Monthly Archives: February 2016

Stopping Donald Trump

Donald Trump

I think if we want to stop Trump’s big “mo” then we must fight him where he lives. I believe a scandalous mini-series, whipped up quickly and deliciously, might do the trick. It could feature a Donald Trump-like candidate on the election trail, with flashbacks to the dirty deals and less-than-triumphant moments of his “life”. It could follow him everywhere – backstage at rallies and debates, in his fancy car, in his private jets, in his marriages, with his children, doing deals, talking to developers and world leaders about business, everywhere except the bathroom (because, unlike Donald, we don’t go there).

We could show him winning the election and then follow him into the White House (á la House of Cards but trashier and less subtle). We could show his policies being passed into law and the resulting unexpected reactions of Americans (even his followers) and of nations around the globe. We could show attempts to impeach him and how he resists them and grabs more power for himself, perhaps gets Congress to vote him President for Life. Really good TV script writers could get this right. Perhaps Amazon would take it on, or Netflix, or HBO, or someone with access to network TV that reaches poorer Americans. Turning his own media against him may be the only way to change the minds of people who think he actually will “make America great again”.

Shoe

2.

Make a series of TV ads that show President Donald in front of the UN, OPEC, US allies in the EU, and in South America, saying the things he has said in this campaign. Show film of possible reactions from famous news clips or even from a movie like Evita. Show Donald in place of George Bush when the shoe is thrown, only he is taller so he gets hit and goes down, hair in disarray. Use your mad computer skills

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I’m sure some of you have some interesting outside-of-the-box ideas. Tweet them at #stopTrump

By Nancy Brisson

Why We Can’t Elect Donald Trump (or any of the Bully Boys)

Donald Trump 2

Donald J Trump could become the leader of America, but if he is elected and if he does the things he says he will do, America will be a substantially different nation than it has always been. We can kiss our forefathers good-bye, and the high ideals they wished us to strive for as a nation. By the time we build that wall, send all undocumented immigrants back to their countries of origin, build up a huge military presence and bully China, I’m not sure what America will be left with, but I think we will finally understand the word Fascism.

Older Americans shudder at the thought of a Socialist taking over our Democracy but tend to have little or no reaction when someone exhibiting signs of Fascism (Donald Trump) begins to climb in the election polls. Fascism is far more at odds with Democracy than Socialism is but we just don’t have enough understanding of what the term means for it to call forth the intensely negative visceral reaction that it should. I have written warnings about this twice before, but this time I have help from a very famous writer, Umberto Eco.

Writing from Paris, Christopher Dickey begins his article in the Daily Beast with this statement, “Here in Europe, people know a thing or two about fascism.” He is remembering an article he read twenty years ago by the deeply philosophical Italian author Umberto Eco, who died last week.

No, here in Europe, by various names—as Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism—it was the living, vibrant, vicious force that led directly to the most horrific global war in history. More recently, it took root and lingered as an active ideology in Latin America, providing a crude foundation for the repressive revolutions and dirty wars that raged from the ’60s through the ’80s.

Indeed, the fundamentals of fascism are with us today, in the killing fields of ISIS-land, in the madness of North Korea, and also, sadly, in battered democracies from newly militaristic Japan to xenophobic, isolationist parties in Europe. And, yes, in somewhat more subtle forms fascism can be found on the campaign trail in the U.S. of A.

Umberto Eco, in his article (title not given) gives a list of the attributes of a Fascist:

Makes a cult of tradition

Rejects modernism

Takes action for action’s sake  (“thinking is a form of emasculation”)

Distrust of the intellectual world

Disagreement is treason

Racist by definition   (“seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference”)

The appeal to a frustrated middle class   (“a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”)

Obsession with a plot

Followers must feel humiliated   (“by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies”)

Popular elitism   (“Every citizen belongs to the best people of the world, the members of the party are among the best citizens, every citizen can or ought to become a member of the party.”) (“[T]he leader knows that his force is based upon the weakness of the masses; they are so weak as to need and deserve a ruler”)

Life is permanent warfare  (“pacifism is trafficking with the enemy”)

Official heroism   (“martyrdom”)

Machismo   (“implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality”)

Selective populism   (“citizens do not act, they are only called on to play the role of the People”)

“Newspeak”   (from 1984, George Orwell)   (“All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”)

Umberto Eco sounds like he is speaking about the Republican Party candidates and members of Congress, and especially of Donald Trump, as we know them right now, but he wrote this 20 years ago.

Here’s the link:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/02/22/how-umberto-eco-tagged-today-s-fascists.html

I think that all of the Republican candidates are unelectable and everyone is feeling this even if they will not admit it. I am guessing that people are thinking that Donald Trump is the least dogmatic. He is not toeing the party line. He is his own man. And for some reason people cannot see the dangers in turning over our governance to this man. They want the 50’s back and Donald promises the 50’s. But they will return under his terms. He humiliates anyone who questions his leadership and people back down, even scary people like Ted Cruz. If we give him carte blanche to “make America great again”, it will be his vision of America, not ours and he may have a hard time ever leaving office. He may make himself President-for-life. We cannot control this man. He brooks no disagreement. In the scary GOP line-up of future Presidents perhaps the man who seems most benign is the biggest nightmare of all, but we may not know it until it is too late.

At the end of his article Dickey draws parallels between Europe then and America now.

But where does Eco’s Eternal Fascism fit in American politics? Can it be that many of the figures parading before us in this presidential campaign year appeal to the worst instincts of “the People”? Do they play on atavistic fears and resentments, frustrations and humiliations? Are they marked by their irrationalism and anti-intellectualism, their hatred of things foreign, their desire to be seen as heroes and their gun-toting machismo?

Oh, hell yeah. But I don’t need to point the finger. Umberto Eco is doing it from the grave. As he wrote more than 20 year ago:

“Franklin Roosevelt’s words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: ‘If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land.’

“Freedom and liberation,” Eco wrote, “are an unending task.”

How do we get angry Americans who think any of these guys are the answer to “setting America on the right path” to understand that they will do just the opposite? How do we get Donald Trump to leave the Republican race now that all of the non-scary candidates have been chased away? Getting rid of Donald is not enough. We must elect a Democrat in 2016 or American Democracy will not survive. I have no idea how we convince what I call “the pod people”, brainwashed by right wing media, that they must vote against the positions they have been taught to believe in.

10/27/15 On Megalomania, and the World https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=453069755357542576#editor/target=post;postID=2896814823017990171;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=0;src=postname

11/24/15 A Plague on Both Your Houses https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=453069755357542576#editor/target=post;postID=8679697109120850499;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=1;src=postname

By Nancy Brisson

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – Book

Between the world and me2

Every American should read Between the World and Me. The book is a letter that Ta-Nehisi Coates has written to his teenaged son, but it is more, way more than that. If you want to surrender your white privilege for a bit and experience what it is like to be a black person in America, immerse yourself in the arc of Coates’ life as he shares with his son and with us. You may be white in America and think that your life does not seem to have any “white privilege” in it. If so, then you need to read this book even more than most of us. We still have a ways to go if we really want to eliminate racial discrimination in our society, which was supposedly built on the precept that “all men are created equal”.

I remember being lifted to a new level of consciousness when I read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison because it hit me so personally. I learned to read using the Dick and Jane readers with the perfect little children with their cute pets and their red wagons. These children were white and lived in a simple and healthy “white” world. When Toni Morrison contrasts her life events with those of those two happy-go-lucky little white children we are aghast that she had to suffer so when she was just a child. And I am not saying that there are not white children who grow up under equally horrifying circumstances, but the idea of an American child using this book to learn while experiencing, in her own life, the things she did is shocking and heart-rending. When Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about “the Dream”, and I assume he means the American Dream, he is, in part, talking about the sweet life depicted in those Dick and Jane readers.

Toni Morrison wrote her book in 1970. You would think that big contrasts between the lives of Americans of African Descent and the lives of white Americans would no longer exist but that is not what has happened. Coates suggests that much of the behavior that makes white folks fear black neighborhoods is just a series of defensive stances by black people who have even more reasons to fear and blame almost everyone. It is important that we understand this.

Coates talks about how difficult it is to understand the passive resistance of his forebears in the 60’s when they fought for their civil rights. He feels drawn to the more militant beliefs and strategies of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. But he does not incite his son to violent activism. Coates goes on to show his son how, as he kept growing and studying, he changed. He expanded his world to include Howard University which had an indelible effect on him. He married. He and his wife settled in New York City and the city, so much more cosmopolitan than most American cities showed him that greater freedom is possible. This also affects his thinking. He studies history and gains perspective on the fact that white Americans are not alone in their imperfections.

Traveling to Paris mellows him and gives him additional insights. But his deeper understandings, although they may “fix” him, have not fixed America and that is the job that lays before us. This talented American writer should not have to fear what America holds in store for his beloved son. There is an awful lot packed in these 150 pages and the book flies by, but the implications stay. If we are serious about finding a way to honor the words (not the deeds) of our forefathers, if we want a strong, healthy nation that works for all of our citizens, then read this book and use it as a way to help us change. We need to change.

By Nancy Brisson

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain -Book

Circling the Sun

When I read Out of Africa by Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen) I fell in love with the whole story, a true story, of a Danish woman whose beau married another woman in a time and place where such a social demerit would likely leave a woman side-lined for life. This was, of course, mainly true if you were a woman raised in wealthy family. If Karen Blixen did not marry well she would end up being a poor woman, dependent on the kindness of family, a dependency often accompanied by stinginess and resentment.

Karen Blixen was not a woman who wanted, or in fact deserved, to be side-lined. Her life in Africa was a testament to an intelligent and resilient spirit. In Kenya she was not so bound by social rules and was able to be bold, to buck society, and still earn a grudging acceptance and perhaps admiration. But she did marry before she left Denmark and that gave her the proper introduction to such a small colonial society.

If you loved Out of Africa, you will, I am certain, love Circling the Sun by Paula McLain. Here we have a version of the life of Beryl Markham, a child of British colonials who lived in Kenya at around the time that Karen Blixen had her farm. Beryl was much younger than Karen Blixen but their lives overlapped and their spirits were similar.

Beryl’s mother found Kenya intolerable and moved back to England when Beryl was very young. Her father raised and bred horses, thoroughbreds, to send to races all over colonial Africa. For many years no one supervised Beryl’s social development. She had a best friend in the local native Kikuru village and she spent her childhood learning to be horse trainer and a Kikuru warrior, both career goals that it was doubtful a girl could ever fulfill. She had almost no feminine influences in her life until her father brought home a “step-mother”, who he could not marry. There was scandal attached to these activities but there was also a shared recognition among colonials that it was impossible to adhere to the rules of a strict social order in this new, hot, and barely inhabited continent.

Beryl Markham, once she became a young woman, in fact a very young woman, was on her own after the failure of her father’s horse “ranch” and she, as a pretty woman and a fresh face became a target for not so innocent flirtation, gentlemanly admiration, and men who needed wives to run their households. Beryl yearned for security and was as yet unaware of how much she was unsuited to be “the little woman”. The men she married were wrong for her and the men she loved were men who were too enamored of freedom to be attracted to marriage. Beryl met Denys Finch-Hatton, the true love of Karen Blixen’s Kenyan life and that romantic, but illusive man also became Beryl’s deepest love, although impossible to claim as such.

When we meet Beryl Markham she is setting out to fly solo across the Atlantic from England to America. The journey of her life, how she got from being a virtual orphan in Kenya to a famed aviator is as wonderful a story as how Karen Blixen owned a coffee farm in Africa, and overlaps Isak Dineson’s story in some very satisfying ways. In fact it is astonishing that two woman with such unusual accomplishments could come out of such a small community of Europeans so far from home. If you always wanted more Karen, more Denys, more Africa, then you will love this carefully researched and well-written book.

By Nancy Brisson

A Worried Democrat Ponders

Berniefaces2

It all sounded so simple. The Dems would back Hillary Clinton but they did not want her to run alone. They wanted a primary – a sort of pro forma affair, just to keep her on her toes. She was the anointed but they did not want her to appear to be the anointed. In fact it seemed as if they needed Hillary because she was so experienced, but they didn’t really “feel” Hillary. There was a last minute groundswell for Elizabeth Warren.

When Bernie Sanders entered the race, along with Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb, none of these male candidates seemed strong enough to change the course of the Democratic Party’s push to elect the first female President of the United States. O’Malley and Webb were virtual unknowns, not hefty enough in personality, experience, or cultural cachet to be any real force in the primaries. Bernie Sanders was a Socialist, for heaven’s sakes. Americans shudder at the faintest whiff of “socialism”.

The exigencies of the current state of our nation, are perceived by shell-shocked Americans with great anxiety. Faced with an economy far less favorable than projected, there is unexpected appeal in a senior citizen who, philosophically, has remained in the 1960’s for decades, and who preaches a revolutionary message that has finally found its powerful rebirth. This has become a phenomenon that is changing everyone’s predictions about who will be the Democratic candidate in 2016.

I have found such solidarity with fellow Democrats, all resolved that we must not let a Republican win the Presidency in 2016. That goal is even more important now with the Supreme Court suddenly in play. Bernie’s success is splitting Democrats into the Hillary camp (seemingly growing smaller by the day) and the Bernie camp (ostensibly growing larger). Most Hillary people say they will support Bernie if he is the party’s candidate. The reverse is not as likely to be true however. Some Bernie people say that they would rather vote for a Republican than for Hillary Clinton. How is that even a thing? The Republican’s agenda is in no way similar to that of the Democrats. Perhaps there is a strong desire to be a firebrand, an extremist – any extreme will do. It is as if there is no middle anymore.

It doesn’t help that Bernie gets such sweet media attention. The media loves Bernie. The media also puts on a sour face for anyone who is not an extremist. And Bernie has been nice. He has been the ever-well-received “happy warrior”; probably stunned and pleased by his success, by a reawakening ‘60’s vibe. There do not seem to be many bad things to say about Bernie Sanders. Some say that he has been slogging away in government and yet has accomplished very little and has not, until now, made much of a splash. But the people in his state do seem to love him in spite of the fact that single payer health care failed in Vermont. I have even been tempted by Bernie. I grew up in those same energetic times when we dreamed of equality for everyone, an end to war for all people and all times, and changing the “establishment” so that our government would become truly Democratic, instead of a Democracy in name only.

Hillary, on the other hand, seems to be no one’s darling. The media rarely has anything good to say about her. They pound away at her lack of authenticity, they say that people don’t like her or trust her. They say it almost every day. And some of these media folks are classified by the right as left-leaning journalists and pundits who should be allies for Hillary. “With friends like that who needs enemies?”

The fact is that Hillary has not led a quiet political life. Because of her marriage to the high octane Bill Clinton she has been in the limelight for decades. She was not just a helpmate either; she had her own career goals and she got involved. She got her hands in the dirt, so to speak. She was not just the great lady who told the gardener what to do, she helped plant the garden. She legislated. She designed the precursor to Obama’s health care plan. She travelled the world and met the world’s leaders.

Hillary is vulnerable to attack because she has been front and center. She has not been timid, or held back, or bided her time. She has just rolled up her sleeves and helped her nation solve its problems. She is vulnerable in so many ways because she actually “did stuff” and is accused of making many wrong decisions. The tough drug arrest policy of the 1990’s is the newest albatross being hung around her neck. She didn’t pass that program alone. Even Bernie voted for that one. We, perhaps, only see what a mistake this policy was in hindsight.

Bernie Sanders is not looking quite so sweet these days. He is no empty suit. He has become a powerful opponent, splitting the Democratic vote and perhaps even getting some Republican votes. Independent voters find themselves choosing between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. How is that even possible? It boggles my mind. I see nothing in common between these two. In spite of the fact that Bernie is now fighting to be President for real, he is still not getting a lot of bad press. I am even reading mixed results when it comes to vetting the plausibility of Bernie’s programs. Some authors think that there is some economic viability, most have reservations.

Is Hillary Clinton as bad as the media paints her? Do the people even know anything about Hillary except what the media has told us or hinted at or insinuated. Is Bernie as spotless and pure as the media lets him seem? I am guessing that Bernie is “as honest as the day is long”. He just does not seem very materialistic or in possession of any strong personal ambition. While these qualities may make him a trustworthy leader, will they make him a powerful and a flexible leader? I don’t think Bernie Sanders is good at compromising. I think that may be his Achilles heel. I saw the camera catch a look on Bernie’s face the other day which did not look at all sweet, or flexible either. Look up “Bernie faces” on Google Images. He is not always so sunny these days.

What I am saying is that Bernie Sanders is creating a split between me and other Democrats who I thought of as my allies against the Republicans and that this split has me worried. I am also worried that it is looking less and less like Hillary Clinton is the most viable Democratic candidate among Democrats. We had better hope that if Bernie Sanders and the fans of revolution get the nomination that they can actually carry the day. Will the word “socialism” be used as a club to beat Bernie up and will the majority of American voters come to his defense?

I refuse to give up on Hillary yet. We wait, we listen, we watch, we express our thoughts – but we won’t know until we know.

By Nancy Brisson

Don’t Let Feminism Stop You from Voting for Hillary

feminism4

I was a young women the last time that feminism became a hot topic and on that occasion the movement was already on the agenda because of the book The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan, but the birth control pill gave women a true sense of relief and empowerment and gave the movement true impetus. If you could plan your pregnancies then you could be in control of a high-powered career, have children, and “have it all” as we said. Single women could experience some of the freedom men did while expressing their sexuality without, it seemed, an unwanted pregnancy which, even now, has the power to put a women’s life on an entirely new path, perhaps ruining their pursuit of a talent that would have made a key contribution to her culture.

I also remember the pressure from feminist leaders to make all women sign some sort of unwritten pledge that we would behave, from this time forward, in certain ways that they felt would further the women’s movement. Many of us were not quite ready, however, to give up our new freedom from male domination only to be dominated by an agenda set by women. We did experience a certain sense of sisterhood and there was a considerable high to be enjoyed by expressing the strength it gave us when we operated as a political and cultural bloc.

So I understand as well as possible what young women are saying about feminism in the 21st century being perhaps not quite the same as 20th century feminism and of not wanting to be disenfranchised by feminism in the way that women were once disenfranchised by men. But I also cannot help but remind myself that women are always being asked to wait for something else to happen before they take center stage. There is always an issue more pressing or a person whose needs are greater and so women, perhaps reluctantly but obligingly, agree to wait a while longer. Now we feel like we must wait for the revolution to happen. Why can’t we have a woman in the White House and a revolution at the same time? Hillary gets what we want and need as Americans. Why do we require, once again, a man to do the job? I do admire the steadfastness of Bernie Sanders and if he becomes the Democratic candidate I will support him. But for now I will hang with the sisters.

I don’t think Hillary asked Madeleine Albright to say what she did, although she probably expected it because she has heard it before. Once it had been said I am guessing that Hillary would just smile respectfully because Albright is the elder stateswoman to Hillary. Hillary says that even if young women don’t vote for her she will fight for them if she wins the day. I do not think that Hillary is running as a feminist. I do believe she is clear about the various needs of all Americans. I do not support her just because she is a woman, but she is the only really qualified woman we have produced so far who also has the desire to do this job. I hope that people, including young women, will not reject Hillary just because the fact that she is a woman seems to require that they vote for her. But I do hope they will think carefully about the positive reverberations that will echo into their own futures if Hillary breaks up that boy’s club now once and for all.

By Nancy Brisson

February 2016 Book List

books in dusty rooms3 

Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy President’s Day, Happy Reading!

 

PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain by Bill Bryson

The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull (fantasy)

The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew Chilton (fantasy)

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell “the 1st great novel of 2016”

Real Tigers by Mick Herron (spy thriller)

We Are the Ants by Shaun David (science fiction)

A Song for the Brokenhearted by William Shaw (end of a crime trilogy)

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becquets (adult thriller)

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrique

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, trans.by Ann Goldstein (memoir)

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt

Wreck and Order: A Novel by Hannah Tennant-Moore

Some of the Parts by Hannah Barnaby

A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbø (stand alone)

AMAZON

The Forgetting Time: A Novel by Sharon Guskin

The High Mountains of Portugal: A Novel by Yann Martel

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

A Doubler’s Almanac: A Novel by Ethan Canin

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Youngblood: A Novel by Matt Gallagher

Girl through Glass: A Novel by Sari Wilson

The Ramblers: A Novel by Aiden Donnelly Rowley

The Yid: A Novel by Paul Goldberg

Be Frank with Me: A Novel by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Under the Influence: A Novel by Joyce Maynard

The Opposite of Everyone: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson

Green Island: A Novel by Shawna Yang Ryan

Private Citizens: A Novel by Tony Tulahimutte

Black Rabbit Hall by Eva Chase

The Golden Son: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Where My Heart Used to Beat: A Novel by Sebastian Faulks

The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick

Hide by Matthew Griffin

BIOGRAPHY AND MEMOIR

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri, trans. by Ann Goldstein

On My Own by Diane Rehm

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold, Andrew Soloman

The Battle for Room 314: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School by Ed Boland

My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt

Walking the Nile by Levison Wood

The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights by Gail Lumet Buckley

Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcom X by Randy Roberts

Wild by Nature: From Siberia to Australia, Three Years Alone in the Wilderness on Foot by Sarah Marquis

Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World by Tom Sultan

MYSTERY AND THRILLER

The Ex: A Novel by Alafair Burke

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

The God’s Eye View by Barry Eisler

Shaker: A Novel by Scott Frank

Keep Calm: A Thriller by Mike Bender

Arcadia: A Novel by Iain Pears

Where My Heart Used to Beat: A Novel by Sebastian Faulks

Perfect Days: A Novel by Raphael Montes

The Good Liar: A Novel by Nicholas Searle

The Poison Artist by Jonathan Moore

THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS

Descent by Tim Johnston

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

Dictator by Robert Harris

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

The Guest Room by ChrisBohjalian

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

The Door by Magda Szabo

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Compiled by Nancy Brisson

 

 

 

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie – Book

The Portable Veblen

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie is a quirky, quick little novel and has a number of features which make it a worthwhile read. Veblen Amundson-Hovda was named for Thorstein Veblen which sent her into an in-depth pursuit of the philosopher/economist’s life (a misfit) and his work (still read and respected). Veblen is a young woman whose life has been informed by her namesake. (Hard to come up with a good nickname for Veblen.) As a result of her immersion in Veblen’s work she is not a “material girl”. She embraces a simple life. She is learning Norwegian (Thorstein Veblen is Norwegian.)

Paul Vreeland, a young neurologist who has invented a field instrument to try to save brain damaged soldiers, meets Veblen and finds they are a comfortable fit. But it’s early days. There is so much they don’t know about each other. Paul is enjoying his increasing success and he has been taken up by some very wealth Big Pharmaceutical people.

Despite their attraction there are signs that Veblen might have been too hasty about taking this relationship to the next level. For one thing there is the very expensive engagement ring which Veblen cannot bring herself to wear some days. There is Paul’s proposal to hold their wedding and reception at his patron’s glass and steel estate. Veblen has started to talk to the handsome squirrel that lives behind (and sometimes in the attic of) her charming cottage that she lovingly restored from a near ruin. She worries that she might have inherited mental illness from her biological father. Paul comes home with a have-a-heart trap to catch the squirrel so they can release it far away. What will Paul say if he learns that Veblen talks to squirrels?

Then there are their families, each unique, one might say dysfunctional, although in very different ways. Will their differences, their backgrounds, and current events in their lives tear these two apart or, somehow, bring them together? What will win out, materialism or Veblen’s offbeat blend of naturalistic minimalism? There are things to think about after reading The Portable Veblen and, although the choices do not require deep thought to decipher and verbalize, choosing a path that is authentic can take us a lifetime.

By Nancy Brisson

“You Say You Want a Revolution”

revolution

Revolution is in the air once again. When I was a younger person in the 60’s we talked about revolution incessantly. We had so many good reasons for wanting change. We were losing our guys in a war that seemed to have nothing to do with us, in a faraway tropical place called Vietnam. We were watching our policemen, our National Guardsmen and our elected officials turn fire houses on peaceful black folks who just want to be granted the equality that they were supposed to have won long before. Separate but equal was very obviously not equal at all (still isn’t). Women had the “pill” and we were stunned by the implications of that.

We were often granted dispensation from harsh punishment while we indulged peacefully in the illegal practice of getting high in public. We probably were treated gently for a while because the people in local power were our parents and they tried to let us express ourselves. Besides there were so many of us all, walking around in our flowery clothing imported from Mexico and India, and actually wearing flowers in our hair, and smiling in gentle understanding, even when practicing our civil disobedience as demonstrated by Martin Luther King, et al. All the lovely people would gather at outdoor concerts with happy half-dressed children running everywhere and bubbles in the pungent air. We were the very revolution we sought and we thought that our very existence would change America forever, and perhaps it did.

However, the intensity of that movement subsided, despite our feeling that it would make America forever new and better. There have been many effects on US politics that can be traced back to the peaceful revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. But the fervor we once felt for a new kind of authenticity got syphoned away by American materialism and we joined the race for the old American Dream of owning lovely things and creating a cushy comfort for ourselves and our families. Not that we gave up all of our zeal for lifting up those who did not yet share our comfort, but it began to be subsumed under the old adage that charity begins at home.

So now we are being aroused to a new revolution and, clearly, we need one. Our American Democracy has almost disappeared into the pockets of the wealthy few among us. It is clear to some of the 99.9% that there is too much money being flashed around, and too much of the influence it buys in our political system. We the people are being sidelined because we cannot compete with a system where influence is purchased.

We have numbers but we are not using the force of our majority very effectively. It is assumed that folks without wealth will rise up and demand our government back from the wealthy, although I have not seen many signs that this is the way events will unfold. The Occupy movement is the closest that we have come to mass demonstrations and that did not last very long or have much of an effect on those in power. We are too complacent or stupefied or in some way apolitical to even use the power of the vote. We seem happy to troll from the sidelines and we are not unified at all. We are the most divided we have been since perhaps the Civil War.

Bernie Sanders talks about revolution and some people swoon. I assume he means a peaceful revolution which will stay within the bounds of the Constitution and the present-day configuration of our government. But in these times of such a passionate partisan divide is a revolution a good idea? Will it go nuclear or can it be kept away from absolute mayhem? Would even a quiet revolution split America apart right now? Would the militias bring out the guns? Have Democrats been stockpiling guns? I don’t think I could bear another Civil War and I only experienced the first one at a considerable dusty remove. Could you watch America get torn apart? Would it come to that?

“You say you want a revolution”, but maybe these are not the times to be incendiary. Maybe we need some of that famous diplomacy so maligned by the Republicans that Obama has put his faith in. Perhaps I have done that terrible getting-more-conservative-as-I-get-older thing or perhaps I am just chickening out. I do think there are many things that we need to change in order that we all thrive in the future, something which seems not in the least guaranteed as matters stand right now.

I don’t want to see our nation “ripped asunder” and considering how divided we are at this time and how passionately people defend positions that are polar opposites, becoming two Americas seems more than a likely outcome of holding the revolution in 2016. I have revolution in my soul so I could perhaps be swayed by really good arguments in favor of such a movement. But mostly I think that the skill required to keep this revolution from getting out of hand seems beyond our normal style of throwing bills at problems and hoping they become the laws that fix things.

By Nancy Brisson

Regulating Wall Street

wallstreet

Can we afford to mess with Wall Street? Isn’t it like the tick tock heartbeat that keeps our Capitalist economies alive? I picture an endless cycle of regulatory action and Wall Street vengeance. The whole idea of an index of economic health that is built around putting down a bet on whether a company or commodity will turn a profit strikes me as a ridiculously unstable structure on which to base an economy or my retirement income. However that is the system we have.

As the Industrial Age moves on to distant corners (from us) of the globe the Stock Market has experienced ever more volatility and is less and less under our control. American companies do not have factories in America, they don’t pay taxes in America, but they still hold places on the American Stock Exchange (and other Stock Exchanges). And, although for many years our Stock Market pretty much set the pace around the world that is no longer as true. There are Stock Markets in a number of countries that can send shock waves through ours.

The “creative” way that the stock brokerage companies in America met the changes in the industrial scene in America should have been and probably were illegal. However, even if they were not sure about whether or not what they were doing was illegal they knew it was risky. Perhaps it was not illegal because no one ever actually thought of doing something as stupid as bundling up bad mortgages with good mortgages and rating the whole bundle according to the best mortgages in the bundle. What is clear is that someone at these stock brokerages knew that these bundles reeked and that there might/would be financial repercussions. This does not even touch the illegality of the banks and mortgage companies that offered these mortgages in the first place.

Our economy obviously can’t take too much of this kind of “black hat” creativity. We watched in horror as banks foreclosed on house after house forcing Americans to scramble for new living arrangements and sometimes creating whole neighborhoods of empty houses. The Stock Market took a nose dive. My pension (and those of many other Americans) took a nose dive. Employment took that same dive. Without the TARP I don’t think we would have pulled up before we hit rock bottom. Without the stimulus we may have already had the revolution we could still be headed for.

It stands to reason that the argument that we might have to regulate Wall Street, make some rules about what it is legal to do and what it is not legal to do has gained lots of traction. This is what many Americans like about Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. We are justifiably angry at greedy hedge fund operators and mortgage companies for almost destroying the American economy and we don’t just want reform, we want punishment. Hillary Clinton has also said that some regulation is necessary although she does not hook into people’s anger and does not seem to want to tar and feather the perpetrators and run them out of the finance business. Mostly we would be happy if they had to give us back what we lost as a result of their adventures in edgy economics.

But as for the future, for me, and perhaps for you, there are questions. First of all, since no one could have foreseen the bundling and sale of those stinky mortgages (hold your nose) can we ever foresee every new ploy these people, who must make money or die, can create? Second, can the American Stock Market provide the secure investment structure and the secure economic base America needs any more at all? How would America function without a Stock Market? Perhaps some economists could discuss this among themselves and allow us to listen in.

Can we overregulate the Stock Market and crash it? How do we choose the exact regulations that will protect us from illegal profiteering and yet will allow the Stock Market enough room to keep ticking along? If the SEC is unable to oversee the market can we whip it into shape without putting a straitjacket on the market?

Although I hate what brokerage firms did to us to attempt to make money from bad mortgages, I go back to my very first question – can we afford to mess with Wall Street? And if so, how much? I think we are afraid, we are very afraid, because we are not sure about the fragility of our economy and the entire global economy. I have a gut feeling that we should buck up the economy before we decide about large scale regulation of the Stock Market or even perhaps the “Big Banks” despite our very real anger and our desire to send a tough message through punishment. I also have a gut feeling that effective oversight is important to stop truly risky financial strategies that could still be invented by both the Stock Market and the banks. Everyone needs to keep an eye on our pressure cooker financial crucible that is the Stock Market and the banks.

So I am feeling that I need more information about exactly what regulation would look like and what the effects of any regulation or various regulatory measures might be. This is a time when we need to look to our economists. We also need to remember that economics is hardly an exact science and that economists have differing points of view on these matters which may be influenced by famous economists, or by their politics, or both. What we decide, even after input from the field, will still require a final judgment on the part of each of us. Please you economics geeks, use simple language that we can all understand and perhaps some scenarios like the ones they used in the film The Big Short to illustrate your points.

By Nancy Brisson

(Disclaimer: you may or may not believe this but I wrote this on Saturday, February 6th 2016. When I listened to Meet the Press on Sunday and to the discussion of these matters between Hillary Clinton and Chuck Todd it was just serendipity that I had just written this post. The only change I made to this post after hearing their conversation was to add this note.)