Archive for July, 2015

Edge of the World

Once in a while I run into something that I thought I knew about when I started and then found was really unexpected. This is (was) the case with the book The Edge of the World, by Michael Pye. Despite an accurate description on the web site, I saw it as a general history of Northern Europe that would help balance what I have learned about the Mediterranean area. Well, it was that, but it was so much more.

The European history I learned began in Rome and worked its way north through what is now Germany, the north coast countries of Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and over to the British Isles. Pye changes this to a mixture of Roman life with that of what we would call uncultured northmen. A whole different set of living ways evolved, sometimes altering Roman ways and sometimes growing out of the violent ways of the Norsemen. Through chapters on inventing money, spreading knowledge through books, dealing with enemies, writing laws appropriate to the life of the area, changing fashions, and cities developing through trade and other business, readers get an idea of how northern Europe (and ultimately America) came to be developed. The exchange of ideas about economic and social life was not uniform, as in the south under Roman rule, ways of living changed through conflict and new ways of making a living.

I came away with a better understanding of how we got to be the way we are in the United States. Getting that understanding was not easy. It was like a class in a new subject where I was often irritated at not being able to rely on previous knowledge to cruise along. It also made me realize how comfortable I have become in not extending myself intellectually.

Try it! You’ll find it worth the effort.

No Comments

Are we Moving On?

Every once in a while I run across an article about an ancient civilization that makes me think about times way past-beyond the discovery and settlement of north America which is about as ancient as we go. In a recent Washington Post there is an article about an ancient city in Mexico built by a civilization rival to the Aztecs from the early 1300s. This site covered approximately 77 square miles, was filled with agricultural terraces, reservoirs, stone pyramids and other types of stone buildings. In other words the latest known technology. When the Spaniards arrived this group was gone, but the Aztecs were still there.

It’s true that the Roman empire had dominated the Mediterranean coast line since before the birth of Christ when our calendar begins. And, before them the Greeks, the Egyptians and Chinese had developed complex civilizations. Angkor Wat in Cambodia was originally the Hindu and then capital of the Buddhist Khmer Empire.

With the exceptions of the Romans all of these ancient civilizations developed complex religious and political systems. The Romans were pretty tolerant about religion allowing Christianity to grow and in a different way take over the people moving west as the Romans lost the ability to preserve their world. Secularism muscled its way back into joint control and Europe moved along into not only varied kind of political power, but technical development. Is government become a technical institution rather than a political one in which citizens form organizations to elect governments that will go their way? Can technical and political be separated?

No Comments

D Day In France Revisited

Having recently gone through our annual D-Day observance, I decided to read a recently acquired book, D-Day Through French Eyes, by Mary Louise Roberts. This is the first writing of any kind that I have ever seen on this topic and it was certainly illuminating about D-Day itself through the collapse of the German defense. The original accounts were all in French by Normans and I can’t believe anybody survived. Some 19,000 were killed and hundreds of thousands lost their houses and most or all of their possessions. All of Normandy suffered through bombing and bombardment with cities like Caen being almost completely blown apart.

“It’s a disaster,” he tells me, “the entire center of the town is wiped out! The family is under the rubble, as are Mauret’s wife and their son, as well as the Clement family!….Give me some sheets so I can bury their bodies….Mauret’s wife is in pieces, disemboweled. It’s horrible!” p 72

The war continued and moved on eventually trapping the Germans. In the meantime American soldiers saw Norman children and reacted accordingly. “I’ll have to break down and admit they were the most beautiful children I have ever seen,” wrote journalist Ernie Pyle. Young Normans were more than happy to return the compliment. As Charles Lemeland remembers, “the Americans were nothing by demigods haloed with a kind of supernatural prestige.” Key to that godly status was the secret supply of candy every GI stocked in his pockets.

“All of a sudden, he leaned forward and disappeared from my sight, reappearing after a few seconds. In his hand was a big yellow ball that he held out to me with an almost shy smile. He clearly wanted to give it to me as a gift. Instinctively, I clung to my mother’s skirt. She had been watching the whole scene and said, “Take it, take it! That’s an orange! Thank you sir! Thank you sir!” Comforted by my mother’s reassurances, I went up the the truck and received my first orange. It was wonderful! It was so big that I had to hold it in both hands. It shone like the sun through the clouds on an Autumn day. I was hypnotized by the ball and its unfamiliar smell, which was both sour and sweet. My mistrustful demeanor had the GI in stitches to the point that he was slapping his knees with joy, as if he had just played a good joke on someone. My mother urged me on, “say thank you to the gentleman, say thank you.” I at last opened my mouth and shouted, “thank you.!” My black friend must have heard what I said because a big burst of laughter filled the cabin. p 171

These two selections are pretty much the story of Normandy on D-Day and for weeks after: disaster followed by a struggle to recover.

No Comments

Feed The Need

I doubt that I am alone in going through life coping with unexpected situations for which I was unprepared and which brought on growling stomach. The longer I live, the more experience I have from which to draw, but there is always the unexpected. Bookshelves are full of volumes that are advertised as solving all of your problems. Yet, for me, most have not lived up to their billing-until recently. Keeping with the truth requires that I say that I know the author, a former student, and I was predisposed to be positive about FEED THE NEED by Bridget Cooper before I read it. However, the book stands on its own writing style and content.

“FEED THE NEED is the escape guide you’ve been praying for. If you are sick and tired of feeling sick and tired; if you’re overwhelmed, resentful and afraid; if you can’t remember who you are or what you want separate and apart from other people; if you are ready to run away from home, quit your job, join a quiet little abby or monastery, hold on, Dr.Bridget Cooper is here. She’s going to bust you out of your corral. She’s going to show you how to take control of your personal and professional life, one fence post at a time.” p. iv.

“Because here’s the truth of the matter: you don’t have endless tomorrows. You only live once. At least in this form and fashion. If your worldview is hindering you and limiting your happiness and satisfaction, why not adjust it. Isn’t it worth a shot? It’s as simple as looking for information that confirms a more positive option. It’s like the saying that the pessimists are right more often, they’re just less happy in the process. Have you ever met someone who can take any situation and make themselves the victim in it, powerless to do anything? It’s true that bad things happen and we are often on the receiving end of some pretty big headaches, but that doesn’t mean we have to filter everything through a victim lens. When we do, we attract more of the same” p. 15

There are seven chapters dealing with situations all of us experience. The author does not have quick fixes. Rather, she deals with the complexity of feeling inadequate or irritated or any of the other emotions that grip us when faced with the unexpected. How do you screw yourself up to forgive? What can you do when you realize you have misunderstood? The book is more than a long list of “how to” and “how not to”. Her situations all fit into a pattern which requires that you sort yourself out while sorting your way through unfamiliar situations.

The book gets you right down to you. In each chapter I was led to look at myself and think about how much my own self absorption and lack of knowledge and understanding created some of the problems in which I have found myself.

(Oh yes, the book can be found at Amazon.)