April 2013

Ernest: Violin Music

Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst – Violin Music (Naxos label), Josef Špaček, Gordon Back ★★★★★
I recently acquired some new CDs from Archiv Music (www.arkivmusic.com), which is a good source for inexpensive classical music. You’ll be seeing some of those reviews in the next few weeks. Arkiv Music provides better search engines for finding particular music and offers recommendations and decent critical analyses of CDs. They are competitive with Amazon.com and often are cheaper than Amazon. This was an album on sale, and since I’ve had no music by Ernst, decided to try it. Ernst wrote in the era of the virtuoso performer, sitting in the lime-light of Paganini. Ernst shows him most capable of writing technical yet very acceptable music. The performances on this CD are well recorded, with a spacious quality to them, and executed with great feeling and understanding for the composer. While not well known, this is a delightful CD to listen to, and recommended by me.

Dark Night of the Soul

This was a protected registry that recounts a lawsuit that I experienced. It seems to be forever lost, and that, is probably for the best. Needless to say, this event has had a major effect on how I view the American justice system, and my desire to get out of medicine.

Pimsleur Mandarin 1

Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese 1 ★★★★
I have found the need to learn Mandarin, since I may be going to China for several months to teach at a medical school. There are many methods and courses out there for learning Mandarin, and in the end, opted for this course. The Pimsleur method has many strengths to it, in that it focuses on teaching language like a child may learn a language. It offers the need to continually respond and recall words and phrases learned in the past. It allows one to learn a language while driving a car, or doing other activities. It also overcomes the greatest problem with learning an oriental language, in that it doesn’t waste time doing the most difficult activity, which is learning the writing system. Mandarin is fundamentally an easy language to learn, in that there is importance to word order, but otherwise, the grammar is very simple. There are no verb tenses, no noun forms, no articles, no genders to learn. There is the problem of many words sounding very similar to western ears, and tonal qualities of the word can completely change the meaning of the word.
I am not giving the Pimsleur series 5 stars for a number of reasons. Even for all of its strengths over such language programs as Rosetta Stone, it still doesn’t achieve the excellence of  French in Action. There are reasons for this…
1. It ignores the value of the written word. This is problematic because a) I often think in terms of words and sentences and visualize what I am trying to say by visualizing in my mind the written word. The Pimsleur technique assumes that this sort of thinking doesn’t occur, yet it does as a child learns to read and write. b) The vocabulary of an auditory language problem is going to be limited, and the ability to interact with other language learning means, such as dictionaries (in Pinyin) and other resources becomes impossible unless one venture outside of Pimsleur and learns Pinyin or written Chinese characters.
2. It doesn’t do well at developing the didactic part of learning a language. It is true that all aspects of a language can be learned by intense use, such as a child would learn a language. But, it is also true that adults can learn a language faster by grasping the rules of the language ahead of time.
3. Because of the absence of written text to accompany the teaching, it is hard to review what one had learned. It is true that reviews of words and phrases are constantly being mixed in with learning new words, but it is difficult to predict when a review will occur. At a minimum, Pimsleur should have a summary review about every 10-15 units, but it doesn’t.
In spite of these shortcomings, I will continue to use Pimsleur all the way through the third section but will supplement Pimsleur with other Mandarin language texts.

The French Chef

The French Chef, with Julia Child ★★★★★
These are selected episodes taken from a television series starting in 1963, and running for many years afterward. The first episodes are in black and white, with a different theme song from later editions. All of the series represents Julia Child, teaching one how to cook. She has the delightful ability to entertain the viewer, often giving laughs with her bloopers and crazy comments. All the same, she has the ability to make cooking appear to be delightfully simple. The episodes are filmed lacking modern techniques and are usually produced in a single 1/2 hour segment, without stopping the camera. Thus, Julia usually has on hand multiple stages in the given recipe until she reaches the end product. Occasionally, you’ll even go on tour with her to France to see how it’s all done there. In all, it’s a delightful and entertaining series, and we will probably be watching other Julia Child productions out there.

War: With Andrew Wilson

Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, taught by Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★★
The Art of War, Andrew Wilson, The Teaching Company ★★★
These are two series on war strategy taught by Andrew Wilson. The first series provides a chronological account of the most influential thinkers on war strategy, including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Jomini, Mahan, Corbett, and others. Wilson first defines what he means by strategy, and compares that to the often confused tactics. He allows one to see how thinking about war, including when to conduct a war, the expected outcomes of the war and what one expects to accomplish by war, when it is best to not engage in war, how to pick your enemies, how to play your friends, etc. all have evolved, and involve the greater spectrum of what we view as a war strategy.
The Art of War is a more thorough summary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. These additional six lectures to the above 24 lectures, including 2 on Sun Tzu, include little in addition of great value except to the most curious.