Monthly Archives: June 2014

Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch – Book


Summer House with Swimming Pool is the second book by Dutch author, Herman Koch (translated by Sam Garrett) and it is as wickedly audacious as his first novel, The Dinner and every bit as contemporary. This time we are introduced to the cynical Doctor Marc Schossler, who came by some of that cynicism through the lectures delivered by his controversial professor of medical biology, Professor Aaron Herzl. Herzl got himself in some trouble at times in his career with some of his perhaps less-than-factually-based research opinions. Marc may have been too strongly affected by some of the points Herzl set forth for this students. You will have to make that judgment for yourself.

“Any father would rather have a son, any mother would too,” Herzl said. “’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ is in fact much closer to human nature than we dare to publicaly admit. You kill your brother’s murderer, castrate with a butcher’s knife the man who raped your wife, chop off the hands of the burglar who invades your home.” And one more piece of his wisdom, “In a concentration camp, sweet gentlemen are no good to anyone.”

Nothing, our author Koch seems to believe, is as it appears on the surface. Under the polite interactions going on around us, the nature of humans, especially men, is as primitive and unknowable as it has ever been. Fortunately for us we cannot read people’s minds and we don’t have to face, during every moment of our lives, the split between what goes on inside of people’s heads and what we outwardly experience as their behavior. We meet Dr. Schlosser from the inside out. As he shares his interior dialogue with us we recognize that he embodies our doctor nightmare. He thinks the very things that we think our doctors may be thinking but hope they aren’t.

“Patients can’t tell the difference between time and attention”, Dr. Schlosser says. “They think I give them more attention than other doctors. But all I give them is more time. By the end of the first sixty seconds I’ve seen all I need to know. The remaining nineteen minutes I fill with attention. Or, I should say, with the illusion of attention.”

Later he informs us, “[h]uman bodies are horrible enough as it is, even with their clothes on. I don’t want to see them, those parts where the sun never shines. Not the folds of fat in which it is always too warm and the bacteria have free rein, not the fungal growths and infections between the toes, beneath the nails, not the fingers that scratch here, the fingers that rub there, until it starts to bleed…Here, Doctor, here’s where it itches really badly…No, I don’t want to see. I pretend to look, but I’m thinking about something else.”

The novel begins at the end, but when we get to the end for the second time, we have a whole different understanding of what is going on between Marc and his patient, Ralph Meier and Ralph Meier’s wife, Judith. Marc is apparently able to keep his innermost thoughts secret because he is well-liked by his wife, his children and apparently by his patients who are mostly in the entertainment business or, as Marc describes it “the creative professions”. The patient at the center of this particular book, Ralph Meier, is an actor and he has been hired to play Augustus Caesar in a miniseries about Rome. Ralph and his wife Judith have two teen-aged sons, Tom and Alex. Marc has a wife Caroline and two teen-aged daughters, Lisa and Julie. Marc, who usually stays separate from the private lives of his patients, for some mysterious reason gets very involved with the Meier family; very involved indeed.

Marc notices that Ralph has a way of looking at women as if he wants to “eat” them up, like they are a tasty pastry and Marc, while fascinated that Ralph is so obvious about this, is repelled that Ralph reacts to women (and even girls) as if he were a raptor and they were his prey. Herman Koch really loves to focus on men – fathers and husbands, thus all the attention paid to Ralph and Marc. How civilized are they? What would it take to bring out the worst in them; their primitive protective urges? He gives us his hero/antihero Marc who has an overactive imagination that runs to disaster movies written and directed by his own brain. Marc imagines catastrophes occurring in the lives of his family with astonishing regularity and detail. We can’t help but wonder how much his violent fantasies contribute to later events and outcomes.

Never fear – Herman Koch knows where he wants to take us and it is a wild ride, but also a very modern destination – smack in the center of a 21st century dilemma that is a worst nightmare for a modern family. That’s exactly what happened in The Dinner also; the reader must decide how they would handle a situation if it cropped up within their family. Would we handle the situation the way we felt we would before we actually found that we were in the situation? What if you were wrong? What if you choose the wrong perpetrator? Does it matter since this person was still imperfect and he possibly had a flaw that the estimable Professor Herzl would have believed would have made it impossible to rehabilitate him? Do we have to kill all perverts to get rid of perversion? Who decides who is classified as a pervert? Do we have the right to do this? Will it even work to eradicate perversion?

Herman Koch is an exciting new author who does that thing that the movies said Goeffry Chaucer did (and that Chaucer actually did); he “eviscerates people in fiction.” He is cynical, Darwinian, and philosophically interesting and he is shocking in exactly the way that readers love best. He is writing truly unique and polished fiction, but I warn you, it is not pretty.
By Nancy Brisson

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Koch Brothers Join the Light Side

kochs on light side 5

I had to have two back teeth pulled this week and my dentist told me to focus on an image that was soothing. At first I pictured a tiki bar on a beach, but, and yes I do know how sad and obsessive this will sound, my mind didn’t linger there on that beach.

The fantasy that came to me and stuck involved the Koch brothers (get your mind out of the gutter; it wasn’t that kind of fantasy as the Koch brothers are just not the hunks they might once have been). I imagined the impossible given what I know of their biography. I imagined that they saw the error of their way; they decided to come over to the light side.

Charles and David Koch suddenly felt guilty about trying to remake America the Beautiful into America the Corporate Waste Land. They took a look around them and darned if the American people didn’t start to look like real people. They suddenly popped into focus as people with dreams and children and realistic goals for improving life for their families and for themselves. This image replaced the one in which people appeared as lines of cheap workers with lunch pails headed in to punch a clock at a factory and then leaving the same way – unknown people, used and abused people, poorly paid people, dreamless automaton people. Once real, can people be turned back into one dimensional tools of industry?

These same Koch brothers, each and collectively, had eureka moments about climate change. I imagined that the Koch brothers suddenly realized that they were fighting the wrong fight. They were fighting to pollute the earth, a selfish and short-sighted choice that would eventually make earth uninhabitable. Now they would put that same energy and those billions of bucks and all their attempts to manipulate state and local governments to work in order to reverse climate change, or at least help humans adapt to climate change. Image what could be accomplished.

I guess those were some very good drugs that my dentist gave me because that was a very excellent fantasy. Too bad I had to wake up, sans teeth, with the Koch brothers still on the dark side.

By Nancy Brisson

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Political Spectrum Still a Useful Tool

political seesaw2

I picture the political spectrum as a sort of seesaw with the left at one end and the right at the other, with communism/socialism at one end and laissez-faire capitalism at the other. As a liberal, a lefty, I like to stand up for a practice of capitalism that includes a social conscience, which the right seems to define as socialism/communism. Currently it seems that the right wants to ditch the social conscience because it is killing their economic buzz. They seem to honestly believe that too many lazy Americans are relying on the social conscience of the left as represented in our federal social programs and they, therefore, conclude that a hand up when you’re down is bad for Americans – it robs them of their ambition. So, on the right we hear the drum beat for total laissez-faire capitalism.

If we end social support systems and stop taxing wealthy people and, if we give business owners a free hand with the American business landscape and the American economy the right believes that they will create an economy that sings. It will sing loudest for them, but it will sing a soft tune for all of us. They would like to tip the seesaw very far to the right where conservative ideas would basically rule in America.

Liberals just do not buy this line at all. We are worried about giving unlimited access to pollutants like fossil fuels in the face of a climate that already feels juicy and out-of-whack (yes, I am referring to climate change science). We can’t back off trying to bring that seesaw down to earth on our end because the liberals are the party of social conscience. We are the party that envelops poor people and minority people who vote and that fights on behalf of poor and minority people who don’t vote. If we want to be politically expedient then we sell these allies out at our peril because without them we lose power. But we also really believe that the lessons of history and human endeavor teach us to reach back and help the next person up the economic ladder as we climb. Although, we are told that there will always be poor people, that doesn’t mean that there must always be those who are destitute.

Ideally the seesaw would balance somewhere near the middle – all things in moderation. But these are the days of extremes and that extremism began on the right. The progressive agenda that is coalescing on the left is a result of all that obstruction around compromise that has been practiced on the right. If the right can have a wish list, so can the left.

While both sides want prosperity for America, neither side agrees at all about how to get there. The political spectrum is useful in this case because the left and the right are far apart and the right has taken negotiation off the table. The left cannot afford to sit near the center. They have had to move out to their edge of the seesaw. The seesaw moves wildly up and down as each side pushes and succumbs to gravity. Sometimes the right seems to be winning (they are very motivated). Sometimes the left manages a hard-won victory. The problem is that the right had a head start on the left and they placed the fulcrum in an off center position that favors them. The left has yet to regain balance and the outcome is still quite “iffy”.

This is the way in which I believe the political spectrum presents us with a useful analogy or image to describe American politics right now. It doesn’t matter if the tool was designed at the time of the French Revolution. A good tool often proves useful over and over again. (How long has the hammer been around?)

It is also helpful to be able to refer to the political spectrum because the terms in it are used so often when name-calling in politics. Where does the term “communist” fall? How about that Nazi label that was flung around so often for a while and was meant to be the quintessential insult? Since it was flung by the right it must, for some reason, be a brand of power that fell originally on the left. Are Fascists on the right or the left? If you are familiar with the political spectrum it is all at your fingertips. You can operate like a little semantic trebuchet.

I can’t help but refer to the article from The Atlantic last week, which was recommended as a Daily Beast Long Read and was far more sophisticated than my down-home image, which at least can pretend to some basis in physics. The author, Crispin Sartwell of the Atlantic article did such a nice job of showing that we have gotten quite experimental about the ways in which we combine power and economics and he offers some really helpful descriptions of how these two spheres operate in a number of modern and not so modern nations. The manner in which societies have crossed lines in the spectrum and have disregarded the poles (have chosen from both ends) leads Mr. Sartwell to argue that this tool is obsolete.

However, looking from my much more basic “simple machine” point of view, I find this tool is still quite useful for describing politics and economics in America right now. Crispin Sartwell also argues with the insertion of the time terms, backwards and forward, into the dialogue, but I am once again less intellectual about the whole business. If the political and economic position a party takes resembles historical moments we have already lived through then to me that qualifies as backwards. Laissez-faire capitalism had its day and it proved deadly for all but the very most “in-charge” humans, and history is why we know this. Serfdom has also been discarded as a satisfying lifestyle. Societies that did not prop up the destitute paid with pesky little things like plagues.

So I must say that I still find that old political spectrum fairly descriptive and that seesaw image seems quite appropriate for 21st century politics and economics in America. Now that the Democrats have found that progressive agenda, I’m thinking that balancing that seesaw doesn’t look so good. I want to tip that seesaw as far to the left as it will go without breaking the thing.

By Nancy Brisson

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At the Intersection of Women’s Rights, Iran, and the movie, Her

women's rights worldwide

It is surprising how much ground has not been gained by women in America. In the 70’s and 80’s where we got seemed far enough. We made the point that we should be in control of our own bodies, we insisted on our right to be educated and to have important careers if we wanted them, we demanded help with work in the house and with child rearing, and in some cases we got it.

Perhaps we decided to quit while we were ahead, or perhaps we got tired of the awful labels, or how the divorce rate rose, or at the loss of intimacy, or we were exhausted by backlash. For whatever reason/s women took a break from fighting the good fight – a breather to lick our wounds or enjoy our successes, and to see where the chips would fall. But when women were attacked from the right by enemies we already knew about, when the Right-to-Lifers started to use newer, less violent strategies to make those Trap Laws and Personhood Laws in states that were already their allies we didn’t see it coming. When we saw that Roe v Wade could be nickeled and dimed out of existence; that our enemies were even going after birth control, then we awakened to the fact that we had quit halfway to our goals.

We had cracked the glass ceiling but we had not broken it. We had fought lethargically for equal pay for equal work but we did not reach that goal. We did not fight hard enough for things like universal free child care or flexible sick time or even family leave days. When we needed to serve as caretakers for our parents (something we really hadn’t foreseen) family leave time became even more important. We didn’t argue that men would also sometimes need flexible sick days and family leave days. Women in America have ended up way behind women in other developed nations and some American men have been emboldened to revive that paternalism; that male superiority and condescension which wants to put women back in their place, barefoot and in the kitchen.

Can women have freedom for their brains and still have love for their hearts? Will men ever be able to accept a position as true partners to their women? (I speak of heterosexual relationships because I am hesitant to make any assumptions about gender role assignments within same-sex relationships, but if any of this applies, feel free to tell us all how to phrase it.)

Perhaps the seeming prevalence of aggressive males in recent years reflects how difficult it is for some men to manage true gender equality or perhaps, as I explored in a recent post, it is biologically unlikely that this will occur without some evolution (something many of these guys do not even believe in). Are men who can’t accept gender equality un-evolved? Are men who can accept gender equality whipped, or are they more evolved? It does seem clear that women cannot make their social and intellectual fulfillment contingent on the enlightenment or lack of same among men.

Which brings me to an article that appeared Sunday in the Daily Beast which suggests that when Iran made women wear the hijab and step down from positions of authority or from posts as skilled professionals, they were actually hurting not only Iranian women, but the whole of Iranian culture and that things would be the worse for it.

But will it prove true that equality between genders will wreak havoc on male-female relationships which will, in future, last only as long as expedient or only exist among a small group of men and women who negotiate their way past biology? Or will we finally have relationships, as in the movie Her, with only robots or artificial intelligences, and even that will eventually prove impossible.

We have not yet found our way through this male/female wilderness and I have to wonder if it will ever be possible for any but a biologically predetermined few. And yet I believe it is important to give it our energy and throw our laws and even some funding at it because it is a very worthy goal.

when women succeed

By Nancy Brisson

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Her – Movie

her - movie

I heart On Demand (FIOS) because I can see a first class movie (as long as it is not too esoteric) without leaving my house or paying the full cost of going out to a movie. This time I chose the movie “her” with Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. People seemed to love this movie or hate it and I wasn’t seeing people fall into the usually clearly delineated categories: those who only liked light movies and those who wanted art with their movies. I finally took the leap and plunked down my bucks, or I will on some future bill, and pushed the OK button.

Immediately I knew where I was and I felt at home there. This movie is science fiction. It may be a love story and a story about the distance between educated men and women in a society that is trying on equality regardless of gender, and it may be a story about alienation – selfish needs out-weighing intimacy requirements, but it also taking place in a world that doesn’t exist yet, but a world that seems at the edge of existence.

Theodore loved Catherine (Rooney Mara) and they had a good marriage and a good relationship but Catherine outgrew it, or needed space to pursue her own goals, or got bored. Theodore mourns the end of their relationship, mopes, and feels heartbroken. He must muddle through a job that requires him to supply beautiful handwritten letters of love, affection, celebration and gratitude, a job at which he somehow continues to excel although it is all he accomplishes in a day. Theodore continues to be stalled (he won’t even sign the divorce papers) until he sees an ad for a new computer operating system, the OS1, which comes with a whole new generation of artificial intelligence; Siri, but Siri 8.0. He chooses a female interface (Scarlett Johansson) and she names herself Samantha.

They have a sweet relationship which gradually grows more complex and frustrating. The problem with this AI incarnation is that, in order to be able to interact in a sophisticated way with people, it has been programmed to learn and grow and make its own connections. Soon we see Theodore acting in such uninhibited ways in public that we think there will be social repercussions but there are not. Why not we think? We notice we are in a futuristic world, a very clean future where Theodore can sit down anywhere he feels like it in the city: on sidewalks, roadways, stairs, without giving hygiene a thought. (There are no cars.) Others around him seem to be “plugged into” a device just like the one Theodore has. Pretty soon we notice that everyone is walking everywhere interacting with a tiny computer interface that fits in a pocket or hand quite easily.

Of course, I can’t tell you the ending but it will leave you thinking I promise. So I am among those who say “yes” to this movie. I love sci-fi and this is so far beyond the puppy love depicted on The Big Bang when Raj meets our current version of Siri. This really is Siri 8.0, and it seems that in the end she might find us too boring to hang out with.

By Nancy Brisson

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The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud – Book

The Woman Upstairs2

I enjoy reading novels that reverberate – that send vibrations through my mind long after I have closed their covers or sent them back to the “cloud” to hang out – sort of like the Sunday church bells that seem to linger in the air and echo around a bit after the last church service ends. A stimulating novel might insert itself into the mental conversation even when the mind has moved on to other subjects and the situtation suggests that unusual moment we experience sometimes where of number of disparate sources coalesce into a new insight on a subject integral to the human condition.

We begin at the ending with a character that has been deposited back at almost the same place she was in at the beginning of her adventures. We are physically in Boston (not that it really matters, or does it) with Nora Marie Eldridge, The Woman Upstairs, a character created by the author Claire Messud. Nora has reached that point in some women’s lives where she realizes that she has somehow let life pass her by. She is now nearly that invisible woman upstairs, a spinster school teacher in this case.

“People don’t want to worry about the Woman Upstairs. She’s reliable, and organized, and she doesn’t cause trouble….You’re thinking that whatever else she does the Woman Upstairs with her cats and her pots of tea and her Sex and the City reruns and her goddamn Garnet Hill catalog, the woman with her class of third graders and her carefully pearly smile – whatever else she manages, she doesn’t have a love life to speak of.”

For one shining year, however, when Nora turns thirty-seven, before her role as a Woman Upstairs is set-in-stone, she meets and falls in love with a family, the Shahids.

“And yet through November, I greeted each morning as though it were spring, as though instead of a daily darkening, both seasonal and societal, we were embarking upon a brilliant new adventure, finding each new day more perfectly illuminated than the last. Which I was…. It was like being eleven and craving your best friend’s company. I woke up every morning with such zeal, every leaf, or cup or child’s hand meticulously outlined for me like a wonder of nature, bathed in superior light, it was because in my heart I held every possibility of a conversation, of adventure, with Sirena.”

She is in love with the whole family, separately and together. First she falls in love with the son Reza who she soon finds joining her third grade class. There is nothing inappropriate about her love except that she occasionally fantasizes that he is her son. She meets his mother, an Italian artist, who has been living in Paris. Although Nora believes herself to be an artist at heart, Sirena has the confidence and free spirit (selfishness) to be an artist with an actual gallery show. Sirena and Nora decide to share an art studio in a warehouse district in Boston.

Sirena does art on a grand scale – her installations occupy a whole room, wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. She is working in multiple mediums and her subject is full of symbolism that suits the story unfolding in the novel.

Nora’s art is miniature (also a symbol, and purposely obvious, I believe). She is recreating the rooms of three artists; Emily Dickinson, Alice Neel and, from Warhol’s Factory, their opposite (and Nora’s), Edie Sedgwick.

For one very exciting year Nora lives at a fever pitch of excitement, inclusion, attraction, and a confusion of sexual experiences, mostly unrequited, with both Sirena and her handsome Lebanese professor husband, Skandar. There is a fun house analogy which I get, but which I have no visceral reaction to, having avoided fun houses like the plague.

I cannot tell you how Nora’s entire emotional/social adventure with the Shahids turns out but anyone who reads this novel will end up coming to some conclusion about whether Nora is essentially changed by her intense involvement with the Shahid family or whether she (we) will be unable to escape her fate. The reader must also decide if Nora represents all “spinsters” or only herself. Have the options for American women actually evolved or are there biological imperatives and social strictures that will never be overcome? Good books often leave us with more questions than answers.

By Nancy Brisson

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Democrats: Wusses or Saviors of our Nation?


The Democrats are being shafted because they are unwilling to give up on the Constitution and the American government. Who knows better than the Democrats how seditious the Republicans have been. They have damaged our Constitutional government by grinding it to a halt, or nearly a halt. They have done this by refusing to bring any important bills to the floor of the House. Since the filibuster rule was relaxed (somewhat), some judges have been sent to fill federal benches. However, the filibuster rule was not relaxed for important bills, so not many things have passed the Senate either. If a bill happens to get through the Senate it can’t even get considered in the House because John Boehner will not bring it to the floor for a vote.

This is not some temporary strategy. It has been in force for the past four years, since the Democrats lost the House in 2010, and if the Democrats are unable to turn things around this strategy will be in force for the next two years. The Democrats could probably bring Republicans up on charges of sedition, but they have held back. They believe America can be saved and that when the Tea Party fever breaks the country will go back to having two parties that agree once more to wheel and deal and compromise.

I respect the Democrats for pretending that everything is fine, for holding back, for protecting our history as a great nation, but I am afraid that the Republicans have no such compunctions and will go for the juggler if they get a clear chance. Perhaps they will try to impeach Obama if they win the House and the Senate in 2014. I believe that this would be a terrible mistake for all Americans and the fallout might bring about that very civil war we seem to be headed for. If we cannot reconcile the agenda of the left and the agenda of the right, if one party will risk nullifying the Constitution because either they want their power back or they believe so strongly in their ideological policies that they will trash the Constitution and commit seditious acts to get their way, then we are screwed.

Republicans believe that the next election is their ticket to having everything they ever dreamed of and they believe that they have stacked the deck enough to ensure that the election outcome will go their way.

Should the Democrats keep backing off the Republicans to save America? Will backing off the Republicans save America as we know it? Should we finally just go ahead and get tough, shake the stuffing out of these folks, bring charges against them and have the whole argument hauled right out into the open. The Republicans, especially the Tea Party Republicans, have been waltzing really close to the treason line and Democrats have cut them lots of slack. Republicans have even gone over the line a few times or why would we have the militias.

So either we need to give the Democrats props for keeping to regular order as much as possible or we have to disparage them as wusses and throw in our lot with the right wing crazies. Since the entire world is full of nations warring over internal political divisions why not just join in rather than pretending that we are saner than everyone else. This is a very sad chapter in our nation’s history.

By Nancy Brisson

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The Bat by Jo Nesbø – Book

The Bat by Jo Nesbo2

The Bat is the first Harry Hole detective story written by that handsome Norwegian Jo Nesbø and I should have read it first. If I had read it first I would have known how to pronounce Harry’s last name (Hoo-leh). I did suspect that the final “e” of Harry’s last name was not silent; that it was pronounced either as long “a” or long “e”. I was wrong on both counts however. I have just been pronouncing his last name in English, which made it seem like a moral judgment or perhaps something symbolic borrowed from Astronomy or Psychology (a black hole in space perhaps).

Reading the first book in the series first would have gone quite far towards explaining Harry’s tortured soul and, perhaps, his addictions. Harry has done something so terrible that he expected to be punished for it. Since the police often protect their own in order to present a united front to the world Harry goes publically unpunished, but remains haunted by private demons.

To solve Jo Nesbø’s first crime Harry is sent to Australia where he takes part in a long and bizarre investigation to find a serial killer of young blonde women. He meets an Aborigine, Andrew Kensington, who works with the Sydney police sometimes and Andrew becomes the first friend Harry has made in quite a while. He also meets a Swedish woman named Birgitta Enquist with long strawberry blonde hair who he thinks he could be falling in love with.

The Sydney aquarium plays an interesting role in the romance of Harry and Birgitta and also in the murders he has to solve. We also have clowns, represented by Otto Rechtnagel, a gay transvestite who has a clown act featuring a guillotine, and then we have wrestlers, especially one, Toowoomba, another Aborigine and a friend of Andrews. The bat, Harry learns, is the Aboriginal symbol of death.

Our Harry, who hates social wrongs, always seems to meet those who have been victimized by some of mankind’s many human rights violations. In this case there are a number of human rights issues in Australia but Aboriginal issues are the greatest of these. Andrew was born during a time when Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to be raised by white folks.

This is not my favorite Harry Hole mystery. There is too much that is strange about Australian life as Harry encounters it. There is too much collateral damage as the case is being solved and there is way too much drinking. I like Harry best when he is straight and sober, but if I had started here I would have had a better understanding of Harry’s behavior. It is always so difficult to write about mysteries because it is so easy to ruin the suspense and destroy things for those who like to read mysteries like they are puzzles to be unraveled, so, although I haven’t told you much, I have told you all I dare.

By Nancy Brisson

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Appealing to People in Ancient Lands


Persia lives large in my imagination. I picture it as a center of art and culture with beautiful buildings covered with colorful tiles and symbols, often floral patterns which we still echo today in our textiles, especially the paisleys and the bright colors. The carpets of Persia are still famous and we have remnants of these beauties in the carpets that still come from the regions around Turkey. The markets are a part of that picture in my mind, with more patterned fabrics and carpets and the smells of exotic spices and foods, with fruits piled in wanton display and coffee sipped from delicate vessels. Persians loved beauty and surrounded themselves with it, at least as I imagine this ancient empire. They were poets and they were also mathematicians. Syria and Iraq both encompass lands that once were part of Persia and share in this rich history. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers cross in Iraq and they are highways that also take us back in time to that fertile triangle our schools mentioned so often as the cradle of civilization, as a place where people could settle down and stop wandering as nomads because the fertile soil, refreshed periodically by flooding, provided a perfect spot for agriculture, and the resulting steady food supply provided the perfect circumstances for people to congregate in towns, which gradually grew into cities.

It is always sad when once proud and powerful people lose their nerve or their confidence and fade from the heights they once occupied. I remember experiencing this for the first time when I was quite young and watched the movie Lawrence of Arabia. I was shocked when Lawrence fell from grace and retreated for a while into a kind of depression. He was such a powerful man, however eccentric, and he had that larger than life thing going for him. It was obviously difficult for him to deal with setbacks and I will admit to shedding a few tears when I thought all was lost.

Today we have two nations, Syria and Iraq, once storied cultures within the Persian Empire; lands that will always have ancient roots. Iraq also contains those two great rivers mentioned above, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which meet at Baghdad and once were part of a Biblical land called Mesopotamia (meaning the land between two rivers). There is so much history here in these lands which have lately become battlefields. If this is what oil did, then oil has destroyed more than earth’s climate.


It is so hard to watch these great nations caught up in petty sectarian and ethnic disputes. Instead of trying to restore the glory of their more halcyon days, or rather than even learning to interact so that their culture can stop self-destructing, just when we could use their help to unravel the modern dilemmas, these two nations have devolved into endless power struggles that are reducing these fine cultures to rubble. Once again there are tears.

I am certain that the various sects and ethnic groups have much more in common with each other than they will have if they let the world in and learn contemporary tolerance and this commonality should be bringing these groups together to give their country power to negotiate with other modern nations and to live peacefully among them. Authoritarian personalities arise in these two nations and may seem familiar from the past. There seems to be almost a cult of the strong leader in Arabic nations, an attraction to bossy leaders who are able to keep a lid on internal strife for a while, although usually at a cost. If these nations could find a way to convene and keep a representative government that tried to iron out differences and produce useful negotiated policies, these nations might find themselves free from despots for all time and ready for a new sort of Middle Eastern renaissance of those ancient cultures that were once so influential on the world stage and so beautiful to their citizens. Then they could surely find peace and a place among modern nations. (I know our representative government is not much of a role model right now with its divisive politics and its stalemate in our Congress, but hopefully we will become unstuck eventually, and our representative government has worked well for at least 250 years.)

We are in an environmental crisis, which was foreseen but which we ignored for far too long. This crisis could turn our planet from a natural paradise to a natural disaster. We need to clean up our oceans and we need to figure out how to wean ourselves away from oil and fossil fuels. You folks should have a say in these endeavors since any solutions will affect your economies and since you may have to find new sources from which to derive your economic health in the world of the future. Please get a grip Syria and Iraq; we need your assistance. Stop warring within and bring that intelligence and creativity that gave us Persia and Mesopotamia to the table with those who are ready to try to save our planet.

By Nancy Brisson

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Edge of Tomorrow – Movie


I went with one of my sisters to see Edge of Tomorrow with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt and I liked it. In this film earthlings are at war with aliens – nasty, electrified tumbleweeds from we don’t know where out there in space, but it seems like they are from Hell. They show no emotions although they have a hierarchy because they are a collective civilization which must protect its anemone-like “brain” at all costs. They are imperialists spreading throughout the universe annexing asteroids, planets, etc. and they are interested only in the natural resources – any inhabitants are superfluous.

Tom Cruise is not a soldier. He does PR for the war effort and he is an officer, but not a fighter. He may have condescended to the wrong general though, because, on the eve of the new Normandy invasion he finds himself kidnapped, busted to private, and sent into battle with J Squad after very little training. As his new and reluctant mates train, they do so under a giant poster of the Angel of Verdun, played by Emily Blunt.

Soldiers buckle into huge exoskeletons with much mechanical clanking and their arms are inside really serious guns which, mysteriously, seem to need reloading all too frequently. Their exoskeletons buckle along an overhead rail inside a troop ship which opens under their feet as they push their release buttons and are ejected directly into a raging battle. Their superiors thought they had the element of surprise, but were actually sending soldiers into an alien ambush.

Our ex-PR soldier, now Private Cage, meets the Angel of Verdun a few seconds/minutes into the battle and she tells him some things he doesn’t really understand. Cage is killed by an alien who is larger and meaner than your average run of the mill alien with a tiny mouth full of sharp teeth backlit by a powerful blue glow. Tom manages to kill this dervish from Hell before he is killed and he is covered in his enemy’s blood.

Next thing we know everything starts over from the launching area with TC once again handcuffed and drugged on top of a pile of green duffle bags. He meets J troop again, dies again, resets again and pretty soon he is telling his J troop compatriots all about themselves. It never really gets monotonous to reset because each reset moves the story forward a bit. Cage (TC) eventually remembers that the Angel of Verdun seems to know something about what is happening and he finds a way – after many resets – to team up with her and make a plan to go after that head alien honcho.

That’s all I can tell you. It’s not your typical war flick drowning us in blood and sorrow, but we do get involved. It’s in 3D, but not the kind that makes you “oo” and “ah” – rather the kind that envelops you and pulls you into the action.

The film was excellent entertainment for a Friday night and, who knows, it might be helpful some day if we ever run into this particular species out in space. After you see it you can drop me a comment and explain the ending, please.

By Nancy Brisson

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