From Silk to Silicon by Jeffrey E Garten – Book Review and Comments on Globalization

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I tend to think that we are living in the most global age ever and my take on global government often harkens back to the science fiction books I have always enjoyed so much, so my construct tends to actually be governance of the galaxy. In The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov the Galactic Empire exists but it is on its way out. Preparations have already been made to train brilliant humans who will bring the Empire back from the Dark Ages into which it has been plunged. In Dune we have the Spacer’s Guild, the Bene Gesserit, and the noble houses in a feudal society with everyone owing allegiance to the Padishah Emperor. In Star Wars we know that there is a rebel alliance at war with the empire and prequels fill in the backstory showing us a government full of corruption, swollen, unwieldy, and divided.

So I often try to imagine what our government might be like if we did have a global government. I can imagine a system where we keep our individual nations but belong to some overarching body that coordinates everything and keeps a more and more complex world ticking along smoothly and peacefully (which you would think might be the United Nations, except that this idea makes some people paranoid). I realize that this is as much science fiction right now as any of my old beloved sci-fi books, but there is a corner of my mind that believes that we could possibly pull this off (a very optimistic corner of my mind).

But, Jeffrey E. Garten the author of From Silk to Silicon: The Story of Globalization through Ten Extraordinary Lives does not see globalization as something to be achieved in the future if we ever get our act together. He feels that people on this planet have been making the world smaller and more connected for centuries and he doesn’t even go back as far as the Roman Empire. He goes back to Genghis Khan (1162-1227) ravaging his way across most of Asia and even perhaps into a swath of Europe conquering and killing out of motives very like vengeance but also mixing cultures along the way, sending beautiful objects and bright people to live in the peaceful parts of his empire and setting up the trade routes that became the very well-traveled Silk Road.

He goes on to talk about nine more people who have connected parts of the globe and made it easier for goods, services, and people to wander further and/or faster or even to stay in one place and still connect with distant corners of the planet. He includes Prince Henry the “Navigator” (although he believes that name is a misnomer), too young a son to inherit a kingdom but driven to find his niche in Portugal and perhaps his legacy. He begins as a conqueror, continues as a sponsor of explorations, and sadly winds up bringing slaves to Europe from Africa.

We have Cyrus Field who tried time and time again until he devised a system that worked to lay a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable from Newfoundland to England allowing messages to travel in minutes rather than weeks and months. Garten tells us about a Jewish banker who went home to the Jewish ghetto each night but was trusted to bring funds and investment money to and from rich and even royal men all over Europe and England. He tells us how Mayer Amschel Rothschild continued to live in his old neighborhood even as he founded banks in all of the important European cities and sent his sons out to run them. Would we have a modern banking system without him? Maybe, but it might not have gotten off to such a prosperous start.

Even Margaret Thatcher, a Prime Minister who people love to hate, is given credit for breaking up socialism in England and sponsoring free trade, things which ended what might have been a long-standing recession in Great Britain, at least for a time. And he tells us about Andrew Grove, eventual CEO of Microsoft, with his grasp of detail and his apparently inborn work ethic who revolutionized the microchip production industry when no one else seemed to be able to manufacture microchips that had the necessary qualities of consistency and usability.

There are a few others I did not name in this book review (great book, you should read it) but one of his main points was about what these folks had in common. They did not set out to contribute to the overall globalization of the world. They were not even always people who you would want to be in the path of, they could be cruel, they were all extremely determined, and their goals were often quite narrow, but offered out-sized consequences, sometimes deliberate, sometimes not.

So it seems all our talk about globalization in the 21st century needs to be placed in the context of all the connections made on our planet which began long before any of us existed. In other words, there is a historical context in which modern globalization is a continuation of a human tendency, rather than an innovation that is just coming into existence. Who will be the extraordinary individual who takes the baton and runs the next lap? Is this person already here, or far in the future? Only hindsight will tell. It could be you.

At The Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

 

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My journey with Tracy Chevalier, author of At The Edge of the Orchard, began years ago in book that featured a tapestry of a unicorn (The Lady and the Unicorn). Her current book is worlds away from her first book but if you like trees and following history across the American frontier then here is another sort of tapestry, more realistic and much grimmer, but still somewhat gripping. My favorite Chevalier novel is still Girl with a Pearl Earring and this novel did not displace it.

I acknowledge that all the cruel things people do to each other is upsetting enough when the people are real flesh and blood figures. It seems redundant sometimes to create fiction that captures our inhumanity (or perhaps our too, too human nature) when we can read about it in the news. But still, to create a world with fictional characters and even fictional events that rings true is a true talent and many agree that fiction can immerse us in experiences that are foreign to our own and which help build our capacity for empathy. And while literature that tells us of unpleasant human experiences can seem unrewarding, it can help rid us of the gullibility that partners with being too innocent of life’s trials. Bad things, after all, do happen.

When the Goodenough family decides to leave New England and move west a bad marriage turns into a nightmare. The family puts down their new roots (literally and figuratively) in an inhospitable plot of land in the Black Swamp in Ohio in 1838. James and Sadie Goodenough are a terrible match. He is hard-working and stable, even perhaps a bit dull if you are Sadie who enjoys being admired, likes to party, and is very social. James is obsessed with growing an apple that was brought to America by his family from England, the Golden Pippin. He has carried plants with him from New England to the Black Swamp. But the swamp presents a constant struggle with many indigenous trees to be cleared through massive human labor, too much moisture for growing apples that are good for eating, and a fever that kills.

The Goodenoughs can only keep their land if they have fifty fruit trees growing successfully in five years. They grow the Golden Pippins for eating and they grow other apple trees (spitters) for cider and apple jack. Sadie knows that they don’t have to grow the pippins and she hates how much her husband is obsessed by them. Their children, Caleb, Nathan, Sal, Martha, Robert, and Charles are expected to work as hard as they are able to help make ends meet. The swamp and the grueling labor has already killed two children, Jimmy and Patty. John Coleman (Johnny Appleseed) is almost their only visitor and he brings new apple trees for sale every time he paddles his canoe to the homestead. He also brought Sadie the apple jack, an alcoholic cider to which she, perhaps to tune out this life she is so unsuited for, becomes addicted. James and Sadie have reached a point where they are barely civil and James is so frustrated that he often hits Sadie, who sometimes hits back.

When Sadie and James finally reach the breaking point young Robert is so appalled and feels so guilty that he leaves home at nine and we follow him for the rest of the book as he keeps moving west across America, doing odd jobs and making a living any way he can until he reaches California. Here it seems that Robert finds that he too, like his father is a tree man. He wants to see the redwoods and the sequoias. His interest and the fact that he can’t move any further west leads to his last and most important job. He works for an Englishman, William Lobb who sends seeds and seedlings back to an employer in England to sell to rich estate owners who want to try to grow the giant trees. When his sister Martha catches up with him we finally learn what happened in the aftermath of his parent’s meltdown. This book review of At the Edge of the Orchard  finds that this is an odd sort of novel; I think I liked the one with the unicorn better, but I did read the whole thing and it is, of course, well-written. It did make me want to eat a Golden Pippin apple and perhaps hug a sequoia.

 

Implications of Orlando and Beyond

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For a while I loved reading anthropological fiction based on information gleaned from artefacts, but peopled with made-up characters – an entire fleshed-out primitive culture based only on tools, pottery shards, bones, cave drawings and other evidence uncovered at sites where ancient people once lived. Jean Auel was one of my favorite authors in this genre. She wrote Clan of the Cave Bear and all the sequels that followed. Kathleen O’Neal Gear was another favorite writing about early “tribes” of people on the American continent.

The caves where early man lived, and the long houses, offered little privacy, although there was also comfort in proximity. Family groups, separated by their fires had no walls between one family and the next. One author suggested that there was a kind of unwritten rule to “mind your own campfire.” I am sure that this rule was sometimes ignored and that even the earliest people liked to “gossip”, but there were social repercussions for serious disregard of familial privacy. We will come back to this.

On another thread, our government is designed the way it is because our forefathers came from England and Western Europe where government leaders and church leaders engaged in a constant series of struggles to determine which group should have the most power. For many years the church was firmly in charge. But strong monarchs who felt they held their thrones by “divine right” did not worry so much about challenging the Pope. The impact of the see-saw squabbles between powerful forces hit the subjects/citizens hard.

In England alone, one day people were safe as Catholics, but the next monarch was a Protestant and hunted down Catholics. Eventually both of these religions were discarded and the Anglican Church was formed, leaving both devout Catholics and Protestants in jeopardy. Today England has made a successful marriage of church and state, but when the colonists came to America that was not the case either in England or on the continent and so our forefathers legislated the separation of church and state and also freedom of religion.

Except in Spain the Muslim religion was not an issue as America was being born but I still don’t believe that our forefathers would ever have said that only Christians should be free to worship as they please. It does seem clear to most of us that our forebears would not require the Federal government of the United States of America to follow the dictates of any particular religion.

Republicans, who hate that women are free to make their own choices about whether to end a pregnancy or carry a fetus to term, want to make us believe that our forefathers did not actually separate church and state, that they were all Christians, and that the freedom they wrote into our founding documents referred only to Christians. They want to deny the separation of church and state because their case against Roe v. Wade is argued on grounds of Christian morality which is at odds with such a separation. In other words, they want to impose a Fundamentalist interpretation of religion on all of us.

The Republicans also want to exclude all Muslims from immigrating to America because they see possible clashes between Christians and Muslims in America. Lately if seems as if the Crusades were simply put on hold and are now in danger of being resurrected. But the freedom of religion our forefathers laid down in our founding documents is not a qualified freedom; it applies to all. In addition to the rights of women we now have Americans who are unhappy that human rights have been extended to same-sex couples. Many Christians believe God would not like this – it is against the Bible – it is an abomination – it is Sodom and Gomorrah. These folks carry hate and anger in their hearts and fear of their God.

Apparently the Muslim religion finds same-sex relationships unnatural also and they are equally anathema; a sign of a decadent culture that is off the rails and therefore a target-rich situation for a militant “hero” who plans to be rewarded in “the next life”. I suppose some American Christians might be horrified if they could really see the connection they have on this issue with radical Muslims. Although the GOP inveighs against Sharia law, the moral judgments of the two groups are very similar.

So here we have this social group – gay people, LGBT+ or any other identifier – that is a focus of hatred for at least two groups of Fundamentalists that are committing vigilante acts in a country that believes that there is a firm separation between the secular and the religious. They are operating outside the laws of the nation but they believe they are operating within a higher law, the law of their God. (Christians Pro Life groups have murdered abortion providers and have vilified same-sex relationships and radical Muslims might kill almost any Christian but also use same-sex relationships to focus their religious rage.)

I guess we are at a moment when it will be decided whether our societies will be ruled by God or by man. Either way we are still dealing with man’s interpretations of religious laws written tens of centuries ago and documents written several centuries ago. Except that today we have a global population of trillions and complex cultures that have resulted from organizing so many humans, so trying to literally follow laws made for sparsely populated somewhat nomadic desert cultures presents many anomalies, not least of which is who gets to decide what is the appropriate literal interpretation of those ancient laws.

How will we resolve this dilemma – this war of ideals between citizens who believe in the separation of church and state and the human rights of all, and citizens who feel that government is treading on the turf of religion? Granting human rights to folks whose sexual orientation is often genetically coded into their DNA seems appropriate. In fact, in a culture that celebrates freedom, insuring the human rights of all who are not criminals should be desirable. However, for some, granting human rights to some folks turns those who have a religious objection not only into losers but into sinners.

So this whole train of thought brings us back to our very earliest forbears and their unwritten rule to “mind their own campfire.” It is certainly overly simplistic but if people only made it their mantra we might take scary hot- button trends that are escalating and calm them down, defuse them, so that our new refrain could be more “live and let live” and less of a personal/sacred affront that must be avenged to insure an afterlife in whatever heaven one subscribes to. These days we say “mind your own business” and it would be great if people practiced this whenever possible, meaning whenever life or safety are not an issue.

Because our Congress refuses to act, this the best idea I have after the terrible events in Orlando this weekend and it isn’t much against bullets, hate, and fear. But the larger implications of Orlando and beyond tell us that until it is decided just how much religion we want in our government and how many guns it will take to satisfy the Second Amendment it may be best to stay as simple as possible.

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Celebrating Hillary and History

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Bear with me while I do a little celebration for one historical bit of progress made here in June of 2016. We have just managed to win enough votes in the primary for a woman to become the presumptive nominee of a major political party; the Democrats, of course. It is probably difficult for some of you to understand, as we perhaps come at this from different perspectives of age, gender, political persuasion, but to have this happen in my lifetime is even better than flying cars (although I saw a great one the other day on Facebook).

“YIPPEE” (Sorry that just slipped out.)

We have been one of the most backward nations in this regard, perhaps because some of our men (and a surprising number of them are Republicans) think they are cowboys, and they don’t like to give up any of their power. Not wanting to give up power, however, can also be a sign that the strength of these men does not run deep, that they need a level of support which makes them seem unsure of their place, and that they must constantly be on the offensive. I guess they don’t see that this actually makes them look defensive and weak. Please do not accuse me of lumping all men into one category. I see lots of very healthy and evolved men who are loving, supportive, and not at all threatened by women who are good leaders. They just don’t seem to be in Congress right now.

“I’M SO EXCITED…”  (Oops, a hiccup.)

I ask you to bear with me if you wanted Bernie Sanders as our next President (although it sounds like he may still be calling for “the revolution” to win the day in this regard). Bernie doesn’t look like a leader of a revolt to me right now, just someone who can’t accept when he has lost. I have faith that Bernie Sanders will see some of his wishes for the people fulfilled; but he lost, so I doubt he will get total satisfaction unless there truly is a revolution or the super delegates do a 180 degree turn.

Bernie taught us something very important. He taught us that you can run for office without being a millionaire/billionaire if you understand the needs of the people and if you can project your message with power and authenticity. He taught us that there are ways to get big money out of politics, that we don’t need that Citizens United v FEC decision or the deliberate avoidance of any laws to control dark money in politics. This is an area that is ripe for reform and I hope that it is something Hillary will tackle after she wins in November.

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“SO NOT MEH!”

I also ask you to let me have my mini-celebration now, which I hope will turn into a great big one in November because I know that Hillary Clinton is not everyone’s cup of tea. The people who become leaders by catching a wave of a moment in history when their beliefs, experiences, character traits, or passions are resonating are never perfect. Some are beloved, some are not. Some grow on us, some don’t. Apparently a few of those suffragettes were slightly insufferable. So is Hillary to some of you, although I think the women at least should be more sympathetic and understand the sacrifices Hillary had to make to get to this historical position she has just arrived at. She was not born to a wealthy family although she and Bill did find affluence in politics and law (which many see as suspicious, as proof of unethical practices). She went through the same struggles as any mother in those days torn between staying home to raise and enjoy a child or pursuing a career, especially a high-powered career with a grueling schedule. Chelsea seems to have turned out just fine and is still close to both her mom and her dad, perhaps a sign that Hillary and Bill hit the right balance. You might like to read this article from the NYT’s Sunday Review.

We do not assume that every time a man gets wealthy in public office that he must have taken influence money or sold his support to the highest bidder, even though men have a high incidence of unethical behavior in political circles. Why do we have to believe that this woman, who has come this far, cheated and lied to do so? Perhaps many of us believe it because FOX news says it every day, makes little movies about it, propaganda films that are much more ads than they are news. All I can say to the Hillary haters is “stop watching FOX News.”

So, after apologizing to everyone who might be offended in advance, I will do my little end zone dance – not the one that signals we have won the whole game yet, just the one that acknowledges a touchdown, a milestone for women (and men) in United States history. This is a happy moment, and it is one for the history books, so take a moment to acknowledge its importance and give Hillary and History a high five.

YAY! HUZZAH! BRAVO!

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The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney – Book Review

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Families “do be crazy” (a term I have inappropriately appropriated) (although The Big Bang writers did it first). There are all kinds of books about families, but what they all seem to have in common is idiosyncratic family members and a certain amount of dysfunction (or a lot of it).

The Plumb family is at the center of the book The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. They are a modern family, Leonard, Sr. and Francie, and their four children – Leo, Beatrice, Jack, and Melody. The family grew up in New York City with a father running a business that involved feminine hygiene products and a mother who was not exactly a hand’s-on mom, although she seemed to understand her children’s differences well enough.

Leonard, Senior set up a nest egg trust fund for his children to be divided equally when the youngest, Melody, turned forty. Why did he make his children wait so long to inherit? Senior will explain if you read the book. The nest was meant to be small, but the administrator was an astute investor and the fund grew larger than expected.

Just before Melody’s 40th birthday something happens that changes everything. Of course I can’t tell, but think about the situation. Four adult Plumbs have been planning to inherit and living their lives accordingly. How would it affect your life if you knew you would come into money at a certain age? Would you spend ahead, or would you wait. Would it make you less or more ambitious about your own life goals? Each of the Plumb siblings is affected differently by the unexpected series of events. How will they adjust if their inheritance is less than expected?

This could be a very dark story but the author’s treatment keeps it light. There is angst but not deep anguish. It is a book to enjoy as summer reading – to shake your head at – but it is no great literary masterpiece. Still, this book review finds that it is well-written, a quick read, and entertaining enough to be a best seller.

Hillary Clinton: Also a Revolutionary

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In some ways Hillary Clinton is more of a revolutionary than Bernie Sanders. At least she is if you are a woman and/or you have children. Many women spend their lives helping women make ends meet financially, or helping women find ways to feed their children, or helping families get health care, or day care, or care for a disabled child or a child in trouble. These women (and, of course, some men) are social workers. They work hard, they see many sad things, they often have at least a master’s degree, and they are not very well paid for all they do hooking up people in need with the services that offer assistance. Sometimes they must face the fact that there are situations for which there is no assistance and they must live with a sense of failure, sorrow, and guilt. I’m sure there are times when they help people who are demanding and not particularly nice or cooperative and that is also frustrating and stressful.

Hillary Clinton has lived a life of social service despite the fact that she had a law degree and could have had a high-powered law career. But she came of age in a time of activism, a time when wrongs were being righted and that spirit of activism which she found on her college campus has continued to animate her throughout her career, even during her years as first lady. Like other “social workers” she often made considerably less money in order to work on behalf of women and children (even teenagers). Of course, once she married, money was not likely an issue for her as it has been for many of us, but she did not stop and become a lady of leisure, or an empty-headed social butterfly. She always has worked to make life better for all Americans. And even when she became Secretary of State and her world was the whole planet she just simply widened her sphere of activism to include women and children around the globe.

I don’t believe that most of us held on to our activist natures as we aged. Many of us had to work to live and our work place employers did not necessary love activism, although charity was quite acceptable. It became difficult in our adult years to be crusaders because we were either keeping our heads above water and focused on having some independence in our old age or we were sometimes close to or falling over the edge and needed some of the very services that social work provided.

But Hillary Clinton was wealthy enough and stayed independent enough to continue to be an activist almost all of her life. Are female revolutionaries different from men who tend to be more like disrupters? Are their activities perhaps more subtle and not as expansive and cult-like? Perhaps gender helps explain why Hillary’s activism may just be dismissed as women’s work. I don’t know if the same sexism operates here as in other parts of our culture. At least attend for a minute to this list of her accomplishments and although this list is from a left wing media source, the Daily Kos, you will find that it is merely a factual list in which every item has been and can be fact-checked.

  • First ever student commencement speaker at Wellesley College.
    •President of the Wellesley Young Republicans
    •Intern at the House Republican Conference
    •Distinguished graduate of Yale Law School
    •Editorial board of the Yale Review of Law and Social Action
    •Appointed to Senator Walter Mondale’s Subcommittee on Migratory Labor.
    •Co-founded Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
    •Staff attorney for Children’s Defense Fund
    •Faculty member in the School of Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
    •Former Director of the Arkansas Legal Aid Clinic.
    •First female chair of the Legal Services Corporation
    •First female partner at Rose Law Firm.
    •Former civil litigation attorney.
    •Former Law Professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
    •twice listed by The National Law Journal as one of the hundred most influential lawyers in America
    •Former First Lady of Arkansas.
    •Arkansas Woman of the Year in 1983
    •Chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession
    •twice named by the National Law Journal as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America
    •created Arkansas’s Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth
    •led a task force that reformed Arkansas’s education system
    •Board of directors of Wal-Mart and several other corporations
    •Instrumental in passage of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
    •Promoted nationwide immunization against childhood illnesses
    •Successfully sought to increase research funding for prostate cancer and childhood asthma at the National Institutes of Health
    •Worked to investigate reports of an illness that affected veterans of the Gulf War (now recognized as Gulf War Syndrome)
    •Helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice
    •Initiated and shepherded the Adoption and Safe Families Act
    •First FLOTUS in US History to hold a postgraduate degree
    •Traveled to 79 countries during time as FLOTUS
    •Helped create Vital Voices, an international initiative to promote the participation of women in the political processes of their countries.
    •Served on five Senate committees:
    -Committee on Budget (2001–2002)
    -Committee on Armed Services (2003–2009)
    -Committee on Environment and Public Works (2001–2009)
    -Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (2001–2009)
    -Special Committee on Aging.
    •Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
    •Instrumental in securing $21 billion in funding for the World Trade Center site’s redevelopment
    •Leading role in investigating the health issues faced by 9/11 first responders.
    •In the aftermath of September 11th, she worked closely with her senior Senate counterpart from New York, Sen. Charles Schumer, on securing $21.4 billion in funding for the World Trade Center redevelopment.
    • Middle East ceasefire. In November 2012, Secretary of State Clinton brokered a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas.
    •Introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, intended to protect children from inappropriate content found in video games.
    •First ex-FLOTUS in US History to be elected to the United States Senate (and re-elected)
    •Two-term New York Senator
    -(senate stats here: https://www.govtrack.us/…)
    -(voting record here: http://votesmart.org/…)
    •Former US Secretary of State
    •GRAMMY Award Winner
    •Author

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/9/17/1422403/-Hillary-Clinton-s-Record-of-Accomplishments

This comparison of Hillary vs Bernie  is perhaps a bit unfair because I don’t have at hand a list of Bernie’s accomplishments, although I will eventually do a search for this. But I will say, that although Bernie’s “revolution” is not only directed at women and children, although he would like to make the economy of America work differently and be fairer in the way money is distributed, I don’t have the sense that Bernie has gotten his hands right into the dough, so to speak, and helped make the pizza. Until recently Bernie served in peaceful anonymity in the ranks of the US Congress and, although he had a consistent point of view, he was not able to impose much of it on the dialogue or make many laws that brought any significant changes for the American people.

Bernie Sanders seems to be in a carpe diem (seize the day) moment and now suddenly at the age of 74 he is grabbing for that powerful seat that he hopes will let him put a new stamp on America. He will turn America from the oligarchy it is becoming back into the democracy it is supposed to be. He will put his hands into the pockets of those who have made themselves wealthy at the people’s expense and he will take some of the filthy lucre back and put it to work giving all of us better lives.

I admit that this sounds pretty good. Yay for revolution. But there are so many questions. Will he have to disband Congress to make this happen, Congress which is at least half full of millionaires? What will the “new” economy be like? Will it be like the “old” economy only fairer? Will Wall Street be gone or will it just be less cutthroat and greedy? If the financiers on Wall Street lose their edge will the American economy still be competitive in the wide world? How much chaos will it take to replace the “Capitalists” in Congress with people who will be determined to keep money out of politics? What will happen if he wins the Presidency and he loses the revolution?

Hillary is a revolutionary who stays within the system, tries to change it from within, fights for fairness through social programs and human services and the education and empowerment of women. Bernie is a revolutionary who wants to blow up the system, to change it to something perhaps unrecognizable. It might be much better than what we have; it might be worse. We are not clear about exactly what he wants to do, what steps he wants to take, what the end product will look like and feel like.

With Hillary we get a passion for people, with Bernie we get a passion for “real” democracy. I may be choosing Hillary because I am a chicken, too chicken to want systemic change. Or I may be choosing Hillary because she will work within the system and try to bring everyone along with her and the system will remain the America we recognize. Perhaps Hillary will not be able to accomplish any of her goals to make life better for average Americans. Perhaps blowing up government or as the Republicans want to do shutting down government are the only choices we are left with. Perhaps we should give one more try to the old way where our elected representatives knuckle down and hammer out laws that truly reflect the needs of the people they serve. But to not elect Hillary Clinton because she is not authentic and not a true activist is to be uninformed about her life and her career.

By Nancy Brisson

 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough – Book

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My entire mental schema for the Wright brothers contained a total of 4 facts. I knew that one brother was Orville and one was Wilbur. I knew they built the first airplane capable of flight and that the first flight was made from Kitty Hawk on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My schema also contained some visuals: a rather sketchy approximation of what that first airplane looked like (it looked like a cross between a box kite and a paper airplane model) and a visual image of the dunes at Kitty Hawk, NC from a visit to the Outer Banks, where my friends showed absolutely no interest in digging deeper into the wonders of flight, focused as they were on the joys of flirtation and looking good in a bathing suit.

But the newest biography called The Wright Brothers by David McCullough got such great press that I, who had always been somewhat fascinated with man’s quest to fly and with the first time this was successfully accomplished, was tempted to stray from fiction. This biography was well worth the detour.

I have seen drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, quite antique, that show wing assemblies that could be strapped to men. These drawings (looking like angel wings) attest to man’s envy of s bird’s ability to soar above the earth, perhaps to the very heavens. The drawings also trace the historical roots of our actual attempts to emulate the birds and lift off from solid ground, free of gravity, into the blue sky.

Wilbur and Orville Wright did not live in Kitty Hawk, NC. They only went there for the dunes and the wind and to study the shore birds that inspired them so strongly.  Indeed the ocean winds over the dunes at Kitty Hawk enabled man’s first flight ever on December 13, 1903 and then the first flight caught on film on December 17, 1903. Sustained flights took more time, more tinkering, and more tests; even a few accidents. But those two brothers who came from Dayton, Ohio, from the steady, devout and loving family of a preacher possessed the strong work ethic and the drive that kept them working until they made a plane that could reliably take off, fly and land.

The brothers (Wilbur, older – Orville, younger) were the kind of men who almost always wore suits even when tinkering in their workshop. They got their income from their bicycle shop and when they realized how passionately they wished to invent a machine that could fly, they were able to use the workshop behind the bicycle shop to fashion their flying machine. They immediately grasped the advantages that flying would give America in a war and they asked, unsuccessfully for money from the War Department.

A number of people in America (even at the Smithsonian), in Great Britain, in France were all racing to create a glider with an engine which could sustain flight over time and distance. This pursuit was scientific and the brothers knew their physics. They studied wing design and lift. Secrecy was somewhat important because the men who competed to be first and best were not averse to a bit of what we would classify now as “corporate espionage”. Fortunately for the brothers the others were not as meticulous and did not have the brothers’ gift for the physics of flight. Still there were many legal battles with competitors over patent issues.

Going back to the gritty and very inspiring beginnings of something we take so much for granted in our era of jets and airbuses is good for our souls and David McCullough, however workman-like his account may seem, also takes us “up, up in the air with those glorious men in their flying machines.” Flying has become essential both in warfare and in peace. Whatever would those brothers think of stealth bombers and drones? At any rate, I now consider my Wright brothers’ schema well-plumped with new connections – and that is just one of the reasons I love reading books.

Bernie Flaws

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I am always talking about what imperfect beings people are. If you’re a believer then it goes right back to those two original forebears of ours, Adam and Eve. They could have left us full of blissful ignorance and innocence but they were weak and so we have dual natures. Each one of us holds the paradoxes within us, in differing proportions, because of so many variables like our nurture in childhood, the social circumstances into which we are born, the cultural context that surrounds us during our relatively short lives.

We hold strengths and at the same time weaknesses, we are good and we are bad, we have talents and things that we seem to have little skill for, we are both stable and unstable at times, happy and depressed, healthy and unhealthy, brilliant and dumb all mixed in an infinite array that makes each one of us unique in spite of our similarities. If you are not a believer it is almost enough to make you believe that the Christian origin story holds more than a kernel of truth. Or we are just made this way?

What we also know to be true is that all of our actions, our inventions, our discoveries, and our endeavors hold the same human paradoxes within them; that they can be used for good or for evil; that they can make our lives worse or better. We know that a flawed human can twist anything to evil purposes or a human with better motives or character can act from strength and get positive results from the same event, invention, idea or strategy. Nuclear energy is probably our clearest example of this – used benignly it can provide power to run the devices that make our lives more comfortable – used as a weapon it can wipe out cities.

We get this stuff on a cosmic level, but we also understand that these same paradoxes operate in our daily lives. So I accept and perhaps you do also that Hillary Clinton is both experienced and flawed. I accept that she made a mistake choosing a private server if only because it gave her many enemies an opening to argue that she was either planning to have a way to hide information or that she is capable of making bad choices, both things we don’t really look for in a person running for President of the United States. However, all Presidents make mistakes given the complex issues they deal with minute to minute. Sometimes we get a leader who seems to make brilliant decisions but we usually don’t know that until we get some historical perspective on their legacy. And from the distance offered by time we are able to see that mistakes were also made.

However it seems that people have difficulty seeing the flaws that Bernie Sanders might have. His message is so consistent and has been for so many years that he seems steady and dedicated. Recent events reveal that Bernie Sanders is starting to show the ways in which his very strengths might also be his weaknesses. Bernie is showing himself to be a bit compulsive these days. He does not seem to be terribly flexible.

He cannot seem to show us the practical details that will allow him to effectively change things in Washington and in America. How does he plan to win new rights for workers? How does he plan to rein in Wall Street without tanking our already hobbled economy? How will he find the money for strengthening benefits? Can he raise the taxes on the wealthy? In almost every area we see the need to change the way wealth moves in America and the need for fairness to equalize privilege. It makes sense to us but Bernie Sanders has not really spelled out how he intends to get us there. So his message may be all to the good, but his vagueness and the way his specifics are sort of stored in the “cloud” and inaccessible may not be all to the good.

And again I suggest that Bernie Sanders is almost coming off a bit obsessive-compulsive lately. He said he would have a fifty state strategy, which is fine, but he doesn’t seem inclined or able to make adjustments for the good of the Democratic Party. I suppose if you are staging a Revolution you need to be a revolutionary, not someone who compromises. But is Bernie’s defensiveness and his meanness actually resulting from an inability to be flexible, to have a certain degree of political nimbleness? He has remained true to socialist principles for so many decades while America wanted nothing to do with socialism.

Personally, I do not believe that socialism is necessary in a democracy because government is already of the people, by the people, and for the people. Where I do agree with Bernie is when he recounts how far away we are from a true democracy. It is not socialism I fight for, it is democracy. In a democracy we don’t need socialism because we are the people and we take care of all the people. But if our democracy is becoming or has already become an oligarchy then Mr. Sanders is right in arguing that the people (all the people) need to take back their government and that this will probably mean making money talk less and every vote count more. However we must accept that if rich folks take their money out of government, which they have shown a willingness to do, there may be fewer things our government can do for ‘we the people’.

But what really bothers me is how Bernie Sanders has seemed more and more like a curmudgeon lately, so intent on his own business that he barely notices what is going on around him. He does not admonish Donald Trump in any sustained way for his outrageous pronouncements and astonishingly unevolved policies. He does not raise money for down-party candidates (except that he did find three worthy souls). He fights with Democratic Party leaders and threatens to bring revolution to the Democratic Convention. He has a right to do these things but they are not done in a manner that suggests strength and composure. They are done with old man bitterness and complaints about bad rules and stacked decks. Instead of sounding like an eventual winner, he just sounds like a sore loser. Bernie Sanders does have flaws and lately he is showing them to us almost every day. If you’re planning to vote for him because you think he is Mr. Wonderful, then I guess you won’t have noticed that he is just looking like Mr. Ticked Off.

May 2016 Book List

 

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Amazon Books

 

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee – (NF)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

The After Party: A Novel by Anton DiSclafini

Sweetbitter: A Novel by Stephanie Danier

The Summer Guest: A Novel by Alison Anderson

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Happy Family by Tracy Barone

The Sport of Kings: A Novel by C E Morgan

Born of a Tuesday: A Novel by Einathan John

The Noise of Time: A Novel by Julian Barnes

LaRose: A Novel by Louise Eldrich

The Atomic Weight of Love: A Novel by Elizabeth J. Church

The Honeymoon by Dinita Smith

 

Biographies and Memoirs

 

Braving It: A Father, a Daughter and an Unforgettable Journey into the Alaskan Wild by James Campbell

The Romanovs 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Valient Ambition: George Washington, Bendict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Rough Riders: Theodore Roosevelt, His Cowboy Regiment and the Immortal Charge Up San Juan Hill by Mark Lee Gardner

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman

My Lost Brothers: The Untold Story by the Yarnell Hill Fire’s Lone Survivor, by Brendon McDonough, Stephan Tally

A Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight by Maria Toopakai, Katharine Holstein

The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir by Betsy Lerner

The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen

Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story by Matti Friedman

Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige and Me by Ron Miscavige, Dan Koon

 

Mystery and Thriller

 

The Fireman by Joe Hill

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Redemption Road: A Novel by John Hart

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

Girls on Fire: A Novel by Robin Wasserman

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

The 100 Year Miracle: A Novel by Ashley Ream

Night Shift (A Novel of Midnight, Texas) by Charlaine Harris

Wilde Lake: A Novel by Laura Lippman

 

Publisher’s Weekly Books

 

Gold of Our Fathers by Kivei Quartey (Darko Dawson)

Father’s Day by Simon Van Booy

Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michele Audin

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

Born on a Tuesday by Einathan John

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (YA)

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

Boy Erased by Garrard Conley (Memoir)

Zero K by Don Lillo

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

Sergio Y by Alexandre Vidal Porto

The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

The Fireman by Joe Hill

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand (YA)

Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

 

Independent Booksellers Books

 

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

My Sunshine Away by M O Walsh

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

Zero K by Don DeLillo

The Last Mile by David Baldacci

Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Life’s Golden Ticket by Brendon Burchard

The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahan

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

Redemption Road by John Hart

Journey to Munich by Jennifer Winspear

The Lost Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

Maestra by L S Hilton

Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Bachman

Extreme Prey by John Sandford

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

The Sport of Kings by C F Morgan

Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh

Robert B Parker’s Slow Burn by Ace Atkins

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett