The Last Dance


ESPN is showing The Last Dance, an amazing 10 part documentary focusing on the 1997-98 Season of the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan is certainly the star of the show. What would you expect? I enjoy watching interviews with his mother, his father and his high school and college coaches.

But there’s a lot of time devoted to other team members. Episode 2 had a lot about forward Scottie Pippen and much of the first two episodes featured General Manager Jerry Kraus and owner Jerry Reinsdorf. By including these important behind the scenes figures, the drama is heightened.

The documentary is thoroughly dramatic as it shows mainly key figures like Kraus, Reinsdorf, Michael’s mother, Pippen’s brothers, and describing the final season of the most famous Bull’s team play what coach Phil Jackson dubbed “The Last Dance,” when the team granted documentary makers unprecedented access to the famed team.

On Sunday nights I’m usually a Masterpiece viewer, but The Last Dance offers more grace in Michael and his team’s fantastic playing and drama in the conflict between the office and the players.

I found every interview, every game sequence compelling. The Last Dance is definitely “must-see” TV.

Lord of the Flies

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I remember reading about Ralph, Piggy and the other boys lost on the island in William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies when I was a freshman in high school. While the writing was good, I didn’t particularly like the story showing how easily people revert to brutes. We may have seen the film, but I’m not sure.

A while back I ran across a cheap DVD of the Criterion Collection version of director Peter Brook’s 1963 The Lord of the Flies. It sat on my shelf till this week when as I avoided finishing my Government Documents’ paper. By now I’ve learned that Golding won the Nobel prize and I’ve seen and come to appreciate good filmmaking more so as you’d expect the experience was different, better.

While I still was horrified by the idea that two groups of English schoolboys get lost on a remote, uninhabited island and their fantasies about beasts and some desire for power warps them and turns them into brutes capable of murder and of denying responsibility for murder, I appreciated how naturally the boys acted and how hard it must have been to direct them. During filming Brooks had one camera man just take whatever shots he wanted. This decision turned out to be genius as that cameraman got dozens of small movements like when Piggy hesitates about getting into the water. His tentative steps back and forth weren’t directed or written, they were just real and true.

The DVD came with great bonus tracks including an interview with Golding, who rarely granted interviews. He explains how his parents were absolutely rational atheists and he came to see that that world view didn’t make sense. When WWII came, he fought and in the midst of the brutality and chaos he realized that the idea that if everyone’s educated and has enough to survive, and society embraced socialist values and forgot about religion, then all will be well, that we’d stop having wars. Golding found those ideas, which his father held to be wrong. The Lord of the Flies was an attempt, after three unsold novels, to illustrate how brutal we can all easily become. (Now The Lord of the Flies doesn’t perfectly argue against socialism or atheism, but those ideas prompted this story.)

I found the story captivating and may show it to one of my classes . . . if there’s time.

The Jewish Cardinal


What an absorbing — and true story!

I happened upon The Jewish Cardinal (a.k.a. Le métis de Dieu) at my library and am so glad I did. It’s the story of Jean-Marie Aaron Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism as a boy during WWII. His mother was killed at Auschwitz and though his father isn’t religious, he’s hurt by his son’s conversion and later decision to become a priest.

As the movie starts, Pope John Paul II soon makes Lustiger a bishop and soon a cardinal. Lustiger is real, someone whom people can relate to. He shakes things up and causes turbulence but eventually people see he’s right. For example, early on he sees that the church needs to reach people via mass communication and he starts an archdiocese radio station which he himself broadcasts from.

He also doesn’t like when his Jewish origins are written about as a gimmick or when he’s asked by a high ranking rabbi to deny his Jewish identity.

He often meets with John Paul II in the ’80s when the pope is fairly new. They understand each other and he earns the pope’s respect.


When it’s learned that Carmelite nuns have made a convent in Auschwitz, Lustiger becomes something of a mediator and possible pawn in a conflict that’s both political and religious. He’s savvy enough to broker a fair resolution, but gets betrayed.

The acting is stellar with Lustiger (played by Laurent Lucas) and the actother cast members turning in bold, believable performances. The actor who played JPII carried off the role with great credibility. (He’s not perfect.) The film’s never hokey or preachy, just real and compelling. I’m so glad the intriguing name called to me.




Before returning to the US, I ventured out to the wild west of China, to Urumqi in Xinjiang Province. Xingjiang’s a huge province (c.637,000 sq mi/1,650,257 sq km; 1994 estimated population 16,050,000; 2000 population 18,459,511 according to the Columbia Gazetteer of the World), full of resources. It’s been is described as a coal boat in a sea of oil. On top of that there’s gold, silver, sapphires and several other minerals.


The territory has been held by a variety of nations. In 200 BC the Han Chinese gained control. Since then it’s been held by Uzbeks, Tibetans, Uigurs, Mongols, Arabs, Manchus and Chinese. This history creates disputes still as the Uighurs, who’re a Central Asian ethnic group with a Turkic language, used to make up 90% of the population 50 or so years ago, now make up around 50% as Han and other Chinese ethnic groups have moved in to manage the resources and area.

I did want to see a different side of China and I did. Urumqi, the capital, has a strong Uighur look in the part of the city where the Grand Bazaar and International Bazaar are. Wandering around this area, you’ll see vendors selling dried fruits, textiles, ornate tea sets, traditional clothing, fur and daggers. The International Bazaar is written up in all the guidebooks, but you should also walk around the neighborhood it’s set in to get a real feel for life in Urumqi.


One aspect of this real life is the heavy presence of army and police. I’ll describe more of this tomorrow, but basically everywhere you go you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint, or two, to enter. Since there have been incidents of violence against the Chinese by Uighur separatists, the Chinese have cracked down. Hard.

Work Cited

“Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.” Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2015. Columbia University Press. 15 Jul. 2015. <>

You Will Be My Son/Tu Seras Mon Fils

I watched this on my flight home. You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils) is a drama about an obnoxious, overbearing father, who owns a successful winery. He sees no value in his son, who can’t do anything right in his father’s eyes. When the wine estate manager is too sick to oversee the harvest, rather than have his son take on responsibility, the father turns to the manager’s son, who’s done well in the American wine world. This young man is a natural and has a far more engaging, strong personality, but it’s painful to watch the real son get insulted and slighted time and again.

The winery owner/father just gushes over the estate manager’s son, showering him with expensive gifts and taking him to Paris when he’s to receive an award.

I did learn a lot about modern wine making from this intense family drama. The ending was quite a surprise. Because the father was so offensive and clueless regarding his son, whose weaknesses must have been partly due to having a father so biased against him, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see You Will Be My Son. It’s a fine movie, but nothing great.

My First Kindle Publication

I’m testing the world of Kindle publishing with a humorous short story based on my time in Indonesia. It’s something of an anti-Downton Abbey as three expat teachers try to deal with a powerful maid. It’s just $1.23 and free for Amazon Prime Subscribers.

If you’re interested check out “Mierna’s House.”