Monthly Archives: December 2012

Book Review ~ Times That Try Our Hearts and Minds

Book Review ~ Frederic Bastiat A Man Alone by George Charles Roche III, can be found for under $10.00

AmanaloneAs is my habit I scanned the web for book reviews on my subject before beginning to write my own.  Sadly, I didn’t find much of anything.  I find it sad because the subject of the book, Frederic Bastiat, was a brilliant economist and political theorist that served as a statesman during part of the upheaval occurring in France after its many revolutions.  Yes, there was more than one French revolution.  I see it’s time for a brief history lesson.

The first French Revolution began in 1789 and was initiated to bump the Bourbon’s off the throne and put the rule in the hands of the people.  It managed to do little more than create general chaos which set the stage for a dictator, a Mr. Napoleon Bonaparte.  By 1799 he was well on his way to becoming a new empirical force.  By 1815, the life of the average Frenchman had changed little.  After the Treaty of Paris ended the Napoleonic rule, the French were returned to monarchial rule under another Bourbon, Louis XVIII, brother to the long beheaded king.  Back to privileges of property and class and the vast majority of French (70% were peasants) saw little difference between the oppression of the monarchs or that of the “republic.”

Next the French were subjected to the rule of Charles X who started off his “constitutional monarchy” by promoting the “divine right of kings.”  He established laws that returned property to the upper classes and made attempts at controlling the press.  These actions were only the start of his campaign to regain a firm grip on the country.  The French were getting a bit tired of these battles for control of their tax dollars.  In the legislative elections of 1830 the king was repudiated.  He promptly attempted to dissolve the legislature and make any discussion regarding the authority of the crown illegal.  That was the tipping point and the king was invited to leave the country.  He did so.

Enter stage right a young man by the name of Alexis de Tocqueville who had studied the French series of revolutions and had spent time in the new American country.  He felt that the basis of the whole contest which had raged throughout the land for over 41 years was basically a battle between France’s nobility and her middle class.

This then was the beginning of another cycle of struggle for France and the revolution of 1830 placed a common citizen at the head of a “constitutional monarchy.” Looking for a “citizen king,” Lafayette (as the interim advisor) chose Louis Philippe.  This man was a cousin of the Bourbons and a member of the Orleans family.  He had royal credentials but was willing to serve as a servant king, dropping robes and froufrou and becoming a monarch “by will of the people.”

Eventually, the whole arrangement was nothing more than a family joke.  No one thought highly of “merchants” running amuck in the palace and the “king” certainly got tired of mouthing the words to the revolutionary theme.

This is the political morass that nurtured Bastiat.  In the early 1830s he traveled extensively and studied the economic impact on the European states as tariffs and controlling legislation took effect.  In 1844 he visited Paris as he was attempting to publish a work on Richard Cobden.  Cobden was an English philosopher that believed in the perfectibility of human nature and in the viability of a free trade system.  Bastiat, as part of a French free trade movement, submitted his work to Journal des economists. Peer review indicated a clear and quite brilliant mind in the fields economics and political theory.  It was obvious to them that the author has a firm grasp on the country’s economic issues.  After that, getting published was not a problem and he poured out articles for additional French journals and a book on Cobden.

From that point on Bastiat’s career was a public one.  Over the next several years he grew in importance in the French Free Trade movement and became the director of the free trade association.  This then sets the stage for the era of his greatest contributions.  He also became a member of the National Assembly during some of the most turbulent years of French history.  In a search for stability, leadership in the Assembly chose to try a French form of socialism.  A new leader stepped into position in the Assembly, Lamartine.

Lamartine chose to support the working force in the streets of France and try to push something through the Assembly that would finance some kind of job improvement.  He wanted the Assembly to finance a national exposition which would employ many people and give them money to spend, thus giving the economy a boost.  Bastiat was terrified.  He fought back against every measure to further impoverish the country and to provide support to the people without actual output.  The socialist elements in the Assembly, however, were determined to employ every Frenchman.  Thus something called the “National Workshops” was established based on the premise that there was a “right to employment.”

In 1848 France again suffered revolution as the failing economy demanded that the Assembly “do something” to save the country from bankruptcy.  That something was to disband the now powerful National Workshops.  Instant revolution and the French again took to the streets and members of the Assembly faced every bit as much danger as the monarchy of old.  The country and the Assembly were saved by no less than the French countrymen.  From the book, “Men of every class, armed in every conceivable manner, these Frenchmen knew that their country could not stand another triumph of the Parisian mobs.”

And still the struggle continued.  Those who would wish to allow the economy to grow on production, and those who would use government to generate the movement of funds to support the starving and failing middle class.

This book is a well written history of the economic and political atmosphere of the time.  The prose is interspersed with writings of Bastiat and his compatriots as they argued for their beliefs and their convictions.  It is every bit as applicable today as it was then.  If you are interested in history, and if you would like a better understanding of the conflicting economic and political ideologies at war in our country today, this is a must read.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Assemblyman Bastiat:

“We see then, that in almost all of the important actions of life we must respect men’s free will, defer to their own good judgment, to that inner light that God has given them to use, and beyond this to let the law of responsibility take its course. “

The law of responsibility – interesting concept, don’t you think?  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely whether that power is held in the hand of one or many.  So, perhaps, government is a search for some balance that works, if not perfectly, at least effectively.  By the way, the man in the White House does not have absolute power; he shares it with two other branches of government, the legislative and the judicial.  If you are terribly upset with the direction the country is going, or if you see things that you believe might help, I suggest you look at the voting records of the legislature and the decisions of the judiciary every bit as much as you look to the oval office.

Feedback is a good thing and I love to hear from you wherever you post your comments!

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Current times

Reflections ~ 12-25-12 The Pages of Our Minds

IMG_0965 Christmas.  A time of memories, a time of joy, and a time of sadness.  As magical as it all seems it often reminds us of those who cannot be with us for any number of reasons; sometimes the reason is permanent.  Today the curtain pulled back for me, just a bit, but enough to give me some small joy and to wonder yet again at the marvels of the human mind.

Most of my fans are aware by now that I am a caregiver for my husband who has vascular dementia.  The diagnosis was given some time ago now.  I believe it was early in 2011 followed by a major change in his capacity in May of the same year.  Our lives have been quite different and at least some part of that is recorded in my little book, Who I Am Yesterday.

In that book I describe some of the ways I have learned to cope.  There are also blogs on this site that try to explain that we do still have moments that can be enjoyed, times when things are, well, almost normal and days when it is trying.  Today was beyond normal; it was magical.

We have a few Christmas CDs that we have always loved.  Boston Pops, a Jazz version of some favorites, a few chorals and then there is the Nutcracker.  He was having trouble following a few things and I managed to get his hearing aids in; to his amazement he realized how different things did sound.  I asked him if he remembered taking me to the Nutcracker all those years ago.  His immediate response was yes.

Not too long after that he came to me and said he didn’t know how to explain it but he knew he had taken me to see the Nutcracker but couldn’t remember actually doing it.  Did I understand?  I told him I thought I did.  He remembered he was supposed to remember; or there was knowledge of doing something but not quite feeling it.  He agreed and, as an experiment, we started to take a bit of a walk down memory lane.  I started with when we met and in a few paragraphs brought us up to date.  He said, “I remember that it happened, but I don’t remember it happening.  Why can’t I remember?”  I explained that just before we visited Vancouver Island (yes, I remember) the doctor had him take a test (yes, I remember that too) and it seems that you are losing some of your memory.  “Oh.  But do you still want to be with me?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, quite.”

How incredibly fascinating that the human mind can develop these pathways where one type of clue, one piece of “connection” can open a path, however narrow, to the pages in our minds.  I think one of the reasons that I do find our life an adventure is because I am always discovering something new about how the mind works.  Some secret little door that I did not see before.

Our conversation continued for some time.  There were other things he remembered, even if the details did not come through.  For a good portion of the day we touched the past – and it was beautiful.  Yes, I believe in Christmas miracles.  I really do.

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Reflections ~ The night before the night before and things are still stirring….

Hubble2So this is Christmas.  It is a time of year that some feel is quite magical while others shudder at the sound of the word.  Some people find much joy, and some suffer from uncontrollable depression.  It is a time of year when we find friends and family, and when we miss those no longer with us.  It is intense and liberating all at once.  There are many reasons for this and they go back to the beginning of human history.  So, it’s time for a history lesson and those that know me would expect nothing less.  You see, Jesus is a reason, but not the reason for the season.  No, you may not burn me at the stake; I must fix breakfast in the morning.

I truly love “digging around” in our ancient history and finding the roots of our most cherished beliefs and traditions.  Those that have remained with us are rich with meaning and it is not an accident that layer upon layer has been added as our culture and our understanding change.  The journey to learn about our December festivals begins millennium ago when we were an agricultural people and our lives depended on the coming and going of the seasons.  Life or death could come based on when things were planted and harvested.  So we studied the skies.  Long before we knew that the earth was round we knew that the sun changed its behavior.  We knew that there was a “shortest” day of the year and a “longest” day as measured by the time the sun was over the horizon.  I could not find any references to earlier names but in Latin we call these dates solstices.  The winter solstice is that day of the longest night in the northern hemisphere and always falls on December 21 or 22 of each year.

This was an important time and was a natural time to celebrate.  Whatever it was called by the ancient cultures, the term “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still).  This was the time when the sun “stopped” and reversed its direction to rise again above the horizon.  December 25 would be the point when the sun had risen a full degree above the horizon and the people could be assured that it was indeed “coming back.”

There is a reason that depression can be so prevalent this time of year.  Our bodies need vitamin D.  When we don’t get enough sunlight we lose vitamin D and it affects our attitude.  Scientists have studied people living in the far northern climes for a number of years and they find the phenomena quite common – we need sunlight and when we don’t get it we get depressed (and sometimes a little wonky).  (Note: “Wonky” is a lovely Canadian word meaning not quite right).  The return of the sun was important for any number of reasons, all most all of them an integral part of life itself.

As civilizations grew, the meaning and purpose of the solstice grew.  The celebration of Saturnalia (the king of the gods) was celebrated by the Romans this time of year.  It started on December 17 and eventually extended to December 23.  It was a time for public banquets and private gift giving.  Heralded as the festival of lights, it led up to the winter solstice.  A time announced as the renewal of light and the birthday of the Unconquerable Sun (Sol Invictus).  The Roman emperor Aurelian established this feast at December 25.  Celebrations turned the world upside down as slaves were served by masters, grudges were forgotten and schools and courts were closed.

From Scandinavia we have the Norse tradition of Yule which lasted for 12 days.  That should sound familiar.  It was during this time that the Norse celebrated the rebirth of the sun gods and the increasing light upon the earth.  In some countries the Yule log was burned to ashes and spread in the fields, in others a small piece was preserved to light the Yule log in the next year.  In Poland the ancient solstice celebrations included forgiveness and sharing of food.

Christians did not celebrate the holiday until 354 AD.  There are several proposed reasons that this particular date was chosen.  Keep in mind that the only religious holidays left to us by the apostles were Jewish holidays and these were presumed to be a foreshadow of the coming of Christ. Even Passover, the ultimate symbol of sacrifice, was converted to Easter.  Thus, without an historical basis, some appropriate time of feast and festival need to be selected.  As far as the actual birthday of Jesus, the general consensus (such as one is possible) is that it was most likely sometime in the spring, between March and May.  This is determined in part by the only hint in scripture which has the shepherds “watching their flocks at night.”  The hills above Bethlehem are entirely too cold to care for flocks of sheep at night in the middle of December.  The herds were moved to the hills in the spring.

Is this a bad thing that the birth of Christ is celebrated in the midst of so many pagan celebrations worshiping the rising of the sun?  Does it matter that we are still having academic and theological arguments over whether or not Christians “stole” the holiday?  Historical evidence points to two things.  People have been celebrating the winter solstice in a variety of ways as far back as history goes and what evidence we have indicates that Jesus was born in the spring.  However, all the richness of the combined holidays and feasts of this one week in December carry many symbols and lessons that can be applied to the birth of a child called the true light of the world.  All the many centuries of traditions expressing this as a time of forgiveness, sharing, peace, return or birth of light do no harm in developing a Christian observance.  It is a time of year that the human race has celebrated as a time of renewal since we started to plow our fields.  Why shouldn’t it be used to celebrate the “Lord of Peace,” the “Light of the World” especially since we don’t have a specific date for the birth of a child named Jesus?  I will admit that the wanton parties seem a bit inappropriate; and we still manage to practice that part with great verve.

Another tradition that is practiced at this time of year is Hanukkah.  This too is a festival of lights with a meaningful past.  The story is told in the Books of the Maccabees (apocryphal books of the Bible).  During the reign of Aniochus IV Epiphanes, a revolt of the Jews was crushed, the temple ransacked and Jewish religious practices forbidden.  After the decree was issued, a priest by the name of Mattahias initiated a revolt by refusing to worship the Greek gods.  He ended up fleeing to the wilderness with his five sons.  After his death (cir 166 BCE) his son Judas Macaabee led in a victorious gorilla insurrection against the Seleucid armies, regaining control of Israel.  After entry into Jerusalem, the Maccabees cleansed the temple and determined to re-institute the Jewish religious practices. There was only one problem.  The sacred oil that was to be burned in the temple had been profaned and there was only enough for one day.  The process to press and sanctify the oil took eight full days.  The lamps were lit anyway and, miraculously, the oil lasted the eight days needed to restore the temple’s supply.  This is the basis for the eight days of Hanukkah.  It is a celebration of provision, of re-dedication, of light.  Although the celebration of Hanukkah varies on the Gregorian calendar (December 8-16 this year) throughout the month of December, it is still a fitting feast for this time of year.

I think it is very important for us to understand how some of our hopes and fears, joys and sadness, wonders and even prayers are expressed in different ways as our world changes.  So, even though Jesus is not the reason for the season, the hope and purpose He represents to so many is certainly a major reason for the season.  Perhaps we should view this season as a time to focus on renewal, rebirth, forgiveness, sharing; all the things that our past tells us is symbolized in the birth of the sun, or the Son.  Let those Christmas carols stir  your heart and give you hope; they are, in many ways, universal.

Please, have Merry Christmas or whatever festival you celebrate this season and pass on some “peace and goodwill.”  As a special present I will post two offerings this week.  On Christmas Eve we will explore the historical adventures of Santa Claus.  Guess what?  He really did exist.

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Reflections on 12-14-12 Part the First: Pain ~ and Peace

It’s a cold, February night on a nearly deserted Texas highway. A family of four and their friend and business associate are traveling to San Antonio for a brief vacation, a weekend of R & R. At the wheel is a conscientious but inexperienced teenaged driver. This part of Texas does not see much snow, but there is ice. On this night it is black ice that appears, as such things do, without warning. Even experienced drivers with great skill find it difficult to maintain or regain control once a vehicle loses traction, especially at highway speeds, and however moderate that speed may be. For a young lady just short of her 17th birthday it was a situation completely beyond her expertise.

The Suburban left the road and rolled somewhere between one and three times. Hard to count when you are bouncing around or unconscious. Later investigation by police and medical teams indicated that she had died on impact with the steering wheel; probably before the vehicle even left the road. Her small, slim body was ripped from the seatbelt and thrown through the window. As it happens, I was in that vehicle. Regaining consciousness I realized that her parents were outside of the car with her, responding with whatever emergency training they had, refusing to believe what they most likely already knew. In the car with me was her ten year old sister. Crawling back into the seat I reached for her and held her until help arrived. Luckily, a ranch family not quite ready for bed heard the crash and saw the rolling vehicle. Time was meaningless but it didn’t seem all that long before the scene was flooded with helping hands and emergency vehicles.

The loss of a child is a pain so unlike anything else. This was not my child, but she was part of a tangle of emotionally intense relationships I had with her family. She knew me well enough to trust me in time of urgency. Something she did not give lightly. If her mother was not available, it was me that she would call. No, she was not my child; but the grief was still overwhelming. It seemed as though we remaining four had become scuba divers. Sounds, sights, feelings seemed muffled somehow. Her mother wrote poetry. Beautiful, heart wrenching poetry. Her father closed up on himself. Her confused little sister became uncertain of her place in a family torn into ever smaller pieces. The consequences reached far, far into the future. At the time we were lucky to have a church family prepared to envelop us. There were always quiet people near us to answer the phone, answer the door, organize food, ferry people to and from the airport, the doctor, and the funeral home. Quiet, gentle angels that kept the world at bay until we could, bit by bit manage to communicate once more with the land of the living. We huddled together in our own private hell, holding the broken pieces close until they started to heal.

What would it mean to go through such hell in a fish bowl? How would it feel to have people battling over the whys and wherefores before you even knew if your child was among those who had not survived? How would it feel to become everybody’s symbol of whatever agenda they needed to push before you even had time to internalize what had happened? How would it feel to hear so many squabbling over causes and small bits of inaccuracies like vultures? Of what importance are the reassurances that someone, somewhere isn’t going to let it happen again? How shattering a “body count,” as if your child was nothing more than a bag to be counted. With your life in pieces around you, you are not prepared to care about the next time. For you it is already too late. All this before you had time to somehow stop the rush in your mind of all the things that your child would never be or do. Mute with hurt and pain, how could you shout loud enough to tell them all to be still? “Let me breathe, please just let me learn to breathe again.”

As an author I am currently involved in research for a book about Job. Many of my feelings on the book do not fit within the boundaries of common interpretations. There are messages I see and feel that I do not find in the literature. If there are hints they are brief puffs in the wind. I believe that one of these messages is the real error of Job’s friends. For the last few days we have been very much like them. Too busy looking for whys and how comes and not nearly busy enough supporting those in pain.

As an active participant in a number of groups and a growing reach of friends and fans on Facebook, I have seen anger, despair, raw emotion and bitterness ripple through the community like a digital tsunami. However, now is not the time to shout from the treetops, jump up and down and announce our own surefire way to fix the problem. That time will come but something MUST come first. First, you must heal. Not all at once and not completely; but you must at least climb out of the “scuba dive” and be a reasoning, thinking individual again. Someone prepared to enter into effective debate, discuss alternatives, check facts, understand more about the who, how, and when. Now is the time to heal.

Part of the raging argument is related to what God’s part may or may not have been in all of this. I intend to make this a multi-part blog and this will be one of the focal points. For now I want to point out why I think Job’s friends so seriously missed the boat.  It is something that is found in sacred texts around the world. The way we heal is to love one another. The way we heal is to support each other in our suffering; to provide for the widowed, the orphan, those who need, and those who hurt. Some will tell you that this is not part of the Old Testament thundering God of the Hebrews. I have news; it is.

In Leviticus 19:18, we find, “You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh.” (Jerusalem Bible) Jesus, you see, was quoting scripture. Throughout the Old Testament some of the things that upset the prophets the most were not the tiny little sins and indiscretions, it was the treatment of widows and orphans. It was the sacrifice of human lives (which may or may not have included children) and the treatment of the poor and suffering.

Jesus himself tells us that the two most important commandments are to love God and love your neighbor – as yourself.  He even says that all the law and the prophets hang on these.

Many will be familiar with pieces at least of I Corinthians 13: “If I have all the eloquence of men or of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing. … If I give away all that I possess, piece by piece, and if I even let them take my body to burn it, but am without love, it will do me no good whatever.” (Jerusalem Bible)

In the first part of Revelations where Christ addresses the seven churches, His complaint against the church at Ephesus was, “you have less love now than you used to.”

Whether or not we come to an understanding of why things happen, whether or not we find in ourselves some faith in some hovering over-protective Sentient Being keeping watch over us, or whether or not we are driven from any faith at all because we cannot tolerate a universe with any Supreme Being that won’t protect us from our own evils great and small; we must love one another. We must find support and concern for each other. We must be the Good Samaritan, the person who shares burdens, the one who answers phones, warms up meals.

There will be a time when we must, as a nation, address the systemic causes of violence in our streets and in our homes. Not just for those who died thinking they were safe in their schools and neighborhoods, but also for those who walk our streets each night not knowing if they will make it home safe just one more time. There will be a time; but first, we must heal. First we must envelop our wounded. Let them learn to breathe again.

If you want to make that commitment an active one, I suggest you research benefits for the families.  Groups or charities that can be checked out that are helping with expenses suddenly incurred and not expected.  This is, evidently, a neighborhood of financial stability.  That security can go out the window quickly when you suddenly must pay for plane tickets, funerals, or time off work beyond bereavement leave (usually about 5 days).  Some of the families and perhaps some of the remaining students are sure to incur counseling costs.  Maybe you can physically travel to the town and protect the families from media and harassment by being part of a human shield.  Do something creative, something healing, something that reaches out and touches.  First, find peace and learn to breathe again.

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Movie Review ~ The Power of the Word

Akeelah and the Bee, DVD (2006) Available for Less than $10.00 or probably through a rental program.

AkeelahStarring:  Keke Palmer, Laurence Fisburne, Angela Bassett and a whole lot of other really talented people.

For a bit of a change I thought I would provide a movie review.  Especially since occasionally I find something that uses the art form to resolve an issue and leaves you feeling that you have somehow grown in the process.  Such a movie is this beautifully directed film we picked up by pure happenstance.

I must confess that spelling bees never really inspired me with great thoughts or drew my attention in any particular way.  I knew these were intense contests and that those that participated had to work really hard to excel; a rather limp interpretation of a fascinating pursuit.

Akeelah, played by Keke Palmer, is an 11-year-old black girl from South LA attending a school that could probably be described as a “drop-out-factory.”  Having lost her father to a drive-by shooting, Akeelah strives to do what she believes he would want her to do: memorize words.  Together they had spent hours working on scrabble and she developed the talent in a tribute to him.  She does not, however really want to share her ability with anyone else.

Since Akeelah easily aces all of her spelling tests in a class where the students are lucky to even pass, her teacher encourages her to sign up for the school spelling bee.  The principal is working on a last ditch effort to draw attention to the school and secure funding for better programs.  Although Akeelah is afraid she will lose all of her friends, she finally agrees to try, and easily wins.  In the audience that day is the principal’s college friend.  After her win, he targets Akeelah with a list of difficult words in rapid fire order to test her ability.  She misses only one.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I do want to point out a few ideas developed within the movie.  One is the power of the word.  The director uses a number of real spelling bee competitors and real competition words to give the movie its realistic tone.  He also takes the audience through the process of conquering the word.

While putting her through her training, Dr. Joshua Larabee (the principal’s friend played by Laurence Fishburne) illustrates just what it takes to be a champion speller.  It is not just memorizing thousands and thousands of words.  It is understanding roots, linguistics and the history of words.  Is the word of Latin or Greek origin (which will provide a clue to the spelling), is it used in science, in music, in law?  Was its history formed in French or a language not related to the Romantic language family? Does it have homonyms or synonyms?  And read, always read, classics, literature, science, biology, whatever one can get your hands on because reading puts that word in context, it gives it life.

The second point really begins during a scene where Akeelah and Dr. Larabee are still trying to measure each other up.  Dr. Larabee asks her to recite a piece of poetry from his wall:

Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Throughout the tale, Akeelah learns compassion; at one point willing to give up the top prize to help a competitor.  She learns the cost of pursuing a dream, suffering greatly when her mother discovers she has been lying about her school activities.  She learns that there are, indeed, many people who will come to your support when you step out and become who you are.  Yes, life does not always treat the brave well.  It is still important to learn that as you walk this earth you should strive to become all that you can be, and to encourage others to do the same.  Such a task can be accomplished without trampling our fellows.

I wrote a poem many years ago on the eve of the first “Gulf War.”  Among the lines was this:  “When did we forget, that man cannot another man set free?”  Each individual must make their own choices and when we do we should strive to do our best, to reach our goals with honor, and to show others that it can be done.

This movie has become one of my favorites because it gave a sense of what sparks the human spirit and it defined what an incredible tool the word can be.

Have you watched anything of late that left you feeling a bit elevated?  Love to hear from you folks, whether it’s on Goodreads, my Amazon page, my Facebook page or here, in the window alcove.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf ~ Current times

Book Review ~ Battles of Words on the High Seas!

The Fox series by Dan Parkinson.  Available for a range of investment, usually under $10.00 – yes, I know, they are old, but they’re fun!

foxseriesMany moons ago while I was spending a bit of time in the bookseller trade, I ran across a most delightful author, Dan Parkinson.  This fellow can describe a sea battle from the 1700s in such a way you can feel and smell the sea air and see the sails slap in the wind.  He does it, however, with a slightly different twist.

The four books in the series are, The Fox and the Faith, The Fox and the Fury, The Fox and the Flag and the Fox and the Fortune.  (You can also check http://www.bookfinder.com)

You really need to read them in order if at all possible.  The story begins on a prison ship where young Dalton (a/k/a the Fox) has been accused of treason and tossed into the hold to die.  His only hope of escape and, therefore, to regain his honor is the American 7-cannon schooner, the Faith.  “Borrowing” the ship for his escape is, of course, only the beginning of his adventure.  Parkinson provides a great deal of detail in his nautical battles and this is the first of many.

In the process of attempting to find a way to clear his name as a British officer, Dalton manages to get himself tangled up with a lovely daughter of the revolution.  Since it is necessary for him to avoid anything or anyone resembling British law, he becomes involved in the recapture of an American ship from pirates.  This ship is the Fury.  This particular book sets up a lot of historical conflict of the time giving you a fairly brief history lesson on who was fighting whom and who was taking advantage of the whole uproar.

In the third book, Dalton becomes the captain of the Fury and spends most of his time escorting the colonial merchant ships past the British barricade.  This is an activity that endears him to the father of his beloved lady and still keeps him out the clutches of British naval law.

The closing volume to the story has Dalton rescuing a ship from the pirate Jack Shelby and preparing for the revenge he knows is coming.  It is in the last volume that he manages to find a way to clear his own name making him free again to decide which side of the Atlantic he will make his home.  Well, we all know who helps with that choice!

At first glance the series appears to be a rollicking good look at this particular part of history with detailed naval battles, beautiful revolutionary ladies and the struggle to clear one’s professional name.  However, Parkinson spices the story in an intriguing and very creative manner.

As the young Dalton acquires the companions that will join him during his adventures, we find that they are anything but skilled and “professional” sailors.  His crew is made up of Spaniards, Germans, Cockney speaking Indians, a Brit, a few French along for the ride and a few of these upstart Americans.  Parkinson plays words like some people play instruments.  Everything from descriptive phrases such as, “Constance has a whim of iron,” to the utter confusion that often reigns on his ship from the jumble of accents and languages.  Only the Brit can understand the Indians.  (Well, think about it.  We didn’t arrive on these shores speaking “American”).   Only one fellow can talk to the German soldiers.  Parkinson uses this mix in a way you can quite imagine while filling his books with genuine wit and comedy.  He is a true swordsman when it comes to use of language.

If you are interested in the battles of the American Revolution as they were fought on the high seas of the Atlantic, as well as the manner in which colonies found ways to survive economically, this is a great series to read.  It is also a fun study of the way in which we use language to communicate, or not.

How do you like your history served?  Dates and people and textbook references? Humor, personal memoirs?   Let me know what sort of explorations you are interested in and I’ll see what I can “dig up!”

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

Hello? Is there anybody really there? ~ The Question of Consciousness

Admittedly for a person with only elemental understandings of the workings of physics, using science to peer into the realm of the mind can be a risky business.  But, it’s irresistible.  Some of the biggest names in physics have approached the question and they have come up with some truly interesting ideas.  A few of the resources I used to explore this subject include Through the Wormhole (narrated by Morgan Freeman), Dr. Michio Kaku, the “Global Consciousness Project,” and a little research on Dr. Erwin Schrodinger’s cat and Henri-Louis Bergson.  Yep, all of them.  And this probably won’t be my last bit of wandering into this field.  I also have to admit some research into the materialist’s point of view.  Most markedly I would refer the reader to I Am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter and The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer.  It’s always nice to have a bit of balance.

There was a time when I could sit with my husband and discuss the philosophical application of various developments in physics.  Sometimes things would get a bit wild and he would gently bring me back to some more conservative point of view.  Not because he didn’t think I was “on to something,” but because he felt that the research didn’t support the thought – yet.  Over the past several months we have spent time watching the series mentioned above and some of these old questions came to the fore.  The inspiration for this post was the segment on the sixth sense.  (No teeth grinding from my more materialist friends).

cat

photo by Dian Brandmeyer
Courtesy WANA Commons

In the cut that impressed me the most, Dr. Michio Kaku walks the viewer through Schrodinger’s thought experiment.  Starting with the understanding that in particle physics any particle can be anywhere or everywhere (based on probabilities) until someone looks at it (measures).  The thought experiment with the intrepid kitty in a box is an experiment that puts the cat in a situation where certain events may, or may not, kill the cat.  Until we open the box, we cannot know if the cat is dead or alive and, therefore, it is both.  This is the answer derived from the sum of the probabilities.

Kaku goes on to say that Henri-Louis Bergson took the experiment a bit further and decided that part of the act of measuring, of “looking” is an act of consciousness.  The cat lives (or dies) because a conscience individual looked in the box and made that measurement.  Then he goes to the next step.  The cat and the observer are in the same universe.  So, who is to say that the observer is dead or alive?  Another observer.  Layer upon layer of observers measuring the universe into reality results in a universal consciousness looking back down the chain of observers to the scientist who looks in the box and sees — that the cat is alive.  Confused yet?

NASA image

NASA image

Another part of the same program discussed the Global Conciseness Project.  This, too, fascinated me both because of the reach (global) and the length of time the scientists have collected information.  This project uses random number generators which are located in population centers around the globe.  What the scientists look for is anomalies in the stream of random numbers.  Understanding that no matter how hard we try, no generator is completely random, the system builds in tolerance levels to seek only a certain level of unusual behavior.  The most dramatic result in their records?  September 11, 2001.  Not only did the random generators deviate with the widest margins recorded to date, the change started before the actual event.  Their site is linked above.

There are, however, different points of view that look at the relationship between mind and brain as purely physical.  This would be a “materialist” interpretation.  I mentioned a few references in the opening that are written by men who are perfectly comfortable in a world where our “minds” are nothing more than a construct of the biology and neurology of  our brains.  That whatever it is that is “I” develops from birth by using a feedback loop between our brains and the outside world.  In this case materialism means that there is nothing beyond the physical.  I found much of interest in these books.  I learned a bit about how pattern recognition and symbol making can result in the higher cognitive functions we think of as particularly human.  But I couldn’t quite make that last leap and say “I Are Nothing but the Atoms of Which I Am Made.”

Personally, I find much wonder and awe in the universe in which we live.  I never cease to be amazed at the wonders discovered by science, mathematics, biology, medicine and philosophy.  And I know that there are people who will tell me that all that “wonder” is possible with nothing more than the firing neurons in my head.  However, I cannot look at the stars without yearning; I cannot let go of the feeling that there is “something more.”

What about you?  Without throwing darts from either side of the equation, what do you think about consciousness?  Is it possible that there is some part of our brains that does comprehend the world on levels we have yet to explore?

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck