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Word of the Week

In honor of Black Friday:

Target Effect – the name of the behavior of going into a store intending to buy one item but leaving with a full cart.

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Posted by on November 24, 2018 in fiction, words

 

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Audubon: On the Wings of the World

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I learned so much about the life of John James Audubon from the graphic biography, Audubon, Audubon: On The Wings Of The World . I knew nothing about his dedicated wife, who had to put up with her husband’s long absences as he worked on his magnum opus,  The Birds of America

This book tells the story of his life from his first foray into illustration and his courtship. His wife was incredibly patient and supportive. What Audubon was trying to do, illustrate birds so that they seemed fully alive, was unheard of in his day and he experienced great frustration because people kept comparing him to Alexander Wilson, an earlier illustrator, who inspired Audubon, but whom Audubon believed wasn’t as good as he was.

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I was shocked at the number of birds, Audubon shot in order to illustrate all the species found in American. He’d shoot many of one species and shot thousands over all. According to the book, he did not find this at odds with his love for birds or his desire to add to their conservation and our understanding of them.

On The Wings of the World, has good illustrations, though they aren’t on par with Audubon’s own work. That would be amazing — and would probably mean a much more expensive book. I feel I’ve a fuller and deeper understanding of Audubon, who’s presented warts and all. It would make a great gift and belongs in every library.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction

 

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Strange Meeting

Strange Meeting

By Wilfred Owen

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
‘Strange friend,’ I said, ‘here is no cause to mourn.’
‘None,’ said that other, ‘save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .’

‘Strange Meeting’ was written in early 1918.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2018 in fiction, poetry

 

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Abraham’s Well

On my friend Sharon Ewell Foster’s book.

Ruined for Life: Phoenix Edition

I just finished my friend, Sharon Ewell Foster’s Abraham’s Well: A Novel. Since I know Sharon and have enjoyed her books set in modern times, Ain’t No River and Ain’t No Valley this work of historical fiction was a departure. I can’t pretend that my review is unbiased so don’t say I didn’t warn readers.

The story reminds me of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman as it consists of an elderly woman looking back on her life during a significant historical period. Armentia, the main character, is African American and Cherokee. She lives in the 19th (and I suppose early 20th century) experiencing tribal life, slavery, the removal of Cherokee and other native Americans during the Trail of Tears and eventually freedom. It’s the story of an imperfect character, rather than a superhero, finding strength and courage to surmount injustice and hardship. I’m a sucker for such stories.

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Posted by on November 8, 2018 in fiction

 

Melting Pot or Civil War?

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Well, that’s a loaded question, isn’t it?

Actually, it’s also the title of Reihan Salam’s recent book on immigration and the full title is Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders Many might feel the title says it all and there’s no reason to read the book. Well, if all you’re interested in is swapping opinions then, yes, you don’t have to read the book.

However, Salam offers a lot of facts and expert analysis, his own and others, that deepened my understanding of U.S. immigration trends and demographic data that I hadn’t known.

In general, I tend to prefer the golden mean and to extreme solutions. I took out this book hoping to find new solutions, and Salam provides some. He often uses his own family’s experiences in addition to research data to differentiate various kinds of immigrants and outcomes. Immigrants who’re among the first to come to a country tend to assimilate well. It makes sense as they must learn the language and customs since there aren’t many people to talk with and living out the past lifestyle is tough because small numbers don’t make running a business geared to a very tiny subculture profitable.  As the numbers from a country increase it’s easy to live in an enclave where you can speak your own language, eat your homeland’s food, etc.

Because Salam’s parents came to the US when few other Bangladeshi’s lived her, the family soon assimilated. Those who came later, arrived in a New York that had plenty of shops, social opportunities and Bangladeshi influence, that it was possible to live comfortably within an enclave. (Now I see assimilation as a personal choice, but it does have costs in terms of opportunities. For example, Americans can go to Asia and teach English and get by, but if they want more career opportunities, they need to speak the local language at a high level.)

(My own experiences bear this out. When I worked in Japan, I was the only non-Japanese person in my workplace who only spoke English. I had to learn Japanese and I did. I also adapted more to Japanese culture. In other countries there were more people who spoke English and hence my proficiency in Korean or Chinese never got to the level of my Japanese.)

Salam examines the need for low skilled labor and the economic results of various ways of getting such labor as used in the US, South Korea, Sweden and elsewhere. He also does a good job of considering how the increase of automated labor will impact low skilled workers. He explains how the influx of low skilled labor impacts the current workers who are on par with them.

What is the solution — or solutions? Salam proposes a few including the development of charter cities and new ways of supporting poor children.

Yes, Salam is a conservative, but his tone is rational and his ideas, for me were new. He sympathizes with immigrants and acknowledges people’s desire to find a solution that is kind and fair.

A good summary of with more details is here.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2018 in book review, fiction, non-fiction

 

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Perelandra

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The second book in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Perelandra chronicles Edwin Ransom’s journey to Venus, a.k.a. Perelandra. Ransom settled back into life in Cambridge after his trip to Mars. Suddenly, Oyarsa (God) calls on Ransom to go to Perelandra. Excited for more space travel, Ransom accepts the mission.

After his trip in a ship that’s like a frozen coffin. Ransom’s told to travel in the nude and that clothes aren’t needed on Perelandra, a planet with land that moves like waves and the flora is a wide range of vivid colors. I can’t do Lewis’ descriptions justice.

Ransom soon meets the green-skinned Queen, one of the planets two inhabitants. The Queen has the innocence of a child because on the new planet she is one. Perelandra is like Eden with its sole pair of inhabitants, its sole prohibition, i.e. “Don’t sleep on the ‘Fixed Lands'” and its serpent, i.e Weston, Ransom’s nemesis who plays the serpent in this tale.

Maelidil is the creator who teaches the Queen all about life, but he disappears once Ransom arrives. The Queen also never sees the King and the story’s almost over by the time Ransom finds him.

Most stories feature a young, strong hero who lacks wisdom, which he acquires by the end. Here our hero is educated and wise, but lacks the usual brawn. Ransom battles Weston with wits trying to prevent Perelandra’s Fall, but he realizes that one day Weston will wear the Queen down. He figures out that he must beat Weston physically. Thus Lewis takes gives us a middle aged scholar as a hero who must win by a great physical test. How original!

I found the story compelling and clever. Lewis gives us a setting similar to Eden, but not quite. We may expect a certain outcome, but Lewis shows us that things could have been different. Perelandra was a fun read that made me think.

 

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2018 in book review, British Lit, British literature, Christianity, classic, fiction

 

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Poem of the Week

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Autumn Movement

by Carl Sandburg

I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
and the old things go, not one lasts.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2018 in American Lit, fiction, poetry, postaweek

 

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