Books – “Sweet” Mysteries

Search 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.


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 for lisa seeSearch 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.

Official Language

Oddly enough, while I don’t agree with picking an official religion for America, I don’t have a problem with our adopting English as our official language. Even if America declares itself a Christian nation people will force us to agonize over which “brand” of Christianity America will adopt. If you need to be convinced that religion should be separate from government read about the period in England when Henry VIII decided to make the king (himself) the head of the church in England. It wasn’t pretty. And although England has made its peace with having a state religion, this tradition is long and well-established.

English has been the language of the United States since our earliest days. Although the French and the Spanish both controlled areas of the New World, those traditions did not win the day. Through successive waves of immigration English has dominated. The Irish came, but we do not speak Gaelic; Italians came, we do not speak Italian; Chinese came, but we do not speak Chinese; and on and on. Still I believe we will always have to help new residents learn English and it would not hurt Americans to become proficient in more than one language.

Volunteers. Please

Our elected state assemblypersons and senators expect us to “raise our hands” and say,

“I’ll take a cut.”

“Oh no, let me take the cut”

“We don’t mind cutting back on our schools.”

“Please cut my Medicaid payments.”

We aren’t going to shoot ourselves in the toe,” or “throw ourselves on the fire.” We worry that we will volunteer and no one else will.

If you want to give out money we’ll be at the head of the line, both hands up, or out. This is only natural. You really can’t ask for volunteers for cuts and you can’t ask for approval. We can’t volunteer, we won’t approve. If we absolutely must have budget cuts then we need an informed government to act in concert (or at least a majority), make fair decisions and perform surgery on our budget. However, the kicker is that we do not trust you to be fair, you are trained to take whatever you can get for your own people first, let the others divide the spoils. You can’t rein us in because you have to go home to your district and you are afraid you will not be reelected. Thus gridlock. Perhaps we should be hearing scalpel please.

My Family

Velma – Our 92 year old Mom and George- my Dad who is deceased (we miss you everyday) – (2)

Her Children: Georgia (deceased- we miss you every day), Nancy, Hubert, Sandy, Ronnie, Connie, Dawn, Bonnie (8)

Her Grandchildren: Wendy, Tracy, Brant, Colin, Jesse, Todd, Jeremy, Kristy, Stacy, Amanda, Crystal, Lindsay, Danni (13)

Her Great Grandchildren: Andrew, Gigi (Georgia), Baby (on the way), Christopher, Brian, Isabella, Emily, Anthony, Timothy, Johnny, Amanda, Alyssa, Tommy, Alix-sandra, Kassandra, Sydney, Sawyer, Shepard, Paige, Max, Kierstin, Triston, Liam (25)

Spouses: Paul, Mary, Marc, Bob, Antoinette, Zina, Richard, Kathy, Kathryn, Karen, Monica, Bobbie, David, Josh, Jay, Frank (16)

Grandchildren by marriage: Stephanie, Kelli, Rich, Jen (4)

“Grandchildren” by 2nd marriage: Dean, Steve (2)

“Great Grandchildren” by 2nd marriage: Jessica, Lucas, Jarret (3)

Total of Immediate Family (48)

Total of Spouses (16)

Total of “Unrelated Family” (9)

Grand Total (73)

All from the actions of 2 little people. We love you Mom and Dad.