Literature Mind Map

Here is how I see Literature Mind Mapit….today.

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Modern Christianity

Watching the world spin around, it occurs to me that an editor has been at work on the Bible and it now reads:

Unless they disagree with you, blessed are…
…the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:3)
…those who mourn: for they will be comforted. (5:4)
…the meek: for they will inherit the earth. (5:5)
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. (5:6)
…the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. (5:7)
…the pure in heart: for they will see God. (5:8)
…the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God. (5:9)
…those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (5:10)

Unless they disagree with you, you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself:
—Leviticus 19:18[

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Nuttall’s Recommendations

Finished reading Nuttall’s Empire Corps series, currently 3 books. I found them interesting and enjoyable though I think there is more description and less story telling than I would prefer. However, in an afterword to the latest book *, Nuttall presents a series of recommendations, four of which are listed below. I went to his website to present my thoughts on the topic but could not find an appropriate place to do so. Failing that, I post my comments here. Nutall’s recommendations:

Term Limits: All politicians are to serve for short periods only (say, one five-year term) then leave politics forever.
Residency Requirements: All politicians are required to live in their constituencies for at least five years prior to running for office.
Pre-Election Jobs: Politicians may not run for office before a set age (for example, 30 years old) and must have had a non-political job beforehand.
No Legal Exceptions: Politician may not write laws that do not apply to them; conversely, they may not write laws that only apply to them.

I have complained for at least 20 years that there ought to be term limits as I became more and more frustrated with the incumbents. I would always add that the Framers never anticipated someone would want to make a career of public office, but I see now that my complaints were mostly a ‘get the bums out of office’ reaction. When I read Nutall’s first recommendation, though, I finally stopped to think about it. I’ll come back to it.

I agree with the residency requirements to attempt to assure election of someone familiar with the problems of the constituency but I wonder at the wording. I spent the first 17 years of my life in one city but then I spent the next 20 years roaming the world in a uniform. Would my first 17 years count? If not, why not? How do we monitor the activities of the folks backing candidates? A shadow government running the overt government seems a very real possibility.

Is there such a thing as a non-political job? Putting the whimsy aside, the experience gained earning a living ought to be applicable to trying to run the government.

Given the current state of affairs, the legal exceptions requirement is easily understood. The only privilege I see necessary is Article 1, Section 6.

After reading the above recommendations, the first question that immediately jumped to mind is why would anyone to do it? If you get one chance and no other reward; if you must give up your employment for five years and then must begin again – even if there was a guaranteed re-employment clause you would be five years behind your peers, why would you do it? What kind of person would do it and is that the kind of person we want running our government?

Add in the age requirement. The U.S. Constitution specifies a minimum age for some offices but those ages were established with the median life expectancy somewhere around 40 years. With life expectancy now somewhere over 70 years it’s no wonder we have folk who have been in office more than 40 years. With this recommendation, if the person achieved an advanced degree they could come to the election with far less than five years’ work experience, i.e., with so little job experience as to defeat the intent of the requirement.

“…and then leave politics forever.” With today’s media, can’t happen. As long they maintain their public interest, they will always be politicking, one way or another.

* When The Bough Breaks (The Empire’s Corps), Nuttall, Christopher (2013-02-12). Kindle Edition.

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Sound Byte Writing, Chapter 2

I wrote once complaining about Dan Brown’s tendency to employ sound byte chapters concluding with a realization that I don’t care for them. Today, I get to rant again. Yesterday, I began reading James Patterson’s/Mark Sullivan’s Private Berlin. TLWSHLWM and I have always enjoyed the Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series so I took a chance on this book, evidently a new series. It’s a decent enough story that has me turning pages to find out what happens next but it also is driving me crazy. I am 51% through the book. Amazon tells me the hardcover book – I’m reading an e-version – has 448 pages. I’m, as I said, 51% through the book and awaiting me now is Chapter 69. Sixty-eight chapters in 228.5 pages is 3 1/3 pages per chapter. It’s probably closer to 3 per chapter as many chapters don’t fill the last page.

My question is why? Well, chapters usually change POV so you know immediately whether you’re going to read the first person bad guy or the third person heroines/heroes. You can then deduce there have been 68 shifts in POV thus far. I don’t mind the shifting perspective on the tale. It makes sense story-wise. I am left wondering, though, why the book is not five chapters long to this point since there have only been five scene/event shifts. The answer that occurs to me is that this sound byte chapter format is the new thing in publishing.

Blech!

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Symptoms of a Dying Culture

Just finished reading R.A.H.’s Friday published in 1981. Friday is the heroine of the piece and at a latter stage of her journey, her mentor asks her to research the signs of a dying country/culture. Her answer and his come in several installments:

“It’s a bad sign the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying themselves with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

“Dominance of males over females seems to be a symptom.”

“Before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and the courts.”

“High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll.”

“A country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way – even though there are always endless attempts to wish it away by legislation.”

“Any law that is not enforced and can’t be enforced weakens all other laws.”

“A dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of genteel manners, is more significant than a riot.”

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An Oldie But Goodie

This is from 3 years ago. Read it this morning and still think it applies:

In 1961, William J. Lederer published a book titled A Nation of Sheep. In this book, among other interesting ideas, he suggested a group of questions every civic minded organization in the country should ask their Senators and Representatives. What follows are his questions with one substitution. Lederer wrote at the time when the enemy was Communism. I am writing at a time when the enemy is Al Qaeda. So, I substitute Al Qaeda for Communism in the questions.
First, pick a country you may be interested in. Then,
1. Has Al Qaeda been active in —- (name of country)?
2. Has Al Qaeda influence increased in —- in the last year?
3. What is the reason for the increase?
4. Has Al Qaeda trade increased in —- in the last few years? Why? Has U.S. trade increased or decreased there?
5. How many U.S. citizens are officially stationed in —- including all members of Embassy, ICA, USIS, and the military? How many dependents are residing there?
6. How many read, write, and speak the language of —-?
7. Why such a small number (if the number is less than 60%)?
8. What is being done to properly train our people for serving abroad in the way of language, customs, culture, religion, etc.? If there is a school, how many have attended it and for how long? What is the curriculum?
9. How many are attending school while living in —- and for how many hours per week?
10. How many foreign nationals are employed by the United States in —-? Give a breakdown of their positions.
11. How much does it cost to support one U.S. citizen in —-? This should include all the funds required to maintain that citizen. It should include transportation to and from the country, the cost of maintaining PX and the commissary, the cost of transporting the supplies to the commissary and PX from the U.S.A., pay, extra ‘hardship’ allowances, housing allowance, cost of supplying local transportation, and any other costs associated with their presence.
12. What is the total amount of money spent in — per year? This should include foreign aid, military aid, grants, education, and cost of maintaining our people.

Lederer then wrote that we might get a reply from our Congressperson that this information is classified. If so, he advised, raise the roof! Al Qaeda knows exactly how much we are spending. Amazing how the same questions are applicable half-a-century later.

I wonder how many of our Congresspersons have any idea of the answers to these questions for any given country. For example, try Yemen. Try Pakistan. For that matter, try Afghanistan. If there was a country they ought to be familiar with, you’d think Afghanistan would be such a country.

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That Time of Year

It’s that time of year, you know?
As a child, Christmas was important to me. Yes, I wanted the presents and, despite the fact we were a big family and money was pinched, we always had presents, lots of “em. Opening them was a major event, took several hours to accomplish as each person opened one at a time so everyone could share in the joy and excitement. More, there was Midnight Mass and the breakfast afterwards where my mother and her sister managed to prepare eggs that came out sunny side up for ten people. Still don’t know how they managed that. And even more, I was lead soprano in the boy’s choir and Midnight Mass was our big moment.
Time passes.
Incidents pile upon incidents so that, by high school, I am seriously questioning the faith bestowed upon me. New knowledge begins to build new suspicions: the Buddha was a virgin birth long before Jesus was; the New Testament was finalized hundreds of years after his death; papal infallibility was discovered in the 1800s; the Eucharist constitutes ritual cannibalism; the Crusades were more about power and money than faith; the idea that Christmas in December was established to help pagans be more at ease in their conversion, a liturgical convention based on pragmatics; and on and on. By the time I left home for the Army, age 17, I was a non-believer.
Then, I met and married TLWSHLWM. At that point, I was not an inspiring person, three quarters of the way to alcoholism. I needed something to keep me focused on her. We found it in a faith-based organization we helped grow and build. For a few years I was a good Roman Catholic because it provided a framework for being better than I had been.
And, then I wasn’t.
More events, the terrible handicap given to our daughter and the faith-based community’s lack of either support or understanding. Reading Karen Armstrong’s The History of God and The Battle for God. More reading on comparative religion, more thinking, more decisions. I dropped out. Organized religion became for me exercises in power and my distrust grew by leaps and bounds, only to be confirmed by the scandals that began to erupt and the miserable cover-ups attempted. And, then, in the New Millenium, the appearance and power of fundamentalists who act in direct opposition to the faith they profess convinced me that faith has little to do with anything.
So, TLWSHLWM and I will be opening presents Christmas Eve. We have sent presents to family and friends. And none of it, for me, has anything to do with the birth of Christ. It has everything to do with family, caring, and tradition, family tradition.

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Censorship

A friend wrote a blog lamenting the lack of Latino protagonists. Went looking for the post but could not find it so there is no link to it here. Her message stuck with me for several months and raised its flag this morning when I came across this article:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/searching-for-latinos-in-childrens-literature-a-reading-list/

Scanning the list, I wondered if I had inadvertently run across political correctness of a Latino kind. Wikipedia only heightened my curiosity by explaining why such a book might not be mentioned in the linked article, specifically: Because Bless Me, Ultima contains adult language, and because some of the content is violent and contains sexual references, it has been included in the list of most commonly challenged books in the U.S. in 2008. Those characteristics notwithstanding it is also important because it was one of four novels published in the last third of the twentieth century which gained academic respect for Chicano literature as an important and nonderivative type of American literature.
Wikipedia also points out: Bless Me, Ultima is Anaya’s best known work and was awarded the prestigious Premio Quinto Sol. In 2008, it was one of 12 classic American novels selected for The Big Read, a community-reading program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 2009, it was in the list of the United States Academic Decathlon.

It amazes me that folk who use adult language in everyday life, who watch adult themed television programs, who live with the media coverage of same, can convince themselves that their children are totally oblivious to that same world and need to be protected from it. Here, an author who should be the subject of accolades, who should a role model for wannabe authors, is ignored because his subject matter and execution are not politically correct.

Then, again, I recommended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon and received a thorough scolding for my efforts. The book contains several instances of fuck and, apparently, their eleven year old son could not be exposed to such language, this despite the fact their favorite family tv show – Modern Family – routinely bleeps out the word. Their public-school educated son is, no doubt, clueless as to what is being bleeped.

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Sheer Brilliance

Recommendation for folks who love writing, there is something for everyone in The City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers, translated by John Brownjohn, Overlook TP, 2008. Moers rakes the publishing industry – from an author’s perspective -from top to bottom. He gives equal treatment to authors, to books, to libraries, to the writing process, and he does it with humor and aplomb. For example, he cites numerous books and authors but when treating with books and authors from our libraries – as opposed to those created for the purpose of the book – he employs anagrams so that I had much fun stopping to puzzle out who was being addressed. In one instance, even when his 18th Sonnet was quoted, it still took me a moment to verify that he was, indeed, alluding to The Bard of Avon.

Better than that exercise, are his observations. Here are just a few:

“I traversed the compositor’s quarter, where the buildings were faced with worn-out lead type, and walked along Editorial Lane, which rang with the groans and curses of the copy-editors at work.”

“I always found it suspicious when writers get together in groups because it was obvious that they did so, not with any serious work in mind, but for social reasons.”

“It isn’t the brain that governs our state of mind; it’s the stomach.”

“The problem is this: in order to make money – lots of money – we don’t need flawless literary masterpieces. What we need is mediocre rubbish, trash suitable for mass consumption. More and more, bigger and bigger blockbusters of less and less significance. What counts is the paper we sell, not the words that are printed on it.”

There is a good story, a mystery, and a protagonist dragon as well as a villain with a truly diabolical scheme to take over the world, and supporting characters galore to flesh the whole, absurd adventure. If you are looking for epic fantasy, skip this one but if you are looking for merely brilliant prose to present a decent story, a book to announce out loud all the things you’ve long suspected about writing, this is it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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2012 Mainstream, Western, and Non-Fiction Read – So Far

Concluding recap of what I’ve been reading this year, we look now at Mainstream, Western, and Non-Fiction. Below are the fifteen books I’ve read this year and one I just started.
Books I enjoyed and am likely to read another by that author get a B. C means it was okay but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read another of that author’s output. Those that get an A are my best reads in this field this year, so far.

Mainstream
Title;Author;Rating

The Watch; Roy-Battacharya, Joydeep; A
The Tiger’s Wife; Obreht, Tea; A
The Prisoner of Heaven; Zafon, Carlos Ruiz; A
The Curious Incident 0f the Dog in the Night-time; Haddon, Mark; B
Caleb’s Crossing; Brooks, Geraldine; B
The Complete James Joyce; Joyce, James: B
The Yellow Birds; Powers, Kevin; B
The Education of Little Tree; Carter, Forrest; B
Fobbit; Abrams, David; B-

Western
Title;Author;Rating

The Sisters Brothers; deWitt, Patrick; B
The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid; Garrett, Pat. F.; C

Non-Fiction
Title;Author;Rating

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Gibbon, Edward; C
Guns, Germs, and Steel – re-read; Diamond, Jared; B
Hidden in Plaint Sight; Thomas, Andrew; TBD
Reality,: A Very Short Introduction; Westerhoff, Jan; B

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