Myanmar/Burma: Thru Ellen’s Lens

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Not an Ellen Miller photo but one taken remotely by the Balloons Over Bagan company that took us on a truly unforgettable sunrise ‘flight’ over the temples, pagodas, farms, and villages of Bagan, Myanmar.

Ellen and I, and friends Fruszina and Ray, recently returned from almost two weeks in Myanmar, formerly Burma. After largely being closed to the outside world, the country is now “open” and in transition, moving from almost 50 years of military rule into some form of democracy.

The first half of our trip was largely on the Ayeyarwady (Irawaddy) River and through the countryside and rural areas with only brief stops in three major cities — Yangon (once the capital and now the largest city), Mandalay (nothing close to the romantic image we and others have/had of this city), and Bagan (also a former capital and a region known for its Buddhist temples and pagodas). The final portion of our trip took place in the Inle Lake area.

The pictures in Ellen’s slide show are roughly broken up into four groupings:

1. Hot Air Balloon Ride in Bagan. Clearly this adventure was one of the highlights for all four of us. We rose before daylight, and with some trepidation, joined others (16 people per balloon) in baskets below one of 10 balloons, and floated over the city and countryside as the sun rose. We each had different words to describe the amazing experience, but all agreed it provided a new perspective on the world below. There was something almost mystical and magical about the hour we spent floating above Bagan, and it certainly gave new meaning to the term “bucket list.”

2. Views from the Ayeyarwady. We spent seven nights on a Belmond boat/ship on this main river of Myanmar. It turned out to be more of a hotel than a cruise as the water levels were low, and we were only able to explore a small portion of the Ayeyarwady. Much of our time was spent taking side trips from the boat to explore small towns, villages, markets, Buddhist sites, and various cottage type industries. We spent many hours wandering in markets and observing daily life in these rural areas of Myanmar and were intrigued by the lives of hundreds and hundreds of young and not so young monks devoting themselves to living and learning the teachings of Buddha. It was a terrific insight into how people live, work and pray. We loved it. Some of Ellen’s most cherished pictures are in these grouping of photos.

3. Pagodas, Stupas, and Temples. Overwhelmingly a Buddhist country, Myanmar has literally thousands and thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas (I never did learn the difference between a pagoda and a stupa). Despite my usual lack of interest in churches, cathedrals, and temples in other parts of the world, I never seemed to tire of seeing another Burmese temple or pagoda, though I could have done without so many statues of Buddha. There was one temple with over 535,000 (yes, five hundred thousand) images of Buddha, one ‘forest’ of 1,000 Buddhas, several resting, reclining, or standing Buddhas that were longer than a football field or taller than most buildings throughout Myanmar, and much gold leaf decoration of temples and pagodas built to honor Buddha (and hopefully guarantee the sponsor an auspicious return in his/her next life). We all were surprised by the variety and attraction of these structures.

4. Inle Lake. After our time on the Ayeyarwady, we flew to an area further east where we spent four days on the banks of Inle Lake, a fascinating area where each day the four of us would set out with a guide in a narrow, small, flat bottomed boat. We traveled to floating villages, observed floating farms, watched fisherman row boats with one leg while using their two arms to fish, and learned about a way of life that has existed for more than a thousand years. This area was the verdant Myanmar we had imagined it to be, and it was spectacular.

On our final night in Myanmar, on the picturesque lawn of Le Planteur restaurant in Yangon, and over a wonderful dinner, we reviewed our two weeks, trying to identify what each of us most enjoyed and would most remember. We all agreed: the hot air balloon ride was a remarkable and unforgettable experience; our time walking in the markets and villages was insightful, and we encountered wonderfully friendly people; our Inle Lake explorations opened our eyes to a unique way of living and working; and the Burmese people we met throughout our two weeks were gentle, friendly, hospitable, and resilient. The trip exceeded most of our expectations.

We only saw a small part of the country, and while we were aware that the country is in a political and economic transition, we did not have a clear sense of what the next few years will bring. (Unfortunately, we only had limited opportunities to explore the political realities of the transition to the new Aung San Suu Kyi inspired democratic era.)

All four of us will be curious and watching to see what happens now and in the next few years in Myanmar.

Thru Ellen’s Lens:

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M.5

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To see Ellen’s entire slide show (116 photos), use this link: Myanmar, January 2016 Slide Show.

For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the link to start the slide show and see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either).

The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2015

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

Once again, you’re gonna need some time for this post.

And probably pen and paper (or whatever device you use these days to make your own lists) — to jot down some titles that you’ll likely want to add to your ‘to read’ list for 2016.

Despite a recurring theme in contributors’ emails about not reading as much this year, not finding as many memorable books, and/or not remembering the titles read, I think you’ll find an remarkably rich and diverse list of titles and comments.

Eighty-three of you contributed this year, listing 455 books, with fiction leading nonfiction 59% to 41%. More than 350 of the titles were only listed once or twice. The female-male division of contributors was 57%-43% (F/M), about what it has been in the past. Contributors ranged in age from 18 to 80, with most in the 30+ to 70+ year age range. (There was one ‘family’ contribution — grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter, tho I’m not sure they realized the others had contributed.)

While I don’t expect most of you will read all the way through this list (anyone who does can claim it as a book for next year), there is a tremendous amount of information here. I’ve organized it in several ways to make it all more user friendly:

  1. The most frequently cited titles are listed first.

2. Then, the contributors are listed alphabetically — to make it easy to find a specific individual’s favorites — followed by the titles and authors of the books they most enjoyed this year and any comments they made about those books.

3. Also, two spread sheet links have been added this year to see the titles, authors, and MillersTime contributors in summary form:

a) List #1 — organized with the titles first, followed by authors and followed by name of the reader/contributor citing the book, and

b) List #2 –organized with the reader/contributor names first, followed by titles and authors.

To get to (and perhaps print out) either or both of these lists, click on the links in a) or b) above. Alternatively, you can get to these lists at the very end of this post.

4. You can also click on the title of any book mentioned on this post to go to Amazon to see more about the book and its availability. (I’m not pushing Amazon and as you know am a fan of independent bookstores, but I did want to give readers a quick way to see more about a particular title.)

5. And new this year, you can click on Public Library after any title in this post to see what is available in your local library. (Note you will have to type in your zip code when you connect to the site.)

Titles that appear on the Favorites List three times or more:

Non-Fiction (NF):

Fiction (F):

For me, however, the strength and value of this (and previous) years’ lists have more to do with what contributors say about a book than the number of times a book may be listed. Sometimes, books listed only once or twice are the ones I most want to read in the coming year.

Just a reminder — this list is not meant to be the best books published in 2015, but rather what the title of this posting states — The Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers in 2015.

This list would not have been possible if those who contributed had not taken the time to send their favorite reads and their thoughtful comments. So, much thanks to all who did, those who have done so in the past — and continued to do so — and those who are new contributors.

Please forgive my endless reminders, though the results, I hope, may have been worth the nagging. (Late additions — please feel free to send them — will be posted as they arrive, without any snarky comments from the editor.)

And, of course, I take responsibility for any inaccuracies or mistakes in the posting of the titles, authors, comments, etc. as MillersTime readers rarely make grammatical or other mistakes in their submissions. Please feel free to let me know about any of my errors as I can correct them quickly and easily.

Feel free to share this post with others — family, friends, book clubs, etc.

Enjoy.

2015 – List of Favorite Reads:

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Favorite Films of 2015

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Favorite Movies

Most of the end-of-the year lists of “Best” Films, “Best” Books, etc. come from critics who review films/books for a living.

I don’t claim any special film knowledge and just tend to write about how much I liked various films for whatever reasons. Here is a list of many (tho not all) of the films Ellen and I saw in 2015, largely ones that I rated four stars or higher (out of a system of 1-5 stars).

As I was posting this list, I thought of adjusting a few of the ratings (up or down) but decided to leave the ratings the way I made them a day or two after seeing each film.

Ellen’s ratings are in parentheses, some made at the time of seeing it, some as I’m constructing this post. Some she cannot remember. (I have the same memory problems on some of them, but I can refer to the mini-reviews I wrote.)

These starred categories are somewhat arbitrary, but generally the five and four and a half star films are pretty close, and I enjoyed those tremendously. The four star ones were all good, but I had some (minor) reservations. The three and half star ones were more problematical films but still may be worth checking out. Three starred ones were even more problematic.

If a film did not make it into one of these categories, I did not write a review.

A significant number, but certainly not all, of these films are either documentary, foreign, or small films, often only in the theaters for a few weeks, usually in one of the independent theaters in the DC area or in our DC Film Club. We did attend two film festivals in 2015 — one in Miami and one in Philly — where we saw a number of the films listed below. Note that some of the films mentioned are currently in the theaters.

If you click on any of the linked titles below, you will get to my mini-review of that film on MillersTime.

As always, I welcome your Comments about any of these or any others you saw this year which you particularly enjoyed.

Five Stars  *****

Four and Half Stars  ****1/2

Four Stars ****

Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Three Stars ***

“Spotlight” – ‘A Story Well Told Can Make a Difference’

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Spotlight *****

In 2002 the Boston Globe broke the story about the depth of sexual abuse by Catholic priests on young parishioners in Boston and about the Catholic Church’s cover up of that behavior. The Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for that story and the follow up ones they wrote.

Now, more than a decade later, Spotlight, a film written by Director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer, explores how that story came to be published. It is not a story about the abuse itself but rather about the cover up of that abuse — by police, by the Catholic Church, by the parents of victims, by the community itself, and by the media, including the Globe. And above all, it is the story of how and why the journalists were able to tell that story.

Put Spotlight on your ‘to see’ list. It’s one of the best films made in 2015 and certainly equal to All The President’s Men, the 1976 film about the Washington Post’s uncovering of the Watergate scandal.

Although there are accomplished, known actors in the film (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanly Tucci), it is not because of their performances that Spotight is so good.

Rather, it is because of the story itself, one that is tightly focused and well told. Spotlight, even when you know the outcome, will keep you enthralled throughout its two hours and eight minutes.

And it is also because there are lessons for all of us about power, about fear, about complicity, about the importance of outsiders, about leadership, and, above all, about the role the press can (and must) play.

What the Globe discovered and uncovered led to the opening of the flood gates about the abuses of the Catholic Church, not only in America but around the world. How and why the Globe was able to do that is a thrilling and instructive story.

That it is not just a story but a true story too is what makes Spotlight for me so wonderful.

Where to Invade Next ***

A new Michael Moore film that attempts to contrast the US with other countries around the world, largely ones in Europe, is being released this month.

As you can probably guess, the US doesn’t come out too well. Moore has much to say about the weaknesses of our country and the strengths of other countries, and while he tells his story with humor and insight, Where to Invade Next is too long and too preachy.

And that’s too bad because Moore has much to teach. Here he resorts to gimmicks and polemics.

100 Notable Books of 2015

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João Fazenda, NYTimes

And the season of (best/worst) lists has begun.

While we await the best (?) list of all — MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015 — hint, hint, reminder, reminder), here’s an early look at the Times 100 Notable Reads of 2015.

Despite my love of reading and my freedom to read at will, I’ve only read six of them (A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, The Meursault Investigation, Karnel Daoud, The Sympathizer, Viet Tanh Nguyen, Between the World & Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ghettoside, Jill Leovy, and On the Move, Oliver Sacks).

Just one of these six is likely to make it to my favorites for 2015.

Plus, I’ve only even heard about three others (Purity, Franzen, Fates & Furies, Groff, and Jonas Salk, Jacobs). At least one of these I already know will show up on a MillersTime reader’s list.

Anyway, except for the wonderful nine of you who have already sent in your favorite reads this year, take this as a not-so-subtle reminder to make up your list and send it to me before Dec. 15th.

Thanks.

“Who Turned My Blue State Red?”

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Only occasionally do I post something about political issues.

Generally I find most of my ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’ are pretty set in their views about what is going on in our country, and the purpose of MillersTime is not to add to the disharmony that seems so present these day.

But when I do come across something that I find ‘of interest’ and think it may be equally so to others in both the categories mentioned above, I do post it in The Outer Loop and/or Articles of Interest sections of MillersTime.

And so today’s post of an article by Alec

The Balkans – “It’s Complicated”

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(“Sarajevo Rose” – Ellen Miller)

Now that Ellen’s Balkan photos are posted (The Balkans: Thru Ellen’s Lens), I can’t delay any longer trying to capture in writing a bit of our recent trip.

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And the Final Two Contest Winners Are…

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First, permit me a moment of digression:

davis_st2232_spts-15912-8840Photo by Jim Davis/Boston Globe

One of my father’s useful pieces of advice was “There’s a time to leave the party.”

David Ortiz seems to agree.

As he turned 40 yesterday, he announced that the 2016 MLB season would be his last. Despite having an excellent season in 2015 (BA – .273, HRs – 37, RBIs – 108), he has chosen to “leave the party” next year, and thus forgo a likely $11 million paycheck for 2017. (Don’t feel sorry for him, though, he made $16 million dollars last year and will do so again in his final season.)

Better to leave before the inevitable decline (Derek Jeter, for example, was not so wise).

As the picture above indicates, Ortiz was involved in all three of the Sox World Series victories, victories that would not have happened without him. Plus, he has given Sox fans endless opportunities to cheer and ward off that hopelessness and pessimism that all of us who have been raised to be obsessed with the Sox have had to endure.

Thank you Papi for all you’ve given us, and thank you for choosing a good time to leave the party.

Now, on to the original purpose for today’s post — announcing the final two winners of the 2015 MillersTime Baseball Contest.

The polls are closed, and your ballots have been counted.

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Calling for Your Most Favorite Reads in 2015

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“A Best Friend Is Someone Who Gives Me a Book I’ve Never Read”- A. Lincoln

It’s that time of year again — when I request you share with other readers of MillersTime your most favorite books read over the past 12 months.

Here are a few guidelines that may help in drawing your list and in making my compilation easier:

*When I ask for your Most Favorite Reads of 2015, I’m seeking fiction and/or nonfiction books that stood out for you above all you’ve read in the past year. What have been the most enjoyable, the most important, the most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you have suggested others read?

* You are welcome to send just one title or up to a half dozen or so. (Please limit your contributions to six as it takes me many hours to compile the list. For some of you this request may be difficult, but remember the request — MOST Favorite Reads of 2015.)

* List the title, the author, and indicate whether it is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).

* If you are willing, please write a sentence or two about why each particular book made it to your list for this year. If you prefer not to add this, no problem, but I’ve found readers enjoy the comments and use them in choosing books to read for the coming year.

* Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists. If we get a number of similar titles, that’s just an indication of the power of a particular book/author.

* Your books do not have to be ones that were written and/or published in 2015, just ones that you read over the past year.

* Send me your list in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) before Dec. 20 so I will be able to post the entire list at the end of the year. (If you send me your list soon, you may be able to avoid my constant email reminders to do so.)

To see previous years’ lists, click on any of these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

A Winning Trade

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aac394a2ea3548f992caf4798605cda5-aac394a2ea3548f992caf4798605cda5-0The best trade, baseball and otherwise, is one that benefits both sides of a trade, imho.

If that is so, then I think the recent Sox-Padres trade meets that definition of a ‘best trade’.

While it really isn’t possible yet to evaluate either the short or long term outcome of what Drombrowski has done for/to the Sox, it seems to me that in one trade he’s drastically changed the Sox bullpen for the better – Tazawa in the 7th, Uehara in the 8th, and Kimbrel in the 9th.

The best evaluation of this trade is the one yesterday by Alex Speier. If you haven’t seen it, take a look: 108 Stitches.

Feel free to add to what he has to say in the Comments’ section of this MillersTime/GoSox post.

I don’t know how many of you follow Alex Speier’s 108 Stitches, but if you’re not getting his daily blog post sent to your email, consider doing so. Sometimes there’s more than even the most obsessed of you might want to know, but he’s always informative.

Five Good Films, Two Not So Good

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Four of the five good films mini-reviewed below are in theaters now, and one of the two not so good ones is also widely available around the country.

Labyrinth of Lies ****1/2

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The time is 1958 and a low level young public prosecutor stumbles onto and pursues a story most of post WWII Germans want left alone — the participation and guilt of many Germans who were part of the Auschwitz holocaust.

Labyrinth of Lies is based on true events, but here it is a fictionalized account of what occurred. As Johann Radman (Alexander Feeling) proceeds on a lonely effort to expose war criminals, he meets stiff resistance from virtually everyone in Germany. They just want all of these issue left behind. Yet he perseveres.

Germany’s official entry into the foreign film category of the Oscars, Labyrinth of Lies tells the story of what one person can do, did do, and at what costs and with what results.

(More than 97 per cent of our Sunday Cinema Club rated this film either excellent or good.)

Bridge of Spies ****1/2

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Help Choose the Winner(s)

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Grind: Extra Fine (Small Circles & Effect: High Contrast), Brew: Color Gels (1/2 Pic & Full Blended Circles), Serve: Stirred (Flash Burn Tone & Brown Bag Texture)

Enough information is now in the record books that a winner can be chosen for the 2015 MillersTime Baseball Contest #2: Make a prediction about something that will happen during the 2015 MLB season.

Below you will see the 46 contestants’ predictions and whether they missed by a mile (20), had some truth in their prediction (16), or basically nailed something that happened (10).

The winners will be chosen by MillersTime readers (see below).

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Winners – 2015 MillersTime Baseball Contests

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Spring-Training.th_

That was a pretty good World Series, especially if you’re not a Metropolitans’ fan. But even they did surprisingly well this season. The Royals clearly were not to be denied and deserved the win. There’s something different about watching baseball when you don’t have a ‘dog in the fight.’

On to the winners of the 2015 MillersTime Baseball Contests.

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