Monthly Archives: November 2015

Cultural Appropriation


An article in the Daily Beast shares the information that students on college campuses are against classes in yoga. They are in fact against something called cultural appropriation. Since we stole yoga from Asia while we were exploiting them during an era when Colonialism was the order of the day we must now give yoga back to Asia, at least that seems to be the message of the Daily Beast article. This appears to be part of the whole political correctness movement that is rocking campuses and is attributed to extremists on the left this time. Apparently the PC police are actually student vigilantes who demonstrate on campuses all over America to oust any speech/thought they think is culturally backward or insensitive.

While it is a great thing to know your mind and be strong, tolerance is also a valuable attribute and one that should be most at home on a college campus. Whether intolerance is practiced by the left or the right should not matter. College is a time to share ideas and debate ideas, not to squelch ideas. From our position in the 21st century colonialism earns our disapprobation. We are possessed of the power of hindsight. We have become “enlightened”. That means that we would be wrong to view other nations as our colonies today but we are equally wrong to hold our ancestors to the standards of the present. People were colonized and we eventually saw that this was wrong as people objected and either won back their independence or were given independence.

If we try to backtrack and give back everything we “appropriated” from another culture we will lose much of our own cultural richness which is one of the few positive effects of having been global bullies. Now that the world’s cultures are mixed, can we un-mix them? Can’t we just keep reminding everyone that we remember the origin of our culturally appropriated (stolen) treasure and continue to express our appreciation for what we have learned. Maybe I just don’t want to have to give up yoga, but I don’t really see the point. Perhaps other nations don’t mind our appropriations as much as we think they do. After all “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

I have not been immersed in any campus for quite some time and this trend has obviously been developing for a while. It appears to arise out of course work which examines America and European past practice, tracing historical insensitivities that trivialized other cultures enough that we felt justified in exercising dominion over these cultures. I’m sure that students and faculty have explored the resulting homogenizing influence these incursions have had on a once far more diverse world. I see no way to backtrack and give cultural belongings back unless we go back to being far more isolated from each other than we are. If we were to return to a “dark age” would things appropriated from another culture automatically die out? I would rather not find out the answer to this question.

It seems that the political spectrum or continuum may be more like a Mobius strip than an actual continuum. If we look at the traditional spectrum drawn on a line it looks like this.


If we replace the word Communism on the left with the word Authoritarian and the word Fascism on the right with the word Authoritarian and then fold one end over to meet the other it allows us to easily see that going too far towards either the left or the right sort of puts us in the same totalitarian dilemma, although with different factions calling the shots. The Communist Party may have been formed from “the people” but it soon assumed a position above the people and bossed everyone around. Even within the pecking order of the party there was a hierarchy. Fascism seems to give power to business owners and corporations, but the same hierarchies apply and in either case there are ever stricter punishment for those at the bottom of the heap.

There are as many new political spectrums being designed as there are people who wish to portray what is going on in politics and these continuums can be skewed toward a political ideology quite easily, although the skew is quite easy to see in such a simple graphic. I did find one that is drawn in circular form, although not as a Mobius strip.


Here are a couple of other example that are also interesting.



I believe that the point I am trying to make here is that liberalism on campus may have gone off the deep end or it may have rounded that corner on the Mobius strip where it actually meets the extreme right wing and offers the same dangers to our democracy that the Tea Party has come to represent. I see all this extremism and I, once a lefty, now find myself somewhere nearer the middle and I find myself hoping that people at both extremes come back from the edge and abandon the positions they hold that threaten our freedom from both directions. Meanwhile I will keep going to my yoga class until we give it back to the nation where it originated.

Would a simple thank you for your contribution to our physical well-being and our emotional stability be enough? As long as I stay off campus it might.

By Nancy Brisson

Young Eliot by Robert Crawford – Book


Young Eliot

T. S. Eliot was a poet that I fell in love with the very first time I read his poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a poem with images and rhythms which did not exist in the sonnets and odes from our text, Norton’s Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1 (which had many poems I also enjoyed). Recently I saw that a new book had been published by Robert Crawford with the title Young Eliot: from St. Louis to The Waste Land. This book did not turn out to be an easy read. It is an academic book. It seems that Robert Crawford is a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy. He is a Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St. Andrews, a scholar and a poet. Although this does not have the permissions necessary to be an official biography it is quite scholarly with plenty of attributions. In fact the chapters offer so many numbered footnote references that you must learn to filter them out so that you can follow the details of Eliot’s life.

Since T. S. Eliot destroyed almost all correspondence from his first marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood most biographies devote very few pages to Eliot’s life before he reached his twenties. Crawford, however, following exhaustive research at the many repositories which hold Eliot memorabilia and with the permission of Eliot’s second wife who was still alive, begins at the beginning in St. Louis, Missouri which he credits with the jazz-like rhythms of Eliot’s poetry (not his exact language). “Eliot’s formative years were exactly that. Their importance is greater than most readers have realized. Young Eliot presents this crucial period in much more detail. ‘Home is where we start from’”, says Crawford. “…St. Louis – that French-named city of ragtime, racial tensions, ancient civilisations, riverboats and (in Eliot’s words) the real start of the Wild West.”

Another important early influence on T. S. Eliot is added in his early teens when his “time [is] divided between education in Missouri and summering in Gloucester, Massachusetts” where he learns to sail. T. S. Eliot, once he leaves to go to Harvard, never goes home to St. Louis, although he still summers in New England.

Crawford spends much time on Eliot’s life with Vivien and the dysfunctional nature of their marriage. Vivien is quoted as saying, “I love Tom in a way that destroys us both.” They seem to have sexual difficulties but apparently there is not enough remaining information to tell us the true nature of these difficulties. Crawford blames both of them for the tensions in the marriage. The Eliots live in England (Vivien is English) and they both spend a lot of time being ill, but they also socialize with the important literary figures of their age, both in England and in Paris, e.g. Virginia Woolf, Mary Hutchinson, Conrad Aiken, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Bertrand Russell. Tom reads voraciously in Eastern philosophy and religion, anthropology, Western philosophy and religion, psychology, literary criticism, and literature including drama, novels, and poetry from the classics to his contemporaries. He says about himself that he is “…in different places and circumstances a professor, a journalist, a banker, a philosopher, a Parisian flâneur and also something much wilder.”

Despite the plethora of attributions Crawford still is left to conjecture about how much of Tom’s possible sexual difficulties and his buttoned-down formal persona (which he could discard when he was with male companions) informs the poem that this book ends with, The Waste Land. I am not sure that all of Crawford’s research gave him anything definitive to add to our understanding of T. S. Eliot’s poetry, but we do get to know Thomas Stearns Eliot as a person with all his brilliance, his humor, his gloom, and his flaws. There are still enough things we probably don’t know about Young Eliot to leave some mysteries that might be solved in the future. Crawford plans to follow up with a second volume but it will pick up after the publication of The Waste Land.

By Nancy Brisson

A Plague on Both Your Houses?


People, and this includes some of my liberal friends, are always saying that the dysfunction in Washington right now can be laid at the feet of both parties. They believe that Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for the partisanship and obstruction, for the enormous gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. And, of course, they are right, or in a way they are right. Money is far too important in Washington. It talks louder than we the people who can’t afford to make our voices heard because we cannot amass enough money to turn up the volume. We do need to deal with the outsized influences of special interests with lots of bucks, of Wall Street and the banks, and of big business.

However the Republicans have introduced another whole level of political drama that we must deal with first. Republicans have gone off the rails, off the deep end, delusional, and are aggressively pursuing reactionary policies that will hardly take America into a prosperous future. Democrats have been slow to counter the outrageous activities of the Republicans. Democrats have been shy, hanging back. They want to pretend that regular order still pertains in Washington. They are stodgy, self-conscious and do not want to match the operatic tone of the GOP (or the Biblical Old Testament tone either). That may be all to the good. Watching the full opera treatment play out in Washington might be too much for everyone.

However, we the people need to understand that, although our elected Congressmen in both parties are too involved with amassing personal wealth and a power base that will give them staying power and clout, the impasse we are presently in cannot be attributed equally to both parties. Both parties are not trying to rewrite the Constitution. Both parties are not trying to make it more difficult to vote. Both parties are not trying to overturn 50 year old court rulings that offered new hope to many beleaguered women. Both parties are not trying to privatize everything. And both parties are not trying to bring back a brand of Federalism that lost the debate the first time it was hotly contested in the 1780’s.

My point is that before we can deal with the greedy we need to deal with the nutty. This is what us lefties are trying to say to our families and our neighbors who support the GOP no matter how insane their actions.

There is a word that describes the things some Republicans have been saying and that word is fascism. I did not want to be the first person to use this politically and emotionally charged word in relation to the Republican candidates for the Presidency of our nation but last night on TV someone (sorry I don’t remember who) brought up this term which has not really been used much since Mussolini rose to power in Italy. Go over the definition carefully and see if it does or does not fit current circumstances. This definition was offered by Google.

noun: fascism; noun: Fascism; plural noun: Fascisms

  1. an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.
synonyms: authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, autocracy; More

Nazism, rightism;

nationalism, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism;

jingoism, isolationism;

neofascism, neo-Nazism

“a film depicting the rise of fascism in the 1930s”

  • (in general use) extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

So when we have people like Donald Trump saying that he will register all Muslims and keep certain mosques under surveillance and he will send any Syrian refugees that come to America straight back to Syria he is pandering to the xenophobia in us in order to get us to elect him. And his actions are fascist.

We also have the Republican candidates who would like to turn America into an Evangelical Christian theocracy. So when we hear Ted Cruz, this guy who supposedly channels our forefathers, say that we should accept only Christians from Syria we should hear a crowd behind him loudly whispering “fascist”, “fascist”, “fascist”, because what he is advocating is certainly not the Democracy our founders designed. But we don’t hear any great outcry. Our media bends over backwards to fairly represent the policies of both political parties. And Americans just keep watching FOX News, which barely qualifies as a news channel. (Stop watching FOX News!)

So let me say once again that in terms of setting priorities we need to get rid of the nuts in Washington before we can tackle the greed that is distorting our government. Both threaten our Democracy but the extremists have only recently taken over the top spot on that priority list (just since Obama took office). They seem able to say any old un-American thing and still maintain their popularity. This is why we need to elect a Democratic President in 2016. Sadly, the left may have entered the fray too late in the game. There is no way in which I accept the claim some people repeat again and again that both parties contribute equally to the recent dysfunction in Washington.

By Nancy Brisson

(graphic from

Refugee Reality Check


We keep thinking about what might happen if we do accept Syrian refugees. But perhaps we need to think about what will happen if we don’t accept Syrian refugees.

If we do accept refugees from Syria we are nervous that terrorists may make it to America. I am a true chicken. I understand fear. It feels scary to host people who could harbor hate against us. We are assured that we screen refugees with such care that it is highly unlikely anyone could get through the process but we remember Boston and those Tsarnaev brothers who came in as refugees and were radicalized once they were here. Our fears are not baseless but we must admit that the number of refugees that might become bad actors will be very small. We live almost daily with shootings. These threats hardly seem different from the many mass shootings we have experienced. As for enabling an enormous influx of rabid terrorists – only a full scale invasion could do that and I don’t think our enemies have that capability yet.

The reasons, beyond the humanitarian ones, in favor of accepting Syrian refugees are much more compelling. First, we cannot afford to let the Republicans, who want to get elected in 2016, play us. If they make us frightened enough and then offer to save us with their toughness they believe this fear will drive us to put a Republican in the White House. Please prove to the GOP that you are not that easily manipulated.

An even greater reason why we have to fight our fears and accept Syrian refugees is because we owe it to our allies in Europe and elsewhere. We have hung back in two world wars because they did not begin in America, but we eventually fought with our allies when we understood that if our friends lost we would only have enemies left.

This time the “war” began with us, very dramatically, on 9/11. This attack was a game changer and our old friends stood with us once more. Now we must not try to isolate ourselves even though our fears may prove real (although, I suspect, not on the scale GOP candidates warn of). We must stand with the friends we have forged as we have battled to keep the free world free. We must even accept old opponents as allies for as long as they prove true to our common goals. We cannot expect Europe to deal all alone with people fleeing terrorists. Even though there is a big ocean between us we cannot afford to use this geographical advantage to remain relatively safe and aloof. I doubt it will work for long and, in the end, we will wish we had stuck with our alliances.

More selfishly, flooding Europe with refugees could put Europe’s economy in jeopardy. Our economic fates are tied together and are just one aspect of the ways in which our individual existences as powerful political entities are closely connected.

We are Americans. We need to suck it up and stand with our friends.

Note: (According to an article in the NYT on 11/25/15 the Tsarnaev brothers were not in America as refugees. They were granted political asylum.)

By Nancy Brisson

This is Not Nation Building


nation building 5.jpe

This group attempting to strike terror in our hearts – this group with all the names (ISIS, ISIL, and more) pretends that it wants to build a nation in the ancient style of a Caliphate called the Islamic State. If their intent were to actually build a nation to take its place among the other nations of the world they would hardy expect to succeed by using the intimidating tactics they employ. They would not expect to win good neighbors with brutal executions and by appropriating the wealth of those neighbors. A nation does not usually dictate who can live in the nations next door and set out to destroy neighbors whose traditions vary from theirs unless they are bad actors. If they were nation building they would not call themselves the “Islamic” state when they want to annihilate others who consider themselves Islamic because they are not “pure” enough. They have invented a test for membership in their “Islamic” state that they know all Islamic people cannot pass. This is not any part of nation building.

No – what these religious fanatics are after is world domination. They are on fire to create a planet that contains only those who can pass their religious tests. They don’t value freedom. They value submission through fear. They are the Roman Emperors reincarnated. They are Genghis Khan back from the grave – Hitler – the Popes of the Crusades – the Inquisitors in Spain or any of a long procession of powerful conquerors who murdered, tortured, maimed and raped and pillaged over the face of the earth until someone figured out how to stop them or they were destroyed from within.

Perhaps it was easier to deal with these power hungry, self-righteous war mongers in the days of the Roman Empire when there was no media to announce their progress and their possible next moves. I’m sure many folks were taken unawares by their conquerors, but today we know they are coming, although not knowing exactly when, where, or how is disturbing in its own right.

Just don’t be fooled when these killers try to sound like they are simply building a new nation to house a homogeneous religious community. That would not create the fear and loathing we are feeling right now. You don’t build a new nation by inspiring these feelings in fellow inhabitants of this small planet.

I don’t want to go to war but let’s not let these fighters get too far in their jihad. I believe the nations that actually do exist on our globe will cooperate and act if this situation begins to look like it has legs. (It’s looking sort of like that right now) I guess we will find out how long those legs are.

Sadly they remind me of folks in our own country who want to be sure that true patriots can parrot certain ideologies and can pass a religious litmus test. Our power-seekers are not as cruel, one hopes, and not out to punish people with a more liberal, less religious bent, but they surely would like to force us to be submissive to their governance, which would make the idea of freedom sort of meaningless.

Freedom is difficult. Bad people find refuge in freedom and threaten to place limits on the freedom of people who strive to let morality guide their freedom. But I value our freedom above almost all else and I think if it is truly challenged then we must fight to keep it.

By Nancy Brisson

We Have to Stop Meeting Like This

Paris on TV4.jpe

We have to stop meeting in front of our TV’s like this. For one thing if attacks by terrorists will be more frequent it will make us too sad just when we need to keep our wits about us. I’m not saying we won’t mourn our loved ones and the loved ones of others in this very unconventional war against terrorists who intend to harm us. Innocent people have been harmed and we know that may happen again. But can’t we find a more private way to grieve? Days and days of nonstop media coverage gives these killers more power than they deserve. It is no great brave act to kill people out for an evening’s entertainment. There is no heroism in this, no martyrdom.

We do need to hear when the perpetrators of these cowardly acts have been found or captured or killed. We need to hear how they were radicalized. But we need to hear it far less often. Perhaps we really need 500 different “expert” opinions about whether or not we should respond on behalf of our partners in NATO and on our own behalf, how we should respond, and whether we should send American soldiers into harm’s way again, but it is confusing to hear so many opposing opinions, and it is excessive.

Recently the police have stopped repeating the names of mass shooters on American news shows. I think we will have to restrain our deep emotions and do the same thing with terrorists. Terrorists often die while carrying out the attacks ordered by their overlords but the terrorists who sent them out to kill are still alive and every tear, every candle, every flower, every note adds to their satisfaction with the success of their activities.

Praying might be good if you believe or would like to believe. The thought of all those Christian prayers directed to the heavens may make these evil men quail. And although each of these dire events is followed by a drumbeat – war-war-war – I must confess that I have no stomach for sending our soldiers into this strange land to bear the brunt of this holy hysteria. I would rather they train us all here in America to defend our free nation against those who see only the disadvantages of freedom and who want to rule us, rob us of our hard-won liberty, of our Democracy, of our very lives.

So let’s not be hasty. Let’s not see a rush to engage in what could be a very long and bloody war. The leaders of our armed forces should plan very carefully for a number of different contingencies that put as few of our people in danger as possible before we send soldiers to be caught and publicly executed by these men who use ancient texts to try to obliterate modern cultures.

Given the 24/7 news cycle and the ratings to be earned from coverage of dramatic and upsetting world events it is not easy for our media to practice restraint. Perhaps each event generates a certain energy, however tragic, that needs to be acknowledged over a certain series of days, but when I turn my attention to the pleasure these atavistic power mad men get from our round-the-clock coverage it brings me back to my original contention. We have to stop meeting in front of our TV’s like this.

By Nancy Brisson (offering the 501st opinion)

November, 2015 Book List

November was a fairly quiet month for book publishers so this list is shorter than usual. My book list sources do seem to agree about the best offerings so some titles appear several times. We have offerings from John Irving and David Mitchell, two of my favorites and the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn has a new novel. Two categories have the most titles, mysteries and thrillers, and biographies and memoirs. Soon we will have the results of the Best Books of 2015 surveys which will be presented by all major book sources such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, New York Times, etc. Happy reading. Take a book shopping with you, find a quiet nook at a local establishment and have a little nosh while you finish the next couple of chapters.


Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

Slade House by David Mitchell

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Mare: A Novel by Mary Gaitskill

The Muralist by BA Shapiro

Twain and Stanley Enter Paradise by Oscar Hijuelos

Tightrope by Simon Mawer

Dream House: A Novel by Catherine Armsden

Mystery and Thrillers

The Crossing by Michael Connelly (Bosch)

The Promise by Robert Crais

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Muralist: A Novel by BA Shapiro

Tightrope by Simon Mawer

Beatlebone: A Novel by Kevin Barry

Dark Turn by Cate Holahan

A Blossom of Bright Light by Suzanne Chazin

Corrupted by Lisa Scottoline

Biographies and Memoirs

Notorious RBG – The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Hunger Make Me a Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein

Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker

Letters to Vera by Brian Boyd and Vladimir Nabokov

David Lynch: the Man from Another Place by Dennis Lim

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Slade House by David Mitchell

Made to Kill: A Novel (LA Trilogy) by Adam Christopher

Here and There by Joshua V Scher

Independent Booksellers

Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Career of Evil by John Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Slade House by David Mitchell

A Banquet of Consequences by Elisabeth George (Scotland Yard crime drama)

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor (from podcast)

City on Fire by Garth Risk Halberg

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Ella MacNeal

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

Julia’s Daughters by Colleen Faulkner

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

How to Be Both by Ali Smith

10:04 by Ben Lerner

The Peripheral by William Gibson

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George RR Martin

Depraved Heart by Patricia Cornwell

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts

Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann

The Golden Age by Jane Smiley

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon

The Muralist by BA Shapiro

Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Submission by Michael Houellebecq

A Passage to Shambhala by Kevin Costner, John Baird, Rick Ross

All the Stars in Heaven by Adriana Trigiani

Publisher’s Weekly

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry

Memory Theater by Simon Critchley

White Leopard by Laurent Guillaume (P I) (1st book trans. to English)

Calvin by Martine Leavitt (schizophrenia, YA)

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler by Shigeru Mizuki (candidate for year’s best graphic novel)

The Bassoon King – My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy by Rainn Wilson

Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke

A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham

Compiled by Nancy Brisson

Middle-aged White Folks

A study by Angus Deaton and Anne Case is the talk of the town right now and its findings are quite sad. This study says that white middle-aged men, mostly blue collar workers, are dying earlier than their dads, sometimes through poor health, but rates are also climbing for deaths through suicide or the slow self-destruction of addiction to alcohol or drugs (especially opioids), and that this trend has been particularly noticeable since 1999. These findings indicate that American men who were born to fathers who fought in WWII, men who perhaps fought in Vietnam or Desert Storm, are experiencing a kind of collective depression. Actually, I do not think this study separated men and women, but rather looked at all middle-aged white people but when I see this trend in my family and social circle, I see it mostly in the guys.

These men are my brothers and my brothers-in-law and their friends and contemporaries. These men did manual labor for years, or they drove long distances almost daily, one brother-in-law even repaired jet engines. These jobs were easy when they were young but, when done repetitively, year after year, there was a toll on their bodies. Besides lots of lifting, bending and twisting at work these men helped everyone move multiple times, they did their own home repairs because they knew how, because it saved them money, and because it gave them a sense of accomplishment.

These guys believed the American Dream – work hard for an employer that offers health care and a pension, pay into Social Security and Medicare, and you will be taken care of in your age. They thought they would be playing golf, hanging out on their patios hoisting a few drinks, and/or travelling. Yet almost every one of these men found that as they reached retirement age their back gave out, or their ticker. Surgery often made their backs worse. They were not going to play golf or drink, joke, and laugh over the old days. Their health was shot. They were going to learn how to live with pain. Doctors prescribed opioids for pain and some of these guys got addicted and perhaps lost everything. Somehow my own family seems to have by-passed the opioid addiction trap so far.

Several family members did lose their jobs when their factories or the retail stores they managed closed or moved elsewhere. One of my brothers-in-law was not quite situated to retire when the factory where he worked closed so he had to find a new job, which he only found when he moved south. My brother in retail lost jobs over and over as retail moved from full-serve to self-serve or as companies moved to better markets. He was finally set to retire comfortably when the company used an entrapment scheme to fire him on a technicality. He lost his pension and his stock in the company. The blue collar workers in my family were more fortunate than many as their companies did not default on their pensions (yet).

So imagine these guys, dedicated to the companies they worked for, signed on to what they thought was a mutually beneficial bargain and then betrayed by their employer who moved south, who left the country, who found ways to fire older workers with high salaries and replace them with young workers who would work for less. If companies went bankrupt these guys got no pension or they got pennies on the dollar. Then they could not get rehired due to health concerns or age or lack of appropriate skills. Perhaps when they lost a job they also lost a house to foreclosure. Don’t you think this is a pretty grim scenario?

My family members (the men were hit harder than the women, although this is probably not true in all families) did not always love going to work day in and day out, but they did like feeling productive and they did not ever expect to live lives of leisure until they were much older. They followed the rules in middle class America. They did not live through the struggles of the Great Depression as their dads did. They had more money to spend and they smoked too much, ate too much, and drank too much, things our Dad never did. But the things that give them most physical pain in retirement result from abusing their bodies through physical labor, pushing themselves beyond their limits.

If your whole life gets value from your job and from hard work and from recognition for your labor and then your whole raison d’etre is yanked away, depression seems a reasonable, if very undeserved outcome. Probably another prime mover of this malaise is that the world seemed to shift right under their very feet, seemingly bringing their relevance into question. We have all been changed by recent cultural shifts but these men felt they lost ground. In fact they went out in their garages and listened to their radios which told them that they were about to lose their place as the majority group in America, and that women and minorities were moving up. They puttered and listened and smoked their cigarettes or drank their beers and shook their heads “yes” as the radio fed their fears, their anger.

You know the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Well these stages certainly fit the lives of the men in the Deaton/Case study, but perhaps we have almost arrived at the acceptance stage and this trend towards early death will end. There is still plenty to enjoy about living even if you are not the alpha animal, ruler of all creation that you were told you were supposed to be, there is still plenty you can offer to America and to the world. Stop listening to FOX News.

Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century” by Anne Case and Angus Deaton

By Nancy Brisson

Veteran’s Day, 2015, Contemplating Modern Warfare

I am not a hawk, but not an absolute dove either. I do agree with the strategy of more flexible American armed forces that can be quickly deployed and pulled back (although egress seems far more difficult to achieve than ingress seems to be). Even as we express our gratitude to our well-trained and dedicated defenders on another Veteran’s Day – this one in 2015 – we have seen our leaders contemplating and implementing changes in the way we wage war. Obviously there are advantages to consider and disadvantages to consider as we explore these new configurations for the deployment of troops and the size of the forces we deploy. I have no expertise in war beyond spending a lot of time asking questions of the I Ching, reading Carlos Castaneda’s, The Teachings of Don Juan: The Yaqui Way to Knowledge, and reading the Rome novels of Colleen McCullough so my discussion is offered from a civilian point of view for what it is worth. But we are a Democracy, of the people, by the people, and for the people, so I think the people are expected to chime in from time to time. Hopefully those with some experience in these matters will find our suggestions useful once in a while.


  • Flexibility matches the kind of pop-up violence and hot spots we face these days
  • Soldiers will not have to serve so many tours in a row because we will not have a huge force concentrated in one spot over a prolonged period of time.
  • Soldiers can gain military prowess but can also find time to develop skills useful in civilian life.
  • We can hopefully avoid the enormous cost in life and limb that accompanies full-on combat.


  • In order to stay strong among the nations of our world we will have to maintain high readiness levels which is more difficult as the eventual goal seems more distant.
  • It will be hard not to keep cutting our military budget because it will be easy to lose sight of the true deterrence value of a battle-ready military.
  • We will need to be flexible enough to use a large force when necessary, a small force when possible, and develop great skill at assessing the needs of any particular situation.
  • We will need to think ahead to what we will do when everyone has drones, satellites, and perhaps even nukes.
  • We will need to be careful because complacency breeds contempt. Exposés, such as those I watched on The Rachel Maddow Show, reveal that the troops who guard our nuclear missiles prove that discipline erodes when a military duty begins to seem like an empty formality.

Of course, all bets are off if we are attacked by aliens. (Is all levity off-limits on Veteran’s Day?)

We love our Armed Forces and we thank you all so much for protecting America, but we sure would like to see you find ways to fight and still come home, intact, to your lives and your families.

By Nancy Brisson

Becoming Kansas Because Democrats are Clueless

When Matt Bevin, Tea Party extremist, won the position of Governor of Kentucky last week the Democrats acted, there is really no good American English word for it, gobsmacked. Have they not been paying attention? What was the strategy of the Democrats (and not just the ones in Kentucky) that led them to believe that there should have been a different outcome?

It is not as if the internet isn’t teeming with articles about the way Republicans have been playing deep – using Koch money to influence local elections. Even here, in the middle of Northeastern NYS, my city is rapidly turning red. Republicans got a virtual unknown elected to replace Dan Maffei in the House even though he was supported by both Bill Clinton and Joe Biden at local rallies (not very well advertised rallies). The tables were turned by a massive TV ad campaign, the new “red state” skew of the local newspaper, and because Americans will not stop listening to FOX News.

I have written at least 10 blog posts on this Republican strategy to win at the state and local level. Here are the particulars:

Still Manipulating the National Agenda, 3/17/2013

Behind the Curtain: Exposing Oz, 5/31/2013

Who’s Zoomin’ Who?, 4/15/2014

Democrats: Wusses or Saviors of our Nation?, 6/19/2014

Heavenly Peace in Washington, DC, 8/31/2014

Will the Left Lose in 2014 Midterms-Most Say Yes, 10/16/2014

No Politics are Local – Republican Mantras, 10/31/2014

One Election Bought and Paid For, 11/2/2014

Divide and Conquer, 12/7/2014

The 2016 Election Conspiracy of the GOP, 2/26/2015

Democrats have never taken the data seriously until now. It may be too late. We might win the Presidency, although with all the tinkering Republicans have done with voter suppression and district lines and polling places and voter ID’s, we might not. Even if we do, however, it will take decades to win back the states.

I don’t condone the ways the Republicans have played the game (with our lives in the balance) and I don’t think the Democrats should try to pay more to buy the 2016 election than the GOP, or that they should suppress Republican votes. These tactics are un-American, un-Democratic, and they treat the American people like pawns. But we certainly needed to put more passion behind our policies and our beliefs. Now it looks like we will have to watch every “red state” turn into Kansas before the American people understand the profound derangement of the right wing in America. The Democrats could start now with a unified strategy to at least try to save us from a decade of “wrongness”.

Bu Nancy Brisson