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 @ www.shakespearefellowship.org

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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Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus (2004) by Ryszard Kapuscinski (English translation:2007)

Rating: ★★★★★

Kapuscinski was a great journalist and travel writer, and in part of this, his last book he presents a few fragments, a minuscule part of his wide experiences. These fragments become shorter and shorter while his reflections about Herodotus become longer and longer, so much so that the greater part of the work is about the Greek historian. The book is beautifully translated from the Polish by Klara Glowczewska.
Born in 1932, Kapuscinski grew up in a Poland which had become Communist after the war. He became a journalist, and round about 1955 he was sent abroad, in the first place to Italy. The first set piece comes early in the book: his first time out of Poland, his first travel by air, and the stunning impression, as his aircraft descended at night to Rome airport, of a city sparkling with lights and such a contrast with the very low-wattage country from which he had come.
Then he is sent to India: another memorable description of dense crowds sleeping on the platforms of Calcutta railway station.

A man is pushing his way through the huddled multitudes. He jostles an old woman, her bowl drops from her hands, and rice scatters onto the platform, into the mud, amidst garbage. In that split second, children throw themselves down, dive between the legs of those still standing, dig around in the muck trying to find the grains of rice. The old woman stands there empty-handed, another man shoves her. The old woman, the children, the train station, everything- soaked through by the unending torrents of a tropical downpour..”(p29).

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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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The World of Yesterday

The World of Yesterday (1942) by Stefan Zweig and Anthea Bell (translator)

Guest Review by Mr Ralph Blumenau

Rating: ★★★★★

In the Introduction to his book Stefan Zweig rightly says that no generation in recent times had undergone such a series of cataclysms, each breaking bridges with an earlier period, as had his own.

He had lived not only in one world of yesterday, but in several, and it is these worlds he sets out to describe. A truthful and passionate account of the advent of the horror that tore apart European culture, “The World of Yesterday” gives us insight into the history of a world brutally destroyed, written by a master at the height of his literary talent.

He was born, a Jew, in 1881 into a cosmopolitan and tolerant Vienna and into a world of utter political and economic security, confident in steady progress in society and in science. It knew the douceur de vivre (except that unmarried young men and especially young women led a sexual life which could find an outlet only in prostitution), and where culture – no longer under the patronage of the Court, but under that of the Jewish bourgeoisie – was more honoured throughout society than was wealth. The culture of the older generation was challenged by the avant-garde, with which Zweig and his fellow-students, even while still schoolboys in a stultifying educational system, were knowledgeably, passionately and actively engaged. Hugo von Hoffmansthal and Rilke were their lodestars. The universities were little better: Zweig was only a nominal student at the universities of Vienna and Berlin: his real intellectual life lay elsewhere. Already at the age of 19 he had the first of several articles accepted for the feuilleton section of the prestigious Neue Freie Presse in Vienna (of whose editor, Theodore Herzl, he gives a wonderful account). In Berlin he was looking for (and found) a wider circle – socially and intellectually – than in the somewhat inbred bourgeois and mainly Jewish milieu in which he had moved in Vienna. He drank in influences of every kind, from the sophisticated to the louche, exposing himself to `real life’ as opposed to the purely literal and to some extent derivative life he had led so far..

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Durkheim and Social Change

A basic truth about humanity is that effort deserves reward. Is our society one where reward is accurately related to effort? Reward in its various forms is not absent, but neither is it well correlated to effort. An honest man who works hard may remain poor and unrecognized, another may become rich overnight by some chance event, as an extreme example, perhaps winning the lottery.

A man may spend much time and money building himself a home to retire to, and then the government of his land compulsorily purchase it. The money was not the issue. There are so many factors that affect this equation between effort and reward, that it may at times seem hopeless or overwhelming to make sense of it. In these circumstances, it is unremarkable that people suffer stress, tension and insecurity, and may feel like giving up, become apathetic or depressed, dissolve their marriage, leave a job or college course, emigrate, or worse, commit suicide.

The French sociologist Emile Durkheim, with On Suicide  (1897), was the first to systematically explore this idea of social frustration. In studying the division of labour in society, he was aware the increasing pressures upon people had consequences; people have a ‘breaking point’. He became interested in the  ‘worst case scenario’, suicide, seemingly the most individual of acts, but also having a social basis..

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