Monthly Archives: February 2014

Langston Hughes, Obama, and Black History Month

black history month2

It’s the last day of Black History Month. I saved one of my favorite Langston Hughes poems for today and I’m glad I did. Yesterday Obama announced his program called My Brother’s Keeper. He hopes to forge a partnership between successful men and young black men because our culture has been struggling to find a way to keep these young men moving in positive directions, and this plan might just keep them in school and offer them moral support until they land in a productive adult life. I am hopeful that the timing is right for a plan such as this to catch on and succeed.

I always hear people complaining that slavery ended over 150 years ago and they don’t think that people living now bear any lingering blame for what happened between 1619 and 1862. But just 50 years ago black people still had to sit at the back of the bus, they had to drink out of separate drinking fountains and, in fact, black people and white people in many communities did not eat together, sleep under the same roof or study together. Just 50 years ago four young black girls were blown up in a church. There are people still alive who marched for civil rights, who knew Martin Luther King and who even may have had fire hoses (and worse) pointed at them. African Americans were not welcome in many neighborhoods and that did not happen as long ago as 150 years ago. Many of us were alive in the 1950’s and remember the events in the struggle for civil rights vividly. This stuff is still relevant today and I guess white people do not get to decide when it has been long enough. So much inequality still exists and we need to make sure that skin color is never again a reason for such inequality to exist. We are all finding this easier said than done. Let’s keep working on tolerance. It’s important.

Here’s that Langston Hughes poem I promised you:

Dream Variations

By Langston Hughes


To fling my arms wide

In some place of the sun,

To whirl and to dance

Till the white day is done.

Then rest at cool evening

Beneath a tall tree

While night comes on gently,

Dark like me-

That is my dream!


To fling my arms wide

In the face of the sun,

Dance! Whirl! Whirl!

Till the quick day is done

Rest at pale evening…

A tall, slim tree…

Night coming tenderly

Black like me.


I love this poem because of the differences between the dream as Hughes tells it in the first stanza and then the dream variation as he tells it in the second stanza. I notice things like the way the day in the first stanza is “white” and in the second stanza it is “quick”. I love that the “to whirl and to dance” in the first stanza becomes the much more joyous “Dance! Whirl! Whirl!” in the second stanza. In the first stanza the night is dark like me and it comes gently; while in the second stanza night comes tenderly and it is Black like me. It makes you wonder what has happened between the first dream and the second to change the dream so little and yet so very much. Maybe what came was freedom, being your own boss and doing things when and how you wished to and then enjoying your rest at the end of the day. Or perhaps you have your own interpretation which satisfies you as much as mine satisfies me.

I know it may seem limiting to celebrate Black History only one month a year, but it is a good thing that we do because it is still marginalized in so many textbooks and while it reminds us of some of the worst bits of people, it also reminds us of some of the best.

By Nancy Brisson

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How Many Fouls to Get Benched?


I have said this before, but in the hopes that more people will agree with me this time, I will say it again –

Republicans should have to sit out the 2016 election. (See my blog post No Viable Republicans for 2016, 8/12/13) They should not get to run a candidate for President of the United States and I am including the Tea Party, especially the Tea Party, and the Libertarians in this ban. Here are the reasons, a list of their fouls, so to speak:

  1.  Constant obstructionism with fewest laws passed of any Congress
  2. Sedition – at least two instances, actually we could make a case for many more: a) the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling (the government shutdown) b)paralyzing Congress and refusing to bring bills to the floor of the House for an up or down vote
  3. Voter suppression in the states
  4. Playing fast and loose with the laws of the land, i.e. illegal Roe v. Wade laws passed at state level, excessive moves to repeal the Affordable Care Act
  5. Poor sportsmanship – halting Congress until they have a chance to win the next election (should mean that they have to forfeit the next election)
  6. Abusing the election funding process with surreptitious and illegal funding through loophole channels, buying offices, excessive advertising and misleading advertising
  7. Refusing to accept climate change to the detriment of our environment including our air, our fresh water, and our oceans
  8.  Republicans are personally responsible for blocking programs that might have helped create jobs and might have lowered unemployment

Our government doesn’t come with professional referees. We the people must serve in this capacity. How many fouls does one political party get? Is this what we want to teach our children about how politics is done in America?

These Republicans now plan to stay low key and sort of quiet (although they cannot seem to stop those party members who must make rogue and random remarks) until the November mid-terms. They think that we have very short memories and that we will forget their fouls. In November they plan to take control of both the House and the Senate. All hell will break loose if they do and there will be almost nothing to stop them from having their “plutocratic” corporate way with America (and perhaps even ending the Obama presidency in ways America will regret forever.)

We must (even if you usually don’t) vote for Democrats for Congress in 2014. In 2016 we should just ignore the Republicans, because if we reward their bad behavior then we deserve what we get (it will also ruin America forever). As far as the American people are concerned there will be no Republican running for President or Vice President or Congress in 2016. Make the Republicans sit out the rest of the Obama Presidency (this is not about Obama; this is about America). Make them sit out the next Presidential term. Bench them.


This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

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Command Authority by Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney – Book

Command Authority2

I have just finished Tom Clancy’s last book, Command Authority which, I believe, was finished by someone else after his untimely death last October 1, 2013. However Amazon just says that it was co-written with an author he has worked with before, Mark Greaney, and that is also noted on the book cover. Tom Clancy is an author that I will really miss. He had an uncanny ability (or was it insider knowledge) to write books that were so current that they seemed almost prophetic and this book is no exception. I read Threat Vector last year just a short while before Edward Snowdon exposed the extreme data collection (spying) going on in the NSA. In Threat Vector, China found a way to leave on American computers a backdoor code which gave access to even very secure American computers. Shadowy ninja-type black ops groups were able to locate and take out the American black ops program that was run by our heroes, John Clark, Domingo “Ding” Chavez, Sam Driscoll, Dominic “Dom” Caruso, computer whiz Gavin Biery, and Jack Ryan, Jr. After the daring-do spying of Snowdon, which could be either leaking or whistle-blowing, all of America learned that what Clancy wrote was not at all futuristic, and although still sinister, it was being done by us, and not the Chinese, or at least not only the Chinese. So Tom Clancy put us right at the intersection of now and intrigue.

Well, in Command Authority, and it gave me the shivers, Clancy does this once again. This time just as I am reading in Clancy’s book about Russia marching into the Ukraine, the Orange Revolution is happening in real time in Kiev, Ukraine. It’s a bit eerie. This most recent thriller is in pretty much seamless Clancy style (except perhaps the last few paragraphs) so even if someone else did finish the novel any differences are probably too subtle to notice. The novel shifts back and forth from an intelligence operation from 30 years past that the President becomes aware of to an op in present time. President Ryan finds his interest triggered in earnest by a code name, Bedrock, from that old op that is coming back to life 30 years later. The original incident swept Jack Ryan, Senior into action and danger. The op in our times is engulfing the younger Ryan, Jack Ryan, Junior, who happen to be the son of the President of the United States. These two ops, which parallel each other so closely, give the novel its interesting and unusual story structure. The newer case eventually resolves the loose ends left in the earlier investigation. We finally learn the identity of the elusive Zenith, and of Bedrock. Tom Clancy’s team may get its authority from the CIA, but this group is able to do delicate spy work and then follow it up with military-style operations, which in Command Authority involves actually borrowing armed forces groups based in the area of the Ukraine. Swiss banks also play a role in this story. It was great to have Tom Clancy visit me once again. It was like a fond good-bye. I am not sure whether or not he named Mark Greaney as his heir apparent as some current writers do, and I am not sure I will sign on if he did, but I am certain that I will miss Tom Clancy.

By Nancy Brisson


Rich Folks Are Having a Moment

rich folks

Rich people are having a moment. In fact they are having a long succession of moments. They can’t believe that we have finally noticed that they are stealing money and funneling it up the ladder. They don’t understand that they have been so greedy or so scared that they would not have enough, that they have left us feeling way less than flush. When we had enough income to bankroll a comfortable lifestyle, when we had perhaps a bit more than enough and could afford a few luxuries, we were content to send the rest to the top. We bought into the schema of bosses and employees; the schema that says bosses should be paid much more than workers. What we didn’t realize is that these wealthy people were working through our government to insure that more and more money would rise to the top and, if we did notice this, we were assured that some of it would be passed back down the chain to us bottom dwellers so we could fill a two car garage. Someone, some expert in economics knows exactly which laws and tax loopholes are skewing affluence so sharply to the 1%. Someone, that same expert I am guessing, knows how to rewrite the laws to allow more largess to trickle down on the 99%, perhaps even on those terrible takers, the 47%.

Rich people have pretended that they believe that the American people want them to throw all of their wealth in a big money pool and then divide it by the total number of Americans and dole out their money equally amongst us all, the way it was reported that some Arab countries did with their oil money. The American people are not interested in either socialism or communism, as these rich folks insist they are. Most Americans have no real concept of socialism and communism, which were areas of popular speculation from the 30’s through the 50’s. Such speculations basically died with the parting of the Iron Curtain. We can still be riled if people or ideas are connected to the terms Hitler or the Nazi, but it is really considered beyond the pale to go there and it mostly rebounds against whoever does this particular type of labeling. And contrary to the fears or pretended fears of at least one of the wealthy, no one in America is plotting to pack rich folks into trains in order to treat them like cattle and let them anticipate what a frightful place they are headed for, a place they could not even imagine in their worst nightmares. But we do not plan to do that to the wealthy. We don’t plan to steal their jewels or their gold teeth or freeze their bank accounts or sell or stockpile their art. Although we might enjoy it if the rich decided to spread the wealth among us all, we do not expect it. We expect the people in the 1% to face reality. Leaving consumers without a pool of disposable income is terrible for our economy and will perhaps do more to turn us into a socialist or communist society than the people in the 47% are likely to do, the people who have been pretty quiet and docile even as their fortunes have waned, who have kept their noses to whatever grindstone they could find, no matter how poorly it paid, and have raised only the slightest ruckus as far as I can ascertain.

Rich people do live lives that rarely connect with the hoi polloi. They live on huge estates with gates and electronic security systems. They live in villas in fabled cities where the wealthy collect and hog all the loveliest scenery and best weather. They live on yachts which are like cities and they anchor at one beautiful port after another and do whatever they like to do when they arrive. They believe they don’t need the rest of us. We have become superfluous and perhaps a bit frightening. We are all walking around with our hands out asking for a handout.

You cannot actually live without us though; it is a delusion you would like to believe. Right now you can get all your food and services just by exchanging some of your cash for it. That may not always be the case. You do not grow your own food. You do not plant your own gardens, or cook your own meals, or clean your own houses, or fix your own little estate infrastructures. You hire people to do these things. What if we all give up on being productive because it doesn’t pay? What if we really do decide to be lazy and just get by with as little work as possible? How will you eat if farmers no longer grow things? How will you fix your refrigerator or your pool or your yacht if there are no skilled workers who train to repair these things? How much will you wilt without your air conditioning? You are not living on private islands where you never have to encounter the poor or even the rapidly dwindling denizens of the middle class. We are all interconnected.

However much rich folks may want to deny climate change they will eventually have to accept that it might be real. Changing climates are one of the factors that may make food so scarce that even endless supplies of money may not buy enough. If I were rich and I saw the escalation of extreme weather-related events I would think about investing some of my bucks to make sure we did things that might help reverse or at least halt this. I hope I would not just stick my head in the sand and party as if every scientist was deliberately lying to allow the (dirty word) people to get their hands on my money, to halt the flow of that liquid gold that allows the gushers of profit that keep me on my yacht or in my villa, to make it impossible to hold on to my high-flying lifestyle. You are wealthy, you say because you are a risk-taker. You are wealthy because you are superior to commoners. You work harder, you play harder, and some of you are quite charitable. But you only take risks that increase your profits, and you are not currently into taking risks that are somewhat long term. You could reform energy in America, you could ride a wave of new, renewable energy into the future instead of putting an elegant blonde model-spokesperson on TV to repeat the oil company mantra over and over again that fossil fuels can burn clean, that fracking does not pollute air and water, that dirty oily stuff piped from the depths of the earth is as clean and perfect as this elegant person in front of us, who would never say such things if they were not true. Saying something over and over does not make it so, even though you keep plugging away at us with this childish strategy.

Rich folks, be done with your moments. Use your powers for good. Even if you don’t want to believe some little part of you must have doubts about the way things are trending. You have paid to put yourselves in leadership roles and you have said that you have big brains. Stop using your brains to create strategies to bash us over the head with your fears. Engage that risk-taking behavior that got you to the top and fix some of this. Stop name-calling and moaning about the unfairness of it all. Stop turning other Americans, Americans who are not rich, into monsters who wish to gobble up your wealth and drag you down with the takers. We are at our wit’s end because you insist on being paranoid rather than helpful. You had better work on your farming skills and your plumbing skills, etc. It looks like you will need them to live on your island with the coconuts, or on that yacht (among the pirates). Because without your help in this matter the rest of the world is likely to descend into a misery you will want to avoid for as long as it is possible.

rich folks4

By Nancy Brisson

This is the view from the cheap seats.

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Our Sunny, Warm Yet Very Sad Week

polar vortex

Last week was a week that highlighted the paradoxes we often experience in this oddball and wondrous life we live briefly on this little planet of ours. In the Northeast we enjoyed some relief from the deep freeze snow globe we have been locked into this winter by that polar vortex. Not only did our temps get warmer, but the constant precipitation became intermittent and we were treated to several sunny days when our lips did not freeze together every time we left the house. So we couldn’t help but feel a lightening of our spirits; a certain buoyant happiness that was unconscious and irrepressible. We had to live through this glimpse of spring quickly because we were assured that our return to the deep freeze was only one week away.

orange revolution3

The paradox was that this was quite a sad week in the news. Watching the nations of the world that are struggling to be free is weird and hard.  We feel guilty that we are merely watching these events. It helps when our government offers support, or aid, or diplomacy. Still, when we see people putting their lives on the line to remove the foot of a dictator from their necks and their lives, something in our psyche tells us we should be somewhere in that fray. Perhaps this is a primitive urge because it isn’t our fray, but watching the Ukrainian people stand up to a powerful leader who wanted to take them places they did not want to go, we couldn’t help but be sad for those who gave up their lives to give other people power against a sanctioned bully. This situation has resolved itself into tempered joy because it looks like something very rare has happened and the people have won without having to go to full-out war. Their deposed leader refuses to accept that he is deposed so there may be more strife ahead, but for now we all hope for the best.

children from Syria

This past week we also saw that people had to go in and rescue Syrian children and families from a war zone, where bombs and bullets were still flying in order to help them get to refugee camps to restore some normalcy in their everyday lives and to make sure they did not starve. Our hawks and our military, who are used to being knights on white horses who ride to the rescue of the downtrodden, (a decidedly idealistic view of what we do) are having a very hard time staying on the sidelines and the little hawk within each of us wonders if we are doing the right thing by staying out of Syria, although we actually think we are.  The sadness of Syria has been heavy on our hearts for a long time now but from the gray deep freeze it seemed all of a piece with our general mood. Last week’s sunshine, however, put us at odds with the stresses all around us in the world.

jordan davis

The third sad thing for me was the outcome of the trial of Michael Dunn who shot Jordan Davis. Is this what America will be now, people with guns picking off people (kids) who tick them off. Michael Dunn is a stone-cold killer to me, protected by racial fear and the laws engendered by it. Stand Your Ground is a terrible law which, if left on the books, should only apply to situations where someone is obviously ready to take another person’s life with obviously being the key word, and not just something that is happening in your paranoid imagination. So we lose another good teen, a kid who was perhaps being a bit provocative by continuing to play his music after someone in the general area expressed his displeasure. That is just teenaged stuff, the action of someone whose immaturity fights with his common sense, something that might not have happened if he were not so young. I am shocked that one young man shot by mistake was not enough. I am shocked that this same senseless and tragic thing happened again and so soon. It doesn’t bode well for the future, but it does suggest that this law is a bad law and should be overturned. These two shootings, leading to the waste of two promising young lives, could perhaps help us learn to stop living such separate lives. Many white people no longer go into their inner city neighborhoods and many minority people never leave their neighborhoods. There may be good cultural reasons for this, but I don’t think so. I think this “separation by race and income” is more likely to lead to misunderstanding and even mayhem than to healthy social interaction.

prison camps in n korea

And the fourth sad news of last week came out of North Korea in that horrific report by the UN about what goes on in North Korean prison camps. Those graphic drawings by someone who was no artist, but who had to get these inhumane details down on paper in a way that would communicate across language barriers, were unbearably reminiscent of the accounts of the treatment of Jews and other prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. We have no idea how to interfere in this, but we may not be able to live with ourselves if we don’t.

So despite our sunny mid-winter thaw, last week was, all in all, a tough week for the world’s people; (we can’t forget Venezuela) both the participants and, to a lesser degree the observers. Paradoxes exist everywhere, but we poor humans are not always comfortable living with this coexistence of opposites.

By Nancy Brisson

This is the view from the cheap seats.

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan – Book

The Valley of Amazement

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan has certain key elements in common with some of her previous books, especially her other Shanghai stories and Shanghai is prominent in a number of her books. Common features include:

  • Painters – at least one male romantic figure is often a painter (and untrustworthy)
  • The cultural divide between the Chinese and foreigners in Shanghai
  • Posters of women painted in a modern, and to the Chinese, shocking style
  • The effects the waves of political change in China have on Shanghai (the end of the Ching dynasty in this case) (the interference of the Japanese and the hostility to the Japanese in all cases)
  • What life was like for women in Shanghai and for men, as they relate to women

In this particular novel we see that Amy Tan still understands her Chinese roots but she has become a more modern American woman than she was in her first novel The Joy Luck Club because her American and her Chinese women are even stronger than the female characters were in her earlier books. Lucretia Minturn, when we meet her is the proprietor of a very upscale house of courtesans, and the single mother of a young daughter who grows up in Lucretia’s Lulu Mimi House (as it is known to foreign clients) and Hidden Jade Path (as it is known to Chinese clients). Lucretia (aka Lucia aka Lulu) has the only courtesan house that caters to both Chinese and foreign guests and it gives her less than respectable business a certain cachet. Lulu practices momo, which means silent listening in Chinese, and is sort of like spying. If you make yourself invisible in a way, people will discuss things in front of you that they would usually require privacy for. It helps that not everyone knows that Lulu is proficient in both Chinese and English. We see these years through the eyes of Lulu’s daughter, Violet who, at first believes that she is a foreigner like her mother, but eventually learns that she is an undesirable half-breed and that her father is Chinese.

When Violet is fourteen her mother sees that things in Shanghai are changing and she arranges to return home to San Francisco. She plans to take Violet with her but an unscrupulous man who she has incorrectly placed her trust in separates Violet from her mom. (Almost all of Amy Tan’s men are untrustworthy in some regard. Some are quite lovable and some are pure evil.) Violet remains in Shanghai while her mother sails to San Francisco and she is purchased by the owner of another house of courtesans (Vermillion House) where she will be housed and trained until she is old enough to be “deflowered”, at which time it is expected that the profit she brings will more than pay for her year and a half of inactivity. Violet is a spoiled girl but oddly she has never felt that she was loved and now that her mother has abandoned her she is even more confused and lonely. She is fortunate to meet a courtesan from her mother’s old house, Magic Cloud, who has become Magic Gourd, who trains her, befriends her and stays with her through the extreme ups and downs of Violet’s subsequently very event-filled life.

One interesting departure in this book from previous Amy Tan novels is that we are treated to some erotica as we go through details of the training of a successful courtesan with Violet as she prepares to be “deflowered”. The actual act ends up not being as creepy as it probably actually was for many young courtesans because Violet’s favors are purchased by someone she knew from her childhood in her mother’s house. Loyalty Fang is young, handsome and successful and has bedroom tastes that are quite normal, but like the “Chinese emperor” her mother fell in love with, he cannot be relied on for either faithfulness or love. Although Loyalty proves to be anything but loyal, he introduces Violet to the first love of her life and the father of her daughter Flora. Edward marries her although he still has a wife back in New York State. Through misfortune this ends up being a great tragedy in Violet’s life although I cannot tell you that part.

Amy Tan does not romanticize China. She may be homesick for it, but she never makes it seem all that desirable to me. People’s lives are hard in China and women’s lives are the hardest. Changing authoritarian government policies yank Chinese people around like they are pawns on a chess board and wars march across the nation, although this book does not dwell on war.  It is always interesting, but I am not tempted to live in this Shanghai that Amy Tan describes. Still she teaches me much about the past of a huge nation whose fate and ours may be entangled more and more as the world gets smaller.

The novel may begin to seem a bit long but don’t give up on it because you will miss Lucretia’s back story which fills in a lot of facts we (and Violet) are missing.

By Nancy Brisson

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I Might Be a Progressive (Don’t Be a Hater)



I did not even realize for a long time that I espoused ideas that were considered liberal. After all they were just the conclusions I had arrived at about life based on my experiences. But these days I am seeing that I am not just a liberal, I am, horror of horrors, a progressive. Why does it sound like such a dirty word? Obviously it is because we have been constantly pelted with really right wing ideas recently so that the wish lists of things I would like to see the America people go for sounds impossible to achieve and terribly extravagant. But as people boldly go on the internet to ask for things that are eye-popping and the exact opposite of austerity, I can’t help but sign on and hang with those who believe that the bold approach will pull us out of the economic doldrums.

So this is my economic shopping list, my “save America” list of jaw-droppingly progressive moves that we should shoot for right now. Let’s not wait any longer. Roust those Republicans out of Congress and let’s get busy. (And isn’t that exactly what they are afraid of?)

Raising the minimum wage to a living wage for all. (When I announced at a family baby shower that I thought the minimum wage should be $15 an hour family members went nuts with comments like “we can’t do that” and “everyone will lose his/her job” and “that’s more than I make” (My response – “it won’t be! Since when did my family members worry so much about their employers; since downsizing perhaps.)

Fixing Social Security and raising retirement pay – you heard me, raising it

Free college education at state universities

Free and universal Pre-K

More supportive services for the mentally ill – the system needs a level between the street and incarceration

Gun Control

New more interactive models for public K-12 schools

Training programs that match available jobs and keep up with changes in the job market

A long term plan for lowering carbon emissions (but not too long term)

Free internet for everyone

Homes for the homeless

Continued focus on doing good for our vets

Focusing on child-friendly policies in the workplace for working parents

Devising programs that are truly tempting to inner city kids to end poverty lock

Devising infrastructure solutions to climate change problems (London is flooded!)

Revising the tax code and ending or at least cutting back on corporate subsidies

Moving towards single payer health insurance

I know that I will encounter more of these audacious items which run so counter to current wisdom and whenever I do I will add them to this list. You may ask how can we afford these things, but I think they will stimulate the economy so much that they will pay for themselves. It is positively exhilarating to be progressive. You should try it.

By Nancy Brisson

This is the view from the cheap seats.

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Baby Boom and The War on Women

baby boom

We’ve all seen the movie Baby Boom, at least if we are of a certain age and female. We may have seen Baby Boom multiple times. We don’t watch it over and over just because we like Diane Keaton and we get all squishy over that cute veterinarian. What is so satisfying about the movie is the very thing that would meet the needs of many women today, relieve their conflicts over trying to nurture a family and have a successful career at the same time.

That character that Diane Keaton played seemed to have it all at the beginning of the movie. She had the expensive, impeccably decorated apartment, the power boyfriend and she was just reaching the peaks of power at the ad agency where she worked. She was handling the pressure of the vultures grasping for her heels and boom, she inherits a baby. Give it back we think, but it’s a very cute baby and we are all already in love with her, with Elizabeth. Divine justice we think, you tried to escape your biological destiny (we think this very quietly in a post-women’s lib world as such thoughts are a betrayal of our new freedom). But suddenly the life she had built seemed so cold and empty, the boyfriend so vapid and unreliable, and the relationship so polite and loveless.

We watch Diane Keaton as she learns to do the things moms do and, of course, some of it is humorous. We watch her try to maintain her new spot on the corporate ladder, take care of baby, and fight off those vultures all at the same time. We know she will find a way to cope but it will mean that she will have to distance herself from her child. We are so satisfied when she solves her problem creatively, takes a huge risk, almost fails, then recovers and gets her power back (but this time she owns her own business), keeps her child close by and even finds love in the bargain.


If this movie doesn’t show the world what women want then I don’t know why it has been popular for so long, because it certainly isn’t “the great American movie”.

But here we are years later and we can’t find a way to offer work accommodations that benefit families (both traditional and nontraditional). Child care options should be plentiful, affordable, and child care workers subsidized, trained, licensed and paid a living wage. Parents with children need time off when schools are closed, children are ill or children are in crises, and this should not all fall on women and short circuit their careers.

We understand that this will be costly. We understand that it will be somewhat inconvenient for employers. We could study how other countries are successful in these matters. Perhaps parents will be able to work from home or have a virtual presence at meetings. We have better distance options for work place productivity than we have ever had. It will take us a while to adjust to these benefits – to overcome our Puritan work ethic, but it’s the logical next step we need to take so that children have proper supervision and support, so that workers with families are no longer torn in several directions, and so that women can occupy more than 4.6% of CEO spots in America.

Let’s not put this off any longer – let’s bite that bullet and do it right now, right in the middle of the War on Women. Oh if we only could. But I am betting we won’t. I am betting a parade of men mouthing all the reasons why wanting these things is ridiculous, and having them is too expensive, and getting them is, well don’t hold your breath, because these things are mollycoddling and we want none of that (even if it does produce healthier, more well adjusted children and parents) would march across our TV screens for days if the idea was even discussed.

baby boom2


By Nancy Brisson

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Bill Nye v. “Mean” Marsha Blackburn

climate change2

If you really want to start a Sunday off right I don’t recommend listening to Rep. Marsha Blackburn debate Bill Nye, the science guy, on the subject of climate change. She’s scary. I would have been shaking in my boots. Marsha Blackburn is a good speaker. She could do that old thing – that talk-the-birds-out-of-the-trees thing. She sounds knowledgeable and strong, even when she is vomiting out drivel; drivel that is not about climate change at all but is actually about the economics of plutocrats. She is usually quite belligerent and very “snarky”, but with David Gregory and Bill Nye on Meet the Press she toned down the “snark” and adopted a more reasonable arrogance. Her usual snotty delivery would be all wrong for a Sunday morning and wouldn’t endear her to people with a soft spot for Bill Nye. I wish she wasn’t so wrong on the issues because her ferocity could help do what is right. However, her story is that climate change is not real and she is sticking to it. She quotes at least two scientists who back up this point of view, which ignores the fairly large number of other scientists who believe climate change is very real.

Bill Nye did not try to get her to agree about climate change which meant that he did not engage with mean Marsha; smart guy, huh? Scientists don’t think we will be able to reverse our carbon output soon enough, he says, to undo climate changes that are already in progress. He believes that, rather than argue about whether or not climate change is real, we will at least need to decide how we will counteract the “extreme” natural events we are experiencing such as destructive storms, coastal flooding, and drought. If we balk at the expense of making necessary alterations in our infrastructure, we will have to deal with massive human tragedies on a regular basis.

This is one of the many places where Republicans are hurting America. We seem to be at about a dozen tipping points at once and we need some agility of thought and action to tip each of these points in a positive direction, but the GOP won’t let anyone act at all. They have placed themselves in the seat of denial and they block all progress with reactionary zeal.

Personally I worry that they are “Nero fiddling while the world dies or chokes to death”. Solving our problems before they become crises will actually save us money in the long run and more money will be wasted if we wait and spend on increasingly more frequent mop up operations instead. We need foresight right now, not blinkers.

Hurricane Irene

P.S. Hope the scientists are right when they say that asteroid  will not hit the earth today. If we trust them about asteroids, why don’t we trust them about climate change?

By Nancy Brisson

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Parenting in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt



One interesting side features of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is that the author covers a broad range of parenting options, although I am not sure if she meant to explore parenting at all. Theodore Decker, our main character, had a great relationship with his Mom but it was more of a pal relationship than a parent/child relationship. They were so close that loneliness was not a word in her son’s vocabulary and he was so enveloped by his mother’s love and by their almost couple-like routines that he was completely untethered by her loss. Should she have been more parental and should she have not made them such a team? Would that have helped prepare Theo for the future fate had in store for him? We never get to find out what kind of adult Theo would have been if he had been raised to adulthood by his mother, although we suspect that the genuine love between them helped rescue Theo in the end.

Theo’s fears of the foster care system are visceral and powerful. He has heard stories. He wants no part of foster care. He will do almost anything to avoid it. We have also heard stories. As readers concerned for Theo’s welfare we applaud his distrust of social services. So Theo finds a friend from school, Andy Barbour, one he has sort of started to outgrow, but one who has an intact family and plenty of money – a family that he can fit into and find a niche in and yet the cost of his care will not be an issue. He knows this will not be a haven for the long haul, even though he and Mrs. Barbour get along, but he tries to stay with the Barbours as long as he can. Here we have a nuclear family, supposedly the ideal parental situation to produce healthy children, but although Theo thrives in this environment, his position in the family always seems precariously tentative. In the last section of this novel we see that the natural children who do grow up in this fairly normal, two-parent family do not turn out to be the well-adjusted adults that society predicts will result from this traditional familial structure.

Theo has been given a token by an old man who he stayed with at the scene of the explosion in the museum, but who eventually died. This token leads Theo to the old man’s business partner (whether he was also a life partner is left deliberately vague), Hobie (James Hobart). Theo is at first happy to stay and spend time with Hobie because Hobie has a connection with the red-haired girl Theo was following at the museum when all hell broke loose. Eventually Hobie becomes a mentor to Theo who finds himself strongly attracted to the antiques business and happy to learn what Hobie knows about furniture. Theo probably could not have lived with James Hobart anyway, who as a non-biological single man would most likely not be considered a suitable guardian by the authorities.

Theo is just finding his way between these two self-selected families when his father shows up with Xandra, his girlfriend/wife and whisks Theo off to Las Vegas. Theo is, after all, a minor and there is a biological connection with his father that courts always favor. They all settle down in a subdivision which has been turned by foreclosure into a deserted wasteland of McMansions. Dad and Xandra head out, often for days at a time, to the bright lights of their jobs and their adult entertainments on the Las Vegas strip and leave Theo to fend for himself at his new school and in his lonely, desert neighborhood. Through parental neglect and his new friendship with the son of a brutal Russian miner/alcoholic Theo learns to love his friend Boris probably because he relates to Theo in much the same way Theo’s mother did. Boris is not his mom though, and Boris has had such terrible parenting that it is difficult to see how even the love of a great but very flawed friend will prove stable enough to move Theo forward. Boris, although we understand why Theo loves him, is far more likely to drag him into disaster. Together they ingest every drug they can get their hands on.

Every parenting arrangement that should be a positive and nurturing situation for a child proves to be a failure when it comes to rescuing Theo from emotional trauma and depositing him in a productive adult life. Finally Theo learns that his father’s paternal instincts are less about love and more about putting his hands on Theo’s settlement trust (which, fortunately is too well protected). After a horrific cross-country escape and the realization that he has nowhere else to turn he ends up back with the healthiest of all the “parents” he has experienced since his mother’s death, Hobie, and, although he almost blows the sanity and solidity and moral strength of Hobie through the distrust he has learned from his long chain of failed attempts to find a family, he finds the one parent in Hobie who inspires him to be his best self. (We almost despair when Theo reconnects with Boris and the stolen painting of the goldfinch (which must be dealt with before Theo’s life can improve). The return of Boris, whom we love in theory and know enough to avoid if we exercise our commonsense, just about derails Theo’s life before he learns where he belongs and who he is.

What The Goldfinch really tells us about parenting is not in any way definitive except that it tells us that the content of parenting is much more important than the form of parenting and that biological families may fail us just as much as foster families or “adopted” families, or single-parent families or informal families made from the people at hand and that a real nurturing “parent” may not match the image of the nuclear family that looks good on the surface but which sometimes fails in profound ways. I don’t know if Donna Tartt meant to talk about parenting, but she definitely did and provided us with lots of food for thought on that topic. In fact, someone could write a great doctoral thesis about the parents we encounter in literature.


By Nancy Brisson

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