Category: Have You Read It?

Oh, for heavens sake people, get a grip.  Who exactly in the media suggested that Phil Michelson must apologize for having a personal opinion about how he manages his life and keeps his family secure?  It’s not my business.  It’s not your business.  It’s his business.  Period!

Phil-Mickelson-480_2There is no more decent person in public life, on or off the golf course than Phil Michelson. The man is a stand-up, do the right thing and be responsible, accountable kind of guy whom we should all want to emulate.  We should all want our families to be like his. Admire and applaud his success as a golfer, a business man and a human being, don’t demonize him.

Grownups are supposed to make responsible decisions and Phil is entitled to make whatever decisions are best for his family and for securing his future. We should all be inspired and encouraged to do likewise, rather than allowing control over our futures to be governed by others who really don’t care about us.

Phil doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for having an opinion any more than we should expect idiotic naysayers to apologize for their unfortunate opinions which denigrate the success of others.  In a logical, sane world, we would applaud the head of a family for making the right decisions that would protect the future of that family — to take care of them so that they will be safe, secure and not be dependent on others.  That’s all Phil is intending to do and frankly, it’s no one else’s business!  I don’t hear anyone grousing about another native Californian named Tiger Woods choosing to live in Florida…where taxes are much more reasonable!

In our household, we’ve had some very lively discussions about whether or not California has just gotten too expensive, not to mention the irresponsible way Sacramento  mismanages the money we already give them.  When there are other alternatives out there, why wouldn’t a wise and thoughtful person consider the cost of living in one state if it’s less expensive than another one?  Is that any different than deciding to buy a more reasonably priced vehicle that offers a better value?

Why wouldn’t people who are contemplating the future of their business think through all the ramifications of:  payroll taxes if hiring employees; sales tax if goods are needed to run the business; property tax if requiring a building to house your business.  Phil Michelson is a business and he hires employees who depend on his making good and wise decisions that contribute to his success; he needs an office, he buys products and services and contributes to the local economy.

If a business person has X-dollars and the cost of doing business exceeds that money, will that business be successful?  NO.  If it’s not successful who gets hurt?  Certainly the business owner, but that’s the risk.  What about the employees who accept jobs with that business, only to lose them because the owner didn’t PLAN correctly for how much it would cost to keep the business going.  And what if he couldn’t plan correctly because the government kept changing its mind about how much tax money it was going to expect from the business? Do you think planning is important to anyone making decisions?  YES INDEED!  And that is exactly what Michelson is doing.

When I owned my business, I had upwards of fifteen employees.  Ultimately I was responsible for their livelihoods.  They were depending on me to manage the business responsibly.  To be wise enough to anticipate my expenses.  I was the last one to get paid.  If we did well, I did well.  If we didn’t do well…then I didn’t do well.  In most businesses, the owner is the last one who gets paid.  Not the first.  We’ve been fed a whole litany of demonizing examples based on the shoddy behavior of a greedy few business people who do behave reprehensibly.  KNOW THIS: They are the exception, not the rule.

RockwellFourFreedomsOur country was founded on the principle of equal opportunity.  If we want something, we have the opportunity to work hard to get it.  Yes, there are many obstacles to overcome like unfair playing fields or unsavory characters.  So we have to be smarter and work harder.  For 237 years many, regardless of race, color or religion, succeeded.  Was it hard?  You bet it was.  But are we proud to succeed based on our own efforts?  Without a doubt!  And out of extraordinary successes came exceptional Americans and amazing innovations.  Those successes lifted our country out of poverty and gave America its great middle class. Achievement was and is the goal.  Success is defined by outcomes and with it comes the freedom from want and worry – whatever that means to the individual.

Just like Phil, we all make decisions based on what is a reasonable price for goods or services — unless of course, we are spending someone else’s money.   Then perhaps we don’t care so much about the cost.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s not our money – we’ve got no stake in the game.

Very few people value what is given to them.  The value comes from earning it and achieving that success.  Successful people are the ones who create jobs, hire people, bring about innovation,  send taxes to Washington (to help those truly in need,) write checks to charities, sponsor little league teams, purchase goods and services from other small businesses and keep the cycle of prosperity going – locally and globally.

Why is it that suddenly success, achievement and prosperity are being demonized?  Who is it that is perpetuating this false message?  When we, as a society are a little more skeptical of messages that don’t ring true, and are willing to become better informed by checking the facts before emotionally spewing false generalities, there will be less polarization and more interest in all of us working in a positive way to solve our problems rather than hurling blame at others.  What a waste of time.

We really do need to get back to our own knitting.

Isn’t wisdom gained through understanding how and why something was done?  Isn’t that the basis for forming beliefs and opinions?  Because history is no longer an integral part of a well-grounded education today, is there any opportunity for those in charge to appreciate the hard-won wisdom of those who went before us and paid such a dear price?

With the release of the most recent biographical film on Abraham Lincoln, we have the gift of a fresh and vibrant Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s luminescent film about our 16th President. We would do well to ponder the invaluable lessons of his presidency, woven like threads of gold into this brilliant historical tapestry.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.” Abraham Lincoln

Although Lincoln has been a constant in our lives – from the copper pennies that bear his face, to the silhouette on the teachers’ February-themed bulletin board, to the silent, massive image gazing out upon the throngs at his Memorial in Washington –  most of us know next to nothing about him – about how he accomplished what so many believed was absolutely and completely wrong, dangerously pig-headed and impossible.  He did it because he believed in a higher ideal.

Daniel Day Lewis brings this enigmatic leader into breathtaking focus with his perceptive portrayal of a “scorned, back-woods lawyer,” contemptuously described  by his contemporaries as an uncouth, awkward, baboonish, shuffling, and uneducated creature of politics.  This Lincoln embodies everything we would eschew today, given the current trend to favor sophisticated form over honest substance.

And yet, the intricacies  found in Lincoln’s emotional and intellectual depth leave us gasping.  In one sentence he whipsaws us from the lowest political motives to literary analogies that are inspirational. It is a privilege to watch Lincoln’s steady but oh so painful efforts to move our country towards the passage of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution, while Lewis steadfastly moves us towards an understanding of Lincoln’s character that is nothing short of a tour de force.

The film examines the messy process of governance, using the high drama and complexities surrounding the passage of the amendment to abolish slavery.  That event alone is worthy of study in that the sharp divide in the Union then, is disturbingly similar to the divisions we face today – states rights vs. the good of Union – The UNITED States of America.  Left vs. Right. Democrats vs. Republicans.  Liberals vs. Conservatives.  Democracy vs. Socialism.  America vs. Europe. We may be even more polarized today than we were back then, given that so many today seem so ignorant of what they are risking.

Lewis gives us insight into Lincoln’s brilliant mind through his awkward carriage, stooped low by the awesome burden of governance,  his powerfully expressive eyes, and his parsimonious language.  We see his mind – whirling cogs and wheels – contemplating the  repugnance of war, the immorality of slavery and the avarice of his fellow citizens.  His Congress vacillates, weighing the sacrifice of doing what is right and necessary, regardless of, or in spite of, personal gain.  The audience is mesmerized.  We hang on every syllable uttered by men who only in retrospect would be labeled great.

Lincoln should be required viewing for every member of Congress, every appointed government official,  as it reminds us in the most uncomfortable ways that without a greater purpose, there can be no justification for the tawdry, squalid, partisan muckraking that consumes our government – we are reduced to the lowest common denominator.  The issues of today are equal to the ones which took the country to the precipice in 1865.  Yes, we have great causes – all governments, countries, eras have them, but ours seem subordinate to petty partisanship.

Where are the great leaders who are willing to bring passion to outcomes worth more than the political patronage of horse traders and nest featherers?  There will always be that, human nature being what it is, but we’ve lost sight of the greater good and there is no one to lead us and inspire us to be better than we are.

lincoln-daniel-day-lewisI am reminded of a much used phrase, from Aesop, from Patrick Henry, from the new Testament – United we stand, divided we fall,  which also appears on the great seal of the State of Kentucky, (incidentally Lincoln’s actual birthplace.)  Lincoln understood what was at stake.  He knew that governing was a lonely business, not a popularity contest.  He was willing to risk his entire Presidency, and ultimately his life, on the strength of an ideal that he believed would right a tremendous wrong and would eventually heal the country.  If only we had such wisdom and courage from our leaders now; if only they would choose honesty and truth over political expediency.

If you don’t see another movie this year, I urge you to see this one, and take a few of the younger generation with you.  Sally Fields is at her best as Mary Todd Lincoln.  We are awed by Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus  Stevens and we are deeply grateful for the comic relief from James Spader as a hapless lobbiest who breaks the tension when we need it most.  David Strathairn as a more than sufficiently arrogant William Seward. There are a few things I could criticize about the Lincoln screen play but I won’t.  The bulk of it is just too remarkable to mention minor flaws.

P.S. If this movie whets your appetite and you are curious to know more about the subtle brilliance of Lincoln, I heartily recommend Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals.  It was a primary resource for this movie.

My husband has a favorite saying:  

On The Internet No One Knows You’re a Dog

One of the most interesting and frightening things about the Internet is how it reflects society – the good, the bad and the unregulated.  I’m an unabashed free thinker so I like unregulated.  I’m a big girl; I can regulate myself, having been raised responsibly with strong Southern values and consequences.  A big thank you to my parents and the era into which I was born.

The Internet currently reminds me of an awkward teenager, young, strong, vibrant, full of promise but not quite mature enough to know right from wrong – much like the wild-West-adolescence of this unique and exceptional country we call America.  Back then the Wild West teemed with snake oil salesmen selling quick-claim deeds for non-existent gold mines.  There are similarities on some of today’s Internet sites.

It’s frustrating – this Internet, running rampant with erroneous information, slathering on emotional content in the hopes of evoking sympathy.  Recently two such e-mails prompted me to resurrect my old mantra, which used to blaze across my screen saver:  Crede, sed comproba – Trust but verify.  (Actually it’s a Russian Proverb, but I like it in Latin – authors’ prerogative.)

The first was a harmless list of quippy sayings attributed, complete with photo, to a “ninety-year-old woman named Regina Brett.”   The problem?   Regina is a very young 52; a columnist from The Cleveland Plain Dealer,  and she bears no resemblance to the photograph in the e-mail.  I wonder how she feels about being aged by forty years, never mind having her column co-opted by some anonymous spammer.  Ah, the power of the Internet.  The laziness of the recipient with a forward key (me included.)

The second e-mail was a plea for passage of the 28th Amendment wrapped in the sentimental uniform of a badly scarred war vet, interspersed with the following commentary:

No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay on retirement. While Politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full-pay retirement after serving one term.  

If each person who receives this will forward it on to 20 people, in three days, most people in The United States of America will have the message. This is one proposal that really should be passed around.

Proposed 28th Amendment
to the United States Constitution: “Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States .”

Like many, I couldn’t hit the forward key fast enough.  BUT, as the story unraveled  I discovered that it wasn’t about a wounded soldier.   Oh horrors.  Was our brave military being used to deceive?  Again?   This story was meant to discredit the Congress.

Well heck, there’s plenty of disgraceful behavior in Washington. We don’t need to invent stuff to make that point.

Read Snopes’ full disclosure of the allegations  cited above.  Just click the highlighted, underlined links.  According to SnopesUrbanledgendTruthorfiction, and thatsnonsense, all websites supposedly dedicated to fact checking, this amendment doesn’t exist.  By that I mean no one has actually filed any such bill in the Congress.  And yet, the 28th Amendment has its own Face Book page with over 2,000 ‘likes’  – although details are noticeably absent.   Sloppiness or an assumption that if it’s on the internet it must be true?

I’m cynical enough to be wary of what my 7th grade Civics class called “glittering generalities.”   Rule one: if you want to persuade your audience by circulating these e-mail blasts, get the facts straight.  The allegations behind the amendment are apparently baseless.

If the fact checkers are accurate (there’s a concept for you)…and the conspiracy theorist in me does have a few gnawing concerns… this elaborate picture of the worst of the worst in our elected representatives is a fabrication.   HOWEVER, and this is a really big HOWEVER, on the other hand,  what if the allegations are true, and all the fact-checker websites are a fabrication designed just to keep everyone  off balance?  There go the lemmings right over the cliff.

Remember what Buttercup sings to Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore:  “Things are seldom what they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream; Highlows pass as patent leathers; Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.”

Honestly, I yearn to  critique something more simplistic, like posts with bad grammar. Try diagramming the verbiage used in this so-called amendment.  Verbs, Adjectives, Syntax.   Oh, sorry…depending on which generation started these rumors, one can easily spot the culprits by their dangling participles.  Sniff sniff.   Schools today don’t teach English or Grammar;  American History or Civics.  They teach social studies,  macrame or resource allocation.   I know I know,  I make grammatical mistakes, too.  But at least I try.   Whoops, digressing again.

Does the end justify the means?  Or do the means justify the end?  Ummmm, you tell me.  This tangled web sets my hair on fire.  I want black to be black and white to be white.  It shouldn’t matter which network you watch.  It shouldn’t matter which magazine you prefer.  Facts should be facts.  Truth is truth.  Editorials belong on the Editorial page…where we can know them for what they are.  OPINIONS.  As a former journalism student, we were taught, like Sgt. Friday, to “just get the facts ma’am.”

Currently we’re a curiously, evenly divided nation (evidenced by California’s  recent Prop28 and the incredible ads that whipsawed us from one extreme position to the other.)    The looming question is, what should we believe?  Whom should we believe?  Unfortunately we live in such murky times laced with so much convoluted information that we require an overwhelming preponderance of evidence to believe anything.  That my friends is hard work.   Right.  Our own 21st century Sturm und Drang.  Guess we’ll have to parse those glittering generalities more carefully.

All respectable southern girls were taught as they were growing up that if they really didn’t like someone, they were encourage to say with a serene smile, “She comes from such a nice family!”

Crede, sed comproba indeed!

“So Many Books, So Little Time”   

Who knew Frank Zappa was a bibliophile? 

I covet books.  I love the feel and the smell of them.   One of the features of this blog is the “Good Reads” app on the right side of my page where my current reading list resides and you will note it’s not unusual for me to be reading four or five books at a time.  My joy is learning something new with each selection.   I don’t borrow books, because I don’t give them back. (Even from the Library – my bad.)  I don’t loan them out, because I wouldn’t dare risk not getting them back.  I’m too old fashioned to curl up with a Kindle.  That dear sweet man I married spent two months building twenty feet of floor to ceiling bookcases for my office when we moved to the desert.  Not once did he complain about the one hundred twenty-five cartons of books we brought west when we moved.  Don’t ask about the books we donated to our local library when we  packed up the Cape house.  It broke my heart to part with my old friends…but…I did try to make sacrifices.

The majority of us learn whatever it is that we need to learn by reading books.  Textbooks.  Newspapers.  Instructions.  Directions.  Information.  Reference.  Inspiration.  Pleasure.  Escape.   Knowledge.   To broaden our worlds.  To visit unexplored places.  Reading is a luxury,  a necessity, a joy. 

Here’s a sampling of the the eclectic information that’s been added to my cerebral data base in recent months:

For lovers of history who can manage the heft of 500+ pages, there is no more fascinating read than George, Nicholas and Wilhem, Miranda Carter’s well researched and intricately woven story of  Queen Victoria’s spoiled and out-of-touch offspring: the three Royal cousins of England, Germany and Russia, and the road to World War I.  After reading of the bazaar treatment Kaiser Wilhem experienced as a result of a childhood deformity it’s no wonder he behaved so madly.  

If that period isn’t early enough, tackle Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, the brilliantly fictionalized but historically accurate account of Abraham’s Lincoln’s presidential campaign and his shrewd and calculated cabinet selections.  Or travel even further back to pre-Tudor England and Phillipa Gregory’s  two novels, The Red Queen and The White Queen.  At first I feared these two choices were throwaway romance novels, but the stories of these intricately manipulative women of the houses of Lancaster and Tudor and the War of the Roses’ struggle for the English throne  pre Henry VIII, will keep you spellbound.  Compared to the machinations of these two women, Desperate Housewives is a yawn.  The stories are all the more fantastic because they are drawn from historical facts.

After Florence’s Arno River overflows its banks and thousands of priceless books are nearly ruined, Robert Hellenga, in his novel The Sixteen Pleasures, teaches us about book and art restoration while weaving a tale of deception that involves the Church of Rome and a priceless book of erotic drawings.    Writer Marina Fiorato gives us a riveting look at 17th century Venice, more deception and murder surrounding the origins of Venetian glass blowing in The Glassblower of Murano.  It’s an interesting historical vehicle which shifts back and forth in time as the mystery unravels. 

If modern day Venice is more your speed, pick up Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo, or City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, the true account of a horrific fire which could not be extinguished because the fireboats could not navigate those charming canals, long overdue for dredging.  The fire, of questionable origin, destroyed Venice’s beloved Opera House.  If you like Berendt’s style of historical non-fiction (he’s a journalist, formerly with Esquire and New York Magazine) immerse yourself in Savannah Georgia where I promise you will be mesmerised by his Pulitzer prize winner, Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil.  Truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.

Interested in early 20th century Boston, the Red Sox, and the powerful origins of the Boston Policeman’s union?  Dennis Lehane throws us into a brutal and vivid moment in time  in his 8th novel,  Any Given Day.   I was privileged to hear Dennis speak at a writers conference when this particular story was still resident on his laptop.  He shared with us a wonderful anecdote about the book’s main character Luthur — who incidentally did not exist in his early drafts — who kept intruding in his mind as he wrote.  Finally, as he told us the story, he gave in and created Luther Lawrence – a character so vividly drawn I see him clearly, even today.  This fictional work’s foundation is meticulously researched as we inhabit the early days of the 20th century — Babe Ruth and the Red Sox; a tragic strike by the Boston Policeman’s union; and the racial divides of Dorchester Blacks,  the Lace Curtain Irish of Southie; Beacon Hill Protestants; and the North End Italians.  As only Lehane can do, Boston itself is the central character.   I know Boston well, as does he, and this story brings the city to life in ways that will have you smelling the sweat, salty air  and stale beer. 

For an unvarnished look at the insular, exclusionary and often cruel life of a pre WWI Jewish family from an English  milltown, visit the cobblestoned streets of The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein, who debuted as a first time author at the age of ninety-six.  His  account is unblinkingly memorable.  I learned many things in this book, not the least of which was about the  Shabbat Goy.  Raise your hand if you know that term.

Are you a lover of art?  The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland is a lovely collection of short stories based on a fictional 36th painting attributed to Johannes Vermeer.  Each story charmingly describes the painting’s prospective owners and the circumstances surrounding their possession of it; working backwards in time to Vermeer’s family and how and why the painting might have been originally conceived.   Not only are the stories captivating, I was inspired to learn more about all of Vemeer’s paintings.  That’s what reading is all about.

Curious about Shakespeare?  Here’s a page burner akin to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons –  Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell.  You won’t be able to put it down.  Because Carrell is a distinguished Shakespearian scholar, her credibility makes for a fantastic read.  You’ll have to suspend belief in a few places — like the fact that in this whirlwind saga, no one ever stops to eat, sleep, shower or …you know…but the mysterious suggestion that Shakespeare’s work might have been penned by several others, and the mystery of a missing Shakespeare manuscript, will keep the pages turning.   Either way, it’s a harmless if educational romp that incorporates many of Shakespeare’s’ plots. 

Would you like to inhabit the world of the western settlers from the late 19th century?  There is no better example than Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Angle of Repose, set in the ravaging Colorado and Mexico mining camps.  Stegner  uses his words brilliantly to paint ravishing personal and physical landscapes that will forever be alive in my memory.

There are a few books that so transport us that we don’t want them to end.  Prince of Tides is one such book.  Author Pat Conroy, as eloquent as he is, has a rather small body of work, mostly set in his beloved South Carolina.  To my mind, he’s writing the same story again and again, but his sentences are so beautiful, I almost don’t care.  Maybe we only get one Conroy per generation.  I’m awfully glad he is part of mine. 

Is there anything more pleasing than classical music quietly heralding the desert sun peeking through the orange and lemon trees, an early morning cup of coffee,  the soft desert breeze and a delicious stack of unread books waiting to take me on another journey?

Indeed.  “So many books, so little time.” 

Book Review

Downton Abby is the PBS Emmy Award winning smash hit that has shattered all the records since Brideshead Revisited in 1981.  First hitting the airwaves last year, DA’s season two is captivating millions of viewers.  The story follows the fictional Lord & Lady Granthom, their retinue of servants and life at their ancestral home, Downton Abby – a main character in its own right.  The setting is the demise of Victorian /Edwardian England –  the back drop is Word War I and Socialism is creeping into a British standard of living that we’re still romanticizing. 

However.   As so often is the case, reality is far more interesting than a chopped up fictionalized version.  Being an unabashed anglophile (due to a thrilling three-year stint in the UK) I recently stumbled over a book called Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. 

Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschield, who showered her with his extraordinary wealth, which went toward sustaining the real Downton Abby –  Highclere Castle, when Almina married the 5th Earl of Carnavon,  who incidentally bank rolled Howard Carter and aided him in the discovery of Tutankhamun.  (He also of the famed curse, who died of blood poisoning from a shaving nick,  shortly after the tomb was opened. ) 

Now that’s a story!  But more important, Lady Almina put more of her vast wealth  to work turning Highclere Castle into a first rate hospital during World War I.  She found a true calling in nursing and her single-minded determination,  skill and approach to healing became a standard at that time. 

What an amazing woman, loved and respected by both sexes and liberated in her own way in her own time.  One of her quotes struck me so, given the age, it caused me to dog ear the page and underline it.  In a speech to the Newbury Unionist Women’s Association, she said :  

“In the dark ages, which are not very far behind us, we used to be called the weaker sex.  We never were, and we never shall be weaker in our patriotism.  In this as in all similar  matters we are neither inferior nor superior, but only very different and I am convinced that we shall do most good to our country and her cause if instead of imitating men we endeavor to widen and perhaps enrich the spirit of public life by being simply ourselves.”   

My mantra exactly.  I have always believed woman were equal to men, but decidedly different.  I had no need to burn my bra or emasculate my male friends – I just figured out what I wanted, or what was needed, and then figured out a way to get it or do it.    Barriers only exist if you think they do.

Lady Almina was remarkable without ever meaning to be so.

%d bloggers like this: