Little Murders

There was a movie released in the 70’s called Little Murders and I remember it affected me so strongly when I saw it. The entire movie took place inside a city apartment. Someone is shooting people, a sniper it is believed. The shooting escalates. There is speculation about whether there is a single sniper or multiple shooters. Is it a conspiracy, or is this like the ripples spreading on a pond – just a matter of random individuals who do not want to be passive victims, who arm themselves for purposes of defense? People, especially the men, come and go from the apartment, but we only see them at home. They are an upper middle class family at the beginning of the film. By the end of the film they have purchased weapons to defend themselves with. They eat in their shirtsleeves and they tear into their food like animals. Although they look quite satisfied and empowered, we see society slipping back into the dark ages. Cheerful, huh? Not – I felt like running into a bridge abutment on my way home.

But this does not seem so different from what goes on in certain neighborhoods in my city where young people regularly attack each other with guns and knives, sometimes from the relative safety of cars, sometimes face to face, sometimes in the back. Then other groups of young people seek vengeance and the dying just goes on and on, so many promising young lives wasted. It’s not all childish stuff, some of it is very adult and very dangerous. As fellow residents we are all affected by these “nightmare” activities. We grieve everyday with the families and the community. We lose the freedom of our own streets, the “quiet enjoyment” of our city. And everyone’s spirits become infected with that same depression I felt after watching that Little Murders movie. Saddest of all we don’t seem to know how to stop it.

Too Far Already

Government and big business have always been involved in each other’s “business”. As soon as taxes were collected by government from business these entities became interconnected. After all, governments need money to operate and businesses have more money than most individuals. As soon as regulations began to be written and enforced by the government, businesses had to push back in order to keep as much control as possible. They also wanted to keep as much money as possible. I am not sure we can keep business completely out of government. Politicians are human. Humans like money. Therefore politicians are vulnerable to those who offer them money. We have ethics rules but the temptations are still very great, loopholes are found, ethics rules are broken. So we have individuals dipping into the pot for personal gain, as well as exercising their more altruistic goal for keeping our government solvent.

How can we keep big business from exerting undue control over our government and our politicians. The issue is not yet quite as blatant as in Rollerball. We haven’t started turning our trees into fireballs just for the entertainment value. However, countries need finances and they need the businesses which generate them. With all the businesses we have lost we can see this loss is making our government less prosperous. Yet we cannot let big business take over our governance regardless of how needy we get. Have things gone so far in America that the corporations are ipso facto in charge of our politicians and therefore our government? Can we afford to make an issue of this right now? Can we afford not to? Some people believe that big business is already so entwined with government that our government just jumps when big business shouts. Perhaps we are at a crisis point in the relationship between big business and our government and perhaps it is good that we are taking a look at this issue now when it might be possible to back up a bit and achieve more balance. We don’t want big business to keep pulling up stakes the way they have been. We don’t want them to take all their “toys” and go home, but we don’t want to have to let them run amok and take whatever they want.

The environmental impact of big business is probably one of the biggest issues between the American people and our businesses. If other countries do not put too fine a point on clean air, water, and land, then businesses will go there because we are making all kinds of environmental rules that are expensive to comply with. Add to this high wages and corporate taxes and we get the exodus we have been experiencing. Corporations can be culturally aware and they can police themselves on these and other issues (like product quality and worker salaries and benefits), but it seems that they have not exercised their humanity in these areas but have, instead, been concentrating on huge profits. Trying to force big business to consider the planet and their country is like trying to arm wrestle with an octopus. We can keep trying to appeal to their “better” instincts, but it is unlikely that we will get a positive response when it is so easy to just pull up stakes and move on. It will continue to be a complicated process until the whole world is a level playing field and by then there may be no “fields” left and we may each belong to a “corporate team”.

Obviously there are more complicated issues here than just getting rid of “special interests”. The skills of some really smart people are required to guarantee that our needs for a strong economy, a “clean” government, and for the survival of our planet are all being met.

More Books – Summer Reading

The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch is a thriller. There are several normal plot variations for thrillers. All of them have you turning pages madly, sitting at the edge of your seat on occasion. Richard Doetsch has come up with a new plot variation. You have to experience it. It engenders as much frustration as it does anticipation. On this occasion the frustration is intentional and part of the overall effectiveness of the book. Oh just read it and see!

I will also be reading Beatrice and Virgil because it is by Yann Martel (born in Spain) who also wrote Life of Pi. Mr. Martel writes allegories, not a common form in modern literature. Animal Farm by George Orwell is a political allegory. Mr. Martel’s allegories are more moral in nature. You have to read them to see. Start with Life of Pi beause being trapped in a lifeboat with a tiger is too interesting to miss. If you like it move on to Beatrice and Virgil to see if he could pull it off again.

I ordered CD’s for The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga because I feel like drowning myself in the accents of India this summer, but even if the reader does not have “the accent”, I believe I will enjoy the book. This is a book of modern India, specifically the city of New Delhi.

Two more fiction titles:

Long Lost by Harlan Corben – Thriller in Paris
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan – Three generations of women
My nonfiction selection are:

True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy
Bobbie and Jackie: A Love Story by C. David Heyman
This will be my Kennedy summer.

Books – “Sweet” Mysteries

Search Amazon.com for the no 1 ladies detective agency seriesAlexander McCall Smith is a Scotsman who writes mysteries that take place in Scotland. They’re not gory, but they are good. He also writes a wonderful series of books that are set in Botswana (Africa) at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency with a delightful group of characters. These are usually gentle mysteries which look for an unfaithful spouse or right a wrong, although occasionally there is danger for our leading ladies.

These books are so beloved that they have already been made into a PBS series. If you have read them you already know how enjoyable they are – like a sunrise before a hot, dusty African day. If you haven’t I recommend that you check out the first one which is called The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and go on from there. They may not be your “cup of tea” After all, not everyone likes “red bush tea”. (inside joke) The current title, which will be completed all too soon, is The Double Comfort Safari Club.

Nanny State

Alexander McCall Smith in his newest book The Lost Art of Gratitude says, “our ordinary freedoms are being eroded by the nanny state.” I don’t know if he coined the term but it struck a perfect note with me. I always wonder how much freedom we will be willing to trade off for safety. Of course, we must protect our children so all the rules about car seats and shots and “Purell” dispensers everywhere make sense. Drunk driving laws, speed limits, air bags, side airbags, full body scans, new passport rules – all useful, especially in a crowded world. Law after law gets passed. Whenever a risk is identified a law soon follows. So far, not completely unreasonable. Smoking laws, food rules are all justified because they protect children as well as adults. Perhaps we will be subject to exercise and calorie requirements. How far do we want to go? I guess we can never expect everyone to be responsible so we legislate to protect ourselves. My lunch companion reminds me that this is really all about money, somewhat cynical, but most assuredly true. Every time, whatever the rationale, we lose a little freedom. Will we eventually say enough?

Roll Back Time

I keep picturing the America some people seem to want. Roll everything back to the 1950’s and you have it, almost. What I hear the Conservative Right saying is:

they want America to be a Caucasian country, minorities can stay, if they a act Caucasian
they want only English spoken in America
they want all illegal immigrants sent home
they want America to be a Christian Democracy
they want totally “laissez faire” capitalism with no interference, read regulation, from government
they want to end all social programs run by the government which would include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security Disability, Unemployment Insurance, and Welfare
they want us to close the doors of America so that we do not accept any goods from outside
we would manufacture everything we need
we could send things out but not bring things in
we would be the richest nation in the world forever
we would be the most powerful nation in the world forever
no foreign entity could hold property in America
almost anyone who wanted to keep their native traditions could go back to their native county
all gun regulations would be tossed out
abortion would be illegal
smoking and drinking would be fine
churches would take care of the needs of the poor and the sick
This list may not exhaust all the conservative possibilties, and I am not saying whether I agree with these “wish list” items or not because I don’t have to. These options are so unrealistic. They will not happen, they are not real possibilities. They are just attempts to recapture a simpler way of life that seems ideal only from a very narrow point of view. Unless there is a planet changing event that drastically lowers the world population, things stand to get even more complex. Maybe we will colonize space. That would be a real game changer.

Fundamentalists

It seems to me that whenever religious fundamentalists hold sway it is the worst of news for women. Women face the most serious limitations. I know the intent of many holy books is to protect women, but we cannot afford to force women in the 21st century to conform to the rules of antique societies. We cannot really intend to force women to stay home and to stay uneducated. We cannot intend to subject women to the private cruelties of some men who are dangerous to the women in their care. Any religious fundamentalist is the same in these respects.

I personally fear that some day we will let a fundamentalist group govern America because they “seem” to offer some things we do want. Perhaps I would be more amenable to conservative political ideas if they didn’t come married to fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

Deeply Gross

America has a very silly and deeply gross adolescent streak. Our national “Cameron Diaz” – “Owen Wilson” – “Knocked Up” – “American Graffiti” – “Ferris Beuller” side. This piece of our national psyche has a kind of brash, rebellious strength and a really embarrassing and sophomoric superficiality. For the initiated this goofy spirit trumps wars and economic woes. It blithely and pruriently triumphs over all harsh reality by being so absorbed in its own, often boozy, foolishness that it just doesn’t notice.

While I feel a certain bogus awe when I have a “Porky’s” experience, I do not have this party-down bone in my body. I don’t want this image to “represent” us to the world. It’s our silly side, but it’s also our sleazy side. There is a certain audacity to being this disgusting – to this cult of the naughty girl and the bad boy. It’s funny to us, but I think it is “lost in translation” and should be for home consumption only.

Charter Schools

Charter schools sound good. They sound like places where serious students go, where class sizes are small and extra help is available when needed. They sound almost like private schools, only less institutionalized than established public or private schools. There is controversy about them so they sound cutting-edge. Since they are not subject to school boards or teacher’s unions they can, theoretically, hire the very best staff and easily get rid of any staff who are not highly motivated and effective. I assume students in charter schools have to pass the same tests as public school students and that they perform better on these tests than their public school counterparts. I assume this because of the hype about charter schools, but it may or may not be true. I also assume that parents must be involved with charter schools and that the school becomes a kind of community full of enriching experiences. I don’t know how many studies have been done to back up this assumption, but I think most of us assume this.

However idealistic this sounds charter schools may often start out with these advantages. As is always true with programs like this, it is likely that sometime after the ten year mark the innovation is starting to slow and some signs of institutionalization are setting in. The realities of frequent staff turnovers are too disruptive to be strategic. Teacher tend to create an effective body of classroom materials and to stick to them with slight alterations from time to time because it is too time-consuming and expensive to keep reinventing the wheel.

Charter schools that last may tend to remain small and this may be one of their more lasting advantages. But it is inevitable that enterprises like this get more concretized with time thus lessening the margin of effectiveness they once had over public schools. Charter schools begin and fail. Monies may not move back and forth between the public and private sectors as efficiently as we would like. Public schools may not be reimbursed right away when a nearby charter school fails. Students once pulled out of the system may get dumped back into it. Although you get some temporary advantages in terms of excitement, innovation, and energy, the financial issues and the frequent shifting of students in and out of the system my make charter schools untenable in the long run. Time will tell.

Books (China)

Search Amazon.com for lisa seeSearch Amazon.com for amy tanChinese books are so interesting because China has been through so much and much of it has been horrendous and hidden from view. Some stories are about the old Imperial system which existed for centuries and gave some stability, although everyone seemed to be either privileged or very poor. There were stories of sons who showed intellectual talent who could participate in a series of tests and change their fate. And of course, there are stories of concubines, which was the way women of beauty had their fate changed for them. I read these stories so long ago that I do not remember any titles, I am sorry to say.

Then we have the stories that come out of the Cultural Revolution which show sweeping change coupled with constant fear. There were so many ways to be denounced as an “enemy of the people” that life was precarious. The best ones I have read so far are Wild Swans; Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Dai Sijiie and Ina Rilke.

We also have the stories written by Chinese-American immigrants about why they left China and about an often less-than-idyllic life in America. Amy Tan was the first Chinese-American author that I read. If you haven’t read her books, some of which tell about her mother’s life in China, you should. They give you excellent views of life in China and the lives of Chinese in modern America. Some Amy Tan titles are: The Hundred Secret Senses, The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning and The Kitchen God’s Wife.

Lisa See is writing now and her books are also little windows into China and the Chinese in America, especially women’s experiences. I have enjoyed her books so much. Be sure to read: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls.

I envy anyone who has these wonderful books ahead of them. I can read them again, and I may, but it is never the same as the first reading. I have not heard these books on tape but they are probably available in that format and are probably equally wonderful.