Global Concerns

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It is difficult to watch the strife and human abuse that we see daily on our planet, but it seems, at least on a global scale, that is all we can do. We have seen the consequences of meddling, or even just trying to tweak the progress of those who seem to have “right” on their side, those who seem to promise the best outcomes for their own people and everyone else on our world. And we have seen the fallout from trying to wreck those who seem to promise the worst outcomes.

We want to bridge the differences in the Middle East, we want to feed starving people (everywhere except in America it sometimes seems), we want to open up North Korea and reunite the North with the South, we want to be rid of crazy megalomaniacal leaders, we want some economic parity across nations and within nations so as to produce an income for each person that meets and exceeds basic needs. And we are told that small acts of mercy are not too intrusive, but stepping in like some kind of overlord, however benign, is not acceptable and more often than not has unintended consequences and possibly unconscious, but astonishingly selfish motives.

So what does a person do as s/he watches, as if human events are some kind of spectator sport, the parade of inhuman behavior which surrounds us (think of that awfully amazing Bosch painting, the Garden of Earthly Delights). We try to intervene gently here and nudge events there and stop, if at all possible the worst of the horrors, while repulsing any attempt to bring the mayhem to our side of the globe.

After all, we have our own internal concerns to attend to, our own problems to solve and we cannot even choose between some kind of self-interested tough love and good old-fashioned human compassion. Half of us want the Industrial Age back and half of us are looking to see what the future will bring and we hope it is something less materialistic, less back-breaking, and less harmful to the planet.

While it is tempting to turn inward and wall out the rest of the world, we know in our guts that it is impossible. We would just atrophy in a kind of unproductive inbreeding that would eventually destroy us. Injections of new energy are ever more necessary as the temptation to stagnate and rusticate grows stronger.

We hold before us, in the chemical pathways of our brains, a gleaming future where technology enfolds and surrounds us (perhaps also separate us), a sort of engineer-centric future in which governance is settled (although possibly quite ponderous) and ingenuity is the “coin of the realm”. The planet still has dark places and sad corners and back alleys but the main thrust is towards a mechanics that will propel us outward from this too tiny, destined-for-extinction planet, out into the vastness of the universe or universes, one human colony at a time. (What terrible imperialism will be practiced then depends on whether the universe is populated by others or exists just for our future expansion.) We call it Space, and it is the only future we can imagine that gives scope to our restless adventurous spirit and our insatiable need to know.

We are not ready to occupy all that beckoning Space right now. We are earth-bound on this beloved planet to either learn to survive this present chaos or not. So we watch. We watch the upheavals here on Earth. Is it just growing pains? Is it the beginnings of a better future? Will it resolve in decades or will it take centuries? Or will it be back to the Dark Ages, reboot, start over after whatever annihilation we perpetrate on each other?

Some people don’t want the world’s leaders to have a vision of a global future. They believe it betrays America to discuss some kind of orderly progression towards a more peaceful, and yet still free, global society. They believe the plan that exists (if there is one) get rid of nations (in other words gets rid of America) in favor of some kind of world government, world military, world police force, and global social structure. They want the future of the world to be an American future. They want America to govern the world (a prospect that is not looking at all doable right now seeing that we cannot even decide how to govern ourselves). I also harbor a desire to have the whole world become an American world. This is the nature of chauvinism. I think I could let this incarnation of America go if I thought a global government would strive for the same ideals. A global government seems almost as distant a goal as populating Space.

We may be able to sit back and watch the rest of the world as if through a VR headset, but we will not be able to keep our hands off world events in every case. We will be inspired to push here, prod there, rescue when necessary and if possible. This is a very difficult position we are in right now. I doubt we can maintain our distance for long. There is a cycle to this kind of seemingly omnipresent upheaval, I think, but are we at the low point or the high point? In the meantime we still need, at the very least, to call attention to atrocity where ever and whenever we see it. I think that it helps us to stop in the midst of all the myriad detailed problems to be addressed to step back and picture a hopeful future and to take a wide view at the entire world of human endeavor and possibility.

By Nancy Brisson

Become a Global Citizen at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/

 

Who Will End Obstructionism?

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I will fight for Hillary Clinton right to the end, whenever that is. I do think women can do as well in the Presidency as men have done. I am tired of women being expected to wait until some perfect moment which of course will never arrive. There are no perfect moments. Even Obama’s seemingly perfect moment was ruined by racism and obstruction. If we get Bernie I will be fine with that but I have to stay in the fight.

The only question that bugs me is which of these two will be able to bring back regular order to Congress, to send the “teabaggers” packing and the Evangelicals out to do good works?

The Conservatives hate Hillary possibly even more than they loathed the idea of an Obama Presidency. Their hate has become rabid and personal. Will we have four to eight more years of obstruction and hate speech, this time against women? Will they just vote over and over to impeach her? There could be 60+ more votes against the ACA. How many more votes will there be to defund Planned Parenthood? More of this will not be good for America. It will not be good for the world, although perhaps it is emotional baggage we must sort through. Does Hillary have a plan to change things just in case we don’t win some seats back in the Senate?

Can Bernie defuse and render harmless the Conservative push to pursue every policy that would be harmful to America? He certainly understands what is harmful about the right wing agenda and he will hold the line against any progress toward the Conservative way. But will he also be unable to breach the obstructive moves of a party that owns 3o state governments, both houses of Congress and the courts? Will it help that he pushes Republican buttons by pursuing policies that are far outside their ken? Will he blow them up to smithereens when he moves to break up the banks and rein in Wall Street? Will revolutionary zeal be better than the strategies of someone who knows everyone and knows her way around the politics of DC? Or will there just be two revolutionary groups in a war of words?

Is there any candidate the Democrats could have put forth who could “treat with” today’s GOP? If a Democrat wins the Presidency and the obstruction continues will the people finally get involved? Will we the people insist that it is not OK to go to Congress if it is your intention to hold the American government hostage until it does what Republicans want?

It is troubling that we cannot see into the future and know who would be able to make headway in America right now against the misguided and unenlightened mess that is today’s GOP. We can, though, and we should certainly contribute to the movements by the Democrats to change as many seats in Congress as possible in 2016. Emily’s List tries to get Democratic women elected. If you contribute to the DNC the dollars get spread around. Even Hillary donates some of her dollars to down ballot elections and Bernie is talking about doing that.

The people’s dollars are stretched thin by all the causes that need our contributions to fight for right, but at this moment winning the election must be a top priority. You don’t have to contribute much because small donations grow very big when millions of people contribute, and there are often richer donors who match or multiply small donations. Think of it as creating a war chest in case we need it.

By Nancy Brisson

Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo – Book

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Jo Nesbø wanted to write a book unlike his usual noir detective stories starring the ragged but morally straight Harry Hole. Nesbø says that he has always admired the Sámi cultural group (we know them as Laplanders) who occupy the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia including his home nation of Norway. The Sámi’s are hunters and reindeer herders and fishermen and, too often, drinkers. Their numbers are small and their towns are too, so most Sámi’s in a given community know each other well. Strangers do not visit the Sámi’s often. The climate is harsh; the sun is either low-in- the-sky and omnipresent, or is totally missing in action. These towns are not normally tourist destinations.

So when a “southerner” turns up in a Sámi town one day when the sun is still out at midnight townspeople guess that he may be on the run from something, but they don’t make a big deal of it. Jon’s first acquaintance when he gets off the bus in the town of Kasund is a native man called Mattis who, when asked says he can sleep in the church. Jon is obviously out of place. Mattis doesn’t even know the half of it, although he suspects. Jon has a gun tucked in the back of his pants. He is hiding a money belt full of stolen money. He is not a bad man really, but he is not a good man either. He is from Oslo and he is running away. He is running away more or less because of what he has not done than because of what he has done. He has suffered a great loss, but he is still trying to fight for his own life, although he is not sure why. He tells the man that his name is Ulf and that he came to hunt and he goes off to sleep in the church.

Then he meets Knut who is ten and his beautiful mother Lea who helps him before he even knows her name. She loans him her husband’s hunting rifle and hunting cabin. She’s a very good person whose father is a preacher in the very strict Læstadian Christian sect which is common among the Sámi people. Her husband is fishing but Ulf senses there is more to the story of this husband and wife than he is hearing.

Jon/Ulf is an unusual character for Nesbø to write about. He has a reputation as a killer but he has not actually killed anyone. He is a thief only because when he had to run he ran with a drug dealer’s money because it was there and it would have been stupid not to take it (although it was also stupid to take it). Jon worked for a low-life crime boss with a fearful reputation, called the Fisherman. The Fisherman does not let anyone who works for him do the things that Jon has done, or not do the things that Jon has not done.

Jon needed a large sum of money for a good reason, although I will not tell you what it was. I will tell you that I enjoyed Jon’s sojourn with the Sámi and the tale is certainly a departure for Jo Nesbø and I can also say that I think you might enjoy it. His Harry Hole books connect with those of us who live in modern cities much more than this short novel does, but the book is a nice tribute to the Sámi people and it is totally fair for an author to use his clout to bring this isolated group of people into our hearts and minds.

By Nancy Brisson

Bernie Sanders Unfair anti-Hillary Tactics

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Bernie Sanders is playing a tricky and dishonest game in his recent political rallies. He is asking Hillary Clinton to run her campaign according to his rules. Bernie is a “revolutionary”. He’s deliberately changing the topography of campaigning without the benefit of any changes in the actual rules of the Democratic Party. He is staging a revolution before he even wins the election.

Mr. Sanders doesn’t like campaign financing as it currently operates. He’s not alone. Many of us want less money in politics; more “we the people” in politics. And he does get kudos for sticking with his principles. What does not seem fair is to ask Hillary Clinton, who came up through the ranks and learned campaign fundraising from the “big boys” that Bill Clinton hung out with, to decide to throw out all that she knows about campaigning. It is unfair to indict Hillary for not following Bernie’s rules when he is the only person in modern politics who ever has done all grassroots fundraising. Bernie, we have not had the revolution yet!

Come the revolution, Bernie believes, super delegates shall be banished. Here’s another Bernie rule that Hillary is being chastised for breaking. I understand that putting super delegates between the candidate and the popular vote is elitist. I am all for less elitism in politics. But super delegates have not been outlawed, in fact they are part of the Democratic Party primary process. In fact, winning super delegates is still “state of the art” in Democratic primary voting.

Now Bernie is trying to steal Hillary’s super delegates, to turn them “Bernie side up”. Since Bernie discovered he could not win without super delegates he has decided (too late?) to play the Super Delegate Game. Bernie – Mr. Sanders – the revolution did not happen yet. Hillary Clinton does not have to play by your rules. If you become President you can work to change the election process. Meanwhile, you are sounding quite like a curmudgeon. Cut it out. I assume you knew what the process was like when you entered the race.

The point you seem to be trying to make is the one that paints Hillary Clinton as the “establishment” and you as the “anti-establishment”. She has never been elected to the Congress as anyone who planned to start a revolution and the times certainly have not been amenable to the kinds of changes that Bernie Sanders has wanted to bring to American governance.

We are just entering a time when some Americans are, perhaps, willing to make actual changes to the role money plays in government and in elections. The times do seem somewhat conducive to legislating a truer Democracy in our nation.

But there are just as many signs that people who want to hang on to the traditional politics of elitism and the powerful impact of money are as dug in as those who want change and they are much more numerous and better organized than those on Bernie’s side.

You may all fault Hillary Clinton for moving to the left, but Hillary has shown that she has a sensitivity to the political climate of different eras and Progressivism is having its day, so it totally makes sense that Hillary would move to meet the current needs of the American people. She is a politician, not an ideologue. Bernie is an ideologue, not a politician.

By Nancy Brisson

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Book

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Colm Tóbín writes about what he knows. He writes about the village where he was born in Ireland. He writes, in Brooklyn, about the immigrant experience. Eilis Lacey, her sister Rose, and her Mom live in an all-female household, although there was once a father and three sons.

Eilis would be happy living her entire life right in this village which she loves, but her mother’s pension is small and there are few opportunities in her village for a career or a good marriage. When Father Flood, who once knew her father, visits his Irish home from America and learns that Eilis knows how to keep account books, he talks he mother into sending her to Brooklyn. On the way out of Ireland she visits quickly with the youngest of her three brothers who all had to move to England to find work.

The author of this book, which was twice short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, knows how to tell a story. He gently leads us through the enormity of leaving home alone at such a young age. We are driven forward into the details of Eilis’s unsought adventure. The Father has strong and trustworthy connections within his Brooklyn parish, although because of her age and the times Eilis’s behavior is under constant scrutiny by her landlady, the other girls who live with her, her employers, and her fellow employees. She stays on her feet, until she doesn’t.

However the author just as gently portrays her crushing homesickness. Finally, when Father Flood understands the depths of her despair he helps her enroll in night school bookkeeping classes so she won’t always have to work as a retail clerk. Being busier is better. Eilis is also encouraged to attend the parish dances on Friday nights.

The second half of this novel was more problematic for me because of the choices that Eilis is required to make. Perhaps the Catholic Church would help a poor girl find the money to travel again back and forth on a ship due to a family matter, but it tested the limits of my credulity a bit. I came from a poor family and, although people were kind, no one handed out large sums of money and pride would not allow us to take it.

Nevertheless, Eilis is presented with an opportunity, however complicated, to return to a life in her Irish Village or to return to Brooklyn. In order to make the choice to stay in Ireland she would have to liberate herself from every inch of her upbringing, every one of her values, and she would have to betray church, family, and a person she loves.

The whole situation struck me as a bit contrived, but, since this author writes about his home maybe he has an actual family or village story in mind. Part of the problem may be that although the author tells a good story he is still a man writing about a young woman and he has the reader viewing her from the outside. This is not a first person story. We care about Eilis, but we are not privy to much of her inner life. The ending is growing on me, but the novel doesn’t really speak to my own life and times (except for the homesickness; that I have experienced).

By Nancy Brisson

If You’re Not in the Game, Get Out of the Way

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There is only one entrance to the field of play. It is a narrow opening in a board-and-glass wall. On the field inside the wall, there is a lop-sided version of the game being played badly by two unequal teams. The additional players needed on the field want to help their teammates but the other team is blocking the opening. They have been blocking for a long time – game after game. The team that won the toss is not able to put their game plan into action. The game has never been stalled in quite this way before. This is a symbolic game.

However what happens in the real game affects real people in an entire nation, in fact in the whole world. And yet the entrance to this game which we call government has been blocked for almost eight years. The team that is supposed to be receiving has bent the rules. They have cheated to get such a lop-sided game. They plan to stop the game until they win the toss and control the action once again.

Sound familiar? This is what the Republican Party has been doing. The first two years of Obama’s first term were mainly spent cleaning up Bush’s economic mess. The GOP’s strategies in the media (Talk Radio, Fox) and their shenanigans in the states with redistricting and ALEC allowed them to control the House.

Between 2010 and 2012 Republicans blocked Obama and, for all practical purposes brought our government to a standstill. They turned a strategy invented by Dennis Hastert into a rule in order to block legislation in the House and they used the filibuster to block bills in the Senate. In 2012 their gerrymandering, their propaganda, their billionaires, and their control over state governments allowed them to gain a majority in both the House and the Senate.

Federal judges were overwhelmingly Conservative and this Conservative Congress blocked most Liberal court nominations. The Supreme Court was a bit less skewed, but still tended towards the right.

The fact that a party can skew the courts on purpose was known, but never used in such a bold fashion. This ability to stop government in order to keep your party in power forever is a terrible loophole in our Constitution, exploited by the very party that vows undying love for the Constitution as written. If we can’t find some way to fix this loophole and keep such a sneaky coup from happening then our government, as we know it, may dissolve. The GOP has hollowed out the US Constitution.

I don’t want us to forget this as we head into this election. We never experienced the full measure of Obama’s agenda. We will never know what would have happened to the American economy if Obama got to carry out his policies. Republicans kept American from being able to test out the approaches that Democrats wanted to use to engender growth. What if we had said yes to a bit of liberal spending instead of the GOP’s hypocritical austerity (after all the GOP crashed the economy to begin with)? We have experienced the most hobbled version of Obama’s agenda imaginable.

The GOP used up Obama’s time and our tax dollars voting to overturn the Affordable Care Act over 60 times, voting to defund Planned Parenthood again and again (which is not even possible without getting rid of Medicaid), taking food stamps away from poor people, and shutting down the government. They would not allow infrastructure spending, they invited Netanyahu to address Congress (Obama was not welcome), 47 senators signed a letter to the leaders of Iran in an attempt to undermine Obama’s hard-fought negotiations,

Please remember these things when you go to the polls in November. We got to look at Obama’s nice face, but we hardly saw any of his policies put into effect. For eight years we have been following the Republican agenda. We don’t need to elect them to see what their America will be like. I think we would be feeling more prosperous if they had not blocked Obama and the left and I think we need to have a do-over without the obstruction.

Turn the Senate around, elect another Democratic President and actually let the left lead for at least the next four years and I believe that you will see America return to good fiscal health and remain, for the most part, at peace with a chaotic and changing world. If you believe that the past eight years represent the outcomes of a liberal agenda, widely applied as policy, then you are misguided and you have been misled on purpose. Stop watching Fox News.

By Nancy Brisson

March Madness and Me

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I am not anyone you would call a sports fan, although I can follow a basketball, baseball, or football game. I do understand the appeal. It is one of the few things in life that is not (at least we hope) scripted. The players may be familiar, the rules established, but the outcome and the path to the outcome is fresh and new each time. It unfolds right in front of us, makes our adrenaline flow, gets us pumped up and excited. We are invested, while the experience lasts, in the game, the moment, and it can be a pretty great high.

But right at this particular moment everyone in my town is a sports fan. Unprecedented events are afoot. A 10th seed basketball team, our 10th seed basketball team has made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. And – icing on the cake – our women’s basketball team has also made it to the Final Four. It is truly March Madness.

The school is Syracuse University and the city is Syracuse, NY and right now orange is our color. Even I, not a true sports fan, have caught the madness. If our teams go all the way we will be delirious. But they have already made our hearts happy, entertained us well, and reflected pride on their university and their coaches.

Go Orange! Go forth and win this all. You will be heroes!

By Nancy Brisson

Voting for Reagan in 2016

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There are Americans who have made it through the economic tumult of recent decades relatively unscathed. They did not lose their jobs or their houses or their pensions. Perhaps they had a government job or an office job, maybe they worked for the post office or a utility. Perhaps they were far enough up in the corporate hierarchy that they got to keep their jobs, even if they did have to be willing to keep moving as the Great Factory Migration unfolded.

However it happened, for these hardworking Americans, the American Dream teetered but it did not die. They got raises, they won awards; they bought nicer homes – perhaps even a second vacation home. Their cars got more pricy and RV’s and boats were acquired. Children went to college, and although they may have had to move away, they got good jobs and eventually houses and vehicles and children of their own.

Many of these folks see changes in America but are not really touched by these changes. Their lives run smoothly unless disturbed by health matters and they don’t want to analyze the world or our nation, although complaining is acceptable. They choose not to discuss how change is impacting the lives of so many Americas who have not been fortunate enough to live out the relatively carefree trajectory of these lucky people. These “lucky” people do not think they are lucky; they think they succeeded because they lived life correctly. They did not rock any political boats. All they asked for and all they still ask for is the everyday peace and prosperity to raise a family and enjoy a rewarding social life with family and friends.

What they don’t recognize is that other people who lived correctly but put their future in the hands of corporations or factories did not necessarily fare as well. Their steady working lives, their possessions, their future pension supports were taken away almost without warning. They did not manage to squeak through under the old formula that guaranteed that hard work would pay off. Their progress was interrupted midstream, perhaps never to be regained. From the point where the factory or business that offered them prosperity in exchange for labor left them high and dry their lives atrophied and morphed into something that felt very much like failure.

The group of Americans that succeeded felt pride in their success and began to feel slightly superior to their one-time neighbors who had lost their jobs, although this was often through events they had no control over. As a result they were unwilling to offer aid or sympathy to those who they came to see a losers. The instinct of those who squeaked through the economic changes successfully was to put some distance between themselves and the “losers”, not wanting to get caught in the down suck.

Almost all of these middle class Americans, both the successful and the unsuccessful, tend to see themselves as Republicans and to feel that Conservative principles are the truest American guidelines. They feel that the best way to shore up the American economy is to cut back on programs and expenses. They do not want to pay for the unlucky or the lazy (who they do not necessarily see as two different groups). They don’t want amnesty for undocumented immigrants who stole American jobs (even if this perception is not totally accurate). They identify Republican.

We have seen that the unlucky and angry went with Donald Trump, but this second group of luckier middle class Americans have no stomach for Donald Trump and they have difficulty tolerating Ted Cruz. But they are good voters, good citizens. They have to vote for someone in the primaries and it couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, be a Democrat. What people are telling me is that they are writing in Ronald Reagan and voting for him. I don’t know if this is a trend or just the choice of a few isolated contented/discontented suburbanites. It is so obviously a throwaway vote, but nevertheless it makes me smile, a little smile of wry amusement. After all the saintly talk on FOX news and in the right wing media raising Ronald Reagan to ranks of perfection never before attained by an American President, this write in vote makes so much sense. It is a vote for the past, a nostalgia vote, a vote by people who like to live simply and be left alone to enjoy the bounty of their nation. It is a vote by people who really need to stop watching FOX News.

By Nancy Brisson

 

 

 

Who’s to Blame?

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I’m sure that the blame game is played during every election season and, in fact, it appears that it is a perennial political favorite, election year or not. Sometimes politicians place blame to distract attention away from the responsibilities their own party bears for some domestic or foreign situation. In the 2016 election it is quite maddening and entertaining to watch Republicans place the blame on the Obama administration for things that we have been blaming on George W. Bush. Should we blame Bush for ISIS or is Obama to blame?

Well there is truth in the cosmic wisdom that all things are interconnected and if you are a Republican it only takes about 85 steps to get from the argument that places the blame on Bush for the Iraq war to blaming Obama. You just have to say over and over that ISIS formed because Obama is weak, or because he used drone strikes, or because he took the troops out of Iraq too soon, or any of a number of different imagined flaws in the Obama government.

But all the razzle-dazzle reasoning that links Obama to ISIS is really just a ploy to hopefully make us forget the much more seminal role that Bush and the GOP played in destabilizing the Middle East. Republicans hope that enough time has passed to convince most Americans that Obama is the one we should be angry with and that the only possible conclusion we can draw is too elect a Republican. The GOP believes, I think that most Americans have the attention span and the intelligence of gnats. The blame game is so useful exactly because it can cause confusion even in those who were once certain they knew who was responsible.

Today I read an article that blamed elitist Democrats for the rise of Donald Trump. You might guess that it took more than a few logical jumps to accomplish that feat of pretzel reasoning. The gist of the argument is that Democratic Party elites did not back up the middle class when the corporations left, when the free trade agreements were passed, when the unions destroyed the marketplace by asking for ever higher salaries and benefits, when people lost their jobs and their pensions. Instead the Democrats voted in favor of free trade agreements which hurt the American middle class and did not continue to support the regulations on Wall Street. The contention of this author was that the Democrats share with the Republicans the responsibility for Trump because they abandoned the middle class and the middle class has, in retribution, abandoned them. It’s creative, but is it true? Surprisingly this article is from The Daily Kos which usually leans pretty far left.

Obviously there seems to be enough culpability so that everyone can be tarnished in the blame game. But probably if blame must be assigned at all, the bulk of it should go to the group that is connected by the straightest lines. If you have to jump through too many hoops to follow the blame trail then we are back in “everything is interconnected” territory.

There are always lessons to be learned though from events or situations that are serious enough that they lead us to look around for someone to saddle with any given mess. In the case of what happened in the wake of the Iraq War and in the case of what is going on in the 2016 election, placing blame correctly has everything to do with who should win the election, although not necessarily who will win the election.

So both parties look around to place the burden of blame on the other party or on the President or on anyone they can think of if they want to confuse voters. As a voter I can say that they succeed somewhat in arguing that day is night and that the guilty party is not who we always thought it was. By the time the politicians and the media are done with the blame game we begin to question even the events we lived through. The resulting brain tangle is one of the reasons many people hate elections and just decide that they will not vote at all. Be vigilant. Don’t let politicians playing the blame game stop you from voting. You can always fall back on that old school saying “your first thought is best.”

By Nancy Brisson

Numero Zero by Umberto Eco – Book

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Umberto Eco really knows how to leave a room. He published Numero Zero just before he died a few weeks ago. This is not a book that everyone will enjoy because there is no real action and the “plot” is complicated and somewhat obscure, if this book can even be said to have a plot. We have a publisher who has been asked to create a mock newspaper for reasons which are not revealed. We have a staff that is hired to produce these mock-ups and the staff does not realize that these newspapers are not destined for publication.

There is great commentary on how the media conducts itself as these reporters try to “trump” up stories. In fact they are told that they should pick old stories which have never been resolved and then write articles that “predict” a juicy resolution. One of the reasons that this is difficult for most Americans to follow, or to want to follow, is that these are Italian news stories.

Our main character, Colonna, has worked for publishers and newspapers but he has never found a successful niche. He considers himself a loser. “Losers, like autodidacts, always know much more than winners. If you want to win, you need to know just one thing and not to waste your time on anything else: the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers. The more a person knows, the more things have gone wrong.”

He would, of course, like to write a great book. When his acquaintance, Simei, offers him a story line for a great book that he can one day write, a book that will appear under Simei’s name, a book called Domani (yesterday, in Italian) he also offers him the job of running the newspaper that will never be published. The issues will all begin with a Numero Zero.

However, as the book opens we have jumped ahead in the story and Colonna finds that someone has been in his apartment while he was sleeping. He is afraid to leave his building. Why the paranoia? Does the danger have any connection to the conspiracy stories that one of his colleagues at this mysterious newspaper, Braggadocio, has been sharing with him, the ones about fascist groups that may still lurk in the shadows and about the possibility that Mussolini did not die as history suggests but lived out his life in Argentina? Or perhaps it was another story about the fake Orders of Malta popping up around the world, very secretly of course.

This commentary on journalism exposes media tactics that are not the sole property of the Italian media. It is a very cynical view of media and that aspect probably does not surprise most of us. But how much of what we think of as news may be invented for the reader’s taste for sensationalism, or extorted by the state with threats, or distorted by successful subterfuge is difficult for readers of news, and in fact even writers of news to judge. Is there any such thing as a free press? Are powerful people always covering up for the human flaws that their power gives them the freedom to indulge?

Umberto Eco died after this book was published. Is he the character Colonna, who began and ended the book afraid for his life after the murder of Braggadocio, the originator of all the conspiracy theories? Were they conspiracy theories or did Braggadocio have a source providing real news? Who killed Braggadocio and why? Now perhaps Umberto Eco had a terminal illness and knew that he would die soon and created a novel that would turn his demise into the kind of cultural mystery he liked to write. Or was Umberto Eco murdered for his stand against Fascism? We will probably never know. Doesn’t matter, Umberto Eco, on purpose or by accident, leaves us with a novel that helps him remain an amazing author right to the very end and which leaves a reader with perhaps just one word – freaky.

By Nancy Brisson