Monthly Archives: March 2015

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker – Book


This book was a bonus given to me when I signed up for Amazon Prime. I had four books to choose from and I chose The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley and this book, Wreckage by Emily Bleeker. Neither of these books appears on the NYT bestsellers list or in fact on any of the top seller lists I usually use to compile my own reading lists. Each of these books, however, was considered good enough to be recommended by Amazon. Does Amazon publish books?? I will have to check into that. Sure enough, I looked back at the publisher’s page and this book was published by Amazon and its affiliates. These are the first published novels for each of these authors.

There are not many characters in Bleeker’s book, Wreckage. A mother and daughter-in-law win a trip to Fiji and beyond that to a private island with a luxury resort. Lillian and Margaret have the same careful, somewhat mutually judgmental and competitive relationship that most mothers-in-law and daughters-in law have. Lillian admits that she loves her mother-in-law in spite of their somewhat awkward relationship.

Dave Hall usually joins the Carlton Yogurt sweepstakes winners in Fiji but his wife, Beth, has recently had in vitro fertilization so he joins Lillian and Margaret for the second week. They leave for the island resort in a small jet. Margaret, Lillian and Dave are joined by the pilot, Kent, and the flight attendant, Theresa, who had been Kent’s girlfriend, although they have recently parted ways. The plane crashes. Kent, Dave and Lillian survive Theresa and Margaret and spend too many days on a small desert island. They have fruit and fresh water and fish. Kent has excellent survival skills but a somewhat superior attitude. He is also a bit creepy in an alpha male sort of way.

So we have a story about how two men and one woman endure life on a desert island where they will be trapped for an indeterminate amount of time. What happens is not totally predictable. Who is Paul and how does he enter the story? We know Lillian survives because we begin the book as she is preparing for an interview with the formidable reporter Genevieve Randall, and we flash back to the fateful Sweepstakes trip. We end up back at the interview.

It turns out that there are things to lie about, things to hide. What could those things be? This is a good story. It is more like Cast Away than Lord of the Flies, if that helps. When what you are looking for is an interesting story you might want to consider Bleeker’s book Wreckage. The writing works; the biggest problem with this story is that it is just a bit too predictable. A good first novel, but not in a genre where a second novel is likely to stay with this story line, so Bleeker could come back at us with just about any kind of novel. I will at least be willing to look at what she comes up with next. This one would be a good summer beach book.

By Nancy Brisson

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The Pure Frustration of Windows 8


I just got a new HP Pavillion™ desktop computer and it looks great but Windows 8 is not a good addition and it may, in fact, be a deal breaker. Windows insists that I keep the button apparatus which dominates the start screen and which is not user-friendly at all. In fact my computer tells me a Trojan virus was downloaded first thing and that virus is like some alien squid thing that cannot be dislodged (at least until Monday).

I suppose if you just want to play on a computer then the arrangement of those buttons in the center of your screen, which used to show you a beautiful picture of your own choosing, would not bother you. Perhaps those ugly buttons suit younger users and gamers. But if you use a computer to do your business this version of Windows is too kludgy.

This Windows 8 is also a sort of fascist-control- freak operating system. It only likes certain search engines. It does not like Chrome. It will reluctantly allow you to use search engines other than the chosen ones but it will set up all kinds of roadblocks to steer you to Yahoo or Bing or MSN (people still use this?)The big tech companies are obviously in a perpetual turf war and we are in the middle because we decide who is winning. We decide with our dollars.
This computer is friendly when you go to a favorite site such as Twitter or Facebook, but there is no “favorites” function to get you to your most often used sites quickly. It may be possible to approximate the favorites function by using the history button but the old favorites/bookmark system was simpler to use and perhaps a favorites function is available if you stick to one of the approved search engines. Many of these changes may be necessary in order for the touch function to work.

Perhaps Windows is trying to level the playing field so that Google gets cut down to size by making it difficult to choose a Google search page. Politically I should applaud this attempt to avoid a Google monopoly, but I wanted a much more seamless transition to my new desktop and this experience is anything but smooth. It is so frustrating that if it doesn’t improve soon I will be taking this desktop back where it came from. I just want to get my tasks done and get on with my day. In order to do that, I am using my old laptop on the bed in the spare room.

There is also the matter of greed. We may have won net neutrality (at least temporarily) but this computer is set up to sell you stuff. This is not only not a user-friendly computer; it is a seller-friendly computer. You could find yourself paying for tons of apps that seem fairly inexpensive, but you will rarely use them, and if you do use them these apps will want you to feed them more money and the dollars will add up fast and you will need to keep careful records of what you are spending.

I suppose that if I don’t return this sucker I will get used to this rip-off operating system, but Windows 7 was so simple, elegantly so, and so user-friendly that I am guessing my old laptop will not get many chances to feel lonely. Whoever thought of “charms” ought to be put in stocks in a public place. I always felt so smug because I missed Vista, but I’m feeling a bit apologetic for my rather petty self-satisfaction. Windows is now saying, “Gotcha”.

By Nancy Brisson

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The Uncles

Uncle Sam

We are on the edge of taking the medicine that Paul Ryan has been prescribing for us ever since the “Great Recession” of 2008. This is the austerity budget that Europe is beginning to abandon because it has not helped their economies. This is the budget that has been readjusted so the wealthy can keep even more of their money while supposedly teaching the 47% valuable lessons about self-sufficiency. That should be fun. Let’s see how much more money we can send to the 1%.

Can President Obama veto a budget? Does he have that power? I looked it up; he does. Maybe it would be a good kind of awful to live under this budget until the 2016 election. Perhaps that would convince people that budgets are not moral instruments meant to punish individuals who Republicans theorize have become dependent on “Uncle Sugar” (which is what Evangelical Republicans call Uncle Sam when they want to accuse us of being addicted to living on the government dime).

Uncle Sugar2

A government such as ours has no money of its own. Whatever money our government has comes from us. We all pay our taxes; we paid into Medicare; we paid into Social Security. We, quite foolishly it seems, counted on those we elected to govern for us to design programs that worked so our money would come back to us as we were promised it would. Some of the money in our Federal budget must have come from the very 47% who are accused of malingering.

However, if the Republican budget, the Paul Ryan budget, passes, I am thinking that we will all hate it so much that we will finally understand that we cannot elect a Republican President right now.

The House of Representatives already passed their version of the budget. The Senate will take up their version next. They disagree, we are told, about military spending. Both houses want to increase it, but the Senate wants ‘pay-fors’ and the House has not worried about how we will pay for military budget increases. Will the Republicans finally reach agreement now of all times, just when we wish they wouldn’t. We shall see.

Obviously, I am torn. I am grateful that we have President Obama to veto the budget. If this budget were to pass and to go into effect we might not be able to vacate it easily. We might be stuck with cuts in programs that would be very difficult to reverse. Many Americans will be adversely affected by this budget. That would be bad. Another part of me believes that this budget would be so disastrous, so painful that all Americans would be saying is Uncle, that unnamed uncle that means “we lost”, “we surrender”, “end the pain”. I don’t think we can afford to conduct an experiment to see how much human misery we can generate. So we really only have one option. President Obama needs to kill this budget.

uncle cry2

By Nancy Brisson

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How I Became a Political Activist

political activism

I got an e-mail yesterday asking me to tell the story of how I became a political activist. But the roots of my fighting spirit did not grow in political soil. My parents voted but we did not sit around the dinner table discussing politics. We talked about who needed shoes and how the family would be able to afford them.

In fact my father would have been thrilled if we did not speak at all or if we took turns in an orderly fashion. However, there were ten people around that table and Dad was not always home for dinner because for years he worked the second shift. My two brothers sometimes launched a reign of terror at the dinner table and our meals were always chaotic. Someone often spilled milk which dripped down through the leaves in the dining room table. Our dinner was more like a swarm of locusts who ate every bit of food and then moved on.

Dad had a scientific mind. He was an electrician but he seemed to have an innate understanding of physics even though he left school in the eighth grade. He loved to read and I read whatever books were available so since he loved science fiction that is what I read. Science fiction books often have heroes who fight injustice, although they do it in space. Science fiction allows a reader to consider how societies function and to be entertained at the same time. Some futuristic lit was utopian and some was dystopian so this genre is one that looks at good and evil on a grand scale. Most of the good in sci-fi is present when a society values fairness and justice. Evil empires are unjust and do not value fairness. So I don’t know if I was born with a nose that sniffed out unfairness and injustice in the world or if I learned those values from the books my Dad shared with me. Perhaps, if those values were hard-wired in me, my brain was born to fire on all its neurons when reading science fiction.

Politically, my high school years were dominated by the Cold War with Russia. We dropped bombs at the end of World War II and I guess we expected retribution at any moment. My college years were dominated by assassinations and the Civil Rights’ Movement. As I was leaving college the Beatles were traveling ever Eastward and we were demonstrating against the Vietnam War, sort of. We were actually smoking lots of pot, listening to really great music, dancing, and talk, talk, talking. All the things America experienced in those years, not just the antiwar movement, but the women’s rights movement, the effects of the birth control pill, a new air of freedom that expressed itself even in our clothing and our lifestyles activated my mind to make judgments about the fairness and justice in America, and America was not doing very well.

Fortunately I found a career in a program that sent economically disadvantaged and minority adults to college after delivering some coursework to help them succeed. For many years this satisfied my craving for fairness and justice, and many of the issues that I would have wanted to fight for had been somewhat resolved for the time being. It was time to help those people who were born with too few choices find their futures and our school’s staff got better and better at doing this.

When I retired from teaching (and I retired early) my Dad was sick and could no longer drive. I was the only one in the family who could retire and help my Mom who did not ever drive. I had little time for political activism until after Dad died (or traveled to a galaxy far, far away). Save me a spot Dad.

a galaxy

That was when I began to hear from people who were listening to talk radio and I realized that Dad was not the only one who was going to a distant galaxy. It didn’t take long from the time I began to hear the nutty things people were saying for me to tune in to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. After listening to these two accuse a nice young Senator and father running for President of the United States of being the new “Hitler, the fairness and justice I was born and bred to fight for made me decide that the world had to hear equally strong messages that were not so filled with hate. The haters are still fighting for control of America, ironically at this moment which also celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

political activism3

My unfairness/injustice genes have found their moment. I have tried to speak against the most extreme reactionary and fearful voices we have heard in America in many years. I decided to fight the fever on the right by writing about the sanity and compassion on the left. That is the arena where I decided to fight the good fight and I still am a very tiny voice talking into a strong wind that is still blowing from the right. I do not believe that the left is always good and the right is always bad; I do believe that the right is currently not selling anything America should want to buy.

By Nancy Brisson

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Election Dread

negative ads2

We, the electorate, have no taste for negative ads. We want to hear about policy. We want to hear about the ideology that will inform each candidate’s behavior in office once elected. We dread this election and, in fact, every election these days.

Demonizing candidates does seem to work. We tend to elect whichever party excels the most at demonizing their opponents in any given race. It sort of turns election races into bouts of MMA – although with words (not as appealing as actual physical wrestling, I’m guessing).

negative ads

Billions will be spent to splash dirt on to candidates. Some of the most bizarrely effective ads these days are ones that blame a candidate for merely belonging to the opposite party and voting in agreement with that party’s policies. Sometimes recent ads accuse candidates of not hewing purely enough to the party line. (You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, eh?)  When did accusing a candidate of voting for what s/he felt was right become as effective in erasing that candidate as proving that s/he is guilty of corruption or lying.

We could try to mount a campaign in which people simply tell us what they believe and what they will do when various important policies come up for a vote. We could stop writing ads that merely repeat someone’s voting record, which we could easily find online or in the Congressional Record. We could make a policy that ads that are inaccurate will be immediately taken off the air.

How many ads can be purchased with 1 billion dollars? If we are talking about purchasing ads in local media markets we are talking about turn-off-the-TV-soon territory. Even national networks will be flooded with negative ads. Time to take that Paris trip you always talked about. Perhaps a South Sea Island would be even more cut off from the media blitz.

However, it would be difficult not to watch this car wreck. We would be so tempted to rubberneck just to see who said what nutty thing, who has put him/herself beyond the pale and whether Hillary, who we would love to have as our first female President, finds the right notes to hit and proves to be the strong, honest, sensible, and wise candidate that we want her to be. (If she always keeps that new granddaughter in mind as she guides our nation we should all be just fine.)

Will the appeal of the wipe-outs outweigh the tedium? Once an ad is produced it must, because of costs, be used over and over again. Perhaps there is even a known brainwashing threshold that is met by hearing an ad a certain number of times. Cynical people (or people who wish to expose the techniques of cynical people) care about this stuff.

These negative ads are a perfect way to lose voter interest and to make sure the actual electorate is small. People are interviewed all the time during any given election season who say they won’t vote because they hate the meanness of the ads and they don’t think one party is any different or any better than any other party. This could just be laziness, but it could be sensory overload. After a while the brain just tunes out and decides to be done with the whole business. Best voter suppression apparatus ever, but do we really want to take our electorate from blasé to nauseated. The ads will not change but I would love to see a political party with the guts to try a new way.

By Nancy Brisson

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A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – Book

A Spool of Blue Thread

Anne Tyler books are an easy choice for me. I just started with the first one and kept on going. Her characters are part of the charm. They are flawed, but flawed in whimsical, human, and basically harmless ways. The Whitshanks in her newest novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, are just such a family. Sometimes Anne Tyler concentrates on a male character, sometimes on a female character, but usually in a family setting (although not always a traditional, nuclear family.) This time she treats us to both, giving us central characters that are male and also interesting female characters.

We follow the Whitshanks, a family of wood-working men and their wives. We follow them backwards in time. We meet the most recent generation first. They live in the house their grandfather built in Baltimore. He did not build the house for them, he built it for another family, but he insisted that the house be built to his specifications. He loved the lot the house was built on and he knew exactly how that house should look, especially the porch. Red and Abby live in that house with their son, Dennis and their two daughters, Amanda and Jeannie and another son they call Stem. Stem was a child they found abandoned. Abby, a social worker, should have put him in the foster system, but she kept him and raised him as her own child. Dennis is the troubled child in the family. Is he troubled because Abby took in Stem, or is that just who Denny is?

This family lives in the house their grandfather got by luck, or by manipulation, or because it was meant to be his house. Junior and Linnie Mae’s story is in the second half of Tyler’s novel. Linnie Mae is a woman who will make you smile, although I could not explain why without ruining your pleasure in the story. How much does the house Junior forces Linnie to live in, and the neighborhood, which the wives are never quite comfortable with, have to do with the outcomes in the generations of this family? What would have happened if Junior and Linnie had lived longer than they did?

There is something tender about Anne Tyler’s novels. She communicates to us a certain sweetness that she sees in people in spite of, or perhaps because of their flaws. When I leave one of her novels I feel wistful and I want to follow these people on into the rest of their lives and beyond to the next generation perhaps because, although ordinary, they are basically good people, authentic people. I wonder what Anne Tyler would make of me.

Does Anne Tyler believe that we can change our fates, that we can suppress our flaws? Do her characters move to new positions in the world or are they just the same people occupying new spaces? I don’t really worry about drawing deep conclusions when I am finished with an Anne Tyler book, but I do enjoy a certain poignancy, the poignancy of a seeing a perfect snapshot – there, that moment is captured, that is perfectly captured. Still sometimes the questions raised do reverberate for a time after the snapshot is tucked away. Because I have never been disappointed by an Anne Tyler book, what Anne Tyler writes I shall read.

By Nancy Brisson

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Ted Cruz and Scott Walker

Ted Cruz and Scott Walker2

Ted Cruz and Scott Walker3

It probably will not surprise you to learn that I would not favor any Republican for the Presidency right now. Rand Paul shows poorly in these days when the right wing is so extreme. He doesn’t really fit anywhere and he cannot find his footing. He does not seem to have the confidence, or is it just the chutzpa, to be Presidential. Chris Christie is just a bully. Teddy Roosevelt spoke bluntly but he was not mean with it. Chris Christie does not have the patience to be the leader of our nation. Mike Huckabee is too much of an evangelical to get elected. Marco Rubio, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal are too politically clueless to get elected. Jed Bush I could probably listen to if I absolutely had to without constantly shaking my fists at the heavens.

The potential candidate I feared most until now was Ted Cruz. Now I can add Scott Walker to that list. I have not seen any reason to believe that Ted Cruz has any policies in his repertoire that a Democrat would find palatable. He is morally stern and unbending. He seems to always be sneering at us peons. He mistakes compassion for communism. He is an educated man who supports ignorance and dogma. He is a son of a refugee who feels superior to immigrants who may have come to America for almost the exact same reasons Ted Cruz’s father did.


I cannot imagine what laws America will pass should he reign (and it will feel like we have a monarch). He seems to have a passion for Federalism which does not bode well for a strong central government. Because Republicans know that Democrats fear him it is highly likely that they could elect him from spite, although they will not enjoy his policies any more than the rest of us will.

However, now that Scott Walker has arrived on the scene I have another opportunity to worry. I don’t think he has been around long enough to be elected President but Republicans do love the havoc he has raised in Wisconsin. They are thrilled to let us see “the new world order”, a truly privatized society with all aspects of our lives controlled by business and corporations. Republicans will enjoy electing whichever of these two men upsets us most and it remains to be seen what tactics will be brought into play to convince the undecided or sway the discontented.

Ted Cruz and Scott Walker4

I hated when right wing talkers used Hitler references when talking about Obama but I cannot look at Scott Walker without thinking of Hitler. There is just something about the way he looks and acts. Scott Walker, however, does not seem like someone who makes policy; he actually seems as if he enjoys enforcing policy. He also seems able to make people fear him more than they love him.

I don’t know which man would make me more nervous were he to be elected our President in 2016. I know, with all my heart and soul and mind that I don’t wish for either one of them. Usually they say “don’t wish for what you want because you might get it; in this case I am worried that the universe might be perverse enough to change that to “don’t wish for what you don’t want because you might get it.”

By Nancy Brisson

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What drives me crazy about America (at least for today) is that nothing is ever really decided. We go through a long decision-making process to pass a law, sometimes challenging it all the way to the Supreme Court, but that much adjudicated law will often be challenged again almost before the ink is dry.

We have been treated to the bizarre spectacle of over 50 votes to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act even as the law was being implemented. This law has also been challenged twice in the Supreme Court and we are still waiting for the ruling in the second case.

Roe v Wade has been law in America for decades. The antiabortion movement began its work before the decision of the court and the movement has never stopped trying to make this law go away. Until they can make it go away completely they try to place many obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions so that it will be logistically impossible to get an abortion in spite of the fact that it is allowed by the law. At times feelings run so high on this issue that doctors providing abortions have been physically threatened, and, in at least one case, a doctor was shot and killed. The status of Roe v Wade is still very insecure. We know it could go away at any moment. Here is a law that does not force anyone to do anything that is against his/her morality but we have spent an inordinate amount of time, that should be devoted to addressing other issues, stuck on this issue of a woman’s choice.

A bill to build the Keystone Pipeline was passed by Congress and vetoed by President Obama. You would think that would be the end of that. But even though we have already spent six years going over and over the advantages and disadvantages of this pipeline, I understand from what I hear in the media that Keystone is not dead and gone. When the courts are finished granting a foreign country (Canada) rights to seize the land of American citizens through eminent domain (how?) this issue will be resurrected once again. Eventually the “no” will stand or the opposition will wear everyone down and the pipeline will be built, although I sincerely hope not. How many more years will we waste our time discussing this, in the midst of an oil glut no less?

We have this Paul Ryan budget that won’t go away. We have seen the courts rule that the Voting Rights Act was no longer needed and we have seen the proliferation of measures in many states that would have the effect of suppressing the vote. I thought we wanted more people to vote, not fewer. We have explored the terrible killings at Benghazi more times than we should have had to and yet the Benghazi drumbeat goes on. These things are not over.

Nothing is ever resolved. I guess that is part of the Democratic process but it is difficult to believe that we are all completely polarized about almost every law that ever was or ever will be passed in the future in America. Lately it seems that all we do is try to re-legislate what has already passed into law and that we have no time to do anything that covers new ground. At this rate nothing will ever be over, no law will ever be carved in stone. It seems our laws are spelled out with Peeps or built with Legos. We can casually dine on the letter of the law until it disappears or we can simply take it apart and build something new. It’s enough to give us whiplash. And apparently, because we are a Democracy, there is no help for it. Our laws are, of course, actually written on paper. And paper is just as easy to destroy as Peeps are to eat.

Frustrating though it may be that we never resolve our issues, it is more unsettling to find that the majority does not really rule. After all today’s majority could become tomorrow’s minority and then what we took for a law can be replaced by a new law. It is not really the mutable nature of the law that bothers me; it is the fact that, even in the face of pressing current needs, we spend our days changing what has already passed into law.

A tiki hut with no cable or communication signal sounds good – just the ocean waves, the endless ocean waves slapping the sand over and over. After a few liquid refreshments and a nice nap on a chaise lounge perhaps waves will sound soothing once more and my patience with the Democratic process will be restored.

By Nancy Brisson

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Deals That Are Not Deals

let's deal

It used to be that when a deal was done in Congress each side gave a little so that each side won something and lost something. It was not always pretty. There were terrible arguments. Enemies were made. But compromises were arrived at. The way the Republicans try to do deals lately (whether they have a majority or not) would be laughable if it weren’t so maddening, so impossible, and so sad.

Republicans write legislation with a really bitter pill and a slightly less bitter pill and then they present it as if it were a gift-wrapped package instead of a flaming bag of poo. Or they might attach a poison pill to a bill that has bipartisan appeal and then Democrats have to vote against something they really want in order to avoid something really toxic. The recent bill against human trafficking was a bill that had bipartisan appeal and is the kind of law that usually makes us proud that Americans care about human rights. But the Hyde Amendment got tucked into the human trafficking bill so that Republicans could be sure to remind us that no federal funds can be spent on abortion (which is legal by the way) even for a victim of human trafficking. The bill gave with one hand and took away with the other. Republicans knew all along that the Democrats would not vote for this bill with the Hyde amendment attached. They hoped the Democrats wouldn’t notice.

Admittedly, the Democrats almost didn’t notice. They should have read the bill way before they did. However, we have no clue about when the Hyde Amendment snuck its way into the trafficking bill.  Now Republicans are ticked off. Their ploy did not work. They blame the Democrats, but I think we can all see how the GOP took a calculated risk and lost.

In a snit about not getting their Hyde Amendment past the Democrats they now threaten to, one more time, postpone their approval for Loretta Lynch to take the place of the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, who they don’t even like. They have a hostage and she is their last one so they have to make sure to use her to their best advantage. But Loretta Lynch is very well qualified to be AG and has done nothing to deserve the treatment she has received from the GOP. They are using Loretta Lynch to punish Obama for everything he has ever done or ever will do as President, apparently.

Now that the trafficking bill vote is done, Congress is moving on to the budget. The GOP is offering the exact same Paul Ryan budget (perhaps with minor tweaks) that supposedly balances the U. S. budget in ten years but leaves America with no social safety net. They are very much aware of the fact that Democrats have basic ideological differences with the Ryan budget. They are very much aware that economists feel the Paul Ryan budget numbers offer an austerity that will not provide economic growth in America. Economists tell us that this budget will worsen the economic inequality gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. The only increase in the GOP budget is in the area of defense where experts have said increases are not needed.

Republicans do not plan to abandon the Sequester which is scheduled to continue taking its bite out of the lives of those who are already at the bottom of the economic heap. The Republicans know that Democrats cannot approve this budget. They do not agree that the meanness of this budget is necessary and they do not subscribe to the theory that ending social programs will force people to lift themselves up. Democrats do not believe that government is useless and that private business will provide all the services that our government once provided. We will stop paying as many taxes but will pay private businesses to provide services like health care for seniors and education. We will be like the miners who have to buy everything from the company store owned by our employers. And we want to do that because it worked so well the first time around?

What good will it do to balance the budget in ten years if we do so by cutting everything that makes America a great country for “we the people”. This budget deal is not a deal. The GOP offers only “our way or the highway”. They offer straight up Republican ideology. There is no bargaining room here. Either you accept the beliefs and policies of the GOP or they will take us over another cliff. (Actually we have to wait to find out what threat they’ll use this time.) The only brake we have right now is that the GOP does not want to show how much they favor the wealthy and how much all their plans rely on the supposed (but never real) advantages of “trickle-down economics” before they win the election and get control of all three branches of government in 2016. Once Americas get a load of this budget in action they will never vote for the Republicans.

By Nancy Brisson

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The Dead Key by D. M. Pulley – Book

The Dead Key

When Iris graduated with her degree in engineering and went to work for Wheeler, Reese, Eliot Architects she thought her life would be good. But for months all she had done morning ‘til night was highlight the same structural element over and over again on a never-shrinking pile of building plans. She wasn’t at all happy with her living arrangements either and she was drinking too much.

Things started looking up when, just as she thought about switching jobs, her boss assigned her to a special project. She was sent to measure each floor in a fifteen story high rise building from the Great Depression era and to produce rough plans for each floor which could be plugged into a computer drafting system to create proper building plans. This was more like it she thought.

But there are lots of mysteries in this building which used to house the First Bank of Cleveland. When the bank closed in 1978 it was locked up overnight and all of the employees were fired. There are still desks in some of the rooms and the desks still have things in them. There are file rooms that are still full of files. The building is still patrolled by a paid security guard, the moody Ramone. The First Bank of Cleveland building turned out to be somewhat spooky and weird.

Pretty soon the author (D. M. Pulley) of this novel called The Dead Key has us flashing back and forth to the days just before the bank closed in 1978 and the days that Iris is spending measuring and making floor diagrams twenty years later. As she works Iris cannot help doing some sleuthing into those scraps left in desks and those files left in file drawers and what she discovers is scandal and corruption and plots and plans made by important men, and there are lots of keys, including the “dead” key. Did these schemes die the night the bank closed or will opening the old bank building bring these crimes once again into the dusty light of day?

This is a good first novel and the mystery of it kept me reading until all was unraveled, which, of course, was not until the very end. I loved that the powerful men were so corrupt and that the lowly secretaries (all women) were the ones with a sense of justice who could not bear to let these nefarious activities remain a mystery. There are plenty of moments when these amateur detectives are in mortal danger. Even Iris, with her degree in engineering, was pretty equal to Max and Beatrice, the two secretaries at the bank in 1978, in the eyes of the men she worked for. Subtly and not so subtly Pulley may be pointing out the gender biases in our culture.

Although I enjoyed the book and it did grip my interest as a good mystery should, I question that the things that happened at the First Bank of Cleveland could have been hidden away in an empty property for twenty years. I found myself worried for the three female characters (Max, Beatrice in 1978, and Iris in 1998). Wandering around a high rise with Iris was as appealing as a treasure hunt. However, the crimes these women uncovered seemed a bit too complex, they included too many levels of corruption, and they seemed somewhat contrived. D. M. Pulley plans a second book and I think this one was a good start. It should be worthwhile to see what she writes for us next time around.

The Dead Key2

By Nancy Brisson


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