Strange, Sad, Hilarious

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Authors who write fiction amaze me with their ability to create characters. Where do they get them? Do they model the people whose stories they tell after real people, someone they know, a relative, themselves, or do they create them from scratch?  I just finished reading a sometimes funny sometimes sad story about a man who is strange indeed. He is a loner, an introvert, as honest as can be, but also secretly loving. His name is Ove, and the story is called A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. It came to me from my book club, and so far I have to say this story is a little unbelievable in the beginning because of the strange and unique habits of Ove. As the plot evolves so did I. Ove dug his way into my mind, and I began to like him. Slowly the humor of his eccentric life began to unfold and his actions are hilarious.

Ove is not the only character in this story that makes it a good read. Author Backman created a cast of misfits from various ethnic backgrounds to be his neighbors in a tight-knit row of houses. Even Ove’s deceased wife is a character who he talks to often during visits to her grave, and by flashing back his memories of her. We learn all about his Sonya, and their marriage through these graveside visits.

Grief is the emotion that plays on Ove’s mind. He is so saddened by his wife’s death that he wants to be with her as soon as he can. Several times he meticulously plans suicide, each time by a different method, but some strange event diverts his mind to something else, and averts his demise. This story has a happy ending but also a sad one which is not predictable

Democracy, You Can’t Buy It On Amazon

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I just completed a book by Condoleezza Rice titled Democracy, Stories from the Long Road to Freedom. I give it four starsMs Rice writes very well about atopic that most of us know about, or al least we think we know about, i.e. Democracy. There are many new things I learned about condo as she unfolded this narrative, like she reads and speaks Russian, has worked in the government for many years in Russian affairs, and served as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under George W Bush. She has a Doctorate degree in Politics Science and currently teaches at Stanford University.

When she speaks on Democracy it is because she has personally worked with many countries trying to establish democrats systems. She confirmed my own thoughts regarding our policy of Nation building, I isn’t easy. Often while watching the news during the Iraq war and afterwards it always confounded me that the people in Iraq believed that once Saddam Hussein was gone that democracy would descend upon them from the heavens and life would be beautiful. It doesn’t work like that. In her book Condoleezza provides example after example of countries like Russia, Kenya, Brazil, China, and more of how leaders struggle with the concept and even more so with the implementation. If it were easy, the whole world would be living in a democracy. Maybe someday it will, but right now there isn’t a chance in hell that I will see a democratic world in my lifetime.

Another thing I learned is that Ms Rice truly believes that Democracy requires a huge Government to work. Throughout she explains that many countries fail because they do not have the necessary components in place. In my opinion there are three necessities: Executive, Judicial, and Legislative. We don’t need the huge bureaucracies that we have now. It doesn’t really matter, Condoleezza has written an insightful book with great explanations about how many countries have taken on the task, and in some cases have done so successfully. As I mentioned above her writing style kept me reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter.

This book is available on Amazon, but Democracy is not.

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Heroes

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When I first learned of President George W Bush’s hobby of painting portraits I was amazed. This was not what I expected from him. I guess not too many people did. I wanted to see his work, and to decide for myself whether he was an artist or not. I have seen his work and have decided he is an artist.

In his book Portraits of Courage, A Commander In Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors ninety-eight US Military personnel are depicted. Bush has written a short bio based on the warrior’s injuries and the path to recovery. There is a distinct similarity among all of them. They all lost limbs, suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress. Yet, each of them is distinctly different looking just like they are in life. President Bush captures not only the faces but also the look of the soldier. As an artist he is fully aware of the fact that no human being has a symmetrical face, and it is the asymmetry that defines all of us. He has captured the gaze of the eyes and more deeply into the soul of the subject.

A few years ago, while researching President Bush’s portraits of world leaders on the internet I read a series of comments regarding his work. I remember one in particular where the commenter sarcastically criticized Bush’s ability to paint by stating his amateur work was the opposite of an accomplished and seasoned portrait artist. I wished an evil act to befall the critic. His dislike for Bush as President showed.

All my life I have been a closet artist, and I can attest that drawing and painting faces is not easy. Capturing the lines, shades, values of a person’s uniquely distinctive facial features takes a ton of practice, and patience. Hell, I couldn’t even draw my own portrait to resemble me. I give George Bush five stars for his ability, and desire to do something radically different from what he did all his life, and to succeed in making people look like people in his work.

Spacey Fiction

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My book club finally started reading a new selection, and made my choice of books easier than ever. I asked the librarian for it, and was disappointed to learn that it was The Martian. The only pre-knowledge I had about this story I got from movie promos on TV. Since I don’t like Matt Damon unless he is playing Jason Bourne, the trailers did not impress me. I made a snide comment about the selection and my obligation to read every book the members are reading. She told me to skim it. “No,” I said, “once I start a read I suffer through it no matter how much I hate it.”

At home I put the book on the table, and walked away. Later, I walked by the book and decided to pick it up to read the first page just to get a feel for the story. That was the end of it for me. I never put it down again until bedtime.

The Martiani is the best book I have read in a long time. The premise was totally believable, the character was real, and totally funny. It takes quite a man to be funny when marooned on a planet eleven months from Earth. His attitude was one of survival, and he was expert at solving problems throughout. My background is in engineering and this story is loaded with heaps of technical jargon and science. All of it made sense and based on fact. This character put McGyver to shame.

Now that I love the story so much I will endure the movie to see if Damon did the story justice.

Changing the World

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My latest book find from the library started out sounding like a drag. Most books on Political Science seem to be somewhat un-entertaining. Nevertheless I read them to learn. Jonathan Tepperman wrote this book and titled it The Fix, How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World of Decline. Right there the title caught my attention because I don’t believe the world is in decline at all. It is evolving onto a new era, but it is not in decline. In fact, I believe that to be stupid. As bad as the USA is at this moment in history it is no worse than previous generations. Yes, the USA is going through growing pains, but it is not in decline. We just have to catch up with the technology and information age. The last time the country changed phases was the change from an agricultural economy to the industrial one. That wasn’t easy either. The difference is we also experienced an amazing generation of people who were inventors and dreamers who fueled the change like Edison, Ford, Firestone, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, JP Morgan, and Rockefeller to name a few. Our current generation has a new group of these people namely, Jobs, Gates, Bezos, Adelson, Ma, Brin, Zuckerberg, Ellison, Musk, and many more. The difference is that these companies don’t employ as many people as the companies of the Industrial Revolution, and the country has a much bigger population to employ.  These companies are steeped in technology to be more efficient, or if they rely on manual labor they have moved manufacturing to the third world. The efficiencies require less manual labor, and our workforce has not caught up to this level of technology. How often have we heard that the USA worker does not want the types of jobs we have to offer them. Most of us think about labor to pick tomatoes or green beans, but many of the jobs we really have to fill require knowledge beyond high school and sometimes even a Bachelor’s degree. We don’t have enough picker jobs, and factory jobs to fill the huge number of low skill migrants that arrive daily. The real emphasis on immigration lies in getting educated migrants.

In the introduction to this book, Tepperman lists ten trouble areas causing the world to wane: 1. Inequality, 2. Immigration, 3. Islamic Extremism, 4. Civil War, 5. Corruption, 6. The Resource Curse, 7. Energy, 8. The Middle Income Trap, 9. Gridlock I, 10. Gridlock II.

For the most part I agree all ten of these points are trouble. I disagree in correcting inequality because no matter how much advancement we make there will always be a separation between those that have some, and those that have a lot more, it is all relative. I do agree that people who live on less than $2 per day are too far away from the one percent, and they can be raised to a level of decent living.

Tepperman then begins his work in earnest and convincingly chronicles how a number of places have raised themselves from virtual ground zero to healthy, growing economies, like Brazil, Canada, South Korea, Indonesia, Rwanda, Singapore, Botswana, Mexico, New York City, and the USA. In each of these places the problems encountered seemed insurmountable: corruption, lack of resources, lack of leadership, etc. What Tepperman realized as he researched is that in each instance a leader emerged who had a different approach to government. These people, men and women both, fell outside the mainstream political parties and used techniques and ideas totally unorthodox to conventional governmental systems. All through the narrative I kept getting visions of President Donald Trump. He too is in a difficult situation. The USA has become stagnant and no longer is able to resolve its problems with a corrupt (swamp) leadership and bureaucracy. Both political parties work against him because they believe he is not of the system. In each of the narrative situations Tepperman cites leaders who were faced with even larger swamps, and more massive corruption. Yet these individuals were able to lead their countries out of the quagmire and into the limelight.

By the end of the read, I was totally engrossed, in the micro history of these countries during periods of problem solving. I also developed a new respect for these countries and their developments.

If you enjoy Political Science this is an excellent book to read: five stars.

This Girl Is A Hoot

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I just completed reading Shoot Like A Girl, by Mary Jennings Hegar. I love stories about people who live their dreams. This is the second one that I have read, and they are similar.  What I admire most is that when a person really believes in something there is nothing on this planet that will prevent them from accomplishing their goal. Shoot Like A Girl is such a story. Mary Jennings or MJ as she refers to herself throughout the story saw herself as a pilot when she was eight years old. She never let go of that dream. She finally made it in her mid-twenties. In between, she prepared herself in every way she knew how. She had to be the best in school, she had to learn math and science, she had to prepare herself physically. She did that by being good at sports. Along the way she decided that one route to becoming a pilot was to join the Air Force. She learned to shoot and became an expert marksman. Later when she was in the service one of her instructors told her that girls can shoot very well. There is something about feminine physical stature that gives them balance, and the ability to breathe easily and relaxed. There are many women who are snipers.

During MJ’s course through the Air Force she experienced male discrimination. She not only fought against it, but demanded equality. The discrimination never ended, but by the end of her career she earned respect by her valor proving she could equal any male warrior.

The first few chapters of her story seem to be somewhat hum-drum, but as she progresses through the service her story becomes more exciting. When I read Space Man by Astronaut Mike Massimino I found his journey to be similar, always studying, always following orders, always picking himself up after disappointments, but never, never giving up.

MJ’s valorous actions as a pilot in Afghanistan cost her pain and discomfort, but she didn’t let it slow her down. She finally left her service job and took up the cause of women in the services. She successfully caused our government to rescind policy preventing women from fighting alongside men in shooting wars.

 

Amazing Adventure

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One of many items on my bucket list is to read the biographies of all the Presidents. So far I have read about twenty. The book I just completed is a piece of the life of Theodore Roosevelt. Imagine living a life so rich in accomplishment that a major adventure fills a book and is just a small part of one’s life.

Teddy Roosevelt had just lost the election to become President of the USA for a third term. He tried what is today described as a losing affair. Teddy formed a third-party he called the Bull Moose party to run against Woodrow Wilson a democrat who today is by some considered to be one of the greatest presidents that we ever had. Others, like myself consider him to be the father of American Progressivism, or Socialism. Nevertheless, Roosevelt lost big. In his recovery from the loss, he was talked into making a speaking tour of South America. To make a dull trip more exciting he chose to add an adventure to his itinerary. A friend talked him into an exploration of a little known river in Brazil. The friend imagined the tour to be an easy down river float with all the comforts of home, including chef cooked meals of extraordinary cuisine, and fine wines. Roosevelt’s biggest mistake was to trust the friend to plan and outfit the excursion.

While in South America giving speeches, he met a man known for exploring the Brazilian rain forests. The man, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, suggested to Roosevelt that his expedition explore a totally unknown one thousand mile long tributary of the Amazon called the River of Doubt. The adventure would allow Rondon to put this river on the map. The idea appealed to Roosevelt and the whole trip changed in character.

Author Candice Millard crafted an extraordinary narrative from details recorded by members of the expedition. The story keeps the reader interested throughout. This story would make an excellent adventure movie, but it is too big to tell, and was made into a series.

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