Tuesday, April 29, 2008


by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give you approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance,
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion--put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

This is the poem that Robin Williams' character cited when he did his own closing remarks. Did he die at the end (Williams' character)? I doubt it.

On Dreams

Finally it was time to read Freud for myself. First I'd been intrigued for awhile after talking with my friend Art who teaches a class in Literature and Psychoanalysis. Then the Great Books discussion group that meets at Skokie Public Library was reading On Dreams for this month's selection. What better excuse to get the book and dive in.

So much of my knowledge of great ideas comes from watered down textbooks and pop culture. It's time to go to the source.

When the source is just 76 pages of a book written for the public, not other psychoanalysists this isn't so hard. Freud explains his theories and insights clearly with a examples from his own dream life and his patients'. I learned about "condensation" i.e. the fact that dream images usally represent multiple concepts and I found it interesting that the more incoherent the dream is the better it is for analysis. Those that seem to make sense have been gussied up to deflect anaysis.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to the Great Books meeting as the car I thought I could use was unavailable. Still I'm glad I read this and would read more. I do think it would make for great discussion. I hope I can make next month's meeting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Franklin and Lucy by Joseph E. Persico

As someone who was not well-acquainted with the personal life of the only man to spend 12 years as the President of the United States, I found Franklin and Lucy edifying.

Persico does not limit himself to presenting the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucy Mercer Rutherford. He includes multiple other women who figured heavily in Franklin's life and also details the important relationships in Eleanor's life.

In measured tones, Persico delves into the motivations and likely depth of the relationships. He presents the speculation, weighs the evidence and provides his own conclusions, which may or may not be accurate. He avoids the titillating while acknowledging how differently the players would have been treated under today's rules.

The book is surprisingly broad and extends far beyond its title.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Close Encounters of the Third World Kind

A children's book by Jennifer Stewart, Close Encounters of A Third-World Kindtells the story of a girl who goes with her family to Nepal. Her father is a doctor volunteering to provide much needed care. I read it as research as I'm writing a script about Nepal.

I thought the idea was fresh and would teach young readers about a part of the world they probably never heard of. There are passages where the main character wonders about her attitudes towards the Third World, which impressed me. The plot is rather typical and predictable, yet young readers may not agree. I did wonder if some of the vocabulary wasn't just a stretch for the the targeted readers and something that would expand their vocabulary, but just adult style wording that would go over readers' heads. For example, there's a section where the narrator refers to the FTD florist logo. Is that something in the average 10 year old's frame of reference nowadays? I'd be surprised if it was.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

An eye-opening view of an area and an era about which I knew very little.

I mean I haven't even read The Grapes of Wrath.

I had heard of the Dust Bowl and understood that Okies was a pejorative term but that was about the extent of my knowledge.

Timothy Egan provides an indepth explanation of the events which laid the foundation for the manmade disaster which overtook the Great Plains and was exacerbated by the Depression. Egan then proceeds to chronicle the Dust Bowl years through the eyes and words of the individuals who suffered through it.

He describes why those who stayed did so, in a way both convincing and heart-breaking. The decision to leave was difficult but staying often resulted in death.

The Worst Hard Time is a compassionate yet clear-eyed telling of where man's folly can take us.

A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

I read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for my online bookclub. It's just that the chronicle of one day in a Siberian labor camp. You get a no nonsense look and feel for the cold, dull, sometimes brutal routine in these camps. You are plainly told of the strategies for survival, the absurdity of the sentences, and the details of the power camp structure.

Yes, these camps are a thing of the past, in Russia (one hopes). Yet there are political prisoners throughout the world and they're treated cruelly. I couldn't stop asking how it is so easy for some to treat other human beings with such brutality. Yet it does seem to be a way of life for some. It's a quick read, but one that stays with you.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Holidays in Hell

A friend gave me a copy of P. J. O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell insisting it would be the perfect book to read after Indonesia. He was right. As I read this, I often laughed out loud. Ah, the medicine I needed.

Written in the 1980s, but still relevant, Holidays in Hell chronicles O'Rourke's trips to spots like El Salvador, Lebanon, the Philippines, Panama, Epcot Center (that's right), Poland, South Korea, during the student riots in the 1980s, South Africa, and the Middle East. He's hysterically funny and trenchant throughout.

I'll share some of page 69 to give you an idea of his writing:
Third World Driving Tips
During the past couple of years I've had to do my share of driving in the Third World--in Mexico, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cyprus, El Salvador, Africa and Italy. (Italy is not technically the Third World, but no one has told the Italians.) I don't pretend to be an expert, but I have been making notes. Maybe these notes will be useful to readers who are planning to do something really stupid with their Hertz #1 Club cards.

Road Hazards
What would be a road hazard anywhere else, in the Third World is probably the road. There are two techniques for coping with this. One is to drive very fast so your wheels "get on top" of the ruts and your car sails over the ditches and gullies. Predictably, this will result in disaster. The other technique is to drive very slow. This will also result in disaster. No matter how slowly you drive into a ten-foot hole, you're still going to get hurt. You'll find the locals themselves can't make up their minds. Either they drive at 2 mph*--which they do every time there's no way to get around them. Or else they drive at 100 mph--which they do coming right at you when you finally get a chance to pass the guy going 2 mph.

*As done in Makassar.