Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Looking through this book I could see many time-tried favorites, like mud pies and singing in the rain, but she came up with a few new good ones that seemed doable and something I wouldn’t have come up with on my own. One I thought had potential was Nighttime Driveway Bowling with glow sticks placed in water-filled plastic bottles and a glow-in-the-dark- painted ball. Not sure your husband would agree to have us paint his basketball, but a ball of that size and weight might work well. Donna suggests an old medicine ball. (WTF?!) That sounds so Californian, but no…she lives in Illinois.
One suggestion that doesn’t require painting anything is making a map on the walk to school. Seems like it could be a useful and fun, and maybe even a multi-day project, depending on the attention span, if the child is youngish.
When I read that you can have the kids report the weather like the folks on TV, using a green screen and some downloaded video footage, at first I thought, “oh come on!” But then I started to get kind of excited about the idea…mainly because I have a green cloth already that could be used for the screening. The cool thing is that everybody learns something with this multi-day project. The kids have to realize how they can speak about weather they can’t see—at least not in back of them. We’d have a little exercise in video-making (very absorbing for those who haven't tried it yet), and once the kids realize how it all works, they can use real weather outside the window to report…somehow I can see a three-year-old saying dolefully “It’s raining” in front of footage of heavy rain in the yard, or a twelve-year-old pretty quickly learning to film her friends doing real reporting in front of their own footage. This multi-day project has some real potential for fun and learning for all.
So, when you are too frazzled to think much of anything, you might want to turn to a book like this to quickly pull something together for a party or something quieter for after school. You’ll see things you’ve done before, but you’ll also see how a busy, high-energy mother of three makes it work for her family.
P.S. I note that, in production, this book had 439 Simple Ways to have Fantastic Family Fun. Now the title only claims to 427 Ways...Wonder if some of the projects weren't a little...you know...edgy...like the bee hive visit.
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Tuesday, May 3, 2016
I was looking forward to being seduced by this collection. The first story, “Tikkun,” threatened my resolve. It slapped me awake, moral nerve endings jangling. What people are these, I ask, reviving my indignity. I think now the story was put first to do just that: these stories are going to rock your world, it seems to be saying, so be prepared to realign your carpenter’s level.
All the stories seem to have a Yemeni connection, the characters descendants of Yemeni immigrants to Israel. Lili and Lana in “Say it Again, Say Something Else” are two bruised girls not really ready for the world but trying to act as though they are. In “Casualties” a young military officer plays at hardness, nonchalance, and devil-may-care until the reality in her life calls her cellphone.
Two stories in the middle of the collection seemed technically and tonally perfect, gathering the angst and confusion of the culture. “Invisible” features a Filipina caregiver overstaying her visa while caring for an aged grandmother not her own, her distant extended family, and a demobbed soldier who has seen action. In “A Sign of Harmony” a young Israeli in India tries to find a thread of a road that she wants to walk amidst the clamor of cultures.
“Below Sea Level” angles a selfish youth mentality to reflect into our eyes again, nearly blinding us to the whole human drama that comprises family. And “Borders” reminds us that family is what we make it, after all. These are stories about Israel’s youth, and as such, display youth’s tendencies toward self-absorption, a lack of history or responsibility for the future. In each story Tsabari captures a moment in time that is so transitory the characters may never know how it changed them, or how it changed us.
If these stories accurately reflect a piece of Israeli experience and culture, they are a bombshell in the midst of more staid (placid?) values, religious or not. The pervasive atmosphere of “why worry about tomorrow” must be a release at the same time it cripples wider understanding of a world building a future. What kind of future is never even hinted at in this collection, for these characters are not even part of the conversation. What kind of world is this, a place with as much history as the world has to offer, and a blank where future is meant to lie? It leaves us pondering the word “wonderful.”
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Sexual harassment, of course, involves power relationships and the suggestion of sexual favors in return for job security or advancement. I defy any woman ready to retire who has not seen or experienced instances of sexual harassment in their working lifetimes. Sexual harassment is not over, but it is recognized now for what it is. The thing is, Anita Hill never signed up for exposing a truth and educating the world. She never wanted to talk about it after she removed herself from the job she had working with Clarence Thomas and—this is the first place I feel her pain so keenly—talked herself into accepting a job away from the power positions on the East coast doing something she’d initially had no interest in doing: teaching commercial law in a religious-affiliated law school…in Oklahoma. Oh, I hear that.
This book was published in October 1997, six years after Hill testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the confirmation hearings of now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Despite being terribly impressed with what appeared to be Hill’s calm composure during the hearings, I was still unprepared for the knock-it-out-of-the-park clarity, coherence, and completeness of the entirety of Hill’s experience before, during and after that time.
Hill came from a very centered and closely-knit family with strong religious beliefs. She reminds us as she recounts her family’s history how close slavery is to us now. Her great-grandmother, Alice Elliott, died in 1939 just before the Second World War. She was the last of the family to have experienced slavery first-hand. The statements Anita Hill gave about Clarence Thomas threatened her closeness with her community because she was speaking out against the actions of a black man, something which threatened, in the minds of many, perceptions of the race as a whole. Hill’s religious beliefs were put to the test:
“Even religion turned against me, or I should say was turned against me…[some] purporting to speak for the church or God or both advised me to confess my sins, or worse, condemned me to “burn in hell” for my sin of testifying. Before long a few voices, speaking on behalf of a church or religion, would attempt to console me for the experience I had endured, but not before I had grown to distrust the church, if not religion itself.”
Hill completely and eloquently answers all attacks on her testimony and on her person, laying to rest accusations that she was a “lier” [sic]. She was at the center of a storm for many years following her testimony, and had to live through that as well as the turmoil of a Senate hearing. She worked at the University of Oklahoma Law School where some of the funding for her law school and for an endowed chair being set up in her name was being held back by detractors in the Oklahoma state government. The endowed chair was defunded in 1999, never having filled the seat. By that time, Ms. Hill had moved to New England to teach at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. She is there now, teaching Anti-Discrimination Law and Policy (Gender and Race).
This past month Anita Hill’s experience was brought again to my attention, first when Charles P. Pierce, the edgy political commentator for Esquire magazine, suggested that Republicans reluctant to vote on Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy might prefer Anita Hill to fill the vacancy. First I laughed, then I wondered... This month also the HBO made-for-TV movie on the Clarence Thomas hearings was announced. Not being able to view HBO, I wasn’t able to see it, but I did look for the 2013 documentary film called Anita, which goes through some of the withering un-lawyerly questioning by the senate committee and shows Ms. Hill’s steadfastness under pressure. There is also a section which gives some later context to her career, her marriage, and the work in which she is currently engaged. She has a new book on an important topic, called Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home (Beacon Press, 2011), which combines two areas of law which she has taught: the book looks at commercial and anti-discrimination law combined with an examination of culture and society to address the 2008 foreclosure crisis and its ongoing impact.
Anita Hill changed everything. Now even senators know what sexual harassment is.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Kornelius knew Merkel since she got her first political job as spokesperson for the East German Democratic Awakening Party in 1989, before it was eventually absorbed into the West German Christian Democratic Union (CDU). He reports on foreign policy for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. This authorized biography felt constrained and thin to this outsider at the start when we are unsure whether or not to trust the author’s perceptions. After Merkel’s election as Chancellor in 2005, however, Kornelius uses his experience watching events in Europe to sketch dynamic relationships as they unfolded, adding government rationale and commentary on public reactions. Many of the relationships and people discussed in this 2013 book are still in office, making it absolutely relevant.
It is commonly held opinion that years of crisis are good years for chancellors.Merkel’s first term saw the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers the year before the general election, and from then on her main preoccupation would be the economy, the stability of the banks, the survival of a single currency, and a whole range of political issues that went with the euro crisis. Merkel’s approach to saving the banking system (tighten money supply) appeared to be opposite to what the Americans wanted to do (loosen money supply), and in fact there was a moment when Obama’s financial policy team led by then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner almost derailed Merkel’s attempt to orchestrate a response to the Greek debt crisis.
Merkel believes in American exceptionalism, and firmly believes in the necessity for the U.S. to involve itself redressing imbalances in the world power structure: she finds the notion of Russian or Chinese overreach troubling because their autocratic systems are not as free. However, she did not go along with the intervention in Libya (Germany abstained from the U.N. vote) because she “viewed the rebel movement in Libya and the rest of the Arab world with skepticism…She thought the political currents in these countries gave no clear indication of their likely future character as states.” Kornelius calls this decision one of the worst foreign policy blunders in her career. I wonder what he would say now, when in America the decision to intervene in Libya, urged by Hillary Clinton, is now considered one of the most ill-considered decisions of Obama’s two terms.
Israel has a special place in Merkel’s list of countries important to Germany. She has felt their tied histories deeply, acknowledges a historical responsibility to the state of Israel and its “Jewish character,” and recognizes Israel’s place as a religious center for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She has been a strong supporter of a two-state solution and when such an idea collapsed under Netanyahu’s decision to continue building new settlements on disputed land, she has distanced herself from that administration. “Relations cooled.”
A discussion of Merkel’s relationship with Putin reveals a refusal to be bullied, each by the other. It is a relationship of uneasy balance, and wary distrust. Merkel had hopes for a Medvedev government, only to have her hopes collapse at the handover back to Putin. Merkel opposed Ukraine and Georgia being a part of NATO early in her chancellorship, despite heavy lobbying by the George W. Bush administration. She could see weakness in the governments there, unresolved conflict, and a fiscally-tied closeness to the Russian regime that spelled future trouble. The decision to refuse NATO status to Georgia under Saakachvili turned out to be a good one since three months later Saakachvili was testing Russian mettle and being soundly beaten for it.
At the top of Merkel’s scale of values is freedom… “Freedom is the joy of achievement, the flourishing of the individual, the celebration of difference, the rejection of mediocrity, personal responsibility.” …Now, after over seven years as Chancellor, freedom is more than ever the leitmotiv if her foreign policy.
The debt crisis in Europe tested not only the financial structures but the political ones as well. It called into question the nature of the European union. One possibility was for the EU to become, in essence, a United States of Europe, or a European superstate where power is transferred to Brussels. Another possibility was a union that worked in parallel with the EU, where states keep existing treaties and conclude new ones with each other and solve problems (labor laws, tax laws, budgets, social security) though intergovernmental solutions. Merkel believed it better for individual states to retain their sovereignty and coordinate with others. The social models and national sensitivities in member states were too different to allow for a single solution in these areas.
But Merkel still firmly believes that globalization will sweep away individual states unless there is a new European economic order that allows Europe is to get “big” enough as a bloc to be able to compete with other huge economies. Her suggestion that there be more unity and control within the EU involved a new system of economic supervision, a Council, which would be a chamber to advise on and structure a program of individual state economic reform with heads of government. It is an ambitious suggestion that perhaps only someone like Merkel would make, with her step-by-step solution to problems.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIIP) with the United States currently under scrutiny once again is another thing Merkel has been keen to finalize, despite hot debate in Germany. “Globalization” is a concept that was begun in the 1990’s and its efficacies have been called into question during the 2016 election in the United States. Merkel's solutions for addressing weaknesses in Europe's position vis-à-vis a program of globalization may be enough to keep the system from being swept away wholesale, but it is clear she needs the stabilization of powerful economies like Britain to keep the system stable, to say nothing of her firm belief that cooperation will be more beneficial than each country trying to stand alone.
Merkel’s low key style does not highlight the important place Germany has assumed in the years since she became Chancellor. The turmoil surrounding the Syrian migrant crisis was not addressed in this book but is sure to be part of Merkel’s legacy. Merkel has said that she does not want another term, though there are no term limits on chancellorships and her predecessors often stayed for up to 16 years. It is always hard to imagine who could follow a figure who has assumed such stature.
Kornelius did a good job covering a lot of ground. His book is just one of many needed to get a grip on the wide range of topics covered in this book. A lot happens in ten years and Kornelius wisely limited his scope to the crises in Europe which were in the forefront. I expect we will have many more detailed portraits of Merkel's time in office to come. Translated by Anthea Bell and Christopher Moncrieff under aegis of the Goethe Institute, this work was originally published in German by Hoffman and Campe Verlag in 2013. This translation, based on a revised German text including the additional chapter "The British Problem," was first published by Alma Books Limited in 2013. The book is also available as an eBook.
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Monday, April 25, 2016
In what may be a signature trait of this author, a reader enjoys the company of what we call “unusual characters” who at the same time represent the kind of resilience, humor, and abiding sense of humanity that once was assigned to heroes in Greek mythology. Race is an persistent subject of discussion in Lansdale’s novels and nearly every novel has at least one vital character who speaks out eloquently on race relations in America. Eustace is a principled black man of nearly unequaled trustworthiness and equanimity—except when he drinks: then he cannot be trusted by man nor beast. This novel also ruminates on whoredom (Jimmie Sue) and the inequities of perception that result from other physical differences, like dwarfism (Shorty). There is a wild hog, too, who is accepted for what he is and how he is. Hog is a valued member of a select community.
“To some extent I find sin like coffee. When I was young and had my first taste of it I found it bitter and nasty, but later on I learned to like it by putting a little milk in it, and then I learned to like it black. Sin is like that. You sweeten it a little with lies and then you get so you can take it straight.”
Despite the graphic sense of brutality that reigned in the West during the period depicted in this novel, the most enduring sentiment in Lansdale’s novel is that of humor: the author counters each act of senseless brutality by heaping abuse on the perpetrator, either through description or through the mouths of his more restrained characters, even to the point of characters musing on the nature of man and the “why” of extreme violence. There is no answer to the “why,” Lansdale concludes. It makes no sense no how. Good may triumph over evil, but it ain’t always a sure thing. One has to puzzle out for oneself a sense of what is good and hold onto one’s own values to make the world into what we wish to see.
"…Fatty was, in his own way, as dangerous as any Comanche. He was just mean as a snake for no other reason than it pleased him; all those men who had been with were like that, and I wondered then what made a man that way. I didn’t come up with any answers."
I listened to the Hachette Audio production of this novel, beautifully narrated by Will Collier, and highly recommend this method of consumption. Collier makes each individual unique, and Shorty’s accent and manner of speaking elevates his thinking to philosophy. One becomes so attached to the characters in this book we forgive them most of their more egregious transgressions and miss them when we do not see them for a couple of pages. I was terrified Eustace “bought the farm” in the last shoot-out, and waited anxiously for word of him, that drunken cuss.
He did get the farm, after all, where he struck oil just as autos were becoming the norm.
There are few folks who can pull off a western these days, and the beauty of Lansdale’s writing is that he doesn’t idealize the turn-of-the-twentieth-century life in the west. It was a lawless, racist, sexist place where one was often at the mercy of men stronger and crueler. But when good people band together, they can often accomplish much, and create the kind of environment in which they want to live. It means a great deal to me that Lansdale reflects us back at ourselves, and shows us possible paths out of the thicket.
Lansdale’s books have spawned an industry: several movies and TV series, as well as graphic novels, have come out of his stories. A new publishing company, Pandi Press, is involved in republishing earlier Lansdale work now out of print. Among the books Lansdale is best known for are the Hap and Leonard series of nine books, featuring a white blue collar war protestor and a gay black Vietnam vet. The Sundance Channel has apparently recently premiered a series based on these books. The stand-alone novel called The Bottoms has received the most critical praise to date, and is currently in film production. Lansdale also writes horror and has a cult following in this genre with a new movie available now from Amazon, Christmas with the Dead. Enjoy this author in any of your favorite genres, but don’t miss him.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
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Tuesday, April 19, 2016
This delicious short novel is in many ways a Mother’s Day dream. It is a novel short enough to be read in a long, lazy afternoon; it is a novel for mature audiences, weathered in relationships and outcomes, who bring a kind of life knowledge to one remarkable spring day in 1924 when sunlight poured over yellow and green fields and not a smudge marred the bright blue of the sky. In March a day like June, warm and golden, pregnant with potential and possibility. The strange undercurrent of foreboding that springs unbidden feels like something we bring as we recall in some remembered way the lovemaking in the big house empty in the afternoon with the windows opened wide to streaming sunlight and perhaps a breeze: “the sunlight applauded their nakedness.” A young scion and the maid…
He says they were “friends.” He did treat her as a friend—exactly as a friend. Their lovemaking was like a sport. He did not talk of the future…there was no need. He needn’t say goodbye, since it wasn’t goodbye was it? He would marry, but perhaps they would continue their “friendship” long after. One doesn’t lose one’s friends when one gets married. Not necessarily. Our judgement makes us uncomfortable, but we’d be wrong. The foreboding won’t point to that at all. The lovemaking was the maid’s liberation, not her downfall. She learned to be comfortable in herself there.
Swift shows his mastery of the form in this novel, telling us pieces of backstory interspersed with conversation and movement…a phone call bidding the maid, fragrant air filled with light and birdsong, a bike ride past still-leafless trees casting skeleton shade on new green and buds ready to open. We will never forget the day, so rare and so precious. Mothering Day. The staff are off to visit their own parents and the scion is preparing for his wedding in a fortnight to the daughter of a wealthy family. His own parents lost two sons in the last war and he is the last of the brood. This is usually a day of remembrance, but it is such an unusual day, coming as it does a fortnight before a wedding…
The beauty of the day suffuses the story and works its magic on us, despite our reservations. We are unprepared, then, for the foreboding to manifest when it does, finally. And we are unprepared also for the “long course of history” that plays out from the maid’s point of view—how this day will remain in her memory forever and what it meant to her life’s work. It raises questions about the nature and role of fiction and how one gets to the place where fiction can be truth. True things can be imagined, just as fiction can spring from truth. Sometimes fiction might even get closer to truth than real life, getting as it does “to the quick, the heart, the nub, the pith.” That is the trade of fiction, the “trade of truth-telling…It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive.” And that is what what this book does. It feels lived.
I hope it is not too late for everyone to buy this gem of a novel before Mother’s Day. It is a real gift. And if anyone knows what body part is pictured on the dust jacket of the American edition, please let me know. I have meditated on it for days, and am still unable to make a guess.
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Monday, April 11, 2016
A little history is a dangerous thing. One of the reasons I have never liked reading history is that I discovered written history often has pieces that are missing that can change one’s understanding of an event or time. One has to dig down into the details and the truth may never reveal itself. But thank goodness for Pankaj Mishra, who gives us history like nothing Americans are likely to encounter in school: history from the point of view of majority non-white nations around the time of the first global upheaval at the turn of the last century and the First World War.
Mishra focuses on Asia as it was defined at the time, anything east of Turkey and west of Japan, and uses the words of individuals to define a zeitgeist that inspired and motivated political upheavals taking place in Asia at the time. Though Europe’s most influential thinkers deemed most of the non-white non-European societies unfit for self-rule, the men that drove revolutionary change in those very societies were motivated by notions of equality and human dignity spoken and written of in Western Europe, and later, by Woodrow Wilson.
One of those men was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, revered now as the intellectual god-father of the Islamic Revolution. Educated in Tehran in the mid-ninetieth century, al-Afghani passed himself off as a member of different sects and nationalities in order to most effectively educate and reform with an eye to anti-imperialist strategy.
The English people believe me a RussianAnd yet al-Afghani was able to keep his focus on power to the subjugated people of Asia and exhort them to greater resistance to the imperialist power being brought to bear upon them by the West. Al-Afghani turns up wherever societal turmoil was in progress (Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Iran) and by his writings and speeches was able to urge a “protective modernization” upon fellow Muslims: “self-strengthening without blind imitation of the West, and who insisted that the Koran itself sanctioned many of the values—individual freedom and dignity, justice, the use of reason, even patriotism—touted by Turkish high officials as ‘Western.’” “Fanaticism and political tyranny” were the basic evils of unreformed Muslim society, he argued, the means by which the West had come to dominate the East.
The Muslims think me a Zoroastrian
The Sunnis think me a Shiite
And the Shiite think me an enemy of Ali
Some of the friends of the four companions have believe me a Wahhabi
Some of the virtuous Imamites have imagined me a Babi…
Eventually al-Afghani came to believe that modernization alone as not sufficient, as it was making countries in the East subservient client states of the West. Pan-Islamism and nationalism was then considered to be the only way to beat back the encroaching West. He has a long history, traveling to Paris, Moscow and back, eventually, to Persia, agitating until his death in 1897. His grave, long unmarked, was moved to Kabul in 1944, and was visited by the American ambassador in 2002, who paid for restoration of the site. One group of al-Afghani’s followers became proponents of Salafism, the puritanical movement which is the basis for ISIS, surely a perversion of what al-Afghani believed.
I spend so much time on al-Afghani because I don’t think I have ever heard of him before, or if I have, I never knew anything about what he was thinking. Mishra just begins with al-Afghani, however, and delves into China’s (and Vietnam’s) pre-revolutionaries, Liang Qichao, Kang Youwei, and Tan Sitong (Phan Boi Chau). Tan died, tragically for China’s interests one might argue, by allowing himself to be captured and executed in his twenties by forces loyal to the dowager empress. He was one who was clever enough to have negotiated the moral shoals of republicanism by combining it with the Confucian notion of social ethics.
Liang Qichao was the one of his contemporaries to travel in the United States, writing “70 percent of the entire national wealth of America is in the hands of 200,000 rich people…How strange, how bizarre!” Liang was later part of a delegation to the peace conference held in Paris following the First World War. Interests of the non-white majority countries were ignored, despite the notions of freedom from oppression and human dignity embodied in Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ and lodged in the hearts of many nationalists.
The final figure upon whom Mishra focuses is Rabindranath Tagore, who was likewise awakened to new ideas through contact with the West, but who also saw the spiritual vacuity in the West’s worldview. When he visited China in the 1920’s he was disparaged by crowds shouting “We don’t want philosophy, we want materialism!” Such a thing could be said to be heard today in Beijing. Let’s hope the Chinese don’t come to regret their single-minded choice, or are turned back once they see the desert ahead.
It is hard to avoid Mishra’s conclusion that racism was the reason Eastern countries were exploited and ignored by the West at the turn of the twentieth century. It is also true that the West had made advances in science, logic, and humanistic theories that struck thinkers in Asia as entirely worthwhile and modern. The Asians, however, could see something perverted in the West’s materialistic rapacity and sought to preserve some of their rich spiritual heritage while modernizing their political systems. If the West had only appreciated and taken on board what the East had to offer, rather than using muscle to subdue the insistence on autonomy from imperialism, probably none of us would be in the position in which we find ourselves today.
Mishra’s work of history is enormously important and entirely welcome, covering as he does vast parts of the non-white Asiatic world during a time of turmoil. He does not avoid the omissions, and imputations common to writers of history: in the one sentence assigned to Armenia he writes, “However, harassed by Armenian nationalists in the east of Anatolia, the Turks ruthlessly deported hundreds of thousands of Armenians in 1915, an act that later invited accusations of genocide.” Also, it appears Mishra used English-language secondary sources in his work, where one might have wished original sources. Nonetheless, this work and its bibliography is a giant step towards redressing our ignorance of the histories, needs, and desires of peoples in their search for rights.
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