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Archive for the ‘Some Good Reads’ Category

The Prestige: What Blinds a Person

Posted by C Moon on December 7, 2007


The movie, The Prestige, is based on Christopher Priest’s novel. It contains a fantasy novel aspect in that a hat, a cat, and a person are cloned by an electric device that Nikola Tesla, a scientist, made. The key components of the story are sacrifice for honor, obsessive tenacity of revenge, life without truth, and obsessive revenge leading to rack and ruin.

The conflict starts with the death of Julia, who was an assistant of the teacher magician and was the wife of Rupert Angier, one of young magicians under the teacher. Rupert suspects Alfred Borden, another young magician under the same teacher, to be the direct reason for Julia’s death. Her death turned friendly competition between the two to dangerous and bitter rivalry, endangering not only themselves but also people around them.

Rupert is obsessed by revenge for Julia’s death. He becomes more and more enraged at Alfred’s happy family life and success as a magician. Rupert resolutely plans to steal all of Alfred’s magic and thoroughly ruin him. At the end of The Prestige, Rupert even risks, or gambles with, his own life in order to carry out his vengeance. Tension escalates in a series of retaliation that Rupert and Albert constantly reciprocate.

The Prestige persuasively shows us what blinds a person. Angier makes revenge the ultimate goal of his life. Borden falls a sacrifice to honor, leading a life without truth, and accepts what he has to endure. After all, being extreme leads to a dire extremity.

For another review, read this posting by Brenton Taylor 🙂

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Photo Credits: “The Prestige” by Vincent Yeh © on Flickr

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Walden and Thoreau’s Philosophy of Life

Posted by C Moon on December 7, 2007

Walden is an exposure of Thoreau’s philosophy of life. He saw the goal of life to be exploration of personal, spiritual growth, and he proposed to live a simple life and study the Nature so as to attain it. His thoughts and suggestions are both idealistic and practical. They are idealistic for normal people valuing mundane growth highly. They are simple for Thoreau, having lived at Walden Pond for two years and two months as an experiment of his proposal.

To Thoreau, the society’s preoccupation with money and wealth seems to be foolish in that they are transient and they costs humanity. According to Thoreau’s calculation presented in the book, most economic activities are not economical. Hence, he recommends a life excluding all superfluities. He thinks them as dross. Owning more than the indispensable only distracts a person from seeing the very truth of life. He asks people to establish a goal of life rather than just chasing money. He urges people to “discover that they did not live.” Toward the end of the book, Thoreau clearly states what he desires in life: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

Many hesitate to try new things because those are not commonly known. However, Thoreau asks to try those one has imagined. Though it is said by others that it is impossible, Thoreau asserts that what one thinks of himself as is what he actually can be.

The book is filled with insightful phrases that look at social issues squarely, vivid and clear descriptions of the Nature, and idealistic and appealing thoughts. Though it is not an easy book, and, as some say, can be easily misconceived as a boring book, I strongly recommend this book to my friends and firmly believe that people can enjoy this if they read it with deliberation.

My favorite phrase in Walden is the following: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Walden is a quite controversial book. Some, including myself, say it is worth reading, while others say it is boring. To be objective, I place a link to the post written by odyssean.

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Photo Credits: “Walden1” by Apostolos Letov on Flickr

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Reflection on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Posted by C Moon on December 5, 2007

As the title Pride and Prejudice implies, the novel depicts several characters interacting with each other and learning to overcome class differences and foibles. Darcy and Bingley, while interacting with Elizabeth and Jane in bad and good ways, overcome their prejudice, and finally get to gain true love. Elizabeth gets to know the true character of Darcy eventually. They get to overcome their first conception about the others and attain their share of happiness.

According to the first impression of each other, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet are the most unlikely couple that is to be created in a novel. Darcy is first perceived as the “proudest, most disagreeable man,” and he actually thinks that “there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me [Darcy] to stand up with.” He is confident in himself, and does not think that there may be someone who deserves to be equal to himself. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds Darcy not quite agreeable with herself, and does not try to see through his real personality anymore. In contrast, when George Wickham approaches her in seemingly agreeable manner and tells his story, she blindly believes his story, ignoring Miss Bingley’s comment, “for as to Mr. Darcy’s using him [Wickham] ill, it is perfectly false; for, on the contrary, he has always been remarkably kind to him, though George Wickham has treated Mr. Darcy in a most infamous manner.”. It is not until Darcy realizes Elizabeth’s “beautiful expression of her dark eyes,” and not until Elizabeth received Darcy’s letter that they finally get to understand each other in truth.

Normally, it is hard for most people to overcome prejudice. While Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy are able to achieve their love by surmounting the prejudice, Catherine de Burgh is confined in her world, constantly belittling the Bennets. Only those who are lucky to have the chances to see beyond the prejudice and who are brave enough to overcome it can attain what they dearly want and what is really dear.
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Photo Credits: “Pride and Prejudice” by Apostolos Letov

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Coolies or an Elephant?

Posted by C Moon on November 28, 2007

Literature often makes a commentary on the society in which it is conceived. In his essay Shooting an Elephant, George Orwell employs satire to show that power and the ways in which power is misused are dangerous and destructive both to the victims and to those who wield it. Overall, I felt uncomfortable with this essay, not because it was weak in delivering its themes, but because both the Burmese and George Orwell described in the essay totally contradicted my values. In my view, they are examples of hypocrisy, arrogance, and cowardice.

George Orwell recounts the times when he served as a police officer in Burma, for its colonial master, England. He states that imperialism is “an evil thing,” and that he is on the side of the Burmese. However, he is one of those who are enslaved by his own superiority over the Burmese. Though he is aware that he has nothing superior to the Burmese, he is obsessed by the burden that he has to look better than them. Hence, he says, “A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of ‘natives’; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened.” He is driven by the others’ expectations rather than his own will. Although he “knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him [the elephant],” he becomes anxious about his status among the Burmese and shoots the elephant, feeling unable to resist. Contrary to his stance, he says, “… I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant.” I think that George Orwell in the essay is rather childish, justifying himself by arguing that it was not his fault but that the others were to be blamed. He wasn’t able to stand what he had done, desperately trying to escape from the dying elephant staring back at him. He tries to convince himself that he did what he could do in that situation and that he is not responsible because others made him do so.

The attitudes of the Burmese also bother me greatly. I agree with Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The Burmese depicted in the essay seem to be those who are weak to the strong and strong to the weak. As can be seen from the following sentence, “No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress,” they did not want to risk what they had, and thus gave up their liberty. They detest the Europeans, including George Orwell, but they take all that is offered to a colony. As can be seen from the following quote, “As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant,” they expect protection. After the elephant was shot, “The Burmans were already racing past me [George Orwell] across the mud,” to feast themselves with the meat readied in front of them by an oppressor whom they did not like. Though George Orwell claims that the Burmese controlled him as a way to get what they wanted, it seems to me that the Burmese, like hyenas waiting for the kill, had only the desire for meat. The Burmese had adapted to the colonial system, feared the power, and thus forgot to rise against the imperialists.

Furthermore, I felt especially uncomfortable with Orwell’s conversation with other Europeans, “… the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie.” It was a thought formed by being raised in the imperialist nation. Both the oppressed and the oppressors later ended up losing their liberty. The imperial system dictated their relationships to one another and barred them from ever stepping out of these roles. The simple decision of whether to shoot the elephant left Orwell’s hands as soon as he began to live while suppressing his beliefs in Burma.

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Photo Credits: “Balance” by Bethany L King on Flickr

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What Would You Say?

Posted by C Moon on November 26, 2007

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Today, I want to share a moving lecture by a 47-year-old computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University. The following video is the last lecture by Professor Randy Pausch, who does not have much time left due to illness. In the lecture, he does not talk about computer science but his life journey. He tells us how to achieve our dreams and more importantly how to lead our lives. The lecture lasts about eighty minutes, but you would never regret spending that amount of time 🙂

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Photo Credits: “Polaris – Star Trails” by Odalaigh on Flickr

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Every Even Number Greater than 2 is the Sum of Two Primes

Posted by C Moon on November 23, 2007

Every even number greater than 2 is the sum of two primes.

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The above proposition is notorious Goldbach’s Conjecture, which remained unsolved for two hundred and fifty years. We can check empirically that the proposition holds for small even numbers.

4=2+2
6=3+3
8=5+3
10=5+5
12=7+5
14=7+7
16=11+5
18=11+7
20=13+7
22=11+11
24=13+11
26=19+7
28=23+5
30=23+7
32=29+5
and so on.

But unless we prove it for all even numbers, we cannot call it a theorem. There are always possibilities that it holds for small even numbers and fails to hold for extremely large even numbers. Then, can we prove it definitely?

Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture is a mathematics novel. But it does not require mathematical knowledge in enjoying it. The plot evolves around Goldbach’s Conjecture and a mathematician, who devoted his whole life in trying to prove it. Through Uncle Petros’ life-long devotion to this seemingly simple proposition, the novel reveals the passion, tolerance, and efforts that mathematicians pour into their studies. Uncle Petros, a key figure in the novel, is in some sense a tragic hero who is hubristic. He thinks that mathematics is only for the “talented,” and deters his nephew from becoming a mathematician. He is bewitched by the Conjecture and continues to search for a solution, but he does not cooperate or share his byproducts with other mathematicians, believing he alone will be the one to prove it. In his early 20s he was praised as a genius, but in later years his pride made him an isolated mathematician with no tangible mathematical exploit. He became exhausted and died with his works unpublished.

The following is part of a short posting that I’ve found on the internet, reflecting the book’s charm.

Name a book you own that you think no one else on your friends list does: Uncle Petros and the Goldbach Conjecture(Apostolos Doxiadis). I’m hoping this will change, though. Cool Math novel!

The author himself is a mathematician, but he does not talk about details on Goldbach’s Conjecture. Rather, he hints that the proof on Goldbach’s Conjecture may not be possible by introducing into the story Kurt Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems that some mathematical problems can never be resolved. Difficulties in seemingly simple propositions are the charm of mathematics. I am especially moved by the sentence, “Every person has the right to expose himself to whatever disappointment he chooses.” As far as I understand, the author asks us to aim high rather than take an easy path.
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Photo Credits: front cover of Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture, taken by myself

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Step Forward

Posted by C Moon on November 23, 2007

Surfing around the Internet, I discovered an inspiring speech delivered by John F. Kennedy. The following is my favorite section:

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Oftentimes, people give up trying to pursue their dreams, simply because they are hard to attain. But is there anything that can be achieved without effort and challenge? Obstacles in front of us let us realize how seriously we want to get something done. People who are easily subdued by difficulties are those who are not so eager to reach their goals seriously enough. We should not fear to tumble over in daring step forward.

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Photo Credits: “Reach for the Sun” by Scott Ableman on Flickr

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Check Out These Great Blogs

Posted by C Moon on November 6, 2007

Today, I want to briefly introduce three of my favorite blog selections 🙂

Becker-Posner Blog Provides me with different perspectives on wide-ranging current issues.

Not Even Wrong Mainly talks about String Theory; it features topics on science and math.

lifehack.org Gives obvious but easy-to-overlook advices.

Take time to visit them and look around!

I will comment more on these blogs in coming days since I am tied up with too many things such as college application.

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