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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Hidden Figures


Ignorance is not bliss and Mrs. T and I came out of Mayo Clinic after 2 ½ days  better informed if not blissful.  That took us to our favorite Chinese buffet and a movie.  Again after the movie we felt much better informed about an important part of American history.  The Space Race, though we didn’t feel blissful about it either…..
 
 Hidden Figures is not a blissful  kind of film: It’s a story of brilliance, but not of ego. It’s a story of struggle and willpower, but not of individual glory. Set in 1960s Virginia, the film centers on three pioneering African American women whose calculations for NASA were integral to several historic space missions, including John Glenn’s successful orbit of the Earth. These women—Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan—were superlative mathematicians and engineers despite starting their careers in segregation-era America and facing discrimination at home, at school, and at work.

 Just the fact that our collective culture highlights virtually zip about this platoon of brilliant, dedicated, overworked, under-appreciated, and until recently, never celebrated African-American women who functioned as NASA’s “living computers” to make it possible for Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom and John Glenn to become national heroes is as humiliating as it is mind-boggling. This is
especially for those of us who grew up witnessing the birth, trials and eventual triumph of our Gemini and Apollo Space Programs.    Yes, Hidden Figures is well worth seeing…..:)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

I Could Tell You Stories


Full disclosure requires that while I never met America’s premier memoirist Patricia Hampl  personally , my reading of her books tells me we grew up on the East Side in St. Paul about the same time, my parents knew and patronized her parents florist shop, we both attended the University of Minnesota (where she later taught) and we’re familiar with the hospital where I was born and she cared for her mother.  For more background and a previous review of her book The Florists  Daughter   click on    http://troutbirder.blogspot.com/search?q=Patricia+Hampl

In I Could Tell You Stories – Sojourns in the Land of Memory Patricia Hampl has written a thoughtful, original study of memoir, both in reflections on her own life and on the works of other notable memoirists over almost two thousand years—including  Saint Augustine, Anne Frank, Edith Stein (a convert from Judaism to Catholicism, who became a martyr under the Nazis), Sylvia Plath, and Walt Whitman. In this era of titillating  memoir as melodrama, Hampl has restored the form to something provocative and serious, at the same time writing a highly readable series of linked essays in which she probes issues of morality and truth and the historical importance of the recorded life. The prose, reflecting Hampl the poet, sings as she meditates.

This book is for writers and thinkers of any genre.  She provides us with a collection of essays which reveal how the even most mundane aspects of life’s experiences can allow us to write thoughtfully and well. This is a profound book as the author shares insights into the views of writers she admires.  She reaches across history, philosophy, poetry, and religion to connect with memory.   For anyone aspiring to the writer’s calling…. This book is a good place to start.


 

 

 



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@Barrie Summy

Monday, January 9, 2017

Last Child In The Woods

The book is Last Child In The Woods by Richard Louv. The subtitle is Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv has two grown sons. He writes in concluding his book: "I feel a sense of pride and relief that they have grown well, and a deep grief that my years as a parent of young children is over, except in memory. And I am thankful. The time I spent with my children in nature are among my most meaningful memories - and I hope theirs."
I felt very close to those words when I read them. Our two sons grew to manhood in the seventies and eighties. I had grown up a city boy. Yet then, we could bike out to visit our country cousins, played mostly unsupervised with the neighborhood kids in the parks, on a cliff overlooking the city of St. Paul and fished in the Mississippi. Our boys grew up in the rural area of southeastern Minnesota where I taught school. They worked on a neighbors farm in their teens, hunted,  fished, went camping and canoeing in the Boundary Waters Wilderness. These were all combined with success in academics, music, and sports activities.


Our boys trapping muskrats

Our son Tony working  a picked cornfield after football practice.

The reasons why so many of todays children have been divorced from unsupervised play in a natural setting are many. Our own experience in watching children grow up in todays world would reveal many of them. From fear of "strangers" and nature itself, to TV & video games, legal fears, and other social and cultural changes have all contributed to a new world for growing up.

Louv details and cites much of the scientific research that reveals new insights into the positive effects that childrens contact with the natural world can have on their development. This shows up in many ways, including intelligence, self-confidence and creativity. He also provides information on groups ranging from parents, churches, schools and communities that are trying to reverse the tide. Along with this are many concrete suggestions as to what parents can do as well.

I would highly recommend this book. Today children and grandchildren are learning about the Amazon rainforest, gulf oil spills, global warming etc. in school. That's fine. They are likely not to know about the life in a local creek, frogs and trees, birds and even where milk comes from..... It's time to change that.
Here, our granddaughter, a recent kindergarten graduate, is getting a lesson in freshwater invertebrates from her dad.

And with her older brother, got to meet Angel, one of the star eagles, at the National Eagle Center

Within the restructions of big city life they do get to go camping and for hikes in the Arizona deserts &Mountains. There mom and dad are doing their best.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dark Eagle


It was a very hot July day and we were on a vacation trip to Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Heading north though the beautiful Hudson River Valley we made a stop to examine a famous American battlefield. It was tramping through a wooded area that I came upon an unusual monument.   The monument is dedicated to “the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army” though he is not mentioned by name.   Surely he was wounded though as we see a bullet hole in the boot. His name was……?


The Indians called him "Dark Eagle" out of respect for both his military genius, bravery and his ruthlessness. His men worshipped him as a hero. But as the legendary general of the Continental Army neared the pinnacle of success, things began to go wrong, drawing Benedict Arnold inexorably toward the greatest crime of the age, one that would forever make his name synonymous with the word "traitor". Meticulously researched and brilliantly rendered, Dark Eagle illuminates both sides of the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1780.

Author   John Ensor Harr traces Arnold's spectacular rise, culminating in his victory at Saratoga and his marriage to Peggy Shippen, the beautiful loyalist daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, and Arnold's decline, culminating in his plan with Major John Andre and Peggy to betray Washington and deliver West Point to the British.

In the best of historical fiction Harr paints a  complete picture of one of the most despised men in American history. Factually accurate with believable dialogue to draw the reader into the story  makes for a really good read.  No attempt is made to justify Arnold's actions but understanding the circumstances and his personality that influenced him sheds a whole new light on a true story.   The one thing that, at least indirectly, Harr does is reinforce the realization that self-seeking politicians with very large egos are not just a modern day reality in 2016..... 


Friday, November 18, 2016

Arrival

Mrs. T. wants to go to a movie. "What's showing," she says.  I dunno  but I'll check. I did.  "Mostly the usual trash and a few kids shows. Oh and a sci fi that Time says is "for adults."  " I know you don't like those monster mash ups but maybe...."  Out of the goodness of her heart she agreed to give it a try. :) We went.
Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.
Cutting straight to the chase Arrival  definitely was for adults. Meaning no shoot em ups and bombs going off everywhere. There is plenty of suspense and more than a little tension. Amy Adams is quiet, afraid and strong, clearly the only person who can  ultimately figure out what's going on. I can't believe I'm writing this but Ms. Adams star turn is definitely in the Meryl Streep category. Also, not as a turn off, but I must admit the theme  that communication between alien  races was nigh impossible and potentially catastrophic brought to mind Republicans and Democrats during the recent horrific election season.  But I digress. It's an interesting and thoughtful movie...:)
 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Steel Wave


A tad late in acknowledging Veterans Day I review The Steel Wave. This book reminds us of the sacrifice of The Greatest Generation. It is the second volume of a historical fiction trilogy that tells the story of the Second World War in Europe.  Jeff Shaara,   following his fathers footsteps in Killer Angels , tells this story  through the points of view of some of history's most fascinating people , The Steel Wave traces the D-Day landing and subsequent days in the Normandy campaign of WWII.  Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Montgomery,  Rommel are the main characters. The author puts events and opinions into their mouths and thoughts based on his research. For the many who know this story well it’s an interesting sidelight. For those unfamiliar with the history of this shattering event it makes the vast details easy to digest.
But where this novel really stands out is in conveying what this battle, so renowned but now, with World War II veterans dying along with their first hand memories, felt like for the fighters:"The awful noises returned: screaming wails, the air above them ripped and shattered. The shells began to thunder above them, jolting him, the men tumbling again, more dust, the concrete shaking, deafening blasts. He lay flat, held his helmet to his head, curled his legs in tight, felt himself bouncing on the concrete, his hands hard on his ears, his brain screaming into the roar of fire, the terror grabbing him, pulling him into a complete and perfect hell."And here is a pitch-perfect description of what it must have been like to leave the nausea-inducing landing vessels for the nausea-inducing terror of the most nightmarish run on a beach in history: "He . . . looked straight ahead, smoke rolling past, screaming men, more blasts, more fighter planes overhead, wide flat sand, the cliffs so far away."
Shaara wrote in a very interesting introduction: "I realized that the greatest drama here is not the event but the raw and frightening uncertainty for everyone involved. It is easy to view history in hindsight, as though it were a foregone conclusion how the war, or this particular piece of it, would turn out. But for those men whose deeds and accomplishments created this history, there were no foregone conclusions at all."

The reader is left with two conclusions. The first is that William Tecumseh Sherman was right: War is hell. The second is that this is a hell of a war novel. As a matter of fact all three novels in this series are very well done.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Historical Photography Quiz

A German soldier holding up Hitler’s shredded pants after a failed assassination attempt at German headquarters in East Prussia, June 20, 1944,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

People of the Book


Geraldine Brooks historical novel People of the Book traces the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war. 

 Brooks, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her previous novel, “March,” has drawn her inspiration from the real Sarajevo Haggadah. As she explains in an afterword, little is known about this book, except that it has been saved from destruction on several occasions, twice by Muslims and once by a Roman Catholic priest. 
The story begins in 1996 when Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images.  Hanna is able to trace the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation. This makes for a fascinating story with lots of detective work.  Along the way we find art forgers and nationalist fanatics and even some romance.  What is the origin and the whole story behind the survival of this wonderful book? Lots of action will tell us along with some fascinating historical vignettes.   Perhaps a broader context and personalization of the main characters would help but then again history and historical fiction should  open our eyes and hearts to different times and places and touch our curiosity to want even more.
As a small footnote to the locale of much of this book, I am presently receiving physical therapy from a young woman who came to America as a child and war refugee during the Bosnian war. She is of Croatian ethnicity and fled Belgrade the Yugoslav and Serbian capitol during the bombing..... Small world indeed.
 

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS


THE PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS
The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents from Kennedy to Obama
by David Priess


Every president has had a unique and complicated relationship with the intelligence community. While some have been coolly distant, even adversarial, others have found their intelligence agencies to be among the most valuable instruments of policy and power.
Since John F. Kennedy’s presidency, this relationship has been distilled into a personalized daily report: a short summary of what the intelligence apparatus considers the most crucial information for the president to know that day about global threats and opportunities. This top–secret document is known as the President’s Daily Brief, or, within national security circles, simply “the Book.” Presidents have spent anywhere from a few moments (Richard Nixon) to a healthy part of their day (George W. Bush) consumed by its contents; some (Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush) consider it far and away the most important document they saw on a regular basis while commander in chief.

 The details of most PDBs are highly classified, and will remain so for many years. But the process by which the intelligence community develops and presents the Book is a fascinating look into the operation of power at the highest levels. David Priess, a former intelligence officer and daily briefer, has interviewed every living president and vice president as well as more than one hundred others intimately involved with the production and delivery of the president's book of secrets. He offers an unprecedented window into the decision making of every president from Kennedy to Obama, with many character–rich stories revealed here for the first time.

I picked this book up not looking for the juicy details of secrets for the Presidents but to learn about the process.  That is the mechanism of Presidential decision making. There were few if any secrets. There was lots of information  about how choices were made, some wise, some botched  for a myriad of reasons. I delayed reading this book till after this years Presidential campaign began in earnest and then  delayed it even longer. It became a frightening book to say the very least and the reason is quite simple. I imagined this process and the contents it contains on a day by day basis in the hands of the most unqualified and dangerous MAN in American History to be nominated by a major political party for the Presidency of the United States ever………

Then after the electorate chooses Hillary, go ahead and read this most interesting book, in a calm manner, somewhat,though not perfectly  assured, that the fate of our nation rests in reasonably intelligent hands