Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Religion and Power

Iran - New Year's 2018

Today thousands have taken to the streets around Iran to protest the conservative theocracy of their country.  I doubt any of them plan to become apostates. I do suspect many of them are tired of living in a theocracy that ignores their wishes and needs while spending billions to hold on to power.

If you look closely, religious leadership is mostly about power; both securing and maintaining power. (This includes Christianity - look at Rome and the conservative religious movement in America.) Iran’s clerics view the essential purpose of the state as the realization of God’s will on Earth. Such an exalted task mandates the assumption of power. Given such ideological inclinations, they are utterly contemptuous of democratic accountability and are unconcerned about their loss of popularity and widespread dissatisfaction with theocratic rule. The legitimacy of state does not rest on the collective will but on a mandate from heaven.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Return to Feudalism

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, said you can tell what’s informing a society by its tallest building. When you approach a medieval town, the cathedral rises above the village — the cathedral, looming over the cottages where people lived. When you approach an 18th-century town, it is the political palace that’s the tallest. And when you approach a modern city, the tallest structures are financial and business buildings, the centers of economic life.Ayad Akhtar, the pulitizer prise-winning playwright, said that we are beholden as religious creatures to this powerful new religion that was born in the ’80s and has since been reshaping our lives and our society.The new tax bill returns the United States to a contemporary state of feudalism, where the cathedral is now a skyscraper, the priest are the financial institution CEOs, the Lords are the Koch brothers and Mercers, and the rest of us are the serfs.
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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Life, An Update

PART I

As I turn 72, the changing of the seasons takes on more poignancy. It seems like spring here in Arizona, with the lengthening of the days and blooming of the desert flora.  My body feels like fall however, reminding me in not so subtle ways of the years of molecular corrosion and ageing of the flesh. If nothing else, it prompts reflection on years past, and adds just a bit of urgency for actively more than passively making ongoing decisions about life, love, work, learning, and creation.

To this point, I feel some satisfaction, convinced, or possibly deluded, that I have more often than not taken advantage of opportunities that were presented over the years.  Most satisfying has been the daily co-existence for 47 years with my best friend and wife, and the knowledge that the world will be better for the presence of our 3 children.  Educational opportunities were taken and have rewarded me. For 50 years I never woke in the morning dreading or resenting going to work, for it remained interesting and challenging to the last day of my career. I enjoyed the absolute best of both worlds:  the excitement and rewards of my profession while simultaneously having time and income to travel, read, and do many things I never dreamed of when younger.

Of course, the move from sharecropper to physician in 3 generations was entirely made possible by the middle generation, my parents, and is probably more to their credit than mine.  

As a "free-range" youth living in a tiny, remote west Texas town, I explored the low hills, stream beds, and mesas of the desert southwest with little restraint, feeling comfortable with the flora and fauna of the dry land, re-creating in my mind the lives of those who left the flint arrowheads I collected, watching the slow progression through the cloudless day of shadows so well-defined the edges seemed sharp enough to cut. From a rise in the landscape I watched tornadoes given life by a weather front stretching across the plane of the horizon.  Texas is a huge state, and I  explored not only its semi-arid plateaus and deserts, but also the piney woods, the grasslands of its south, the gulf coast, and the urban centers of north Texas.  Friends, enmities, and loves were encountered; some of each persisted as others drifted beyond my presence.

Married and too quickly widowed, I was ultimately gifted with an amazing spouse, fiercely devoted to our family. She was also a determined explorer.  She pushed, cajoled, and lead us to experiences in 49 states, Canada, and most of western Europe and Scandinavia.  I held her hand as she gave birth to our children and shared their many ups and downs while they became adults. 

Through these years I shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin during the time of the Camp David peace talks, drank Georgian sparkling wine in Leningrad at the height of the cold war while the temperature hovered at 50 below in the Russian winter, was included as family for a 5-day wedding celebration in Provence, watched bald eagles mate in the sky in Kodiak Alaska, ran aground on the Danube River, helped a friend travel to his family reunion in a remote Norwegian village, warmed myself with hot coffee in Colorado and in Canada as the rising sun spread over Rocky Mountain peaks, watched the tidal bore arrive in the Bay of Fundy, was awed by stars at altitude in the dry, dark New Mexico highlands,stared at the blue Cherenkov radiation glowing in the heart of a nuclear reactor, saw dolphins playing in the coastal California surf, read many wonderful books, had a lifetime of professional work, and a thousand other things. 

Surely this has been enough.  If I don't explore Angkor Wat, see the Taj Mahal at sunrise, or stand at the edge of Victoria Falls, there will be no regrets, because there were only a few misused opportunities.   

Along the way I tried to live by Kant's Categorical Imperative, aka the Golden Rule, failing far more often than I like to admit to myself, especially in the early years. I hope this will be enough for a Humanist who tends to follow the Stoics.  Others have seen and done more during their lives, but many have experienced far less. I remain ready hope for more opportunities, but with no anxiety that I haven't experienced enough already.

PART II

I take great solace in the knowledge that my existence is a small but integral component of processes evolving since the big bang, (maybe even before that), and as the universe spins on I play my part to the best I can.  

I become more of an environmentalist every year.  We watched the vixen that for several years raised her pups in the hill below our home in Iowa until, sadly, adjacent street construction destroyed their den. Her care of, and I suspect concern for the pups was in many ways little different from that of human mothers.  I don't know, but I imagine that in the pantheistic, pre-Christian old world (and perhaps in pre-Colombian America) people felt more related to their surrounding world and less superior to its non-human inhabitants. 'No man is an island' is more than an idle comment. Growing up in concrete and steel urban environments as do so many of the current generation, empathy with nature comes less naturally. For myself though, with the polar bears, elephants, whales, tigers, and assorted other creatures, not to mention plants, disappearing, I feel a kinship with the threatened and experience a sense of loss and an impotence to do anything about it. I am not above, but a part of, the natural universe.

When my time is over I will not be aware of events and the disposal of my remains. I would like to think it will be simple, perhaps only with only an unadorned wood box, or a biodegradable shroud, with my elements drifting back into the soil and ultimately into the oceans from which life on earth originated. Barbara and I are both veterans, and will probably be buried in a National Cemetery with its policies. The details may not be up for debate.


PART III

I view my conscious self as the sum product of my physical mind; I am not a dualist.  Any surviving "soul" or "spirit" I would view as simply the totality of changes in friends, family other individuals, and society, that result from my existence. In my mind I keep hearing Steve McDonald's 'All that I know' (link). 

So neither fearful of nor anxious for the end,  I enjoy memories while looking forward to what is left.

"Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant; all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed.  When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love."  
- Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher




Monday, September 5, 2016

Perhaps the most enjoyable live concert I have ever attended

Yesterday/Sunday, Barbara made arrangements for us to travel a few miles south to attend the Faculty Concert of the "American Roots" seminar at the Rock Ridge Music Center. What a day! It was a concert lasting more than 3 hours with several of the most-respected people of "American" music. The surroundings were rustic and beautiful. We had a personal tour of the center from a local citizen who trained there as a youth and has remained active with the center as an adult. There are a few pictures here, one with our local friend and guide. The "Back to the Future" professor is Stephen Wade, the director for the American Roots retreat. The guy with the baseball cap is Dick Weissman (Founder of the Journeymen (remember "500 Miles"?)). He is also a tenured professor at the U of CO School of Music. The big tall guy is national mandolin champion and flat-picking guitar expert Charlie Provenza. Also on the stage are fiddler and composer Max Wolpert; Cajun and Creole expert Sharon Arms; and virtuoso fiddler, guitarist, and banjoist Matt Brown.

The concert closed with the faculty and audience joining in to sing such ballads as "The Train they Call the City of New Orleans" and "Jambalaya Crawfish Pie"

These were NOT old artist reliving distant past memories. They are the elders, the mature artist of American Music, in their prime and still exploring, preserving, and teaching the genre. 

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Venue

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Rustic setting for the Music Center

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Our tour guide is a friend and local, Estes Park resident

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Steven Wade, Banjo legend and preserver of American Roots music.

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Dick Weissman, founder of "The Journeymen" and Tenured professor of Music at The University of Colorado.

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The faculty playing together.

Here are a few links:



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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

It takes a little luck to reach 70

This is a short story, based on a true story, that I recently submitted for my Writer's Group"

“FOR WANT OF A SHOE . . .”



“These years have been a gift.”


Oliver, drinking his usual early morning coffee on his 70th birthday, was not bemoaning life as a septuagenarian, but on this day reflecting on an event almost 40 years previously that could have kept him from reaching  the young age of 40, much less 70.


The 1978 Annual Convention and Trade Show of the Society of Electromechanical Engineering was taking place at the Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta, and  Oliver and his wife Julia were among the thousands packing the restaurants in central Atlanta the evening before the last day of the show.


Sitting at their table in the upscale Abby Restaurant, Oliver looked at their two guest.  “Joe and Carol, thanks calling and suggesting dinner.  We have really missed seeing you; what has it been now, a year?”


“Can you believe it Oliver?  Carol and I missed the show last year so it was 2 years ago we last got together! Man!  Time flies when you get a little older; right Carol?”


“Faster every year!  Thanks for getting us a table here at the Abbey Restaurant Julia, Joe and I have never been here before.  I take it that this beautiful old gothic-revival building was some sort of church; do you know it’s history?”


“As I understand, an Episcopal congregation laid the foundation in 1915.  That congregation eventually moved on,  and a couple of other congregations used it after that.  It was turned into this restaurant just last year.  I just hope the food is as impressive as the building.”


Carol and Julia continued catching up on their families and recent trips, while Oliver and Joe turned to professional topics.  Half-way through their dessert and coffee, a large man from a nearby table rose and stopped in front of theirs.


“Hey Joe, didn’t know you would be here tonight.”  


Joe rose greeting the visitor “Marc!  Same here.  I knew you were presenting your latest research tomorrow morning, but hadn’t run into you before now.  I want you to meet a couple of friends of mine; Oliver and Carol, meet Marc Elkin.  Marc’s doing some big time research up at Ohio State.”


Oliver shook Marc’s hand, “I’m moderating the early morning session tomorrow, and if I recall correctly,  you are the lead off speaker.”  


Marc confirmed that indeed he was presenting the first talk, and as they exchanged pleasantries found that they were staying at adjacent hotels a short distance from the restaurant.  After a few minutes, Marc moved back to his own party’s table, leaving Oliver’s foursome to finish their coffee.  They paid their check, and stood to leave, but as Carol tried to stand, she slipped and sat back down hard on the chair. She had twisted her foot trying to stand, breaking the left strap on her new pair of high heels.  “Dam,” she uttered “I’m going to have to walk real slowly; unless you want to carry me Joe?” Smiling playfully at her husband.  


They made their way through the restaurant door to downtown Peachtree street, where the traffic had diminished to a few cars and the occasional taxi.  Coincidentally, Marc Elkins, his wife Evonne, and James Martin, a Chicago Scientific Company representative who had treated the Elkins to dinner that evening, were also standing at the entrance.  Marc was holding an empty wine bottle that he was taking back to the hotel to soak off  the label for his collection and in his other hand had a “doggie bag” of unfinished dessert.


James Martin was pointing down the street “We’re just thinking of walking off this dinner.  You can see the Sheraton sign down there.  It looks only about 5 or 6 blocks; you guys want to walk with us?”


“Sure” said Oliver and Joe almost simultaneously, turning to join Marc’s group.


“Hold on!”  It was Carol, Joe’s wife. “I really hate to be a wet blanket.  You all can walk if you want, but I just can’t limp all that way with a broken strap, and going barefoot on these streets doesn’t sound like a good idea; so I’m doing a taxi!”  


Julia gave Oliver a glance and then reassured Carol “Of course! No problem, Oliver and I will share a taxi with you two.”


“Sorry Marc,” Oliver apologized.  “It looks like our group is taking a taxi.  I’ll see you at the first session tomorrow.”


The next morning Oliver, before the early, 8 am session started, was in the auditorium making sure the lighting and audiovisual equipment were in working order when a grim-faced woman entered the room with a folder of papers.  She took one of the papers from her folder, and handed it to Oliver.  “Read this announcement at the start of the session.”  As she hurried from the room to her next location, Oliver read the single paragraph.


The Society of Electromechanical Engineering regrets to inform its members that Marc Elkins, a respected member of this organization, will not be presenting his lecture this morning.  Last night, a short distance from the Abbey Restaurant, as Mr Elkins, his wife Evonne, and James Martin a Chicago Scientific representative were walking to their hotel when two armed men came from an alley and demanded their wallets. Mr Elkins was apparently unable to immediately comply because he was holding something in both hands, and without warning one of the assailants shot Mr Elkins. Mr Martin managed to grab the gun and it discharged twice, with one bullet shattering his thumb, but causing the two men to release the weapon and flee.  

Mr Elkins was declared dead soon after arrival at the hospital; Mr Martin is in stable condition following surgery.  

Evonne Elkins was evaluated and released; she did not give a formal statement. She was overheard however, making a single, somewhat confusing comment . . . “If only I had broken a shoe.”

“Yes,” mused Oliver, finishing his coffee, “I have indeed been fortunate.”

********

This is from a true story.  Oliver is me, and Julia is Barbara. Joe is Dr Joe Logic, who had joined us for dinner as a friend of a friend. Marc Elkins was Mark Tetalman, MD, and his group were coincidentally eating at a nearby table.  We were attending the 1978 Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) Annual Meeting in Atlanta. The dinner was at the Abby Restaurant (recently closed), and Dr Tetalman was shot to death only a half block from the restaurant (we had left in taxis minutes before the shooting).  Joe Logic's wife did in fact keep us from walking with them by saying "Come on guys!  I've got new heels" so our group did take taxis to our hotel rather than walk with the Tetalman party. I was moderating the early session the next morning when I was brought that announcement to read at the start, though Dr Tetalman was not scheduled to speak at that particular session.

Below the event is noted in the history files of the RSNA (Radiologic Society of North America).  The RSNA was scheduled to have their annual meeting (usually 60-80,000 participants) in Atlanta 6 months after the SNM meeting, and Dr Tetalman's murder, along with numerous other assults, roberies, etc caused the RSNA to consider canceling their meeting.

Part 17: Murder in Atlanta

  • By the end of 1978, RSNA had held its annual meeting at Chicago's McCormick Place four consecutive times. However, some Society members, particularly those who did not live in the Midwest, had been asking the RSNA Board of Directors to schedule a meeting in another region of the country. Society membership had surpassed 10,000 and the newly organized Board of Directors wanted to be responsive to members' needs. Consequently, RSNA leaders planned to hold the 1979 meeting in Atlanta, the 1980 and 1984 meetings in Dallas, and the 1981, 1982 and 1983 meetings in Chicago. The 1984 meeting was eventually held in Washington, D.C.
  • Atlanta had recently become a workable site for the RSNA Scientific Assembly with the opening of additional hotels and the new Georgia World Congress Center, which was promoted as a symbol of a revitalized South. The Society's Director of Scientific Meetings, George Schuyler, had determined that the Center could house all the technical exhibitors and had enough conference rooms for Refresher Courses and Scientific Sessions. However, it lacked a huge auditorium comparable to the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place for the heavily attended Sunday Film Interpretation Session. But Schuyler, with his usual efficiency, was arranging to hold that session in another building in Atlanta and was scheduling special bus service to transport meeting attendees from the convention center to that building.
  • RSNA leaders were looking forward to the annual meeting. It was to feature the first Categorical Course on Radiation Therapy, organized by Frank L. Hussey Jr., M.D., and a Scientific Exhibit about the use of magnetic resonance in medicine, presented by Paul C. Lauterbur, M.D. But by summer 1979, while RSNA was preparing to hold its Scientific Assembly in Atlanta, one of the worst crises in the Society's history erupted.
  • Crime and Repercussions
  • In late June, as the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) held its annual meeting in Atlanta, SNM officials confirmed 15 incidents in which meeting attendees were either assaulted or robbed.
  • The worst incident occurred on June 28. Marc R. Tetalman, M.D., a young RSNA member from Ohio, was attending the SNM meeting. That evening, he, his wife and James Martin, a representative of the Eastman Kodak Company, had dinner at a downtown Atlanta restaurant. Upon leaving the restaurant, they decided to walk the few blocks to their hotel. During the walk, they were accosted by a man brandishing a gun who demanded money and valuables. Dr. Tetalman resisted since he recently received his watch as a gift. The thief fired his weapon. Dr. Tetalman was killed. Martin, who had tried to protect Dr. Tetalman, was severely wounded.1
  • Subsequently, RSNA, with its meeting to be held in Atlanta five months later, received countless calls and requests from Society members and technical exhibitors to send a message to Atlanta's city officials, hotels and convention bureau by transferring the 1979 meeting to another site. RSNA President William T. Meszaros, M.D., and the Board of Directors realized it was too late to move a meeting the size of the RSNA Scientific Assembly. When members and exhibitors became aware that the meeting could not be held in another city, they demanded cancellation of the meeting. To complicate matters, the media were depicting Atlanta as a city in chaos. News reports claimed that Atlanta's crime problems were racially based. Approximately 200 vacancies in the police department could not be filled due to a court order related to suits of discrimination and reverse discrimination in the city's hiring policy for police officers.
  • The Board of Directors decided the Scientific Assembly would be held only if RSNA could get a promise of tight security from Atlanta city officials. Otherwise, Dr. Meszaros realized he would have to break commitments to exhibitors and paper presenters.
  • Police on Every Corner
  • Consequently, Society leaders were in immediate contact with Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Lee Brown demanding assurances of safety for RSNA meeting attendees. On August 8, 1979, Dr. Meszaros, Schuyler, Executive Director Adele Swenson, Board Chairman Milton Elkin, M.D., and Board Liaison for Annual Meeting Arrangements Richard G. Lester, M.D., met with Mayor Jackson, Commissioner Brown, law enforcement officials and representatives of Atlanta's convention and tourism industry.
  • >RSNA officials indicated that security in Atlanta was too tenuous for the Scientific Assembly and suggested they would cancel the meeting. Atlanta officials, realizing the importance of the RSNA meeting to the city's economy, engaged the Society leaders in hours of discussion and ultimately committed to an increased presence of uniformed police on the streets, around the World Congress Center and near the hotels to be used by RSNA meeting attendees. Said Mayor Jackson to the RSNA delegation, "Doctors, when you are here for your meeting in November, police officers will be coming out of your ears," to which Dr. Elkin replied, "That is just what we want!" 2
  • To their credit, Atlanta officials immediately went into action. They got the courts to allow the filling of the vacancies in the police department. Undercover police officers were to be put into uniform and unmarked police cars were marked. Georgia Governor George Busbee promised state troopers would assist city police. The managers of the downtown hotels promised to expand their uniformed security staff.
  • During September, October and early November, Schuyler and other RSNA staff periodically visited Atlanta to monitor the implementation of the city's commitments. In addition, RSNA hired private security firms to supplement city and state services. The Society also had additional signs printed to post at the Georgia World Congress Center reminding meeting attendees to remove their name badges once leaving the convention center so as not to be easily identified as out-of-towners. Requests were also printed in various meeting publications asking attendees to take taxis even if traveling a few blocks.
  • The decision by RSNA leaders to go ahead with the Scientific Assembly in Atlanta did not please some Society members or technical exhibitors. A few members threatened to attend the meeting armed. Some technical exhibitors threatened a boycott.3
  • November 25-30, 1979, the weather in Atlanta was pleasantly warm. The city was decked in Christmas decorations. Police seemed to be on every corner. The 65th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the RSNA was held without an untoward incident affecting any Society member. Dr. Hussey's Categorical Course on Radiation Therapy was a success. Dr. Lauterbur's Scientific Exhibit was the radiologists' first introduction to magnetic resonance imaging—a new modality that could help visualize anatomy by using a strong magnetic field rather than ionizing radiation. Yet attendance was down from the 1978 Scientific Assembly and some meeting attendees inwardly grumbled about the intrusiveness of the security measures.
  • RSNA leaders did not plan to hold the Scientific Assembly in Atlanta again.
  • References
    1. Tristan TA. Personal communication. 6 Aug 1993.
    2. Elkin M. Crisis in meeting selection. [In] RSNA Remembered: Reminiscing with Adele—1985. Oak Brook, IL: RSNA, 1985:39-44.
    3. Elkin M. Personal communication. 11 May 1995.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Democratic and GOP Parties are just sects of the "Business" Party?


  A weekend ago, campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Bernie Sanders spoke to an overflow, enthusiastic crowd of 28,000 in Portland, Oregon and a cheering crowd of 25,000 in Seattle, Washington the day before. Hillary Clinton, the presumed nominee, has never reached a crowd of 6,000.

   Why is Bernie Sanders so surprisingly popular as he speaks at rallies across the country?  Perhaps because he is speaking the language of a populist to people's earnest hope, despite so many previous disappointments from other politicians, to hear from someone they actually believe might if elected then do his best to fulfill the wants, needs, and desires of the great majority of people in this country who currently feel left out of the economic growth that so benefited their parents and grandparents.

   It is apparent that the Democrat and Republican Parties are simply two factions of what Noam Chomsky refers to as "The Business Party."  Turnout for recent elections by progressives has been very poor (in comparison to the evangelical or militant nationalist right wing voters, who seem like abused spouses, reluctant to deny them their vote, even though the conservatives continually pass laws and policies that economically suppress and abuse most of them.)  In the end however, we all, conservatives and liberals, go into the voting booth, and mark a ballot, deceiving ourselves into thinking we have had a chance to affect government policy, while in reality the outcome of the popular vote matters much less than we think.

   Elected federal politicians, immediately after the election, begin fundraising in earnest for the next election, and in the past, responding to this begging for money were the large corporations. More recently ultra-rich individuals have jumped into this feeding frenzy with the same expectation of altering laws and policies to their own personal benefit.  As Donald Trump truthfully said "I give them money so they will do something for me."   THIS is where policy is predominately determined, not at the next election, where a candidate with modest funds has essentially no chance of winning.

   As the obvious example, people have for many years by overwhelming majority responded to multiple polls by indicating they want higher taxes on the rich.  Yet, year after year, the elected congress does exactly the opposite because they are effectively in the pay of the corporate and individual wealthy.

   The congress members publicly speak platitudes that decry this influence of money, but in the darkness of last-minute votes and in the anonymity of hidden amendments to larger bills, consistently do the bidding of big pharma, big fossil fuel companies, multinational corporate giants, armament companies, and the ultra-wealthy, while the corporate media provides the mechanism whereby they all together brainwash the American public into thinking that it is the "other party" that is the cause of their misery, obscuring the fact that the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer persons is likely the greatest existential threat to our country (maybe other than the world threat of global warming).

   Baltimore, Watts, and other mass protests/riots are in large part a reflection of the rage felt by large segments of our population who in their local neighborhood see no way out of their lousy situation, while they see CEOs across the country taking home $10's of millions in compensation, even if their company is in a decline and laying off workers by the thousands.  These mass reactive demonstrations/riots will not cease by firing or convictin a few police officers, but only by the correction of years of socioeconomic suppression, including providing better job opportunities, greater than poverty wages to anyone willing to work 40 hours a week, fewer prisons (especially for-profit prisons), better health care, and good educational opportunities.

   We never were a pure democracy, but a republic of laws.  Now, a small, wealthy elite of the population is having the laws amended and rewritten to even further enrich their pockets and distill the wealth of the nation into a small extract.  No, we are not a democracy and not an egalitarian republic, but an Oligarchy, managed by a small group of ultra-wealthy who demonstrate little concern for the citizenry at large, and wield their power through the Democratic and GOP factions of the "Business Party".

   . . . and the newscasters seem surprised at the popularity of Senator, Independent, Socialist Bernie Sanders?  I'm not surprised at all.


***

  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

All is Quiet on the Western Front

Just an update to interrupt the silence.

In the past months we have retired, finished major chemotherapy, bought a new house near the Arizona families, and permanently moved west from Iowa into what was previously our vacation home in Colorado; all in all a very busy time.  The thousands of things associated with the move, from getting new driver's licenses to establishing new doctors, are slowly being accomplished, and the less urgent things are there waiting for our attention.

I will be back with some new postings as we slowly re-establish our new routines.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Another roman-fleuve for your late night reading

The first Chief Inspector Gamache book filmed for TV




I have just finished the 10th of 10 detective novels by Louise Perry, her entire Chief Inspector Gamache series, and generally rate them 3-4 out of 5, which is pretty good for escape fiction aimed at entertainment more than deep introspection. She writes about Montreal and a small town south of there (and Penny does live in a small village south of Montreal.)  The overlap of the dominant French language and culture with the English-speaking inhabitants is constant throughout the series.

I frequently grab my Kindle at 2 or 3 a.m. and read from one of these books until falling asleep some variable interval later.  (Since retiring, I have for some reason developed this habit of "Second Sleep" which historically has been a part of various cultures, but in my case may have more to do with no longer having the daily alarm set at 5:30 a.m. rather than exploring medieval sleep habits.)

At any rate, this series of books constitutes a roman-fleuve (French, literally "river-novel") refering to an extended sequence of novels of which the whole acts as a commentary for a society or an epoch, and which continually deals with a central character, community or a saga within a family. The river metaphor implies a steady, broad dynamic lending itself to a perspective. Each volume makes up a complete novel by itself, but the entire cycle exhibits unifying characteristics.  This is not at the same level of the last roman-fleuve I reviewed, but I clearly enjoyed Penny's writing or I would not have finished the 10 books so quickly and had the August 2015 book on pre-order.

Several of the books take place predominantly in the tiny hamlet of "Three Pines", with every other book or so places predominantly  or completely elsewhere in Quebec.  It is easy to find reviews online.  I will just add  that Penny has decent crime plots with adequate misdirection while maintaining reasonable believability, but layered on top of these not so exceptional plots is deep development of multiple characters, integrating philosophical questioning of their underlying drives and motives.