The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – Book

In her most recent novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy talks about modern India (which is not as modern as you would like it to be). Two women are the focus of her story, Anjum and Tilottama. However, this is really a story of human rights and human intolerance and finding happiness when and where you can.

Anjum is born a boy. However upon closer examination he has the organs of both of the sexes – a hermaphrodite. His mother is able to keep this biological state a secret until puberty. At puberty the boy, Aftab, realizes she is not a boy. Are such things accepted in India? Yes and no. Anjum would never find a life in “normal” India society but one day she follows a transgender shopper from the market and she learns that there is a separate society of transgender Indian people, that the name for some transgender persons, including Anjum, is “hijra,” and in her neighborhood the hijra live in a house called the Khwabgah.

Within this group she is able to have a circumscribed but full social life. She adopts a homeless child and becomes her rather jealous mother. Although she must face a life separate from her parents and siblings, she is protected by superstition and left to her own devices. Fortunately, although feelings about Muslims are running high (as they do periodically in India), and although Hindus are attacking and slaughtering Muslims with little provocation, it is bad luck to kill hijra. This does not prevent Anjum from experiencing something so horrifying that it turns her life upside down.

Tilottama is a young woman with considerable charm despite her dark “café au lait, except very little lait” skin, which is not considered desirable. In fact she is desirable enough to attract three men (and more) who are in school with her. Naga, Musa, and “Garson Hobart” meet Tilo when practicing to stage a play (which never opens). These four are caught up in the off again – on again brutal war for control of Kashmir, a province coveted by India proper, Pakistan and China. Kashmiris want only to be a free and independent nation. Musa becomes a Kashmiri spy and a fighter for the independence movement. Tilo loves Musa who she can connect with only in the moments he snatches away from the movement.

The lives of our two main characters, Anjum and Tilo, become intertwined over, of all things, a homeless child.

Now it may seem as if I am telling the whole novel and that this will make it unnecessary to read this book. But that is not so. Arundhati is a prize-winning author and not by mistake. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a 400+ page book. It is detailed without being dry; it is instructive without being pedantic, and long without seeming long. This book cannot be summarized. It must be experienced.

Arundhati Roy never sugarcoats political flaws of corruption and religious intolerance in India, corruption that possibly tops the corruption we lament in our own government. She also explores the courage of people who lead authentic lives.

If you enjoy travelling to another culture without leaving your comfort zone and you want to avoid the touristy spots and get some in-depth exposure to the true spirit of a nation, Arundhati Roy is your ticket. You will gain exposure to an internal turmoil that inspires people, frightens people, and generates great courage and great grief. Don’t be a chicken. What you learn makes the journey worthwhile.

I’ll end with Roy’s beginning quote, “I mean, it’s all a matter of your heart…” –Nâzim Hikmet


The Profound and the Mundane – Moral Choices

Our lives seem to be leading to choices; choices we don’t want to make. Life, for most of us these days is sort of like the channel I was watching on HBO this morning. First there was a program called VICE and this particular segment was about the Korean peninsula and America. It is clear that America is not well loved by all Koreans right now. In fact, this director said, school children are fed a diet of anti-American propaganda even in South Korea where we have been “occupiers/protectors” for years (my words not theirs). This is typical of the love-hate relationship much of the world has with America, recently more hate than love. This enlightening information ended with a plea that we should not heed Trump’s “America First” message because staying isolated from the radical change occurring on other continents gives America no say in whatever chaos or structure the world creates as a result of this cultural evolution that we appear to be in the midst of.

The programming then demanded a seemingly jarring shift in mental gears, as when our lives shift between the profound and the mundane, because what followed was the movie version of the musical Hairspray, which turned out to be not the superficial piece of fluff it sounded like. It was about a brave young lady who with a light-hearted spirit jumped right into the most explosive issue of the moment, the argument about integration vs. segregation. So this “piece of fluff” ended up still being about exclusion, inclusion, courage, and staying involved in the fray.

Perhaps the way I found a connection between these two quite disparate programs simply reflects my current interests. It’s sort of like when you get a new car and then you start seeing that car everywhere. Yes, Hairspray really does have a social message, but it starts because a young lady who is not the norm of attractiveness wants to appear on a dance show, and wants there to be one dance show for both black and white teens as opposed to the two separate dance shows that the show rules currently mandate. If is far more mundane than profound. So I may be a bit in my own bubble right now.

In my bubble I am seeing cultural paradoxes, cultural upheavals and cultural revolutions everywhere I look. And I am wondering, is it better to stay above the many struggles – the struggles for freedom, for respect, for identity, for prosperity, for survival – and act like a general with a 3D map who moves small figures and symbols of resources around the map as events unfold, who develops a master plan and tries to get events to fall in line with that master plan. (We seem to have quite a few people (men) in this role at the moment.) What if your master plan clashes with an opposing master plan? People will be caught in the middle of the “battle of the master plans”. There is no guarantee that the winning plan will create a society anyone wants to live in.

When do you get down and dirty? When do you join the resistance for real? Perhaps you never will. Being a true revolutionary, having a cause that informs every waking hour, wreaks havoc on the life you would like to have. How far “in” are you willing to go? Is being arrested OK? Is being tear gassed in your wheelhouse? Would you die for your cause?


Will someone have to die to get the world a fair and free future? Of course people are already dying for this. They also seem to be dying to fight against this. How terrible is it to fight for an outcome that you never get to enjoy? We cannot even seem to organize a present-day culture that offers equal opportunity within and among nations. Can we expect to have a future culture that offers peace and prosperity, tolerance and civility that includes everyone on the planet? Hard to imagine isn’t it?

I’m reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy and I have found barely a thread of happiness in it. India is divided by class and by religion and skin color and money into many more groups than we see in our own culture. In India people are often willing to put their lives on the line to defend their social group from persecution and that persecution takes the form of official corruption, brutal interrogation, and outright slaughter by the government, or the military, or just one group opposed to the rights of another group. Even in the face of all of this, people who feel targeted because of their class or religion still get so angry that despite what could happen they decide to resist.

Does the fact that we are unwilling to even protest peacefully when it looks like our government could fail, or turn into a form of governance that will rob us of our rights, our pride and our privileges doom us to accepting whatever happens. If things appear to be moving America towards authoritarian rule or even corporate rule will we object?

I can feel my own complacency and love of the simple joys of daily life fighting with my shock at recent American political tendencies. I can also feel my cynicism that we can never create a way to govern a human culture that will consistently provide stability and fairness. It may just not be time for extreme responses yet. But I’m not sure that I will ever make a very good activist. I would rather be one of those strategists with the big 3D map. Will this end up being a brain thing or a body thing or neither? In the end I hope things work out and all this angst is unnecessary; and I do not have faith that is at all what will happen.

July 2017 Book List

Publisher’s Weekly

June 2

Confessions by Augustine (newly translated by Sarah Ruden)

Black Detroit: A People’s History of Self-Determination by Herb Boyd (NF)

Felix Yz by Lisa Bunker (YA)

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis (NF)

The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder (F)

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Kennedy and the King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle Over Civil Rights by Steven Levingston (NF)

A Fugitive in Walden Woods by Norman Lock (F)

Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou (translated from the French by Helen Stevenson) (F)

How to Be a Muslim: An American Story by Haroon Moghul (NF)

This Impossible Light by Lily Myers (F in poetry)

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman (NF)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhoti Roy (F)

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis (NF)

June 16

The Girl in Between by Sarah Carroll (F)

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness by Jennifer Latson (NF)

Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen (NF)

Flesh, and Bone and Water by Luiza Sauma (NF)

Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby

The Force by Don Winslow Morrow (F)

June 30

American, English, Italian, Chocolate: Small Subjects of Great Importance by Rick Bailey (NF)

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins (F)

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan by Elaine M Hayes(NF)

Trophy: A Novel by Steffen Jacobsen (F)

Who is Rich? By Matthew Klam (F)

The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy (F, YA)

All We Shall Know? A Novel by Donal Ryan (F)

A Stone of Hope: A Memoir by Jim St. Germain

Words on Bathroom Walls: A Novel by Julia Walton (F, YA)

July 7

The Great Nadar: The Man Behind the Camera by Adam Begley (NF)

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World by Billy Bragg (NF)

Alone by Christophe Chabouté (visually stunning) (F)

Death on Delos by Gary Corby (F)

Streams of Gold, Rivers of Blood: The Rise and Fall of Byzantium, 955 AD to the First Crusade by Anthony Keldellis (NF)

Dirt Road by James Kelman (F)

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais (F)

The Art of Starving by Sam J Miller (F, YA)

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie N Diaye (translated from the French by Jordan Stump) (F)

Conversations with Friends: A Novel by Sally Rooney

So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley by Roger Steffens (NF)

The End by Fernanda Torres (F)

July 14

The Late Show by Michael Connelly (F)

No Good Deed by Kara Connolly (F, YA)

The Epiphany Machine by David Burr Gerrard

Ants Among the Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla (NF)

Soul Cage by Giles Murray (F)

The Library of Fates by Adit Khorana (F, YA)

Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Mũnoz Molina (translated from the Spanish by Camilo A Ramirez) (F)

Arbitrary Stupid Goal by Tamara Shopsin (Short Stories)

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls (NF)

July 21

The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich (translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsby) (NF)

Refugee by Alan Gratz (F)

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed (F)

The Way We Die Now: The View from Medicine’s Front Line by Seamus O’Mahony (NF)

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips (F)


Literature and Fiction

Spoonbenders: A Novel by Daryl Gregory

Goodbye Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong

The Outer Cape: A Novel by Patrick Dacey

Tornado Weather: A Novel by Deborah E. Kennedy

AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey

Before Everything by Victoria Redel

The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian Stansel

Rufuge:  A Novel by Dina Nayeri

Quiet Until the Thaw: A Novel by Alexandra Fuller

Who is Rich? A Novel by Matthew Klam

Camino Island by John Grisham

Mysteries and Thrillers

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Fierce Kingdom: A Novel by Gin Phillips

The Lying Game: A Novel by Ruth Ware

The Dead Comedians: A Murder Mystery by Fred Van Lente

Zero Sum (A John Rain Novel) by Barry Eisler

House of Spies: A Novel (Gabriel Allon) by Daniel Silva

Every Last Lie by Mary Kupica (A gripping novel of psychological suspense)

AFTERLIFE by Marcus Sakey

Biographies and Memoirs

Sting-Ray Afternoons: A Memoir by Steve Rushin

Chester H. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson

Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship by Michelle Kuo

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughn by Elaine M Hayes

To the New Owners: A Martha’s Vineyard Memoir by Madeleine Blais

Giant of the Senate by Al Franken


A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age by Ben Mezrich

Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem by Bill Nye

Science Fiction and Fantasy

When the English Fall: A Novel by David Williams

New York Times

June 18

Everything under Heaven: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power by Howard French (NF)

Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides Trap? By Graham Allison (NF)

Be Like the Fox by Erica Benner (Machiavelli) (NF)

Goethe: Life as Work of Art by Rudiger Sofranski (NF)

Raven Rock by Garrett M Groff (History of the Cold War) (NF)

I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet (NF)

A Little More Human by Fiona Maazel (F)

Camino Island by John Grisham (F)

You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison (F)

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig (F)

According to a Source by Abby Stein (F)

Among the Lesser Gods by Margo Catts (F)

The Invisible Mile by David Coventry (F)

June 25

The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Lev Grossman (NF)

A Fine Mess by T R Reid (NF)

Lincoln and the Abolitionists by Fred Kaplan (NF)

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein (NF)

The Seeds of Life by Edward Dolnick (NF)

The Boy Who Loved Too Much by Jennifer Latson (NF)

Murder in Matera by Helen Stapinski (NF)

Awkward by Ty Tashiro (NF)

If I Understood You, Would I Have this Look on my Face? By Alan Alda (NF)

Best New Crime (4 titles)

Wolf on a String by Benjamin Black (F)

The Force by Don Winslow (F)

The Templars Last Secret by Martin Walker (F)

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (F)

Fly Me by Daniel Riley (F)

Some Rise by Sin by Philip Caputo (F)

A Good Country by Laleh Khadivi (F)

July 2

Kennedy and King by Steven Levingston (NF)

The New Urban Crisis by Richard Florida (NF)

An English Governess in the Great War by Mary Thorp (NF)

Hundreds of Interlaced Fingers: A Kidney Doctor’s Search for the Perfect Match by Vanessa Grubbs (NF)

Healing Children: A Surgeon’s Stories from the Frontiers of Pediatric Medicine by Kurt Newman (NF)

Open Heart: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table by Stephen Westaby (NF)

Sometimes Amazing Things Happen: Heartbreak and Hope on the Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Ward by Elizabeth Ford (NF)


Modern Gods by Nick Laird

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan

Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy

Compass by Mathias Énard

July 9


Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Saints for All Occasions by Courtney Sullivan

The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gates by Jacob Bacharach

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

The Zoo by Isobel Charman (NF)

The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger (NF)

Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden (NF)

Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert M Sapolsky (NF)

The Hue and Cry at Our House by Benjamin Taylor (NF)

The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis (NF)

Love, Africa by Jeffrey Gettleman (NF)

Return to Glory by Matthew DeBord (NF)

July 16

Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North by Robert Fergusson (NF)

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley (NF)

Among the Janeites: A Journey through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe (NF)

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser (NF)

The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theater and Why She Works in Hollywood by Paula Byrne (NF)

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly (NF)

The Widow Nash by Jamie Harrison (F)

The Half Wives by Stacia Pelletier (F)

The Underground River by Martha Conway (F)

July 23

The Home that was Our Country by Alia Malek (NF)

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled by Wendy Pearlman (NF)

Hunger by Roxane Gay (NF)

The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea by Bill Emmott (NF)

One Another’s Equals: The Basis of Human Equality by Jeremy Waldron

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls

The Islamic Enlightenment by Christopher de Ballaigue (NF)

Young Radicals: In the War for American Ideals by Jeremy McCarter (NF)

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughn by Elaine M Hayes (NF)

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (NF)


There Your Heart Lies by Mary Gordon

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

4 new mysteries

The Smack by Richard Lange

The Fallen by Ace Atkins

City of Masks by S D Sykes

The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash

Black Moses by Alain Mobanckou

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexander Fuller


Check out my book reviews and my published books at




Using Links – Part of SEO

Writing on the internet involves obeying certain rules, at least if you want to appear in any search engine and have any readers. There are algorithms for this and the appropriate rules are labeled SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO can be a deep topic requiring nerdy computer skills that are a mystery to most of us. If you want to sell things on the internet SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) become more important. When I write about a topic in politics, the chances of that article appearing at the top of a search list on any search engine, with or without SEO, are practically nil. In any given day any specific political topic offers search results that number in 5 to 6 digits. Obviously the mainstream media and the politics journals like Salon and The Atlantic appear at the top of every list unless you can come up with a truly esoteric descriptor or key word that works like a magnet to attract readers.

SEO algorithms also look for links in the articles internet writers post so using links is part of SEO. They look for links to your own work and external links, links to key articles in the area of interest. I have come to have some distrust of links when writing about politics and political parties and matters of governance. It is usually possible to find an article somewhere on the internet that supports almost any point or point of view. It is even possible to find articles from sources with some clout on any side of an issue.

When I was a teenager involved in my local church we used to play “dueling Bibles”. The minister or the adult in the room would call out a passage and we would all rush to locate it. If you had memorized the order of the Books of the Bible and you had a grasp of the way they were organized into chapters and verses you had an edge and you were more likely to find the passage quickly. There was usually a prize for winning.

Still I was a bit surprised when I had my first exchanges with Conservatives online. It was like playing “dueling internet articles”. I would make a point and my respondent, who was usually more like a lecturer, would not bother to actually state his or her point of view but would instead present me with a list of four or five links to pertinent articles. I did not respond in kind. I did not accept the invitation to play dueling links.

How do you stop in the middle of a verbal (written) debate and go off onto the internet to read a handful of articles and then return to the fray. It tends to end the argument which I’m sure is the intent. There – you are vanquished! I did not come up with my own list of links because I thought we should all use our own words, hopefully based on what we were reading and hearing. I just never got the hang of dueling links. People now use dueling graphics and the dueling links game, played much more by the folks on the right, seems to be temporarily out of fashion.

Links are often necessary because some facts require backup and some of our ideas come from other people or are strengthened because others think like us. Links acknowledge a writer or a source of information and such attributions are required to avoid plagiarism. Links are the footnotes or the bibliography of an internet article.

But that is not how my Conservative responders used links. They used them like a cudgel to beat me over the head and say, “You’re wrong! Just read this and you will know the really true truth.” Well we have been learning a lot about truth on the internet, especially with 45 in the White House and all that “fake news” proliferating everywhere.

We are told that we all live in our own media bubble and there is some truth to this. That’s why I try to stick to sources that have been respected to deliver good reporting for many decades, perhaps more than a century. That’s why sometimes I do not search out links at all. If I am presenting my own argument and it grew out of my entire experience with reading, writing, and life then I defy SEO and forgo links. But there are times when links are necessary and then I include them.

When citing sources from the internet for articles about politics, societies, cultures and news it is a good idea to know where each source stands on the political spectrum. Sometimes you don’t want a source that is too far either to the right or the left; sometimes that is exactly what you want. I included a chart in another post quite a while ago but here is a new one that appeared on Facebook, sent by a friend and it’s more up to date.

I notice that one of the favorite sources on the right used to be American Thinker, which I do not even find on this graphic. Those on the right, once they cited an American Thinker article, thought they could end the argument right then and there – boom, drop the mike. The source may still exist; it may just not be on this chart. However, I never even bothered to pursue articles linked to this source because I had already discovered that it was too far to the right for me.

I will say that there are some who find this chart inaccurate because they feel that it defines sources as mainstream which they consider quite partisan. Those on the right have a more negative view of this graphic than those on the left. It’s all about the bubbles.

All of this is intended to explain why I have written articles that include no links, internal or external. But since SEO counts clicks and links help you get more clicks, if you are dedicated to following the SEO algorithms then links will help you get noticed on the web.


Trump Could Be My President If…

From a Google Image Search –


Trump is unhappy with the Republicans because they were not able to pass their terrible health care bill with the ridiculously ironic name “Better Care Reconciliation Act”. He blames the Democrats because not one Democrat voted for this bill. This bill is against everything Democrats want for American healthcare. There is no way a single Democrat could have voted for this bill and have kept his seat in the Senate.


Trump’s backing of this very exclusionary bill gives me just one more reason to say that Donald Trump is not my President. He cares nothing about the middle class or the poor because we are not winners and we, to his mind, do not make America look like a winner on the world stage, although our freedom used to inspire people all around the globe.


Well he is wrong in so many ways. He can line the pockets of those who are already wealthy. He can overturn all the energy regulations and all the fetters that have been placed on Capitalism, an economic system which can get quite rapacious if it is not held in check, but I do believe that it will not stop the new “ism” – globalism.


He can close our borders and leave our allies to deal with refugees arriving in such large numbers that helping them find a niche in a new nation is next to impossible given the resources available at this moment. Isolation, however will not serve America well.


I would like to admire whoever is the President in America because I love my country but I will not admire someone who does not feel any need to serve all Americans but serves only the wealthy. I cannot admire a President who pretends to not believe in the science of climate change but who does believe in the science of space travel.


I cannot admire a President who does not accept that we need friends on this planet, that the world is smaller than it has ever been, that national boundaries are not walls and do not keep people from wandering all over the planet. If you want to control immigration you need a system that works every time, that has a reputation of keeping undocumented travelers out consistently and firmly without being cruel. Stopping all immigration will not work in the long run.


A President who wants to dismantle our Federal government and yet does not seem to be willing to take in any information but that which is whispered in his ear by advisors whose beliefs represent a tiny portion of the things most Americas believe is a President I can never admire.


I believe that Mr. Trump could change his ways and clean out the nest of vipers in his current government, he could tune into the true needs and feelings of most Americans, stop romancing Russia, and accept the friendship of our allies who would be glad to offer it to someone who understands the 21st century and who isn’t terribly busy trying to recreate the 1950’s or the 1890’s or whatever. Then I might be proud to claim him as my President.


Globalism is happening and do not believe all the bad press it is getting. It does not necessarily mean the end of nations. It can be stopped but at a great cost; with stagnation and discontent. It is only the beginning of this new global age and those who accept it and strive to create the rules under which the new globalism will work can usher in this new age with some grace and positivity. But the barriers are coming down and people are on the move. However disruptive and frightening these changes might be it is the way in which we meet these challenges that will determine if our future on earth is one of chaos and decay, or exciting new opportunities and growth.


A person cannot be my President if he is not even able to tell the difference between a good health care bill and a bad one. I need my President to show me that he’s got this and he can focus on something besides his short-term definitions of winning, that he wants to pitch in with all the floundering leaders in this newly arrived global age and help figure out how to win in the long term.


A person cannot be my President if he allows Steven Bannon and his cohorts anywhere near him. Stand up on your own two feet Mr. Trump and be the President American needs and the one the world needs. Do this by acting the opposite of the way you have been behaving so far.





Pretzel Brain Syndrome

Pretzel Brain Syndrome

Sometimes when I listen to Republicans (especially Conservative Republicans) talk I find myself in the grip of Pretzel Brain Syndrome. Conservatives, for example, love to remind us all, ad infinitum, that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. It’s odd that they would be proud of this because they sometimes sound like a bunch of racists who keep sacred in their hearts the memories of the Old South and who never forgave the Yankees for winning the Civil War. They celebrate Abe but they are not quite sure that ending slavery was a good idea. It trashed a once thriving economy in the Southern states and even though the Southern economy has experienced spotty boom effects since the Great Migration of our factories, this has not benefited all Southern states equally. It’s easy to get the feeling, every time you hear a Congressman with a deeply Southern accent, that buried deep within that guy is a “gentleman” farmer who yearns for a Plantation culture to rise again. I know this is a prejudice, but I do not think it is always totally undeserved.

These Abe Lincoln Republicans (who got their info from Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly who have written books about this stuff) (in other words their sources are Talk Radio and Fox News) then mention that there were virulent racists who were members of the Democratic Party during the days when we finally were forced to deal with our continuing discrimination against Americans of African Descent by Martin Luther King and many other brave and peaceful demonstrators. We were presented by the evening news coverage, night after night, with the footage of peaceful people of color and their white supporters faced with violent dogs straining at their collars and policemen, with those now iconic and frightening mirror-finish sunglasses, and those fire hoses pushing peaceful people to the ground, sometimes with injuries. (You need to watch Eyes on the Prize.)

And this information is correct. There were racists, vocal nasty racists, who had been Southern Democrats for years, although Thurmond always claimed that his opposition to the Civil Rights Act was actually about his beliefs in States rights (This is still the argument Republicans use to this day.) Reading Strom Thurmond’s obituary from the New York Times is a good place to get an overview of the long career of this man.

“Mr. Thurmond first came to national attention in 1948 as the States’ Rights candidate after Southerners walked out of the Democratic convention to protest the party’s new commitment to civil rights. Mr. Thurmond finished a distant third to President Harry S. Truman that year, but his million votes cracked the once-solid Democratic South and helped set the stage for political realignment.

In 1964, Mr. Thurmond switched parties to back the Republican nominee for President, Senator Barry M. Goldwater….Despite the role of civil rights in his political evolution and his record-breaking filibuster of 24 hours and 18 minutes against the civil rights bill of 1957, Mr. Thurmond always insisted he had never been a racist, but was merely opposed to excessive federal authority.” (Echoes in the Cliven Bundy incident show many still claim such opposition.)

Really? Watch Strom Thurmond in action in this short clip.

So it is true that Strom Thurmond was a Democrat and then he was a Republican. I will say, however, in the interests of honesty, that George Wallace was a Democrat and did not leave the party although he was also registered to the American Independent Party.  In case you don’t remember the man, get a load of George Wallace in this YouTube video.

My point is that Republicans throw this information out as a simple fact when it is not at all a simple matter and they throw it out as an indictment of the Democratic Party and of liberals and they do it to destroy the credibility of any argument that the left might make that favors human rights by suggesting that the party is hypocritical and to claim a human rights stance for the GOP, even though we can see them opposing human rights every day in our media. And there it is, Pretzel Brain Syndrome. Even though you know they are deliberately telling history wrong, our brains are temporarily confused and some of our brains are happy to accept this simple explanation of party affiliations of racists as the only explanation, I know well-educated people who have read Glenn Beck’s and Bill O’Reilly’s books and who have a eureka moment and ask themselves, why didn’t I ever notice this before?

A More Modern Instance of attempted Pretzel Brain Syndrome

Now my Pretzel Brain Syndrome is being activated again by this whole issue of the Russian interference in the 2016 election and by the way 45 conducts himself in the White House. Donald Trump likes to tie our brains in knots. I don’t know if he does this as a conscious strategy or if it is just a pattern he found useful in his business negotiations and still uses. He does seem to be a sort of one trick pony. He does not have the same understanding of the word transparency as the rest of us do because he thinks that keeping his adversaries in the dark about his plans is the central feature of his that keeps them wrong-footed and gives him the all-important “win”.

Although Donald’s son Donald, Jr. apparently did take a meeting with Russians because he thought he would get some juicy information about the imagined crimes of Hillary Clinton we are told the following by our President:

  • Donald, Jr. is a good boy.
  • The meeting was unproductive (in other words, how can you collude if you don’t get any useful information). Of course taking the meeting at all is still collusion.
  • The meeting was about the ban on American adoptions of Russian babies (which sounds innocent enough until you realize that the issue of adoptions is tied to the issue of sanctions, i.e. they discussed sanctions against Russia in this meeting.)
  • The Democrats set this up. Hillary Clinton’s campaign laid this trap for Donald’s campaign so the Democrats are bad, Republicans are the victim, Republicans good.

*Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting a Democratic plot? Pro-Trump media wants you to think so


Oh my aching brain. Pretty soon there will be a new drug for this. Pharmaceutical companies love conditions that can be given 3 word titles. Of course treating Pretzel Brain Syndrome will be difficult as their will be some side effects that may change the way your brain is wired forever and in ways you might not like. Buyer beware!


Atomic Bombs, Russia, Putin, Trump and America

Once we used an atomic bomb for the first time, the US, perhaps on an epic guilt trip, became hyper-vigilant because we knew that “nukes” would be a new target of every nation.

As children left their classrooms to line the hallways and lean on the back of another child they had never met with an arm over their eyes, or to do the “duck and cover”, our fear of nukes was born. We weren’t worried about a bomb from Germany. Germany was defeated. We weren’t worried about a bomb from Japan. Japan was defeated

Our parents were feeling quite ebullient with our soldiers home and the economy booming. Who was the enemy now? Why were kids doing bomb drills if the US was the only nation with an atomic bomb?

That ended up only being the case for about five minutes (at least it seemed to happen very fast) and then the USSR had figured out how to make nukes. They had very good spies. From being a rather reluctant ally in WWII, because everyone who saw the threat of Hitler had to be on the other side, the USSR became our national nightmare, our “fear factor”. They were Communists; we were Capitalists. Antagonism between our two nations escalated as the nuclear stockpiles grew. Communism and Democracy fought to divide up the world the way the English and Spanish once vied for gold with such imperialistic fervor.

When the USSR “won” in Cuba and established a Communist country right on our doorstep America was in shock. The Bay of Pigs crisis is described in great detail by historians and was covered at the time by the media, although much was secret. JFK had a lot of plans that seemed ridiculous and laughable when they were revealed. But when, without any actual fighting, it was all over, the two countries sort of stood down from the worst of the hostilities and agreed to lead separate lives. It was still the Cold War, but it did not get colder, and the dreaded “nuclear winter” seemed less imminent once again

Then the Berlin Wall came down and the Iron Curtain parted to reveal a USSR in need of economic assistance. It seemed as if we might get to a peaceful coexistence but under Vladimir Putin that was not to be. That old Cold War feeling is back and seems unaffected by whatever global warming is going on. Nukes are in the news again with even smaller, saber-rattling nations getting involved (Iran, North Korea).

Just as we begin to wonder if the world will dissolve into chaos unless we pitch in to deal with climate change, or if it will be turned into a radioactive wasteland by madmen with power, the President of America turns out to be a guy who seems to love Russia and wants to use our nukes in a possible first strike against North Korea. In addition, this guy in our White House does not believe in climate change and wants to use up every fossil fuel resource everywhere on the planet to bring back the Industrial Age and those dramatic old polluted sunsets.

Just at this moment, and in spite of the decades of antagonism and fear the American people have learned to feel about Russia and about nukes, we get a President who spends almost two hours meeting with Vladimir Putin at a G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany without any American media present because he doesn’t trust the American press and he doesn’t really realize that he is not America; he only represents America. This meeting was an outrage and also exactly what we expected to happen. There is no outlet for our anxieties except to use our words..

As to the media, I wonder how many years it will take to make us distrustful of all of our news sources. Some of us like to think that this cannot happen to us but there are no guarantees. Given enough reasons to question the veracity of every possible source of information, given a really intensive campaign against the media, we may all knuckle under and lose our ability to trust our own senses.

So are we really expected to do a 180 degree turn on Putin because 45 likes him and thinks we should be friends? Should we prosecute his team for conspiring with a foreign nation which has been our sworn enemy since almost immediately after WWII and for getting the Russians involved in messing with an American election? Or should we form a cyber security coalition with a nation who has built an entire apparatus to hack into America’s computers and is so good at it that we are beginning to think we should go back to the old days of paper records? Will the Russians kill the internet? What does Putin have to offer us? We don’t need oil but Donald might need more money. Although freedom does not always make life easy (and is never absolute), I cannot come to love a country that uses fear to control its citizens, although that may be where America is headed.

DT is the President of America and now he is trying to make us love a nation that we were taught to be wary of for our entire lives. Let’s get on with these investigations into Russia and America and the Trumps and the 2016 election. Even talking about this for too long is toxic and puts Putin too squarely in the limelight on the world stage. Those children in those bomb drills are still inside of us and they are not at all happy about this strange turn of events in America

This is a view from the cheap seats.


The Girl from the Metropol Hotel by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – Book

The Girl from the Metropol Hotel: Growing Up in Communal Russia by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and translated by Anna Summers in 2017 caught my attention because I had read, not long ago, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, which was also set in post-revolutionary Russia in the Metropol Hotel, located in the heart of Moscow. While I enjoyed the novel by Towles, I felt that the life Alexander, once a member of the aristocracy, lived in the Metropol Hotel might be a somewhat romanticized version of the fate a person would normally have suffered as an enemy of the people during those early days of the Communist (Bolshevik)Revolution. The new leaders were purging the nation of old bourgeois influences and the privileged classes. Petrushevskaya’s story is quite different from Alexander’s and conforms more nearly to my understanding of the complicated and unpredictable suspicions that often led to the arrests of Russians in the wake of the revolution.

Anna Summers offers a preface which provides some background. She begins by describing a May 9th parade that took place in every town and village since the end of WWII with rows of ragged and neglected veterans marching proudly, and then she has us picture the day of May 9th in 2015 (Petrushevskaya originally published her book in Russia in 2006) when there were no WWII vets left to parade through the towns and villages; there were only pictures carried by their grandchildren. She tells us, “Except sometimes the facts of a family’s connection with the war weren’t suited for proud retelling and were therefore often concealed from the little ones who would then be forced to hem and haw and finally come up with some lie. Sometimes our grandparents didn’t just die gruesomely, buried alive in a tank, like mine or return disfigured or even return at all. Sometimes they were arrested and sent to the Gulag…” (Her father and her grandfather were killed in a mass execution in the late 1930’s, even though her relations were prominent Bolsheviks elevated by the October Revolution, so she had no war stories to tell and this was a problem.) “The shared experiences of their childhoods – evacuation, hunger – were heightened in her case by the unbearable – and unshareable – extreme because of the social stigma that branded her an ‘enemy of the people’”

Ludmilla’s childhood with her aunt and her grandmother was hungrier and dirtier than that of most children because of the classification and execution of her grandfather and her father. The female survivors were ostracized and interned in a prison without walls. Ludmilla’s story may begin when she was born in the Metropol Hotel but her life is lived far from Moscow for the most part. Whatever Russia was like after the Revolution for those who found favor with the Communists, Ludmilla’s memoir of her childhood years shows what life was like for everyone in a family once a progenitor became an enemy of the people, even though the reasons were often obscure, petty, or even imagined.

Soon this famous Russian writer, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, will join the ranks of those no longer living veterans of WWII. Thankfully she got to publish this memoir of her early hardscrabble existence and outcast state. We should not ever forget that the Russian Revolution was often an ideological quagmire with many victims, both guilty and innocent. Sounds grim, but is very readable.

Flâneuse by Laura Elkin – Book

Laura Elkin’s book Flâneuse is not the first book about women who are the counterparts of the more usual male figure, the flâneur, A few other books with this title predate hers. Her book has a subtitle: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London and reads very much like a doctoral dissertation, although the language is not quite as academic, and the book tends to offer a warmer reading experience than the expected dry fare of the dissertation. The flâneur she tells us is “one who walks aimlessly…A figure of masculine privilege and leisure, with time and money and no immediate responsibilities to claim his attention.

Flâneuse is the feminine form and denotes “an idler, a dawdling observer, usually found in cities. But each flâneuse discussed in any detail by Elkin is not truly idle. These women were writers, photographers, artists. Until recently it was difficult for a woman to be a flâneuse. Writer Janet Wolff did not give credence to the flâneuse as “such a character was rendered impossible by the sexual divisions of the nineteenth century.” Other writers agree. But Elkin reminds us that the rise of the department store in the 1850’s and 60’s “did much to normalize the appearance of women in public.”

Laura Elkin was born on Long Island where no one walked anywhere. Her father was an architect who designed some of the corporate headquarters as companies left the city and moved into newly designed corporate parks. But Elkin discovered that she belonged in cities when she moved into New York City to attend college. “To sit in a restaurant on Broadway with the world walking by and the cars and the taxis and the noise was like finally being let in to the centre of the universe, after peering in at it for so long.”

The book is dense with detailed examples of women writers, artists, journalists, and more who felt most at home in cities and used the intimate details of city life gained through wandering and observation to enlighten us all. Elkin gives us a taste of London, following in Virginia Woolf’s footsteps; a soupçon of Venice, New York, and Tokyo (where wandering alone around the city is basically impossible even in daylight); but mainly of Paris which ended up being her home.

Artists she expands on in some detail, both about their lives and their work include Jean Rhys (allied with Ford Maddox Ford), George Sand (who dressed as a boy/man to roam the city freely), Virginia Woolf, Martha Gellhorn (wife of Ernest Hemingway and war journalist and more), and Agnès Varda, in French films.

Elkin’s sums things up in this way, “You don’t need to crunch around in Gore-Tex to be subversive, if you’re a woman. Just walk out your front door.” Reading this tome is a bit like being a literary flâneuse without having to leave your armchair – lots of great little tidbits.

Jace and the Jimmy Kimmel Test

My newest nephew, Jace, was born with a congenital condition called sagittalcraniosynostosis. This is a serious genetic challenge and would once have guaranteed the death of any child born with this condition. Jace’s skull is rigid. It cannot grow and expand. He does not have a “soft spot” and other areas also are fixed when they should allow for growth and expansion. This condition was not obvious from looking at Jace; it was invisible at birth. He looks and acts like a normal child. But if his condition had not been found, and, if a skilled and knowledgeable surgeon was not available to rebuild the skull, his brain would soon grow too large for his cranium and if this problem still went unnoticed Jace would have died.

Here is a photo of my delightful nephew shortly after birth.



Here is a collection of photos showing how Jace’s cranium looked before surgery and how it looked after it was modified. If you are squeamish you might not want to look at this part. The bottom (white bone colored) shows Jace’s skull (cranium) before surgery. There is a side view showing the room for expansion and there is a top view showing room for expansion there and yet little of the brain is left exposed. I find this surgery so amazing. It sure looks like these surgeons knew what they were doing and we are all very grateful. It also looks expensive.



And here is a photo of Jace after surgery (two days after). I am a bit worried still about complications but Jace is already home with his family. He does not have to wear a helmet and he has a zigzag scar across his entire head (he can pretend he is Harry Potter someday, except his lightning is longer and in a different place). I call him our little Road Warrior.


My niece and her husband both have good jobs. They are fortunate to have good health insurance. Their insurance passes the “Jimmy Kimmel Test”. Jimmy Kimmel’s new son was born with a congenital heart condition and he needed immediate surgery. Of course Mr. Kimmel has adequate insurance but he was very emotional when thinking about families who might be in a similar situation and not have enough health insurance, or indeed any health insurance. He said that a great test of your insurance would be to see if it would cover the costs of a child with special needs for at least the first year of the child’s life (but I say more coverage is needed because many conditions persist after one year.)

If you are lucky enough to get good health insurance through your job, or because you are affluent enough to buy it you will most likely be covered. However, if you rely on the ACA, also known as Obamacare, or if you need Medicaid you need to keep an eye on Congress right now because the health plans they are trying to vote on do not pass the Jimmy Kimmel test.

If the Republicans pass their healthcare plan Jace’s condition could be considered a preexisting condition (because he was born with it) and his treatment might not be covered.

Even if you don’t usually do anything that is political you need to pay attention to this. There are people out there who are trying to muddy the waters by spreading arguments that sound logical but which are not accurate. These plans, especially the one in the Senate, do represent an actual cut to Medicaid that will affect all who use them. The plans take Medicaid money away from the states and the states will not be able to offer full coverage for anyone without these funds.This is not really politics. This is your life and the lives of your children and your parents. Send a card to your people in Congress, make a phone call. You can look them up on the internet.  Just this one time let your representatives know that you know the insurance they are trying to give Americans is inadequate to our needs.