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Rated: E · Book · Writing · #2044345
Writing about what I have been reading and encountering in the media.
For those of you who have been following, you will see that I moved my reading list into the body of the blog. I will be adding book commentary as new articles instead of listing. New entries will be the first thing you encounter. All book comments have BOOK in the title. The blog is organized chronologically. Please feel free to comment. I especially like challenging comments.

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February 6, 2018 at 2:14am
February 6, 2018 at 2:14am
Last night on MSNBC, Brian Williams reported the Russians have a new under-water delivery system to carry a nuclear attack that could make the entire west coast of the US uninhabitable. He said it feels like a new arms race and commented on the last arms race that older Americans remember. Earlier in the day, I read Rober Lowell's poem "Fall 1961." I share it here:

"Fall 1961"

Back and forth, back and forth
goes the tock, tock, tock
of the orange, bland, ambassadorial
face of the moon
on the grandfather clock.
All autumn, the chafe and jar
of nuclear war;
we have talked our extinction to death.
I swim like a minnow
behind my studio window.

Our end drifts nearer,
the moon lifts,
radiant with terror.
The state
is a diver under a glass bell.

A father's no shield
for his child.
We are like a lot of wild
spiders crying together,
but without tears.

Nature holds up a mirror.
One swallow makes a summer.
It's easy to tick
off the minutes,
but the clockhands stick.

Back and forth!
Back and forth, back and forth –
my one point of rest
is the orange and black
oriole's swinging nest!

© Robert Lowell

I like how he begins with a man-made timekeeper and ends with the oriol's nest as a pendulum counting out time. I love his images. The mood of the poem seems so correct for the subject. I remember drills during which we got under our desks at school. This might have been useful in a conventional attack. We all knew we were a prime target and assumed we wouldn't survive. I had nightmares of me running alone with fire all around me screaming for my father. In that dream, I believed my father could shield me, but I couldn't find him. Lowell is right; "a father's no shield for his child."

I am also reading Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton. This is about global warming and postulates that mankind will not find a way to save ourselves from ourselves. Early in the book, the author describes his experience in combat and how he managed his fear by seeing himself as already dead and with nothing to lose. I expect this will be his suggestion. In any case, we face the dual threats of global warming and a new arms race. At this time, I feel rather hopeless some days. I found the Lowell poem refreshing. I hope you do, too.

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January 29, 2018 at 1:48pm
January 29, 2018 at 1:48pm

Growing up, we had neighbors with large families who received public assistance. Other neighbors gossiped “they had all those kids so they could get more welfare money.” I knew those families were not profiting from welfare. I had been in their overcrowded homes and had seen the sparse furnishings, lack of decoration, and lack of privacy. I had way too much information to believe the gossip. In 1970, I moved to Connecticut. There, I noticed that the youngest child in my public welfare caseload was age 6, no matter how many children there were in the family. One day I asked one of those mothers how that could be. Her reply: “Birth control wasn’t legal here until 1964. Do you think I would have had all these children if I could have stopped it?”

I have been a member of Planned Parenthood since they provided health care that I could not otherwise afford in my early twenties. Later, they provided education about STD that my gynecologist did not provide: Unfortunately, too late to preserve my fertility. They provided unbiased counseling about my reproductive health choices about surgery because they wouldn’t profit from unnecessary surgery. Their medical care has made a significant contribution to bringing the AIDS epidemic under control. I have no idea how many pregnancies they have prevented. I have no way of knowing how many unplanned pregnancies I prevented in my life with their help.

I am greatly troubled by the attack on Planned Parenthood. They work to prevent abortion by preventing pregnancy. The largest number of requests for abortion come from peri-menopausal women whose families are grown, who are worried about the many challenges presented by a late pregnancy including a much-increased risk of birth defect and miscarriage. This is a difficult problem for a family, for a woman to face. They provide healthy support, help women think it through without pushing them one way or another, and continue to provide the care no matter what choice the woman makes.

This attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on birth control, on prevention and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Disease, on appropriate reproductive health education for teens, and on other prevention and health care activities. The complaint is thinly cloaked as a problem with abortion. If people really cared about abortion, they would strengthen supports to families who experience an unplanned pregnancy. No. There is a billboard I often pass that says “babies: God’s economic growth package.” This is the consumer economy gone wrong.

Think about this: your support of the attack on Planned Parenthood supports the kind of spying and twisted editing that results in the creation of, and dissemination of inaccurate political “information” (propaganda). This could happen to you, to your interest groups. Is this how you want your Democracy to function?

Finally, Planned Parenthood is a private, not-for-profit organization. The effort to “de-fund” simply restricts options for the healthcare of people who use Medicare and/or Medicaid. We pay lots more for pregnancy and raising of a child than for prevention of the pregnancy in the first place. We will spend much more for the care and treatment of each case of STD than to prevent it.

Please, everyone who agrees, make a donation to Planned Parenthood today. www.plannedparenthood.org Please write to your Congressional representative against de-funding of Planned Parenthood.
January 8, 2018 at 3:42pm
January 8, 2018 at 3:42pm
The author of the article I am reading relies heavily on the thinking of John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1971. In the development of his concept of justice, Rawls uses a thought experiment: suppose you are part of a committee that is setting up a society. You do not know where you will fit into the society or what resources, advantages or disadvantages you will have. You could be someone with the least, in the middle or at the top. First, you must decide what is needed by anyone who might appear in this society to live a reasonably satisfying life; not ideal, but basic needs. Are all needs tangible? What intangible needs might be included on the list?

Then you must decide how needs will be met; how will necessities be distributed; total equality? A range of inequality? By answering these questions, you would define distributive justice.

I hope you will take some time to think about this and discover your own current beliefs. It is important to remember a couple of things: 1. You could be at the bottom; 2. What happens to a minority impacts the entire society.

Perhaps this latter, the systems theory idea, is new to you, or something you have heard but never thought much about. How do you feel when around someone who clearly is from a different economic status than you? Do you get excited and want to meet them? Do you feel self-conscious and hope you won’t be noticed while you observe the other? Do you want to escape out of some sort of fear? Think about health issues. If a person with a communicable disease can be treated and the disease contained, do you want the person to have access to medical care to accomplish this or would you feel okay about encountering them untreated in a public place where everyone can be infected?

There was a movie made in the recent past titled The Giver. It is based on a novel of the same name written by Lois Lowry. The story takes place in an ideal society where no one experiences illness or unhappiness. The society is isolated and unaware of a larger community outside its boundaries. The Giver is central to the entire enterprise. The Giver keeps the memories that motivate key choices underlying the functioning of the society and enforces certain rules. A pubescent male is identified to live with the Giver and one day fill that role. There he learns things that make him question the basic goal of the society and the role of the Giver. These are the things that keep the people perfect. Lois Lowry has written this story in a way that could be an example of the thought experiment.

Initially, as I approach this experiment, I think I know the answers. As I think more about it, I realize the answers are not at all as obvious as I initially thought. I happen to also be reading a biography of Thomas Jefferson written by John Meacham. I just finished a biography of John Adams by David McCullough. It is clear to me these founders of the United States of America were trying very hard to answer the same questions. Their goal was to contribute to the development of a real society where people with different answers to these questions can live and work together peaceably and effectively for the benefit of all while thriving in their own lives. These two men are very, very different from each other, perhaps nearly as different as Barak Obama is from Donald Trump. Yet, they saw each other as profoundly important to the enterprise and its outcome.

Perhaps you and I are just as different from each other as they. Perhaps in dialogue with each other, we would try to convince the other of the rightness of our thinking. I am certain I would try to convince you. Yet, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton and Washington and so many others never did convince each other. Instead, they acted on their commonly held belief in the importance and positive value of their differences. Each leader’s sense of right and wrong, of honor vs. dishonor, was somewhat different from the others. I suspect the differences are as important to the success of their enterprise as the agreements. Them knowing and expressing their own thoughts and learning the thoughts of others made all the difference.
January 6, 2018 at 9:26pm
January 6, 2018 at 9:26pm
Today, I am reading an article concerned with “justice theory” and “distributive justice.” So far, I think I understand that justice is a social contract in that there is broad agreement in society on the definition of Justice. It is clear from the article, however, that there are a couple of broad agreements in our society about that. At least that is one of the pieces of confusion I am experiencing in my reading. The author, Jerome Carl Wakefield, decided to focus on “distributive justice:” the “sharing” of the products of society. These products are the things that any human needs to participate in society. They include meeting survival needs, learning the skills required for social participation, economic resources, and self-esteem. In Mr. Wakefield’s discussion, he briefly critiques “social constructionist” thinking. He focuses heavily on the thinking of Rawles. (I have one of his books and hope to wade through the 674 pages.)

This is philosophical writing and there are assumptions with challenges to assumptions, and the goal of the Wakefield article is to operationalize the thinking in a way that clarifies the goals and functions of the social work profession. I have not done a lot of reading of philosophical writing in the past. I can be tedious, but I am finding it interesting. My primary goal is to understand the nuances in the meaning of the word “Justice.” I want to be able to talk about it with confidence that I know at least something about it. I also want to have a more defined approach to my political thinking and a good deal of the political thinking I do focuses on the issue of Distributive Justice.

My, starting position on the subject is that a person with the fewest “products of society” should have enough to stay physically healthy so he/she doesn’t become a breeding ground for communicable disease. That person should have enough resources so they don’t have to steal to survive. I don’t want people “dying in the streets” of starvation. I want universal sanitation so we don’t have breeding grounds of disease in the waste we produce as living beings. I believe that pockets of extreme poverty are a danger to all of society, whether you can see them or not. I also know that in an upwardly mobile society, there exists downward mobility. Things can go awry and people with excessive resources can lose them. The older we get, the higher the risk that we will become partially or completely dependent on others to survive. I want effective caregiving everywhere, so I don’t land in one of the “bad places.” It will be interesting to read how these writers sort this out.
December 28, 2017 at 4:18pm
December 28, 2017 at 4:18pm
I have been listing my completed reading since my retirement in March 2015 so I could remember and refer back. I decided I would like to elaborate so blogging seems like the next logical step. Now the list has become really long, so today, December 28, 2017, I am putting this into the body of the blog and start again.

These are things I have read completely, not just halfway; March 2015 through the present, with a few additions.

1. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting; Powers, Kevin, Little Brown, 2014.
Poetry by an Iraq War veteran, exploring his life. This is his second published work. Excellent read.

2. The Yellow Birds; Powers, Kevin; on Kindle, Little Brown 7 Co. 2012.
I read this novel after the poetry because I love Mr. Powers' writing. I was not disappointed.

3. An Atlas of the Difficult World; Rich, Adrienne, WW Norton & Co 1991
Very serious poetry, lovely, about the difficult world of the survivor.

4. (3/15) Faithful and Virtuous Night; Gluck, Louise, McMillan e-book 2014
Poetry. Explores aging from a first-person perspective. Outstanding!

5. (11/14) Defending Jacob, Landay, William, Random house e-book 2012
a novel about a family dealing with antisocial personality in its genes. Good, not outstanding.

6. (2014) The Paper Magician, Holmberg, Charlie N., e-book 2014
Fantasy Novel about a magician, who uses paper as his tool, and his apprentice. I really enjoyed this. He has a sequel I hope to read.

7.(4/1/15) Betwixt, e-magazine, Spring 2015, issue 7, "The Blueberry Knight" a short story by Jennifer Hykes. About a sister trying to regain her brother's normal form for him. Well done.

8. (4/1/15) Abyss & Apex, issue 54, second quarter, 2015, e-magazine, "The Truth about Unicorns" a short story by Jennifer Hykes About a child who wants a unicorn for her 5th birthday. Well written, whimsical.

9. (1/15) Who Will Say Kaddish for the Chinaman's Dog? Hykes, Jon: A story of love from various spiritual perspectives. A novel. Very interesting.

10. (4/2/15) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Haddon, Mark, Kindle edition, Novel: First person perspective about an autistic teen coping with life. Wonderful read.

11. (4/4/15) Son, Lowry, Lois, Houghton Mifflin, 2012: A young adult novel, the sequel to The Giver. Excellent read. I am a great fan of Lois Lowry and have now read all four of that sequence.

12. (4/6/15) A Spot of Bother Haddon, Mark, Kindle edition, About a family with mental health problems coping with a crisis in a way that makes them grow. The writing style is excellent. The story, interesting enough to keep me reading, but just that and no more. I suspect this is the author's first novel. I like his Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night much better.

13: (4/11/15) Kinky, Duhamel, Denise, Orchises Press, Arlington VA, 1997. Poetry. This is a wonderful volume of poems about Barbie. Yes, the doll. It is funny, witty, and critical of the place the doll fills in society.

14. (4/12/15) The Thing with Feathers. Strycker, Noah, Riverhead Books, NY, NY 2014, A wonderful read about birds and humans, scientific, readable, very interesting.

15. (4/21/15) Border States Hoogestraat. Jane, BkMk Press, University of Missouri-Kansas City, MO 2014 Winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry. The blurb on the back says this book has a sense of place. I found this to be so. Jane H., a teacher at Missouri State University, writes about North Dakota, Missouri, Kentucky, and reflects on immigration including places people came from. This is well written and I enjoyed reading it.

16. (5/9/15) Poetry,V: 206 N: 1 April 2015, Poetry Foundation, Ed. Don Share: This edition is focused on Hip Hop poetry both in presenting examples and criticism that is helpful in thinking about it. For me, the best part is the essay by Michael Robbins, "Equipment for Living," about the functions of poetry in culture. He jumps off with a quote from Kenneth Burke: "Poetry is produced...as a ritualistic way of arming us to confront perplexities and risks. It would protect us." I had not seen this idea previously and am very much enjoying pondering with Mr. Robbins.

17. (5/16/15) Fifth Generation Immigrant Busby, Lee. ELJ Publications LLC, New York. 2014. Poetry. This is Lee Busby's first book having previously published a chapbook, which I read last year. I am reading at least 5 books right now, but I have gone every time to his book first. His characters are local country people and he draws them with empathy, realistically, in all their confusion, questioning, and emerging wisdom. Included is a series of poems about Blackbird and his friend, Banner. For me, these are the most memorable. When I pick up the book I turn to the last of those first. The author teaches writing in Kansas City and provides leadership to the Riverpretty Foundation and the semi-annual Riverpretty Writers Retreat in Tecumseh, Missouri. He has another book, also from ELJ Publications, coming out soon. I will be excited to get it. I also hope to attend the Fall Retreat.

18. (5/18/15) The Most of It Ruefle, Mary. Wave Books, NY 2008. This book is described as prose, but it reads more like prose poetry. The entire book presents brief, never more than 3 pages, quirky descriptions of particular moments. The last section is something like a dialogue between someone named Mary and "the anchorite." I liked this section especially. I would recommend the book to anyone and gave my copy to my best friend. I bought the book from Mary Ruefle in person at the April 2015 Riverpretty Writers Retreat at Dawt Mill in Tecumseh, Missouri. It was a huge privilege to have her there supporting and critiquing and being the fine poet that she is. Having read this book, I have ordered another of hers.

19. (5/25/15) Nine Horses Collins, Billy Random House 2002. Poetry. After learning that someone had shot an autographed first edition of this book, I retrieved my copy from the shelf and re-read it. This is the book that inspired my poem "A Famous Poet Reads at Hammonds Field." I wonder if It might be the best of the five Billy Collins books that I have read. I'll have to get the others down and re-read them and find out. This book seems to be out of the mind of a man at peace with himself and the world when he is writing. It is not confessional or written to heal something. It is meditative in tone and looks closely at quiet observations in a rather lyrical way. Which leads me to wonder why someone would have shot all those holes in it. Is it an act of performance art? Or, could it be the act of a very disturbed mind? I don't think I have ever heard of such a thing before. Book burnings tend to be very political and carefully explained. Book shootings? Very odd. Perhaps if you read it you will figure it out.

20. (06/06/15) Paper Doll Fetus Hoffman, Cynthia Marie. Persea Books Inc., New York, NY, 2014. Poetry
After reading this fascinating book about anomalies in childbirth, I went to the author's website where I read about her background and approach to writing. She has an MFA and has taught writing. I found it interesting that she works for an engineering firm. This is her second book. I will be acquiring the first ASAP. She states she does a lot of research. That is obvious in this book. I am very interested in her muses. Original documents written since the 12th century CE about many odd events related to childbirth have informed and inspired most of these poems. The language she uses is precise, yet includes sounds and images of great beauty, as well as some slightly unsettling images.

I selected this book, as I often do, by picking it randomly from the shelf in the bookstore, flipping it open, and reading the first poem I see. In this case, it was the title poem, which has stuck with me through reading the rest of the book. Others who have written about the book pick different examples. This would be easy to do. I think if the book had fallen open to a different page, that poem would have stuck with me equally well. The work is divided into 4 sections. After reading the first section, I wrote the best poem I've written in some time and it was clear to me Ms. Hoffman's imagination and excellent writing had awakened something in my mind that had been at rest. All in all, I found this book to be an excellent read and highly recommend it to anyone interested in poems about the history of the practice of medicine, and/or women's experiences with reproduction.

21. (7/3/15) Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015.This is the final work of Kent Haruf as he has passed on. I had not heard of Kent Haruf but was browsing in Barnes & Noble and read on the back of the book that Ursula Le Guin recommended the book, I figured it would be worth reading. It turned out to be a good choice.

In this novel, the author presents two main characters, both widowed, who have lived in the same neighborhood for most of their adult lives. It opens with Addie Moore visiting Louis Waters, whom she hardly knows, though she knew his wife, with an interesting proposition to cope with the loneliness of old age and widowhood. The book tells the story of the results of the choice they both make in very simple language. Along the way, their adult children enter a 6-year-old grandson, and some interactions with neighbors.

This book reminds me of The Bridges of Madison County, the first novel in a trilogy by Robert James Waller, published in 1992. Like Our Souls at Night, Mr. Waller’s story is a compelling, down to earth romance, and, as I recall, has a similar style. I was also reminded of a clinical book I read some years ago, Stories That Heal: Reparenting Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families Using Hypnotic Stories in Psychotherapy by Lee Wallas, W.W. Norton & Co. 1991. Wallas presents a clinical approach of using stories during a period of deep relaxation in the therapy room to help clients heal from trauma. Wallas makes use of the suggestibility common in people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder originating from child abuse as a strength, or ally, in the healing process. With this approach, therapist prompts client into relaxation using a focusing protocol, and when the client is fully relaxed, the therapist uses guided imagery, the same one each time, followed by a new short story. Each story is a brief description of appropriate parenting starting with pregnancy and moving through childhood. Wallas’s writing style in the healing stories is very similar to Kent Haruf’s style, and so, Our Souls at Night has a mildly suggestive quality, presenting pictures of true intimacy between two 70+year olds. As such, it is excellent bedtime reading. The images are compelling enough that I awakened this morning with my first thoughts focusing on the book. When that happens, I think I have found something truly worth reading.

22. Into the River, Dawes, Ted, Polis Books, Kindle Edition. 2016. This is a young adult book suitable for mid-teens, probably more interesting to boys as the main character is a boy at a boys school. This is a look at the challenges of coming of age as an indigenous Australian in the context of the dominant English culture.

23. Hillbilly Elegy, a Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis, Vance, J. D., Harper Collins Kindle Ed. 2016. I selected this after hearing an interview with the author on radio. It is interesting and well written. Description is vivid. However, I did not come away with much improvement in my understanding of the issues he addresses.

24. Bonhoeffer Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy: A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich, Metaxas, Eric, Thoman Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, Kindle Edition, 2010. This is a wonderful book full of wisdom and courage, pain, and a lot of history. It took a long time for me to finish reading it because the history of the Third Reich is so troubling I would put the book down for a while before picking it up again. It is not good bedtime reading, but it is gripping and valuable.

25. The men Who United the States; America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible
. Winchester, Simon, Harper Audio CD, unabridged, 09/16/14. I very much enjoyed reading about these people who significantly impacted the development of the USA, but few received notoriety. It is organized around issues of earth, wind, fire, and water and focuses on development in transportation and communication that gradually led to the emergence of the USA. Mr. Winchester, as narrator of his own writing, creates a wonderful listening experience. I am sure that reading it would be equally interesting. I happen to love audiobooks.

24. Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together. Danforth, Senator John, Listen and Learn Audio with Permission from Viking Penguin 2006. This is refreshing in that Father Danforth applies his background in theology to his observations as a politician ending with a career as US Senator. His ideas are well stated, calm and wise. This is a very good read.

25. Our Revolution, Sanders, Bernie, A Macmillan Audiobook from Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martins Press, 2016. This is long and full of well documented, clear descriptions of the main issues that face America today with Senator Sanders' ideas about how to make them happen: Very valuable content.

26. The Boy Who Made Dragonfly, A Zuni Myth, Hillerman, Tony, Illustrated by Janet Grado, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 1972. This is a 500-year-old tale created to teach core values of the Zuni including kindness, humility, mutual care, and personal commitment. The cover blurb says it is written for people 10 years old and older. I loved it.

27. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, Elisabeth Tovil Bailey, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2010' This is WONDERFUL Book! It is a personal memoir but also a nature study focused on snails. It would be appropriate to read to young children who are curious about nature or to yourself, your friends, the person who repairs your car.... It is well written, engaging, and it has short chapters making it great bedtime reading. Also, there is very little that is upsetting or worrisome. It is positive and just a great read!

28. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens. Most people say, when I mention I just read this book, "I read that in high school: Well, I didn't. Finally, I got around to it. I am astonished at the gore described concerning the French Revolution. However, I found it compelling and artful and interesting. I don't think it is a good choice for teens before their senior year due to the gore.

29 The Glass Magician Holmvueg, Charlie M. This is the sequel to the Paper Magician. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed The Paper Magician. I think this is a young adult book. It is fantasy with engaging characters: Not great literature, but a very pleasant read.

30. The Master Magician, Holmvueg, Charlie M. The third in the series, this brings our hero and heroine back in conflict with the evil magician while Ceony, our heroine works to get ready to pass her final test to become a Master Magician. Light reading, pleasant, fantasy novel.

31. The Underground Railroad, Whitehead. Colson. Kindle Audible Edition. This is an Oprah's Book Club selection. The writing is interesting, characters well developed, and it has kept my interest from beginning to end. I don't like that the author has portrayed the underground railroad as a rail system underground. I don't like that the Tuskegee experiment of the 1930's is stuck into the 1830's. There is an enormous amount of violence, so I hope they don't make it into a movie. It is interesting but disquieting.

34. Bartleby the Scrivener. Melvill, Herman. Kindle Audible Books. This is as odd a tale as you can find. The narrator, a barrister, hires a scrivener. As he relates to the scrivener and his decisions, he examines his values. It is a novella and is worth the hour or two it takes to read it. I highly recommend it!

35. My Own Words, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Mary Hartnett, Wendy W. Williams, and portions read by Linda Lavin, an Audioworks edition. This is a collection of interviews, essays, and speeches given by Justice Ginsburg over the years. I "read" it by listening to a CD of the book, which I would say is the best way to read it, as a lot of it is in her voice. She discusses the role of the supreme court, the collegial relationships on the court and how the judges interact, and she even talks about her love for opera. It is a really interesting read. I highly recommend it!

36. Washington, a life, Ron Chernow, read by Edward Herrmann, Penguin Audio, abridged. This was as interesting as Mr. Chernow's biography of Hamilton. In addition to providing a careful look at the Revolutionary War and the skirmishes before and after, as well as the development of the Presidency, Mr. Chernow discusses Washington's struggle with "the peculiar institution" and his agricultural activities. I wish it hadn't been abridged. The entire book is available in paperback from Penguin.

37. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens, Kindle audible. Another excellent read! I just love Dickens' humor. It is no wonder his books remain part of our literature as his writing is so extraordinary. I hated when it ended as, so far, I haven't found another of his books in audio form. I have so many audiobooks piled up that I haven't read that it will be a while before I read on paper.

38. 1984, George Orwell, Kindle Audible edition. Having never read this before, it seemed a good time to read it. I found it interesting, but bleak. There is little more I want to say about it.

39.To The Last Man, a Novel of the First World War. Jeff Shaara, Kindle Audible edition, Ballentine Books, 1984. (The name of the reader is not listed in the Kindle catalog.) This is so very interesting I hated to be interrupted in reading, but sometimes, I had to put it down because the content is so intense. As most of us know, WWI was horrible with trench warfare, both the US and Germans using mustard gas, and the introduction of the machine gun, airplanes, and tanks, and because, throughout most of the war, it was a stalemate. The US was in it only in the last year and the war was so violent that the US alone lost as many men in that one year as were lost in the entire Viet Nam conflict. Jeff Shaara writes this as a historical novel, but all characters are real people. As a teen, I read a book, title and author no longer remembered, that was contemporaneous to the war. It really impressed me. This was my maternal grandparent's generation, so I have this awareness of the people that make the content more real for me. Even so, the descriptions are so vivid I found myself reading from the place inside me from which I listened to trauma memories when doing therapy. I was engaged with my mind, but feelings needed to be set aside so I could read the book. There were times it was so desperately sad and gruesome that with all my protections in place, I was still brought to tears. I selected this book because I have read very little about WWI. Of course, this was because I knew it to be so gruesome. While I was working, it was just too much pain to face while facing pain all day. Retirement is good this way. All in all, this is carefully researched, brought to life through vivid dialogue, paced so you are not in the trenches constantly, detailed, vivid, and an extraordinary read.

40. A Song Flung up to Heaven. Maya Angelou, Bantam, 2003. Kindle Audible edition, read by the author. This is a memoir of Ms. Angelou's life leading up to her writing "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." It describes the people who influenced her as a creative person and the important relationships in her life. It also recounts her experiences of the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., people she knew personally. I enjoyed it but wish it included a little more detail about each relationship.

41. The Sympathizer. Viet Thanh Nguyen, Grove Press, 2015. Kindle Audible edition read by the author. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. This is a long novel written in a first-person view about a young man who experiences the Viet Nam war as a Vietnamese person, a soldier, and a spy. Very well written, rich in detail and in historical information, I enjoyed it more than I ever would have predicted. I highly recommend this book. It deserves the Pulitzer Prize that it won. I also think listening to the author read it very much enhanced the experience.

42. Truman, David McCullough, Simon & Shuster, NY, 1992, Encore edition, abridged, read by the author, 2002. It was good to read about Missouri's native son and to learn I could truly respect him. David McCullough presents him as an eminently reasonable, responsible, down to earth, wise, and fallible human, truly a "citizen leader." I am glad I listened rather than reading because I got to listen to Truman speak. All in all, an excellent read.

43. A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, HarperCollins, 1994. (75 pp.) Grieving the loss of his wife, the author wrote of his immediate experiences in notebooks which he later used as a basis for this book. He describes the emotional, intellectual and spiritual experiences of a normal grief process well and with energy and compassion. He shares the challenges to his Christian faith and some insight into how he resolved them. Excellent work.

44. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, Mark Sullivan, Lake Union Publishing, Kindle Audible Edition. 5/1/2017.
This is a biography that has sections that are fictional due to lack of evidence for those sections. The author spent a lot of time with the Italian resistance fighter about whom it is written. This is a wonderful read about an intelligent, resourceful, and athletic teen dealing with the Nazi occupation of Italy. It includes action scenes that would please those in need of action, romance, suspense, and it presents the pain and courage of Italian citizens coping with the occupation. Very well written, this is a page-turner that I highly recommend.

45> Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, Charlie N. Holmberg, 47North Publishers, Kindle audible edition, 6/28/2016. If you have been reading my list, you know that I enjoy this author. All of these books are light reading. In this book, the type of magic is cooking. As usual the "magician" gets into scrapes and has to figure out how to solve the main problem she faces. Very enjoyable read.

December 26, 2017 at 12:36am
December 26, 2017 at 12:36am
Have you noticed: we’ve lost some wonderful words along the way? Think about it: “cellophane.” When did you last use “cellophane” in a sentence? And, what about calling an attractive guy “tough?” We didn’t mean he looked like a “bruiser.” We used that for guys with neat haircuts and button-down collar oxford cloth shirts. I can’t remember the name of that haircut. Oh, and the entire recording industry. No one buys records anymore, even though ”vinyl” is back in fashion. Recently a friend and I explained “half-court basketball for women” to a forty-something and she couldn’t believe that such a thing ever existed. That is one thing I’m glad to leave behind. With the invention of antiperspirants, women can now sweat and no one seems to care.

Sometimes, I notice people in my generation bringing words up that have fallen out of use merely to hear those sounds again. Just last night, we were talking about “Woolworth’s,” “Grants” and “Ben Franklin” stores. Occasionally, someone will have a party where everyone must dress as they did in a particular decade. That is always good fun. I still have a few things from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, but people now are nostalgic for the 80’s! Did anything actually happen in the 1980’s? Who would have thought it possible to be nostalgic for the 1990’s? They aren’t really over yet, are they? Well, it seems that some people think so.

I remember my older brother saying, “that’s none of your beeswax!” Now we worry if bees will still be around for next growing season. I guess it is happening: I am part of the “older generation” who know a lot of cool unused words, but a lot of new words leave me puzzled. It’s okay, really. We are all “hunky dory.”
December 23, 2017 at 3:50pm
December 23, 2017 at 3:50pm
Thursday, I was in our county seat with a friend. We stepped outside to leave and were enveloped in a cloud of odd smelling smoke. “Crematorium,” she said and pointed to the tall smokestack behind the funeral home from which the smoke was pouring. “That is a dead body you smell.”

As I had my car door open, the smoke quickly filled it. Driving away, I kept smelling it. I looked around. The entire downtown was full of that smoke. I thought about the Nazi crematoriums and how they must have smelled. As I gained distance, I opened my windows to blow out the smell and drove on to buy ingredients for Christmas dinner.

This morning the incident returned to me. My stomach got tight, thinking about all those “imperfect” people gone up in smoke, while people nearby claimed they had no idea what was happening. I guess, if no one told you that smell was human flesh, you could chalk it up to manufacturing. Having grown up in the 1950’s in Pittsburgh, PA, I know all too well how bad that can smell.

I remember a visit I had with my Uncle Paul when he was about 80. He told me as an Army officer, he had been assigned to clean up one of the death camps at the end of the second world war. He arrived the day after it was liberated. I asked him what he remembered most about the experience. His response: “The smell.”

As a nation, we do both good and evil. Sometimes, as in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are confused by the fact that the act was meant to do good, to end killing. Why not blow up entire cities of our enemies? They don’t matter as much as we do.

Who does matter? When I was twenty-nine, I had a hysterectomy. I was very sad that I would never have children. One of my sisters-in-law said, “when you don’t have children, all the world’s children are yours.”

What about the world’s children when you do have children of your own? What about the world’s children grown into their dotage? To whom do they belong?

My childhood was spent with 4 brothers. I didn’t want 4 brothers. I had nothing to say about that. My parents taught us to share. “Why should I share with them? I don’t want 4 brothers.” Dad would say “they are part of you and you are part of them.” I am glad I learned to share. It feels good to share. It clears away loneliness. It gives me a sense of connectedness.

Did you know that trees connect at the roots and when one tree is injured, the others feed it? Even after it is dead, they feed it. I just learned that. It rests in my mind right next to the question: “Why should I pay for someone else to retire?”

March 15, 2017 at 12:37pm
March 15, 2017 at 12:37pm
March 15, 2017

Reading about the healthcare reform effort in Congress this morning, I encountered an article that mentions that Republicans have the majority, but did not have a reform plan in place when they achieved that majority, even though that is their top priority. I find this odd. They have been taking this stand for 7 years. Why were they unready when they got elected?

So, now, Speaker Ryan and his committee have a replacement under consideration. While the replacement says, it will cut taxes to the wealthy, but still fully fund Medicaid expansion and reduce the cost to the consumer purchasing insurance on the open market, they explain that this will happen as the result of the magic of the market. The change in the market will be the ability to purchase insurance across state lines. They say this will lead to increased competition that will lower prices.
The Management and Budget Office, a non-partisan organization has evaluated the bill and say that 24 million citizens would lose their insurance under this new plan. They would have to purchase their insurance using a tax credit as financial assistance. The states would have to manage their Medicaid costs with a gradually shrinking assistance from the federal government through block grants.

The Obama administration initiated and Congress passed the Affordable Healthcare Act because market forces were magically helping the wealthy owners of insurance companies become more wealthy while denying healthcare to the working class. The Republicans argue that this was because the working class did not want healthcare. They think this because they were not accessing healthcare. They were not accessing healthcare because they could not pay for it. Republicans say they did have access by just going to the Emergency Room. What they fail to consider is the elevated cost of that care due to waiting until it is an emergency. They also fail to consider the harassment of people who can’t pay by hospitals that require payment to function. When patients can’t pay, it is other patients with money who take up the slack by paying more for their services. This functions as a tax on the sick to pay for services to the ill.

Republicans also fail to consider that working people are responsible people who don’t want to stiff the hospital or the doctor for costs they can’t pay. They also fail to consider that people who have been unable to afford health care for generations are socialized to not use it, and do not have consumer skills related to accessing health care. One representative, Marshall, (R) from Kansas, is an OBGYN, who appears to be angry with Medicaid patients who did not use pre-natal care to his liking. It appears that he never asked them why. Well, as a social worker, I have asked thousands of people over my 44 years about their use of health care services. The biggest barrier is shame.

Rich people and people with moderate means shame them in person and in the press. Health care providers shame them. They get shamed for not having enough of their own money to live comfortably in this wealthy country. They get blamed and put down in grocery lines and at the state offices where they apply for needed assistance. Even without direct shaming, they know by looking around that they are different. Health care providers such as doctors who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year have a hard time identifying with people who have low incomes. All too often, they fail to recognize and address the shame as a health issue.

The Republican Party reminds me of the kids on the playground who laughed when someone fell rather than helping them get back up again.
March 6, 2017 at 1:31am
March 6, 2017 at 1:31am
Government by the people, for the people...

The news is full of chaos and “much ado about nothing” while we are headed at breakneck speed into a desert of our own making and the rich are worried about things, objects, shiny baubles and possessions. I recall a time, in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s there was talk of building a neutron bomb. Its main feature was that it would destroy all life but leave buildings intact. I don’t know if it was developed, but the idea remains endemic to so much governmental thinking that our elected representatives have lost awareness of their own vulnerability as living organisms that survive by working in colonies rather than individually.

My mother taught me that adolescence is about “learning that your parents have clay feet.” I think this time in America is about discovering that the things we use in our democracy have imperfections and we need to rectify them if our nation is to survive. Those folks that think a neutron bomb is a good idea need a virtual tour of such a situation. They need to somehow see the world they are creating with life gone from buildings, and no one to live or work in them, no one to clean or maintain them, products with no consumers, and services with no one to serve.

I learned today that 26 states have the capacity within their constitutions to bypass the legislature and use ballot initiatives to address concerns. This year, in all 26 states, 10 ballot initiatives to improve the electoral system will be put forth for us to consider. They will each require 200,000 signatures to be gathered in one year before they can be placed on ballots for citizen votes. Each of them addresses a single aspect of government. One would change the Constitution so the legislature cannot change what the voters passed. Those things can only be changed by putting them once again before the voters. Another would change us to proportional representation. This is used with great success in 90 countries now. It would eliminate legislative districts so that all representatives would be elected state wide. If 40% of voters endorsed a party, then 40% of the representatives would be from that party. There are steps in the process that are included in the plan to make that workable. This would eliminate Gerrymandering, and bring more minorities into the conversation. I cannot at this minute recall the other 8 initiatives. You can find them at: www.governmentbythepeople.org. I hope all voters will explore these carefully considered ideas and begin thinking about these things, as they are intended to strengthen the voice of each voter in our representational democracy.

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February 24, 2017 at 12:57pm
February 24, 2017 at 12:57pm

As a former member of the “eastern establishment,” where people don’t know the difference between a turkey vulture and an eagle and don’t realize not knowing matters. (This is a reference to a very famous news broadcaster who did a segment in which he called a vulture an eagle. It was taped, but no one edited it out. We noticed it right off and that is what we remembered; not the point of the broadcast.) It happens that most of our media originates on one coast or the other, and frequently, someone refers to us as “flyover country.” That attitude got Trump elected.
In a previous meditation about this, I used the word meritocracy to describe how things are organized in relation to training and education of the persons doing them. I see absolutely no way to change the fact that those of us with a higher IQ and/or more fruitful learning experiences will tend to be more powerful in society than those with less. Those wealthy people who started with “nothing” had something that we prize above everything in our meritocracy: intelligence and a rich history of learning. A core issue is how do we manage differences in “gifts” in a way that is healthy for everyone? Isn’t that what we mean when we say everyone is entitled to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

Meritocracy leads to hierarchy. For example, in local community groups, someone gets an idea of how things should be that is different from the majority. They have confidence in their idea, so, they try to win people over. If this doesn’t work, they face a choice: bide their time and keep trying; shut up and sit down; or find another venue where their idea will be empowered. Few people just sit down and shut up. Those that figure out how to get their idea empowered and enacted become more powerful. This done, they set up structures to support them in their leadership role. And, they seek positions in the structure of the society that will also protect their power because they believe in the rightness of their ideas, technologies, etc. This leads to the biggest dysfunction of hierarchy: the structure becomes the focus of attention rather than the goal it was built to accomplish. (I think I was first introduced to this idea in sociology 101.)

Effective people can pull themselves back from simply protecting the order of things and re-orient to the goal and draw the attention of others back to the goal. They are not necessarily the top of the hierarchy, and in my experience, are rarely the top of the hierarchy. They are people like Martin Luther King, Jr. who kept people focused on the goal and who did not create much of a hierarchy. Instead, he worked within social structures that already existed – churches, community organizations, neighborhood etc. He didn’t sit down and shut up. He didn’t leave the group. He just kept trying and building his effectiveness. He rooted his work in widely accepted community values. He just emphasized the goal and empowered people who agreed with the goal. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his goal, one cannot realistically say he was ineffective.

The medical institution is hierarchically based on demonstrated skills. The structures that support this are law, professional organizational goals, and the needs of the patients, without whom there would be no medical institution. Money is a huge issue in the medical institution. A former CEO of the local hospital said to me once that “medicine” is the largest industry in the world. Well, for certain, this is so here in South Central Missouri, and in the USA. In our society, money equals power. Consequently, looking at the medical institution, where do you find the money? Is it the patient? Well, they may have had money, before they got sick. The way we in the US have structured this institution, it is the sick who are taxed to pay the cost of care of the poor. If I am sick, I contribute more to the running of the institution than if I am well, but this exchange is rarely direct. There is the intermediary of the third party payer. The person who can’t pay gets served, not as well as the one with money, but served nonetheless. Who pays for that? - Why the sick people with access to money. There was a time, in our grandparent’s day, when this was not quite so true because things were more personal; fewer people, smaller communities, less technology. Well, those days are gone and we have had to change. However, we have applied structures to the medical institution that were developed in industry. Like my CEO friend said, medicine is an industry in the minds of most Americans. I doubt this is the best way to think of it.

In a family, we have instrumental activities and nurturing activities. I define instrumental activities as wage earning, and meeting survival needs of shelter, clothing etc. I define nurturing activities as things that help the organisms that make up the family thrive as individuals and as a family. I think we manage these somewhat differently. We try to maintain a schedule of eating, sleeping, social time and time alone. Within the schedule, we are always learning, but we deliberately include teaching and learning activities for everyone. We tend to our bodies and each other’s bodies. This structure must remain flexible to incorporate unusual events such as illness, developmental needs, and adaptation to the environment. The family is the core institution of society. It is able to be flexible because it is small. The bigger it gets, the less flexible, so, we break it down into smaller units, usually defined by reproduction and/or housing.

Large organizations may be effective in producing clearly defined, specific outcomes, but they are inflexible. It is much harder to turn a train around than an airplane. It is harder to turn an army around than a basketball team. Large organizations have a sort of inertia that families don’t have. They are, therefore, not good places for nurturing. But healthcare is a nurturing activity that we relegate to large organizations. The building gets better care than the persons within; the administrators and staff get better care than the patients. These two ideas: nurturing requires flexibility and medicine should be delivered in the same way as manufacture of washing machines are incompatible. This is a major problem in decision making that few people in the national dialogue acknowledge or attempt to resolve.
Just as the institution of medicine is at a crossroads, so, too, is the institution of community/government. We must respond in some way to the needs of people who cannot fully care for themselves whether it be young children, the injured and infirm, or the elderly. Our government made a pact with the people 70 years ago that we would even out the provision of this care and eliminate people dying in the streets when we enacted the Social Security Act of 1934. This is a social contract our country made. In addition, our industries made social contracts with employees about health care and retirement benefits. This contract gave the industries labor they needed in a reliable way in exchange for some guarantee of long-term well-being of the laborers. This worked well in an industrial economy as far as anyone in power could see. In the end, however, those social contracts (that never were as effective as we thought they were,) are breaking down for many reasons. Key to this breakdown is the change from an industrial economy to what some of us refer to as the post-industrial age. The economic institutions that once required labor, now require highly skilled people. In both situations, industrial and post-industrial, there are un-needed people. They are not un-needed because of their intrinsic worth, guaranteed in the Constitution. They are un-needed because they have no role in the economy. The Social Security Act gave them a role: consumer. There is no one who does not consume but in order to do so, they must have money.

In economic institutions, the consumer matters because without consumption, production has no purpose and there is no economic exchange. We could have an economy where people who produce receive resources in return for their production and then consume. This goes really well, until someone is no longer able to produce, or someone who is born needs care. The assumption I see in the libertarian way of thinking is that there will be someone who cares about the helpless ready, willing and able to take care of every helpless human being. Another assumption seems to be that the helpless will become able-bodied at some point, and, a corollary, that the able-bodied are equally able, and always fairly reimbursed for their economic contribution. Both of these assumptions are spurious. The closer to the nurturing role one gets, the less s/he gets paid. The owner of the food service earns much more than the server of the food. The surgeon gets paid dramatically more than the person tending to the patient before and after the surgery, etc. We pay child care workers tending to the youngest, most vulnerable people who are at the peak of their learning ability the least. The older the person gets, the closer to being productive members of the economy, the more we pay their teachers, and the more we spend on their care. There is a point at which this reverses; we call these the “golden years” to cover up the poverty of social/economic worth of these individuals. These economic decisions are not based on what works best for society; they are based on what works best for the economy.

So here is the question we as a nation need to answer: what do we do about our social contracts of the past to make them meet the needs of us today? As libertarians so accurately point out, the assumptions of social security thinking are no longer true. The distribution of people has changed dramatically. Families are smaller leading to a static consumer population. The economic institutions need fewer people. Overpopulation is heating up the planet. If we continue with small families, and it looks as if this will happen despite conservative efforts to interfere with access to birth control, then we have a very different distribution of productive and “extra” people.

There is one area where I strongly disagree with libertarians who say the food supply is the safest it has ever been. This is not true. We don’t even fully understand the problems we are facing that are beginning to impact the food supply. Chemicals being used to make production efficient seem to have some brain toxicity, and are killing off organisms essential to food production. These include microorganisms in the soil and pollinators. You can see the loss of pollinators in your own yard if you have not already observed it. Plant some flowers. Check daily to see how many insects are there to tend them. Try, perhaps, butterfly milkweed. In my yard, they rarely produce seed and I rarely see butterflies on them. Or, count butterflies and or bees in your yard. My experience with plants is they are not getting pollinated and not producing fruit or seed as they used to. It happens in our vegetable garden that some plants have lost their local pollinators entirely. They simply do not grow fruit in our yard. We have gardened this yard organically for 18 years. The earthworms that hardly existed when we moved here are now plentiful, thank goodness. But pollinators are not.
In 1980, during the migration of the Monarch butterflies, If I drove 10 miles, I would see close to 150 at the peak of migration. During the 1000-year flood in the northern midwest about 10 years ago, the population dropped to almost nothing. Now, I am lucky to see 5 monarchs in ten miles due to the population hit from the flooding, and the disappearance of their winter habitat in Mexico caused by human activity. I could go on and on. Our food supply is in great danger. This is the result of “efficient” farming, of thinking man can outwit nature, and of thinking that arises from urban life that “flyover country doesn’t matter.” This said I haven’t even mentioned the impending water crisis. We are currently in the “oil wars.” When that is resolved, we will be fighting over water. No water is being created, but lots of water is being made unusable with mistreatment and pollution. As the population grows, so will human distress. We cannot assume this will all take care of itself. We must act as communities, as states and nation states in ways that will work, or we will find ourselves in a situation as a species that is desperate at the least.

My question is, how will the libertarian thinkers propose that we manage this? I am not interested in some ideal about how it “should be.” I am interested in real ideas that work. I don’t see needed plans in the platform of the Libertarian Party. I see that platform as an abandonment of social contract altogether. I see it as overlooking these very real, serious issues we face. Where can I find someone who is libertarian who is using sound reasoning about these issues? Who is writing that addresses these things?

Finally, I am asking because I am frustrated with the national dialogue. I am frustrated with our focus on institutions more than on problem-solving. I am frustrated with politics as an emotional exercise in winning and losing rather than governing. fWhile the Libertarian Party Platform ignores these issues entirely, I am interested in applying government to address these issues. I wonder how this divide can be resolved in a way that meets everyone's needs?

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