Monthly Archives: June 2015

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Jessica Knoll’s novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, starts out like Young Adult Chick Lit because the author uses the voice of the main character, TifAni FaNelli. TifAni FaNelli tells her own story and her narrative sounds light and superficial (with an edge), although the subject matter is actually much more edgy than it is light as it turns out.

TifAni, like many teens, is embarrassed by her mother and would like to be included in the top group at her new private school, the Bradley School. She strives beyond her family background, to belong to the Main Line, the name assigned to the most exclusive neighborhood in her city.

The story is told in flashbacks. It is the adult TifAni, now known as Ani (Ah-nee) who, while planning her dream wedding to her dream groom and working at her dream job, also finds herself agreeing to take part in a documentary about some events at the Bradley School. While Ani has been mostly honest about her past with her wealthy (old money) boyfriend who gave her the beautiful emerald and diamond ring she loves to flash, she has not quite told him everything about this documentary or about her feelings towards her seemingly perfect fiancé, Luke.

As she pursues her writing job at the popular NYC publication The Women’s Magazine, spends time with Luke after work, meets her bridesmaids to pick out and fit dresses, plans the venue, food and guests, music, flowers, and invitations we see that Ani’s interior dialogue, which is sort of cynical, does not match the façade she presents to her fiancé, friends and various family members. There is also the suppression of a surprisingly voracious appetite to anorexic levels of food deprivation.

In flashbacks we meet her fellow students at The Bradley School. What happened at her fancy private high school when Ani was fourteen? How traumatized is Ani and is her level of trauma appropriate? How much guilt does Ani bear for these events at Bradley? Does the behavior of her dad play any role in the decisions Ani makes and the things that happen to her? How about her mom’s role in Ani’s life?

This author deftly combines a number of potential landmines that crop up in the lives of young people today and at least one major landmine that we hope remains rare. This is a novel of this moment in time and a novel that should initiate plenty of discussion.

I have a tiny quibble with those who have compared this book to Gone Girl. This may be justified in terms of the rapid success this novel has experienced but this book, however light in tone, explores serious dysfunctions that seem to have been exacerbated by rather complex factors in modern culture. The main character in Gone Girl was a sociopath, but TifAni is not, and Gone Girl, perhaps just as well-written in its own way, is mostly intended to shock and entertain us. Luckiest Girl Alive is intended to expose unhealed wounds in our culture and to get us talking about them. I like the way Jessica Knoll avoids using a heavy hand to tell a heavy story.

By Nancy Brisson

The Great American Roller Coaster Ride

Obama and America have been on a ride this past week or so to the heart-stopping depths of cultural despair, through a plateau of uncertainty and on to the exhilarating peaks of ideological victory.

Nine gracious Americans killed while at a Bible study in church. Our national sociopaths, our mass shooters, or haters pretend that they are brave, that they are Shakespearean; that they must “screw their courage to the sticking place.” But they kill innocents – they kill children – they kill the devout. They all think they have their reasons. America’s a complex nation. It would probably be simple to dredge up enough injustice to fuel thousands of souls who believe they need vengeance for real or imagined slights, although we sincerely wish this would never happen again.

Freedom is not always pretty. Right now we seem to be intent on dividing society into the well-adjusted and the misfits, the cool and the uncool, the beautiful and the ugly, the rich and the poor, the hip and the clueless, the aristocratic and the peasants, and the lives of many people consist of sifting everyone into one group and making fun of or being mean to anyone who doesn’t sift on through.

Societies have always been like this and there have always been those who felt they were unfairly assigned to one group or another and who set out to prove through intimidation that culture made a big mistake. Perhaps Hitler felt this at some point before he learned a formula that would make people become mass murderers on his behalf.

We do, however, seem to be encountering more young men in particular who hype themselves up on video games, or terrorist/hate speak web sites until they are ready to rampage. So that is what we began with on Friday June 19th.

No one won. Certainly not the young man with the twisted mission, not the lovely Charlestonians discussing their Bible, not America, and not hate. Well we hope hate didn’t win. Because now, once these citizens are laid to rest we will still have this fight over a flag.

Southerners do not need this flag to remember the things that are sweet about the South. In fact the flag robs the South of all its sweetness. You don’t need that flag to honor your dead. You loved them. Those who died were your fathers, your brothers, your uncles. Preserve their histories in your attics and in your hearts. Martha Stewart, a northerner with a true Southern flavor told us how to preserve memories. Use acid-free paper and linen liners.

Look in your hearts where your hospitality and you kindness reside and admit that you are hurting your neighbors and you are holding on to a piece of rebellion in your soul. You have not and do not feel that America is a united nation. You still hold yourselves separate and you keep the possibility open that you may have to secede once again and that that time may be now.

So that was last week, and, of course, these events are not over. Our racial divide, our racism, our rebel hearts, and our hearts that quake at the very idea of a truly divided America are issues now exposed to everyday view and we do not know what the resolution will be. So we began in the depths, the yawning chasm of our grief.

Next we rose to a sort of meh mesa where the trade agreement resides. Here America divides along different lines. This is a business owner/employee divide. The TPA passed both houses of Congress – the so-called Fast Track passed. That means that when this trade agreement is finished Congress cannot amend it. They can only vote it up or down. If they vote it down the President can veto their vote. So basically if the trade agreement is completed while Obama is in office he is likely to hook America up to the nations in the “Ring of Fire” for a trade partnership which half the nation likes and half the nation doesn’t. Victory for Obama, but not for America perhaps.

Then we have the Supremes, who I have bad-mouthed before for letting their political persuasions affect their legal decisions. This week they redeemed themselves in my Democratic eyes, not so much in the eyes of Republicans. We got two decisions that are most likely victories for both Obama and for America, although it will probably be decades before Republicans come around.

As for the ACA (Affordable Care Act), we get to keep it. As for gay/bi/trans people et al they get to have and hold each other in sickness and in health for as long as they both shall live. And perhaps they get all the baggage of divorce and custody, both financial and emotional. But for now we celebrate. We have reached that point where we are at the peak of exultation.

There is, of course, no such thing as unalloyed joy that lasts longer than a few seconds. We have made Evangelicals and small government believers unhappy and they do not plan to go away and lick their wounds. They can’t do that because they believe that our great nation will be tarnished by bankruptcy, both moral and financial and they feel duty-bound to save America from those who are mistaken about what justice and equality mean. And they are trying to win an election.

Our roller coaster ride is done for now, but the coaster will obviously ride again. What a week though, eh? The work of this week will not be the business of just one week. The wounds opened will continue to bleed, the arguments won will continue to be fought. Still it was an amazing trip, from deepest pain to grinning, arms in the air, pleasure. I don’t know if there will ever be another week quite like this one.

By Nancy Brisson

Another Lovely Niece Decides to Go Fund It

I will let Amanda speak for herself.

Hallo, everyone!

My name is Amanda Barrack and I have the opportunity to begin accomplishing my greatest mission: to make a positive impact on each person I meet in my life. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, I need your help!

Starting next September, I will be living and studying in Austria for four months through my advertising and public relations major at the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). Beyond simply taking a vacation (which I’ve done) or traveling to another country (which I haven’t), studying abroad is a unique opportunity because I will be immersed in a completely new country and culture. This is going to further both my personal and academic education, and position me to become a better global citizen.

A large part of becoming a better global citizen is recognizing and respecting other cultures and ways of life – learning that people are individuals with different experiences and viewpoints. Being in the heart of Europe will offer me the chance to learn about not just one country extensively, but many countries and people at once.

Through communication classes, a local internship, living with a host family, and traveling to other countries and cities in Europe, I will gain a personal, professional, and academic education that is going to make me a better person. I will be interacting and developing relationships with people in other countries and with diverse backgrounds. In the future, when I am interacting with new people, I will be able to understand and celebrate both the similarities and differences.

It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world, and now that I am reaching the end of my time in school I want to seize this opportunity to broaden my experience.  I want to change people’s lives for the better, and I want to do it in an international context. The knowledge I gain from studying abroad will help me to speak with people kindly and competently, so that I can make a positive difference instead of accidentally offending someone. This trip is going to be an amazing experience for me, and I will carry what I learn here throughout every facet of my future life.

I need your help. No one can make an impact alone. I am at the start of my journey – one that I hope will positively influence the lives of many others. Each and every donation will help make that a reality. Thank you so much for your support!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Posted by Nancy Brisson

My Housework Rant (Not Just a Female Thing Anymore)

When I was a young girl living in the bosom of my very big family, I couldn’t help but notice how frazzled my Mom was. She worked from the crack of dawn until well after we were all in bed. Sometimes she took a quick nap with a baby on her shoulder.

There were 3 teenaged girls in the family and one teenaged boy and then 4 younger children. We did help some in our hapless, lazy, self-absorbed teenage way. The girls helped with dishes and ironing and we liked cooking so we often helped with dinner. We were supposed to set the table each night for dinner, but we often malingered until a parent (usually Dad) got angry enough to say “never mind, I’ll do it myself”. Our punishment was to suffer the silent treatment for a while, which could be quite unpleasant.

Babies need endless attention but even teenagers are lots of work. Everyone had to have a nicely pressed outfit to wear each day. We all had to have lunches put up for school. We had to get the occasional help with our homework and there were lots of personal issues to discuss. If you are a parent you know the drill.

Mom did the housework and Dad did the repair work and the yard work, although Dad was not afraid to pitch in indoors.

As a young woman watching all this I could see that my Mom fit that image of women as destined to be “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen” quite perfectly. I made up my mind early on that I did not want that.

Along came the Women’s Liberation Movement promising to free women from at least half of the housework since men and women would now pitch in and share household tasks. This would allow women to have careers and not feel tied down by their home and their children. Perhaps women could escape feeling that semi-brain-dead space that is part of child rearing, at least the first few years when each child is too young to carry on an intelligent conversation.

However, Women’s Lib upset a lot of men. They were not necessarily ready for housework and child rearing. And while the “new man” might find himself occasionally barefoot and in the kitchen, he never found himself pregnant.

I don’t know if families began to unravel as a backlash to Women’s Lib or for social and economic reasons; probably a mix of causes, but we started to find that a lot more people were living a single life, both men and women, sometimes with children, sometimes without. The problem with this sort of “freedom” is that now both men and women find themselves in charge of both the indoor work and the outdoor work.

So much of housework is repetitive. Whether you wash and dry dishes or put them in the dish washer, they still have to be cleaned day after day, year in and year out. Laundry is repetitive, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, mopping and on and on. Thank goodness we rarely iron these days. So how can my Mom, now turning 98, bear to do these tasks one more time. At least she feels proud of the things she can still do and says that she will feel useless when she can no longer do these household jobs. I, however would gladly give them up if I could.

Wouldn’t our world be a much more productive place if we were freed of these repetitive tasks? Yes, if you have enough money you can hire a housekeeper, but they shouldn’t have to do these things either.

So what I want to know is


By Nancy Brisson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson – Book

Neal Stephenson is hardly new to many science fiction readers but this is the first time he popped up on my radar. Then it was as if a “flynk” (read the book) captured me and I moved Seveneves immediately to the top of my reading list. Since then I have been enjoying the future Neal Stephenson created very much.

The novel begins when an unnamed (and unknown) “agent” hits our Moon and breaks it into seven large chunks of moon rock spinning in space. Just imagine, for a minute, looking up and instead of our one Moon, our romantic Moon that waxes and wanes in the night sky, we are seeing seven spinning chunks of rock. Scientists name them the Seven Sisters.

Soon enough they begin to collide with each other and break apart, so Seven Sisters become eight, etc. Scientists and world leaders are carefully observing the breakup of the Moon. One fictional scientist, obviously modeled after Neil deGrasse Tyson, is depicted as a serious scientist who can explain high tech things in low tech ways. He becomes a link between engineers, computer scientists, physicists, the government, the people and the reader.

All these experts extrapolate from the data available and postulate that Earth has about two years between now and two key events precipitated when the moon collisions reach some kind of critical mass. These two events, the White Sky and the Hard Rain will destroy all life on the surface of the Earth.

With two years to plan and given that very little progress has been made in space, the nations of the Earth spend all their resources finding ways to send a kind of Noah’s Ark into orbit near the Space Station which is already there. No animals will be sent since all of their DNA info has been saved to the computer and they can be “reseeded” on Earth 5,000 – 10,000 years in the future when Earth becomes habitable once again. Humans must be saved, though, as we do not know how to make a human completely from lines of computer code. This new ark is called the Cloud Ark and every nation chooses two promising young people to train for this mission.

Be prepared to enjoy lots of hypothetical, but not necessarily unbelievable, space physics. Neal Stephenson is our Neal deGrasse Tyson. He takes what Penny on The Big Bang would call ‘high techie-techie’ information and dumbs it down for those of us who need that. He leaves it quite high tech enough to please a reader with a degree in engineering also, I am guessing. I thought the Seven Sisters were the seven Eves, but they became eight so soon that I realized that I would have to read further to find the significance of the title. I really enjoyed where Stephenson went with this.

The front end of this book seemed to tell this complex story at just the right pace. However, Part II and especially Part III seemed to lack the pace and detail of Part I. This book could have been and probably should have been a trilogy with equal time given to the things that occurred after the Hard Rain and also to the drama of the return to Earth. However, it really doesn’t matter because this book is packed with all the adventure of being forced to live in space and all the ingenuity of space innovations that predict things we might want to actually build someday. Be prepared, it’s long, but full the technology and the human drama that make sci-fi so enjoyable to fans.

By  Nancy Brisson

Make It So

I haven’t really heard much about the theft of public employee records in Washington (including employees with security clearances) lately, but I have thought about it quite a bit.

So far there hasn’t been much fallout. China was pointed out as the country that hacked our government computers but China says that they did not do it. That has not changed our assessment of blame and it probably won’t unless someone else takes credit or uses the information.

I erroneously thought that our hidden spies had gone out of fashion after the Cold War ended, but I was wrong and, apparently, they are still an asset for United States intelligence gathering. So far these people who sometimes spy have not been sent home in disgrace or arrested and imprisoned in foreign jail cells. However, it sure is embarrassing that someone was able to access this information.

I’m beginning to think that there is no such thing as a secure computer or really good encryption. Look what happened to that flight that got hacked in Poland this weekend. There are, apparently, back doors planted all over the place. Our Federal government, or so we have been told, is using old technology which needs to be updated as desperately as our highway and rail systems. If priorities are to be set I would say that computer security is an even greater priority than updating our travel networks and both are high on my list.

We have hired young “hacker”-grade computer “geeks” (e.g. Edward Snowden) to run our NSA computers that spy on Americans (and others) so unsuccessfully (e.g. Dylann Roof and many others who were not noticed by the system), so why aren’t some of these resources being put to work on better encryption and tighter computer security? Do we perhaps have “spies” working for the NSA where they can do damage from the inside?

Will America be blind if all of our secret information resources are disabled? We can’t tell yet, obviously, but I bet the shoes will start dropping soon and then we will get some idea of the damage done. Perhaps our assets will be left in place and fed false information. Will we be able to trust any of the data collected by our people? I don’t mean to sound flippant about spying, although it all seems a bit sordid, but can any nation trying to navigate this chaotic age afford to operate without spies? Has any government ever operated without spies? I am certain that all nations have spy networks or perhaps less formal ways to get information. Perhaps we could hack the spy networks of other nations and negotiate a standoff. I’m guessing we will eventually have to deal with this data leak.

I just hope someone has not figured out a way to parlay thefts of computer data into an American economic collapse which many around the world would like very much to see. So far our resilience has held and even the terrible and dramatic destruction of our World Trade Center, buildings full of financial firms, caused the American economy to shudder, but not to fail.

I hope that the reason I come up with these paranoid scenarios that my mind imagines is because I read too many political thrillers. It would seem to my suspicious mind that Russia has far more reasons to seek out our secrets right now than China does. But China has plenty of reasons also and both nations pretend to hate spies while sprinkling the world with spies of their own. Spies obviously did not disappear when the Cold War ended. We are still doing Spy Versus Spy. If we were more efficient, if we accomplished much of anything these days, I’m sure we could find a way to keep our secrets secret.

By Nancy Brisson

Through Our Tears

I could not write about the sad, sad killings in Charleston, SC right away because I wanted to get some perspective first (as if this short amount of time could help). I am not sure why this particular mass shooting has hit me so hard but I can’t think about it without crying. I guess I was in shock when the twenty-six beautiful children were shot in Newtown. I mourned but it did not bring tears to my eyes or leave this thickness in my throat. Perhaps it is the weight of all these deadly incidents piling up that makes this time so hard. Perhaps it is the innocence of nine American people of African Descent in a church studying a Bible and accepting a young man of Caucasian Descent into their midst. Maybe it is because he sat with them for an hour and then killed them. How could he carry out his twisted “mission” once he knew these people personally? I don’t understand how America got here or how we will move away from this place, or even if we can stop hate now.

We cannot bring these lovely people back. I did not know them but their survivors speak so highly of them and the things the relatives said to that boy/man at his arraignment were things I don’t think I ever could have said, so I just know that these were good people.

We have to, have to, try to figure out how to raise these alienated young people that American seems to have homegrown in greater numbers than previously over the past three or four decades. We have to figure out how to give them the connectedness they need, offer them more love and acceptance, and find tasks for them that make them feel useful. Our churches are not as central to our lives as they once were. Our families are sometimes failing to offer the support children need as they grow and mature. Our mental health system turned away from one-on-one therapy to medications that have not proven to be as efficacious as they were first believed to be, often because side effects lead people to stop medicating, or are even to misuse them to the point of unhealthy addiction. Our schools are left to handle children who are well-adjusted and those who are not with very little help from anyone. Those who are not well-adjusted leave school far too early because they can see that the schools haven’t the slightest idea about how to help them turn their lives around.

Then we have the divided nature of our nation right now. We have to look at those in the media who have been venting their anger/hate about minorities and about the poor; who have been pretending that their attitude towards guns is about freedom and the Second Amendment when they have almost been, have walked the line past, talking about revolution and secession because they believe their brand of the American way of life is being governed out of existence. Folks who spew hate 24/7 must bear some responsibility for giving angry “misfits” a script to follow. I do believe in free speech. Perhaps we just don’t need quite so much of it and it doesn’t always have to sound quite so passionate about every little imagined slight.

We also have to look at the gang culture in our cities which gives young people an alternative to belong to an organization, but belonging to this particular organization puts them at odds with the rest of society, turns them into criminals, and finally delivers them to a life in prison where they are fed and clothed, and sometimes educated, but where they, all too often, are initiated into a life that puts them outside the hopefully more satisfying and certainly more peaceful arc of a productive mainstream life.

Perhaps it is time to haul out that old idea of two years of community service for our kids who opt out of college or training programs. Perhaps our mental health system needs another overhaul where we take some of the freedom to choose or not choose medication away from the mentally ill until we can find a genetic way out of this difficult-to-live-with mental wiring. Or we must harden our hearts and grieve as we go and live in fear that we also might be in the right place at the wrong time.

By Nancy Brisson

Our Daenerys Targaryen

I love Bernie Sanders, but I’m a girl and I want us to have a girl for President. We have to break this particular “glass ceiling” and we need to do it now. Hillary is the woman who is most prepared to lead America at this particular moment in time. We are in a gender runt. Even women seem unable to accept that a woman could run America.

Bernie Sanders would make a great President but he is definitely not female. If he wins, Hillary can’t and then how long will we have to wait. Gender should not be an issue in electing the American President yet unless we break the male dominance now we may not break with tradition in my lifetime.

Of course if Hillary is considered truly incompetent to lead America then she should not get to be our President regardless of her gender. Fortunately, Hillary has a resume that suggests that she is more than qualified to be our President.

Our Presidents never govern alone anyway. As we have seen clearly in recent years Congress can act as a check on a President. In fact we have watched a Congress that interpreted checks and balances to mean blockades. If President Obama overstepped his powers (which I do not believe he did) Congress has definitely overstepped theirs. If both Parties had acted equally to control the President’s executive powers that might read as appropriate, but to have one Party (the Party out of executive power), erect an ersatz wall against the exercise of the executive and to, in fact, execute what appears to be a plot against the executive power. This does not read as appropriate at all.

If the Republicans don’t win, if Hillary wins, will obstruction continue for four more years at least? Will Hillary be able to buck the obstruction which has become the way Congress conducts itself.

Well, we already have the NRA getting their way through mad intimidation tactics (in the sense of insane) and we have the climate deniers using this same tactic to halt actions designed to counteract climate change. We have Grover Norquist, large and in-charge, and the hot and stubborn tea party and Republicans in Congress, all digging in and winning by turning into immoveable objects. This may not make you nervous, but it makes me very nervous. It smacks of anything but democracy.

Hillary seems mild and too light-hearted to handle these people, but I’m not sure Bernie Sanders is tough enough either. I’m not sure if any Democrat is. But Hillary is up. She’s the next metal marble in the chute of the pinball machine that has become our government. She’s up next to beat back the right wing beasts or tame them from dragons into pussycats. Perhaps she is our Daenerys Targaryen.

Therefore it is Hillary for me even though I would normally be torn between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Since we really need a Democrat to win this one, and the outcome is anything but certain, and many people continue to “dis” Hillary, I will do what I have in the end.

By Nancy Brisson



Kassandra’s American Dream

This is a picture of my niece, Kassandra Barrack, fresh out of high school last June. She has been learning what life is like for untrained high school graduates. She is trying to juggle several jobs so she can save money. She would like to go to cosmetology school. Can you believe that cosmetology school costs $6000? I and all my sibs, cousins, etc. (and there are a lot of us) are Kassandra’s extended family, but we are not a wealthy family. No one can just give her $6000. In such a large family it is impossible to give to only one child; it would not be fair to others who have recently graduated or who will in the near future.

Kassandra has decided to open a page a

to try to raise her school costs on the internet.

I would never collect money on this blog on my own behalf but I don’t mind giving Kassandra’s fund a little publicity. If you are someone who can afford to give her a little somethin’ somethin’ I know she would really appreciate it.

Perhaps you were not aware of Go Fund It and you may decide to see if generous strangers will help you with your goals.

Kassandra, I wish you all the best and I hope you become the sorceress of hair real soon.

By Aunt Nancy

TAA/TPA/TPP – Oh My Aching Brain

The TAA and the TPA or fast track might be fine bills to pass if cuts to social programs had not been attached, although probably not because this requires that Congress pass the TPP (and other trade deals in the future) without amendments. That seems like a dangerous precedent. The TAA is actually the part of this whole trade agreement business that I am least happy with.

As for the TPP itself, I can’t help wondering if we will regret staying out of this trade deal. Can the trade deal happen without us or are we the prime movers of the TPP? If the deal goes down in flames now does that mean that the partnership will dissolve or will it toddle merrily along without us? If the Trans Pacific Partnership carries on and we deal ourselves out of it will America be disadvantaged in any way?

Since most of the industrial flight has already happened, how many more jobs do we stand to lose if we sign on to this agreement? Does anyone know? I am all for the retraining contained in the TAA, but I don’t want to tap social programs to pay for it.

If Elizabeth Warren is so insistent on adding rules to the TPP in regard to currency manipulation, we should probably listen. Why will the TPP only work with TAA attached to it? Why are these two political instruments considered a package deal? Fast track makes us suspect that the government is pulling a “fast one” on us. It undermines our trust which is pretty low right now already.

Without more information, without fewer poison pills, without some discussion of our position in world trade if we turn down the agreement, why on earth would the American people support this? There is lots of folk wisdom on this subject. “Once burned, twice shy.” “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.” (I won’t go on, you get the idea.)

In order for the Democrats to prove they are with Obama the media implies that we have to agree with every one of his policy ideas and we all must move in lock step. That’s not the way a Democracy works and President Obama knows that. I don’t think this is embarrassing for him; I think it shows the world how a Democracy works.

Deciding how to vote on the TAA (job retraining provisions), the TPA (fast track), and TPP is complicated because we will be making a prediction (against common sense) that this agreement will be good for us in the future based only on our opposing belief that the last several trade agreements have not benefitted American workers. We don’t seem able to back out of these agreements if they turn out to be disadvantageous, so no wonder this is a difficult decision. What do the fortune tellers say? What do the economists say? Is there any difference in this case between the two groups?

By Nancy Brisson