketch of the unusual animal. Smith was a South African chemistry professor who had taught himself ichthyology..

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