Monthly Archives: April 2013

Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young – Book

When I think of Neil Young I start singing “Our house, is a very, very, very fine house” from the Déjà vu Album of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young but for the past few weeks I have been reading Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young’s autobiography and now I understand that not only did he probably not sing that particular song, but that his real allegiance is to the group Crazy Horse and songs like Heart of Goldand Old Man, Hey, Hey, My, My, The Needle and the Damage Done, Rockin’ in the Free World, Cinnamon Girl, Down By the River, and Cowgirl in the Sand. He wandered south to California after playing with several groups he put together as a very young man in  his native Canada. He wandered in one of many, many of the vintage cars he collected and restored throughout his career, once he was able to afford to do so. Today he stores his cars in a huge building on his property that he identifies as Feelgood’s Garage. He goes on and on about a ’53 or ’54 Buick Skylark he once fell in love with and he tells about Cadillac’s and hearses and many other cars he has restored and enjoyed over the years. His love of cars is more endearing than it is irritating.

He loved the song Four Strong Winds, sung by Canadian folksingers Ian and Sylvia, a song I also loved since I heard Ian and Sylvia at a concert at SUNY Potsdam (which is very close to the Canadian border) when I was a Freshman. That alone would make me a fan of Neil Young but, he is a prolific songwriter and I have loved many of his songs and arrangements I also appreciate his voice which is unique and masculine; a good folk, country rocker voice. Neil Young writes quite a bit about his mates in Crazy Horse; Danny Whitten on guitar, Ralph Molina on drums, and Billy Talbot on bass and he spends time thanking them for all the great musical experiences they had together and for their strong friendship. As Neil Young talks his way through his autobiography we see that music was truly his life. He lived with three women, but only was able to make a long term satisfying relationship with his third love Pegi. They have raised three children together, two with disabilities although we get only a few glimpses of Neil Young as a Dad.

In his age, but still active and involved, and still a musician, Neil Young pursues several interesting passions besides his cars and his song writing. He is a model train nut and has a very complete collection of the very best model trains with a dedicated building where they are displayed and used. He’s easy to buy gifts for if you know which train or train car he is coveting for his collection. He also, because of his love of big cars, and because he feels that America, a huge country, will never settle for mini cars, is working on a Lincoln Continental called a Lincvolt that will be electric. He has had his difficulties with this project but it continues. Neil Young has always been a musician who not only wrote music and played music and sang music, but he has been deeply involved with choosing backup musicians he found compatible and sound recording facilities that he felt enhanced the sound of his music. He thanks many of the people who helped manage his recordings and helped him get the kind of sound quality he wanted. He talks a lot about how iTunes is destroying the sound of music and that CD’s are not much better and that he treasures the sounds of the LP’s on which his music was originally recorded and that he feels young listeners are missing the true quality of sound that music once had. So his third project is something called PureTone (later changed to Pono because the PureTone name was unavailable) which will reintroduce the quality of sound that made LP’s so great.

While Neil Young was writing his autobiography he was losing his crew, as one crony after another has died, and he finds himself in a dry period with his song writing which he has experienced at other times in his life and which he feels will eventually lead back to a time of productivity. We will see, I hope. I do not know why I love reading these books which describe the lives of our aging rockers, but I do. Spending time with Neil Young makes me want to spend several days immersing myself in his music, but since I only have them on CD, I am feeling a little bad about all the quality I will be missing, and I do believe that he is correct about this.

 
 
 
You can follow these two links to two of Neil Young’s songs. If you click on the link it will appear in your search box, press the Search button and it will take you to you tube where you can legally listen to the song and watch the video. This is complicated partly by legal ownership issues and I apologize in advance if it doesn’t work. The first song I chose is Harvest Moon and the second is Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World so you could search You Tube for these songs yourself if the links don’t work properly.
 

 

Into the Fray, The Red Line

 
 
 
Everyone is up in arms. Obama made the use of chemical weapons in Syria a red line. Late last week the news came across the seas that some chemical weapons “may have been used in Syria”, and “that there is some physiological evidence that some people exhibited symptoms of a chemical agent having been deployed in their vicinity.” It is all very tentative and not at all what we would imagine a full-scaled chemical weapons attack to be like. I think Obama’s red line depended on a getting a little more solid evidence than this about a chemical attack. However that may be, there have been rabid people all over the media taunting Obama to deliver on his promise and to declare that the red line has been crossed and to get more aggressively involved in helping the Syrian freedom fighters gain their independence from Assad. Of course, John McCain is the loudest and most strident of those who are apparently (they think) calling Obama’s bluff.

But I have to wonder what it is that they want Obama to do and I kept asking that of my TV on Sunday, which is Politics Day. I kept saying, “Do we want a war? What exactly is it that you want Obama to do? Surprisingly enough, after some initial difficulty getting through to my flat screen I did get some answers. Everyone agreed that they did not want “boots on the ground”. One suggestion is that we establish a no-fly-zone. Another is that we get more involved in the care of the refugees in Jordan and Turkey and elsewhere around the edges of Syria. There were also some caveats since this group of freedom fighters is not one unified group but is rather a collection of sectarian groups and even perhaps terrorist groups who may be at each other’s throats once hostilities end.

There is also the “no good deed goes unpunished” rule. We are likely to end up being hated and vilified regardless of what path we decide to take. This is not a real win-win situation for us. We do like to treat victims of abuse with compassion and the Syrian people looked pretty well abused right now. And we do like to back freedom whenever possible. Will we feel good enough about ourselves if we accomplish these goals, whatever the cost, and whoever we offend? These are all questions Americans and our American President must answer. Meanwhile all you hawks, stop acting like bullies. Stop yelling at the President.  You imply that the President and the US will look weak if we don’t act, but the President may also appear weak if he lets people goad him into precipitous action.  Show some understanding of how difficult it is to deal with the complex issues America faces in the 21stcentury. Let’s let there be a little time to collect better evidence of chemical weapon use and time to make a careful decision before we throw ourselves into the fray.
Here’s a link to an article that gives some clear and up-to-date information on this red line issue:

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/implications-of-possible-chemical-weapons-use-in-syria

This article appeared in the Daily Beast today, April 29, 2013:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/27/leslie-h-gelb-obama-is-right-on-chemical-warfare-in-syria.html

 

 

Electric Slide

 

 
No wonder we are unsettled and uncertain. We live in an age of uncertainty.

Will we win the lottery and become multimillionaires, or will we be victims of terrorism? Those are some pretty extreme alternate possibilities, and however remote they are happening to some.

Will a huge asteroid hit us and end it all?

Will we leave the cities and go back to the farms or will we be fighting water wars?

Will climate changes become wilder and wilder until we find ourselves dying off in large numbers, or starving, or living under domes or is that all (to use Sheldon Cooper’s word) hokum?

Will those of us who were middle class keep losing ground as we become poorer and poorer, or will the economy rally and give us a new prosperity?

 Will a small nation with a nuclear bomb eventually send it hurtling toward some unsuspecting nation and will the antimissile missiles shoot it out of the sky?

Will we have to go to war again?

Will we become a country of perpetual sorrow?

It’s just too much to worry about.

As we used to say, “We might as well dance.”

 But while we’re dancing will be headed towards a New Age of Enlightenment or the Nouveau Dark Ages?

Will we plod along slowly, sort of walking in place?

Will we experience a slow decline into poverty and back to the serfdom from which we may have ascended?

Or will we be headed toward that new age of prosperity, long life, space travel, and human development.

Living on the cusp of change is certainly stimulating.

In the meantime I recommend the Electric Slide.



https://www.youtube.com/embed/-mOY2eWO2qw?feature=player_embedded

 
 

Hater Week – Zombies v the American People

 

It is always interesting to watch the GOP in the Obama years as they zombie-up and do nothing except grumble, criticize, and complain; accuse, indict, and convict. We the people have elected a President who, according to the GOP, can do nothing right. Not only is the President wrong but so are the American people. They are so glad that Congress is basically their bitch and that they can correct the mistaken policies that the President and the American people wish to pursue. They are secretly congratulating themselves that they have been able to hold our feet to the cleansing fires of austerity and have been able to keep employment low so that they could continue to blame the Democrats for high unemployment and bad fiscal policy, even while making it impossible for Democrats to have any say in setting fiscal policy since just after the original stimulus plan. OK, through a less than pretty strategy we did get the tax increase at the top, but through a technicality we remained saddled with Grover Norquist.

This week the Republicans have been making my head whip around like that poor possessed woman in The Exorcist. First we have had to listen to them insisting that the Boston bomber should be treated like an enemy combatant even though he is an American citizen. What? When an American joined terrorists in the Middle East and was killed in a drone strike, Republicans were appalled that this traitor was not treated as an American citizen and given a fair trial. Now we have another American, however much we might want to disavow him as a citizen, and this time they are irate that he is not being treated as an enemy combatant. Whiplash! It looks like the only strategy these two complaints have in mind is to indict Obama. Why is our Congress fighting our President when America has so many real enemies? Good question.

These guys are playing a long game of their own. They plan to hold America in place, to not let it move one inch to the left, until they can take office in 2016 and pursue the agenda that they mistakenly believe is the road back to a “morally straight” America, which, if we are totally honest, has never existed. We are human beings; we are flawed; we do the best we can. The GOP will then create the Fundamentalist Heaven on Earth that they swear we will all be grateful for and they will distort America in whatever ways they must to bring the corporations back and keep them here by busting the unions. And we will drill happily ever after until the Rapture.

The second thing that happened this week was this stuff with the air traffic controllers and the Sequester. The Senate came together and unanimously passed a bill to keep control towers open on the eve of their Spring break. Wow! That was the fastest move I have seen this Congress make in the last five years! What, no filibuster? I didn’t see that kind of hustle when toddlers lost their Head Start programs.

I don’t know that I have ever been more aware of how little power citizens have in our government than I have in recent years. We can write our Congressional representatives, we can write editorials, we can march in demonstrations and carry signs, but these behaviors have had almost no effect on Republicans who have their districts zipped up and squared away through gerrymandering and tradition. If they are able to change the election laws in the other ways they would like they will make it even more difficult to unseat Republicans. Yes, I know this is the way American politics works and that all of these things fall under the category of strategy, but there must be lines that are drawn that make some things off limits; some things too manipulative and underhanded to be legal. Where are the lines? They are disappearing. Obama’s new digital grassroots campaign strategies have actually given me the greatest hope that the average citizen can still participate in government but soon these techniques will be co-opted by both the GOP and by the marketplace and their effectiveness will be neutralized.

There seems to be only one way out of this untenable situation, out from under the party that is usurping the rights of American citizens and changing the landscape of our democracy perhaps forever. Elect Democrats in 2014!

On Eclipse Day – Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – Book

 
Nerds rule! Really! I just finished reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and I have arrived at my opening statements as a result of reading this book. I loved this book. It was unlike anything else I have read which is unusual because I read a lot, and I did not want to stop reading it, which is one of the best criteria for choosing a great book. Of course Mr. Penumbra’s name, which refers to:  1. The partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object, or 2. The shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse gives us a great big clue that we are about to explore something or somewhere mysterious. Clay Jannon is our guide to solving the enigma that consumes his life once he is hired to work the overnight shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. Clay has just lost his job which involved designing web ads for a shop called NewBagel whose mission was to bring New York City style bagels to San Francisco; a store which failed. He is operating in the current tough job market. His new job with Mr. Penumbra is saving his lifestyle.

 

Clay’s roommate Mat is an artist who is gradually turning the common space in their apartment into a simulated city (not computer simulated either). His other roommate is Ashley Ames. He is best friends with Neel Shah who has made himself rich with software that provides body parts, especially boobs to game designers (these are digital in nature). Through the bookstore he meets a few “normal” people including Kat Potente who works at everyone’s dream company, Google. He also meets a string of very eccentric and “original” people who are the actual clientele of the back shelves of this bookstore. It is this group of borrowers that Clay must especially keep track of. He accepts the book s/he has finished with its totally incomprehensible title and he provides her/him with another tome with an equally incomprehensible, but new, title, which often has to be retrieved via a ladder from far up near the very high ceiling of the back room of the bookstore. Clay also must write a detailed description of the borrower, his/her demeanor, attire and any exchanges that took place in the set of log books behind his desk. He is apparently free to read and use his computer when he is not busy with customers (which is almost always).

Clay and his friends become interested in figuring out what is going on with these strange bookstore clients who do not buy books but simply borrow books. Why do the books look so old and plainly bound? Why do these, let’s call them interesting, characters act like they are involved in some kind of weighty research using books that are obviously written in some kind of code. What bunch of IT and art nerds would not be in nirvana with such a meaty mystery to submit to their computer algorithms for answers. Is the internet up to it? Can Google, google it? The collision between very old school books and computers reverberates like a gong through the lives of all the new and old people in Clay’s life. Fun, fun, fun and also makes you wonder if the whole book is a riddle or puzzle. If you solve it please let me know. I have some ideas but they would be spoilers so I will keep them to myself.

 

 

 

Hater Week – Women’s Rights

 
 
I am a woman, of course, so a huge obstacle to my acceptance and tolerance for some fundamentalist Muslims has to do with their traditions surrounding the freedoms of women. Women’s Rights are very different in many Muslim cultures than they are in western tradition. I am not sure that we can really coexist peacefully without resolving the place of women in society. I have arrived at the (perhaps erroneous) conclusion that women’s rights in Muslim culture are curtailed to prevent men from being tempted into certain sins. I have also arrived at the conclusion that, as in all relationships the world over, there are benevolent and healthy relationships carried on even in this “prohibitive” environment; just as purdah can also be used as a private space in which to abuse women without censure from the larger culture.

One of the freedoms that has been most sweet to me is the freedom to be educated and to use that education out in the world in a career or business. When I see a teen-aged girl (Malala) shot in such a way that she was actually being assassinated just because she spoke up about the right of girls to go to school, I do not have any way to rationalize such an action. It is just wrong. Some cultures abuse women in ways that, however traditional, will never, ever be acceptable to women who live in a culture that respects women as the equals of men; in other words as human beings. Even naming all of the ways that cultures have found to subjugate women gives these “traditions” too much power. I am convinced that freedom, however difficult it sometimes is to handle, is something that, once won, should never be given up. I am further convinced that we should work to free anyone who is “chained” by either religion or tradition. Perhaps we can find ways that straddle tradition and freedom, but so far that seems improbable.

I am not saying that we have to work this out instantly because we can all see that that is not doable.  Freedom is as much an internal feeling as it is an external right. Freeing someone will not really work if their internal beliefs cannot accept such a state. Helping women feel free will take time and care, it will take action and example, it will take freeing the men in the culture so that the women will not be separated from freedom by fear. All of these things are already happening in baby steps, around the world until someday girls will not have to remain ignorant because some man, or some religion says it must be so.

I think you can see that the attitudes I have about Women’s Rights put me in opposition to cultures that practice things like purdah or the imprisonment of women and girls or that squelch the freedom of women in any way. I see my Muslim sisters as less than free and this is a huge difficulty I have with Islam. I don’t know how to moderate this feeling. I believe in tolerance. I believe in live and let live. I believe that Muslims and Christians should be able to peacefully coexist, until I get to the issue of women. I do not intervene in any way. I politely acquiesce because it is socially correct to do so and I am not a fighter, I am a talker; but I do not really accept the way women are treated in the Muslim faith. I pray that the Taliban, or any Fundamentalist group does not try to curtail my freedom and so I pray that these groups lose. This does not make me sound very tolerant; it makes me sound like a hater. When I am strong I may feel like a hater, but most of the time men like this just scare me. And isn’t that the point?
 
 

Hater Week – Culture Shock

 
Here we are in America in a culture that seems to be arriving at a position that doubts the efficacy or the truthfulness of organized religions (although, this viewpoint is hardly universal even in America).Many people feel that much harm has been done in the name of one religion or another and that perhaps it is best to adopt a sort of diffuse spirituality that is more moral than religious and, in awe at the size of the cosmos and the tininess of us, hopes that there is a beneficent force (God) that will call us home when our time here is done.

We don’t have a very old Testament view of what constitutes a sin these days, although most of us would probably subscribe to the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments, which, when adhered to, help keep human societies from descending into savagery. We tend to believe in lots of hedonistic entertainment especially between entering college and committing to a career or a relationship or both. We drink, we dance, we tweet and text and gossip and flirt and even bully. We (at least some of us) enjoy sexual relationships that are somewhat indiscriminate. We swear and listen to loud music and we look like great big sinners.

Coming up against a religious group that is devout and has absolute faith in the teachings of their prophet, we appear blasphemous and disrespectful, Godless and sinful, when at least the sinfulness part is not our intention at all. This “silly fraternal nonsense” has become very much a part of the American psyche and, although not indulged in by all, is often behavior that is described as “cool” and a sign of social acceptance and belonging. This image is possibly one that will go away in time, but still seems to be a dominant lifestyle choice among young people.

That Islamic people may feel that it is their job to bring sinners back to God and to make the world a more moral and serious place to live and worship in should sound very familiar to us from our own Christian roots. While I am not saying that either group is correct or incorrect in its behavior I am saying that, because our religious thinking has evolved in different ways it is inevitable that we should find ourselves at odds with each other. How do two cultures that treasure such different things learn to coexist? Do they learn to coexist? That is the issue that is creating some of the current hate and misunderstanding in the world in these early years of the 21st century and it is the issue we must resolve to live at peace with each other. When our religion has come to hinge on our personal freedom to enjoy life as we see fit, and when their religion sees our behavior as shocking and corrupting and as undermining their devoutness, it will take an awful lot more effort on both of our parts to give each other room to live in the same world and yet live such different lives. I hope we get the hang of it real soon.

Here’s a link to a Daily Beast article which suggests that religion is not the real issue:

 

 

Hater Week – Pandora’s Box


Remember that old song, “The More I See You, the More I Love You”. Well with these young men in Boston, who came to this country to seek asylum and ended up bombing the Boston Marathon last Monday, the song title seems to have become “The More I See You, the More I Hate You.” I have spent the day cooking and thinking about “hate” this Sunday. You are welcome to share some of my thoughts.

Hostilities suppressed for over fifty years were set free by political change (the demise of the USSR, the Berlin Wall, and the Iron Curtain) and by revolutions (Chechnya, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Myanmar). Ancient disagreements, cultural/religious feuds and suspicions, and hatreds which had been suppressed by dictators have been opened up like a Pandora’s Box by taking away the people who suppressed these hostilities. This does not mean we should go out and find another leader who can close the box, but it seems to mean that we will have to live with the manifestations of all these negative energies until they are somehow resolved by the parties involved.

I’m not sure we really understood this until we went into Iraq, although the chaos in Africa should have given us a few clues, or the war in Bosnia. Neighbors in areas where there were tribal or religious groups with differing beliefs and customs often did not get along (and that is putting it mildly). When the hostilities among these groups were suppressed they did not go away; they festered and grew like a mold might grow in a dark, hidden space. Someone, after the attack on Sadam Hussein in Iraq, once described the reemergence of the sectarian groups there as a cover being taken off a boiling pot thereby letting the steam escape into the world.

America has been getting involved in these cultural arguments by taking a “parental role” in the world and has ended up intervening in these disputes by accident and proximity. As any parent knows, putting yourself between two arguing siblings will often result in having them turn on you, the peacemaker. The same thing may occur on a larger scale in countries when two combatants who were focused on each other now focus on the outsider, who they both see as an interloper, at which point both of the enemies will then become allies against the intruder; in the cases being discussed here these feuding groups become allies against us, America. This dynamic operates on all levels of society from the playground, to the family, to the neighborhood, the boardroom and to entire nations.

This sibling-alliance-under-duress phenomenon is one possible explanation for all of the hating directed at the United States, although it is clear that there are a number of factors involved in the terrible image America enjoys around the world. We have of course meddled in the affairs of others, especially when our interests were in some kind of jeopardy, or when we felt threatened by someone’s behavior, or when we felt it necessary to support the right’s of oppressed groups.

Sometimes the reasons for our meddling turn out to be quite self-serving and the ways we resolved the problems which we perceived to exist were not always compatible with what the indigenous people wanted or needed. Think of all the leaders who were sympathetic to America that we have installed in nations around the world and the sometimes devastating circumstances experienced by the people who were ruled by these hand-picked leaders. We do have stuff to answer for. Some of the hating was earned. We have on occasion deserved the sobriquet “the ugly American”. Even as tourists I bet we can sometimes be a bit arrogant and demanding; high maintenance and invasive. (I’m being a bit facetious here.) However, I guess one of the questions here is, do we want to be considered compassionate and a friend to all, or do we want to stay large and in charge? It may not be possible to be both popular and powerful.

I am pretty sure that if the American government were to go away and anarchy were the order of the day in the United States, then we might see some opposing groups forming up over the American landscape as well.

No matter how much we want to hold on to our premier position among the nations of the world we don’t have a magic wand that will resolve the cultural divides that have existed in some places for centuries, that have reared their ugly heads to complicate the struggle of some nations for freedom and self-determination.

Gut Wrenching

 
 

How will we ever be able to accept this world that is evolving around us? Learning to respect diversity is kicking the world’s butt. I’m not talking about skin color here either; I am talking about religions and cultures and entire belief systems; I am talking about the ways the various the peoples of the world behave in their everyday lives. There are such differences between us sometimes and yet we are also all human beings and as such seem so familiar to each other. In a way we dread the day when all our differences have been assimilated away, but in other ways, if this ever happens, we wonder if a certain peace will then reign among us.

It appears that it is possible that problems with diversity have given the city of Boston and all of America a really terrible week. Men who were practically children brought a proud city temporarily to its knees. Men who seemed to have become Americans were apparently enemies of America living in our midst. They killed four people and maimed or wounded many others. They chose to attack during a healthy American sport, the Boston Marathon, at a time when there was crowd. They gave us two gut-wrenching days in one week. It must have been excruciating to live in Watertown, Massachusetts on Friday, April 19th. It was certainly difficult even to watch it on TV.  

I hope these brothers thought they had a good reason because they certainly didn’t have a good plan. They had no way out. Were they planning to just go back to their old lives as if nothing had happened; as if we do not live in a time of security cameras and technicians who can make some sense of the most of garbled output? They were seen back in their neighborhood and it looked like they hoped to hide in plain sight. How bizarre is that? When they saw that it might be necessary to get out of town they had to hold up a 7/11, hijack a car, and force a hostage to tap his ATM account. None of this desperate behavior worked; the older of the two brothers was killed and the younger brother gave Boston a terrible Friday, although not nearly as bad as Monday.

Is it wrong to have “sympathy for the devil”? Put a 19 year old terrorist against an 8 year old whose life was ended way too soon and it is clear that we must reserve most of our sympathy and our grief for the innocent 8 year old. Yet we learned a lot about Suspected Terrorist #2 today. We learned he was from one of the nations that popped back into view when the Iron Curtain fell. We learned that he had lived in America for a decade and that he had become a citizen not long ago. We learned that he had friends in high school and he was a wrestler and he was generally liked. We learned that he was in college. The young man who started to emerge from anonymity does not make sense as a terrorist and yet he is one.

 This young man took the lives of others and now his life will most likely be spent behind bars. After this really tedious and nerve-wracking day I think we are all glad that this guy was taken alive because we want explanations. The boys’ father might never have believed in his son’s guilt if the police had killed him. What we don’t need is to turn a father into yet another hater, although we all believe that if the police had to kill the son it would have been justified. My goodness, that were a lot of law enforcement professionals and they followed protocol to a “T”, but it was freaky from far away and it must have been really surreal from up close. What a week! I truly hope this is not the new normal and that we get the hang of tolerating each others’ diverse ways very soon, but I can’t help thinking that we are in for a rough ride.

We will remember you:  Martin Richard, Lu Lingzi, Krystle Campbell and Sean Collier.

The Elephant Keeper’s Children by Peter Hoeg – Book

Peter Hoeg (picture an oblique line through the o), author of The Elephant Keeper’s Children, also wrote Smilla’s Sense of Snow, which put him on the world’s literary map. This novel, though very well written and, at times, humorous, may not end up being quite as popular.

The subject of the book is to get us to look at what drives us, what is our “prime mover”, our elephant that we keep at the heart of our lives. Letting a hidden elephant run your life is not necessarily a good thing either according to this author. There is also a lot of spirituality and a very informal hierarchy of values at the “heart” of this book. But, perhaps because it is Danish and because the characters are caricatures of public figures whose names seem both strange and farcical to us (and I don’t think it is just because the names are Danish), this novel may not appeal to all. I have to ask myself “why be interested in this book about a pastor, his wife, their three children and their dog all of whom live on a Danish island off the coast of Sweden?” But they are such a deliciously dysfunctional family and the story is so bizarre, it’s hard not to keep reading.

We know teens are embarrassed by their parents, but these teens have more reasons than most to wish to pretend they are unrelated to their parents. We don’t really even meet the parents of Hans (18), Tilte (16), and Peter (14), because we are being told the story of their parent’s current absence from the rectory at Fino (and the island), and the story of their previous escapades, by their youngest son, Peter.  These two parents seem ideally suited to each other as they are both addicted to one form or another of the “long con”. They should probably never have had children, and their children are certainly inconvenienced by their parents absences because various officials want to do surprisingly mean things to them, like separate them and incarcerate them. These are not children who accept being victimized and they have learned (probably from those terrible parents) to find very creative ways to foil the officials who have them in their sights.

As these children pursue their ridiculous parents across Fino and into Copenhagen, we go on a romp reminiscent of those old French hotel comedies, but without the sexual activities. It is a very “religious” romp (of a sort). I enjoyed this book, but I cannot predict who else will enjoy it and it did seem a bit long. It fits in with an increasing number of books in current fiction that have clueless parents producing talented and well-adjusted children. But I do have to stress that the book was fun — and some points were made about life and the heart and the spirit.