Monday, December 31, 2007

Movie review: The Great Debaters

I saw The Great Debaters on Christmas day, and I urge everyone to see it. It lives up to its hype, but it is even more than that. The advertising makes it sound like a fairly typical rooting- for-the-underdog-as-they-win story... in this case, the debaters of a small black southern college, Wiley, going up against debaters at Harvard University in 1935. It is based upon a true story, and it is amazing that it happened between those schools at that date at all (I've just read the New York Times review of the movie, which says the actual debate was at the University of Southern California, not Harvard). Even more amazing, one of the two debaters for Wiley was a woman and the other was 14 years old. Even more wonderful, it was carried on radio for all the country to hear.

Yes, that's the story, and yes, one cheers every step of the way. But it is so much more than that. The advertising doesn't hint at the gritty realities of the movie, which show, sometimes graphically, how dangerous it was to be Southern and black at that time. The scenes of danger are also played out in the topics of the debates, which get to the heart of the matter.

This is a movie that both black and white need to see. Even today, so many whites are ignorant of, or refuse to face, the difficulties of being African-American today, much less during the heyday of Jim Crow. Blacks maybe need to be reminded that things have improved, and that there are many black heroes to emulate. Hopefully that will inspire Americans of all races to to finally overcome the damned curse of racism that has killed and oppressed so many.

Competing Realities

After my last post, a review of Orson Scott Card's Empire, I took a look at his home page ( I have it bookmarked, but check it rarely, which is a shame, he does some good reviews, etc. I took a look at a recent post, "A Standup President ( It kind of confirms something I've thought more than once, that different citizens in this country live in competing realities. What he is saying in this essay just isn't what I recognize as reality.

I know Card is well-read in current events, a post I read of his some time ago mentions the publications he reads regularly, and they are some of the most noted on both the conservative and liberal sides. As for me, I read summaries of news from CNN, the BBC, and Today's Papers by Slate, which summarizes the leading stories of the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. I read the New York Times top stories, listen to ABC World News Tonight, and keep up as I can with stories on Alternet, Common Dreams, Mother Jones, the Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, etc. I also read books on politics and current affairs, again usually from a left perspective, though I try to read a bit more broadly.

It seems like there is very little non-partisan media anymore. I began reading some of the alternative media because it seemed that the Main Stream Media (MSM), was not covering all the important stories. Even the New York Times and the Washington Post get accused of not covering things the government doesn't want covered. These accusations come from the left at the same time the right is accusing these papers of ignoring everything but the liberal perspective. Meanwhile talk radio and Fox News are accused of radically right partisanship.

As a result, those in the country who are interested in news can pick their news sources according to their politics, and it increases the polarization. Informed citizens on both sides spout facts and figures that create a totally different picture of reality. For example, in the post by Card mentioned above, he calls George W. Bush a thoughtful president who learns from his mistakes. and honest, very different from the lying, incurious, unrepentant, power-hungry president found in my usual sources.

It is hard to say Card is stupid and ignorant. He's not. So are there any sources of information one can trust? And how can we deal in a bipartisan way with those who disagree when the picture they have of reality is so different?

Book review: Empire, by Orson Scott Card

TitleEmpire (Tor Science Fiction)
AuthorOrson Scott Card
Tagsfiction, politics, sf, orson_scott_card
Your reviewOrson Scott Card is a fascinating writer and person. The first book of his I read was Songmaster. I was in my teens or twenties, and I couldn't put the book down. I finished it in the wee hours of the morning and then it haunted me so that I couldn't get to sleep. The Ender's Game series is one of the best series in the English language, in my opinion, though I liked the later books in the series better than the original. When I was active in science fiction fandom in the 80s, I attended and was delighted by Card's Secular Humanist Revival, held in a tent near the hotel pool. So I was rather startled to find out that Card is a devout Mormon, and that his views on homosexuality were despised, I think with justification, by gays I knew.

And after that I didn't read him as much as previously. I did read several of the Alvin Maker series and liked them, though was not as impressed as I had been by some of his work. Other books didn't sound like things I'd be particularly interested in. I never forgot, however, that some of his works haunted me.

So when it is easy I've occasionally been picking some of his books up. I started one several months ago that I didn't finish for lack of time, and then read one written by someone else but based on one of his ideas. And I just picked up and read Empire.

Did not think I would stay with it, as there was lots of politics that really got up my nose. Ridiculous to think that there would be a coup from the left against the government. For one thing, those of us on the left are too anti-authoritarian to have the discipline to stage such a thing. Then I suddenly remembered the French revolutionaries, and the Communists, and maybe it wasn't totally far-fetched... but still unlikely.

I did keep reading, though. One reason is that I have been concerned about the chances of another civil war in this country, although I see the danger coming from the right. Card's speculation on how such a thing might happen is deft and as thorough in its knowledge of the human heart and mind as many of his other works - there is much confusion over what is right and wrong, who the villains are, and how to handle the desperate situation the country finds itself in.

One of the things that hit me hardest was a comment by one of the characters that people on both sides see people on the other side as stupid and deceived. That made me take notice, because I had been wondering how Card, who I know to be well-read and intelligent (see his official web site,, for proof) could be saying some of the things that to me just sound stupid - such as some of the characters expressing admiration for our current president.

In the end, what affected me the most was the afterward, in which Card expresses concern about our polarization, and how difficult it is for a moderate voice to be heard, telling of his experience in being viciously attacked by those of both the left and the right. Here's an example of what he has to say:

"Yet neither side can see any connection between their own fanaticism and the historical examples that might apply to them. People insisting on a Christian America simply cannot comprehend that others view them as a Taliban-in-waiting; those who insist on progressive exclusivism in America are outraged at any comparison between them and Communist totalitarianism. Even as they shun or fire or deny tenure to those who disagree with them, everybody thinks it's the other guy who would be the oppressor, while OUR side would simply "set things to rights". Rarely do people set out to start a civil war. Invariably, when such wars break out both sides consider themselves to be the aggrieved ones.".

I'm not entirely convinced, and still hold to my political beliefs. But I hope that I can see my adversaries as human with their own ideas and needs, and to be willing to listen to them.

In other words, this book made me THINK... and what else does a good book do, whether fiction or non-fiction?
PublicationTor Books (2007), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 368 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0765355221 / 9780765355225

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Book review: Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein

TitleBad Blood: A Novel
AuthorLinda Fairstein
Tagsfiiction, mystery, series, linda_fairstein, alexandra_cooper
Your reviewThis is the ninth in the Alex Cooper series by Linda Fairstein. Fairstein was the head of the sex crimes unit in the DA's office in New York City for 25 years, leaving to concentrate on her writing and to be a media consultant on sexual violence and domestic abuse for the major networks. Her character, Alex Cooper, is also the chief prosecutor for the sex crimes unit, and many of the minor stories in the books are based on real cases Fairstein has been involved with. This background gives great authenticity to the series. More than that, Fairstein loves and knows the city of New York so well, and each book tends to focus on some fascinating aspect of the city, such as the time Edgar Allen Poe spent there, the art world, the Metropolitan Opera House, etc. In Bad Blood, the story revolves around the New York City subterranean world, the fragile water system. the subways, and all the underground world worked by sandhogs The plot is excellent, the settings incredible, particularly the closed City Hall subway station

I sometimes get tired of the character of Mike Chapman, the policeman Alex works most with, but it wasn't a bother in this book. It was an excellent entry in a good series.
Pocket Star (2007), Edition: Reprint, Mass Market Paperback, 480 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN1416521518 / 9781416521518

Book review: The Penguin Who Knew Too Much

TitleThe Penguin Who Knew Too Much (A Meg Langslow Mystery)
AuthorDonna Andrews
Tagsfiction, mystery, humor, series, meg_langslow, donna_andrews
Your reviewThis is the 8th in Donna Andrew's humorous mystery series about Meg Langslow, a blacksmith and solver of mysteries. Andrews is often compared to Janet Evanovich since they both write mysteries with humor, but that's about the only commonality. I like both series, with maybe Andrews my preference by a hair. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction, but I'm not always sure that is true... Andrews comes up with some pretty bizarre scenarios, matched by interesting titles that actually have some relationship to the plots of the books.

In this book, Meg and her fiance Michael are finally set to move into the old house they've been renovating, so lots of Meg's relatives show up for the moving and the followup party. The festivities are somewhat postponed when Meg's father finds a body in the basement while digging a pool for the penguins. The penguins? one asks, and it turns out that the local zoo has asked people to help keep the animals while it recovers. Meanwhile word has gotten out through Meg's dad that the animals can be sent to Meg for keeping. Is the body in the basement the zoo's keeper?

Andrew's plots are actually decent, not just an excuse for the humor, but the humor abounds, often laugh-out-loud funny...and that tends to earn me odd looks from my cats.

This entry in the series is quite good. My favorite is still the fourth, Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon, but there hasn't been a dud in the whole series so far.
PublicationSt. Martin's Minotaur (2007), Hardcover, 272 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0312329423 / 9780312329426

Friday, December 28, 2007

Movie review: Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilberforce and his effort to end the slave trade in the British Empire. It is, er, um, an Amazing story and director Michael Apted and writer Stephen Knight tell it well.

It is not, of course, solely Wilberforce's story. It is also the story of those who persuaded him to get into this fight, those who fought with him, those who opposed him, and, yes, about those millions of slaves transported into death or servitude. Wilberforces's mentor, John Newsom (played wonderfully well by Albert Finney), was captain of a slave ship for twenty years, until he repented. He spoke of constantly having 20,000 ghosts with him, the ghosts of the slaves he transported. Out of his anguish at what he had done, he wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. When he speaks of "grace that saved a wretch like me" it was a true cry of his heart and tormented mind. The experience of slavery is directly told by Olaudah Equiano, played by African musician Youssou N'Dour. Sadly Equiano did not live to see the slave trade ended, but his book about his experiences sold 50,000 copies and had a major impact on public opinion.

Once Wilberforce was convinced to join this fight, he committed to it though the odds against ending the slave trade were high. 300 of the Members of Parliament were in part supported by the slave trade. The fight took years of hard work, showing MPs and the public the horrors of the slave trade.

Wilberforce's most potent ally was William Pitt, who became Prime Minister at the age of 24. Benedict Cumberbatch does an excellent job of portraying Pitt, and Ioan Gruffuds does well as Wilberforce. The movie shows a taste of the forces pulling Wilberforce apart... Pitt has to delay action on the slave trade during the wars with the French, and warns Wilberforce against dangerous ideas, while the abolitionist Thomas Clarkson urges Wilberforce to come to France with him and help create a new world there.

Wilberforce was involved in many causes, including animal welfare. Oddly, he was, according to the New York Times review, anti-trade unions, leaving one of his contemporaries to remark that apparently you had to be an African slave to get Wilberforces's sympathy for bad working conditions. This was not pointed out in the movie, which portrays Wilberforce in an almost entirely positive light. I don't see that as a drawback, in this particular case. The audience knows no one is perfect, yet the cause was such a good one, and the winning of its goal is so uplifting, that anything else would have been a distraction.

The movied points out in the end that Wilberforce continued to work for the abolition of slavery after the ending of the slave trade, and it was accomplished 3 days before his death in 1833.

Amazing Grace is a movie that uplifts the soul and girds one to fight whatever one chooses as the good fight today. The special features section of the DVD has a good information on the work to end slavery in today's world. Highly recommended.

Book review: It's Getting Ugly Out There

TitleIt's Getting Ugly Out There: The Frauds, Bunglers, Liars, and Losers Who Are Hurting America
AuthorJack Cafferty
Tagsjack-cafferty, cnn, politics, media, george_w_bush
Your reviewJack Cafferty does commentary for CNN. He has been in the media for forty years. I haven't watched him before now, and probably won't watch him after reading his book...mostly because I hold those in the media to a higher standard of knowledge than most. They should really know what's going on, right? Yet Cafferty was favorable to George W. Bush as a candidate, buying his "uniter" and "bringing integrity back to the White House" rhetoric. I didn't, for one simple reason. I read Molly Ivin's book Shrub, and it was a record of venality and incompetence that has run true to form in the Bush administration. In other words, the information was out there, just as the information about the lack of WMDs and the lack of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Quaeda was out there before the Iraq war, but had little public exposure.

Cafferty does rant about the media's attention to such things as Anna Nicole Smith and the lack of attention to important stories, and does blame the media consolidation and need to make a profit, but also the public. Sickeningly, he reports that the CNN coverage of Smith's death quadrupled their ratings!!!

I also agree with Cafferty that the Bush administration may be good for the country in that its incredible level of arrogance, ignorance, and corruption may have awakened voters to the need to throw the bums out, and keep throwing them out, until they get the message and pass real reforms.
PublicationWiley (2007), Hardcover, 288 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0470144793 / 9780470144794

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lifehacker's 2007 Guide to Free Software and WebApps

Article in Lifehacker gives the year's best free software and web applications, in the following categories:

  • Application Launchers
  • Backup Utilities
  • BitTorrent
  • Bookmarks
  • Calendar
  • Desktop Search
  • Disk Space Visualizers
  • DVD Rippers
  • File Syncing
  • Image Editing
  • Image Viewers/Managers
  • Instant Messenger
  • Macro Makers
  • Media Players
  • Password Managers/Helpers
  • PDF Readers/Writers/Editors
  • Personal Finance/Money Managers
  • Start Pages
  • Telephony Managers/Helpers
  • Text Editors
  • To-do List Managers
  • Virus Killers and Malware Cleaners
  • Web Clippings
  • Wikis
  • Zip File Extractors
I use Remember the Milk in the to-do list category.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Movie review: The Golden Compass

What a rush! I really loved Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. To me it was as imaginative a creation as Tolkein's universe, and I say that about very few things. The news that they were making movies of the series was welcome, while knowing that in the wrong hands it would be a disaster.

Fortunately, the right hands were found. The movie matches the book for imagination. The director is Chris Weitz, who is also credited with the screenplay. All the production values are superb. The casting is wonderful (I'm already beginning to run out of superlatives). Nicole Kidman was born to play Mrs. Coulter (the friend I saw the movie with said Pullman was prescient in creating a nasty blond named Coulter), Daniel Craig great as Lord Asriel (though he'll have more to do in the later movies), and Dakota Blue Richards is a great discovery as Lyra. Round out the cast with Derek Jacobi, Christopher Lee, Jim Carter (whom I don't remember before but was marvelous as Lord Faa), Sam Elliot, Ian McKellan as the voice of the bear, Iorek Byrnison, and many more, and you have a terrific viewing experience. Much has been made of the dress Nicole Kidman is wearing when first seen, but all the costuming is of this quality. The special effects are a eye-catching and feel an integral part of the story, not the whole reason for the movie. Making a fighting armored bear look realistic was a major challenge all on its own, and all the animals were well-handled.

What can I say? I liked the movie. ;-).

Book review: Peter Jennings, a Reporter's Life

TitlePeter Jennings: A Reporter's Life
AuthorKate Darnton
Tagspeter-jennings reporters news mass-media
Your reviewPeter Jennings was my favorite news anchor for many years, and this book explains to me why. He was remarkable for the breadth of his knowledge, and his insistence on sharing the complexity of the story with his audience, believing they were capable of understanding and interested in doing so.

He was endlessly curious, talking to people of every nation, culture, ethnicity, class, from leaders of many nations to the homeless. He would be standing in line at an airport, for example, and talk to people up and down the line, always interested in their experiences and focusing on the person he was talking to at the time. This struck me particularly because almost as often as people who knew him speak of Peter Janning's curiosity, people who know or have met President George W. Bush speak of his being incurious. Explains to a large extent why I so liked Jennings and so dislike Bush.

Jennings was first an anchor at ABC News before he was 30, and before he was a seasoned reporter. When he knew it wasn't working, he said so, and requested to be sent out into the field. He then traveled a lot of the world, worked hard, and grew in his craft. His first major job was reporting on the Middle East He tried to convey the complexity, and was accused of being anti-Zionist, simply for reporting on the Palestinian side of the story as well as the Israeli. Over the years he continued to insist on being fair, and reporting not just both sides of a story, but often the multiplicity of sides. Later he was based in London before being called back to the top anchor post at ABC No matter his position, he insisted on the importance of international news, even when told it wasn't profitable and people weren't interested. He was proved right by 9/11, which he was better positioned to explain than many due to his experience in the Middle East.

How much did he cover of stories such as the downside of globalization? I don't know, but I suspect he was more open to it than some. The book claims that he was skeptical of the information coming out of the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, though I don't think he spoke against it as much as I wish he had.

He wasn't a perfect man... duh, he was human. He demanded as much of his colleagues and crew as he did of himself, but if someone told him he was doing something wrong he listened

Without him, I don't think nearly as many stories are being told, and are not being told nearly as well.
Other authors
Editor – Jennings, Kayce Freed
Editor – Sherr, Lynn
PublicationPublicAffairs (2007), Hardcover, 321 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN1586485172 / 9781586485177

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Incredible and important book: Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctine

Here's my entry for Naomi Kline's new book The Shock Doctrine in Library Thing:

TitleThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
AuthorNaomi Klein
Tagsdisaster-capitalism milton_friedman chicago-school free_markets imf world_bank latin_america iraq israel tsunami new_orleans ewen_cameron torture russia china chile argentina bolivia
Your reviewThis is literally a life-changing book. After reading it, one's view of the world is changed forever, and the world suddenly makes sense in a way it never did before. What was inexplicable suddenly comes into sharp focus, and random evil now has a purpose and goal, and with that understanding comes the possibility of change.

The book is about the Chicago School of Economics and its guru, Milton Friedman, and their effect on the world. Friedman advocated radically free markets. He called such markets pure, and stated that any government interference in the market corrupts it. Therefore he called for privatization of government assets, freedom from government regulations, and from trade barriers. Friedman's views were a response to the views of John Maynard Keynes, the economist behind the post WW II reconstruction efforts of Europe and Japan.

The problem was that Friedman's vision of pure and free markets was not appealing to any but the wealthy; it seemed to offer few benefits to the middle and lower classes, the majority of voters in a democracy. So Friedman had difficulty getting any government to adopt his ideas.

Enter the research of Ewen Cameron, a psychiatrist with impressive credentials. He believed that to create healthy new behaviors in patients he had to break up their old psychological patterns by breaking down their current structures. To do this , he used electroshock and drugs, including hallucinogens, and other techniques to "de-pattern" his patients. Many lost their memories and some became incapable of functioning normally... but the CIA became interested in the techniques as a method of mind control. Cameron's techniques, including isolation and sensory deprivation, became instruments of torture: "As a means of extracting information during interrogations, torture is notoriously unreliable, but as means of terrorizing and controlling populations, nothing is quite as effective" (p. 126).

"It was in 1982 that Milton Friedman wrote the highly influential passage that best summarizes the shock doctrine: "Only a crisis -real or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believed, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable." (p. 140) Crisis could create opportunity for drastic new measures to be introduced quickly, to cause such shock among the populace that they were incapable of acting counter to the new policies. So the ideas of Cameron and Friedman merged to exploit or create shocks that would allow governments to pursue doctrines that would never succeed democratically.

The first true laboratory for the shock doctrine was the Pinochet coup in Chile against Allende, a coup backed by the CIA. "The shock of the coup prepared the ground for economic shock therapy; the shock of the torture chamber terrorized anyone thinking of standing in the way of the economic shocks." (p. 71).

There has to be a warning that this book will at times make the reader sick to his/her stomach... there are graphic depictions of torture. Yet the horror is not gratuitous, it is vital to understanding all that happened.

The Chicago school triumphed in country after country, especially after they captured the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, those institutions ironically set up to carry out Keynesian ideas of reconstruction after disaster.

The results in so many countries were the same. A small core of native elites and multinational companies profited enormously. But the percentage of the people living in poverty rose drastically, native industries disappeared, unable to compete, farms became bankrupt, unemployment soared and wages were depressed for those who still had a job. In South Africa and Poland, popular regimes elected to dismantle repressive regimes were forced to pay the debts of those old regimes, and to do so had to accept money from the IMF, with the attending requirements to adopt Friedman style economics.

Much of the book is a detailed examination of the shock doctrine and its effects in country after country - the Southern Cone countries of Latin America, Poland, South Africa, Russia, China, Iraq, Israel... the list goes on and on. Finally the war in Iraq makes some sense: the idea was to "shock and awe" Iraq to create a tabula rasa, a clean slate upon which would be drawn a stable sound country, free economically and democratically, which would serve as a blueprint to remake the entire Middle East (it becomes clear that part of the draw of Islamic terrorist organizations, like the Mahdi Army and Hezbollah, is that these groups have provided basic services, like hospitals, schools, and garbage disposal, that governments were no longer providing).

The shocks now even include natural disasters, with a disaster economy ready to go and to profit from them, perhaps most strikingly illustrated after the 2004 tsunami, when so many who relied on fishing for their living lost the beach front lands their families had owned for generations, to New Orleans, where public schools were not rebuilt and private schools became the norm. In Israel, the homeland security firms have become the backbone of the economy, driving a disinclination to secure peace.

But in many places, especially Latin America where the shocks are beginning to wear off,. Such places are becoming resistant to further shock, having suffered the worst that shock could do.

If you only read one book on current affairs, let it be this one. If you aren't interested in politics, manufacture an interest long enough to read this one book. Vital events are happening throughout the world that affect our lives, and the course this country decides to take for the future. Reading this book helps one to make informed decisions as a voter and citizen.
PublicationMetropolitan Books (2007), Hardcover, 576 pages
Publication date2007
ISBN0805079831 / 9780805079838
Primary languageEnglish
SummaryThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein (2007)
Citation MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian, Wikipedia citation
Entry date2007-12-13

Monday, December 3, 2007

ToDo Lists with Remember The Milk

Organization is not one of strong points... in fact I used to consider myself a whirling piece of chaos. Things have, thankfully, settled down a bit. Still, any more organization I can get in my life is a bonus. So I've been looking for a nice program to help me create to-do lists and manage them, and I've just tried out one that I like. It is Remember the Milk ( It has some nice features. It can create multiple lists, with one set as the default. Add tasks, give them a due date, add priorities, tags, locations, and URLs. Tasks can be set to repeat. Tasks can be sorted by due date, priority, or task name. Everything is searchable. Tasks can be easily exported to Google Calendar. Since it is all saved on the web, tasks can be accessed from any computer.

There, I feel more organized already!

Georgette Heyer

My book club is reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey this month. I enjoyed it, and was able to appreciate it as a satire on gothic romances, largely because of having read so many of Georgette Heyer's books set in almost the same period.

Georgette Heyer wrote from the 1920s until her death in the 1970s (see the Wikipedia article on her at She invented the Regency Romance genre, and was its greatest author (which is a rather uninformed opinion - I've only read a couple of other authors in the genre and couldn't stand them). The Wikipedia article mentions that Heyer took inspiration from Jane Austen, so it is no wonder that one reminds me of the other, and no wonder that Heyer mentions some of the same Gothic novels that Austen does. So in sense I was reading backwards, and because Heyer is more modern and accessible to me, helped me understand the Austen better. The particular Austen novel that most concerned Gothic novels is Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle in which a young woman writes a novel based on people she met in her London season and chaos ensues.

Heyer collected works on the Regency period (which only covered 1810-1820, but Heyer's romances covered a period from the mid-1700s to the Battle of Waterloo). She knew the period so well that her books create the world of the English upper class in that time period, with details of dress, food, travel, apparel, and slang that immerse the reader in the period. I think of her plots as similar, but then when thinking of specific favorite books they vary widely. She often depicts the person who doesn't fit well into that society, but they rarely rebel. Some go their own way, and, as these are romances after all, they find solace in love with a compatible soul. My favorite Heyer is Venetia, in which a gently bred woman finds love with a rake, who is too honorable to pursue the relationship. My descriptions don't convey the richness of the world she creates and the immense likability of the characters.

The Masqueraders is another favorite, set earlier than most of her books. It set in the mid-18th century, after Bonnie Prince Charlie and his followers have been defeated. A bother and sister pair swap genders to protect the brother who fought for the Stuart prince. Then there are the related books, Black Moth, These Old Shades, and Devil's Cub, which all involve the fascinating character the Duke of Avon. Devil's Cub was the first Heyer I read and there was no looking back... I devoured every one I could get hold of after that. I've read them all many times, though not so much recently. Yet when I really want a comfort read, I still pull out the Georgette Heyers. This despite the fact that I rarely ever read other romances. I have read Heyer's mysteries, but was not as in love with them. I may give them another try.

Still looking for more favorites to read? Try The Unknown Ajax, The Grand Sophy, or A Civil Contract (one of the most unusual love stories ever).

I've been reading a lot of "important" books lately, about current affairs and all their conflict. So sometimes a good comfort read is a necessary correction!

Mary of Many Colors?

So where did the title of this blog come from? I'm not altogether sure. When creating my first personal web page, that was the title I used. It seems to come from a deep place inside. I love the interplay of colors in the world and in a rainbow; it is hard to say my favorite color because I love their interaction so much. Also, the older I grow the more I value diversity. I like to think I'm good at listening, at hearing people's stories, and how wonderful it is to hear different people's experiences. So many colors represents the diversity of the human race. Maybe that sounds too politically correct, but it is true, and one of the reasons I'm in the bookclub in the Library. We read a more diverse set of authors than I would know about on my own. I do hope to add some reviews to this blog, and I also review the books I read on Library Thing ( My user name there is reannon.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What Should a Hero Look Like?

I met my hero last night.

He didn't look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or any of the action "heroes" one sees in movies. He is short, bald, and black, and no longer young. He's never been in the military. He can't fly, or leap tall buildings. He works in one of the lesst popular jobs in the United States, being a United Sates Congressman.

And to my mind, he is more a hero than anyone else I know of. He is John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia.

I saw him last niht at a reception, shook his hand, and he kindly autographed my copy of his memoirs, Walking With the Wind. A simple interaction, yet I left feeling energized, excited, and with a profound sense of the sacred that comes from being in the presence of one who has lived to his fullest potential and lived a life of service to others.

John Lewis, if you aren't aware, was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement. He joined that cause in his late teens, and risked his life many times for justice, using peaceful means, even when his peace was met with violence. If you haven't read his memoirs, I highly encourage it... it is a story more thrilling, more uplifting, than you'll ever find in Hollywood epics.

Another hero of mine is the Dalai Lama, and the two men have a lot in common. They have fought with the tools of peace, with love and compassion for their enemies, yet able to look upon the evils of the world with clear eyes. They never give up on love, on peace, on compassion, or on justice. They must have known incredible levels of pain, yet through faith and persistance they continue, retaining their capacity to live, to love, even to laugh. They are of different faiths and different ethnicities, influenced by a man of yet another religion, the Hindu Mohandas Ghandhi, and seem to believe in the capacities of all humans to be part of creating a better world. By being who they are, they help us to believe in these things as well.

They are rare, but they are not alone. The story of the Civil Rights movement is full of heroes, of extraordinary men and women from all economic classes, all levels of education, of more than one race, coming together to fight for justice through peace. Fanny Lou Hamer of Mississippi is one of my favorites... a woman who never had much in terms of material goods or education, yet showed immense courage and dignity in the struggle for civil rights. I'm sure the Dalai Lama could tell amazing stories of Tibetans meeting oppression with courage. Desmond Tutu, another hero, must have story after story of courage and hope in the fight to end apartheid.

In a world of bitter wars, endless partisanship, so much hatred of those who are different in race or politics or class or religion or culture or nationality or sexual orientation, it is to these people that we must look for inspiration. I remember looking forward to the new millenium with such hope that it would mean the turning of the world to something greater than we have ever known. With people like these as our heroes, we can still reach the dream.