Monday, May 3, 2010

My Second Prince has Survived a Great Battle

Goodness gracious, life comes at you very fast.  My second Prince, who is nine years old, has just survived a great battle.

Two months ago, he tried a flip off a four-foot wall and landed on his back.  He didn't think much of it, but headaches started to be a daily occurrence.  My Queen finally decided to take him to a doctor on a particularly bad day, and they performed a CT scan and found a large subdural hematoma.

We life-flighted from our small town to a large pediatric facility and performed a craneotomy to evacuate the hematoma - the surgery took place yesterday.  They kept him in ICU overnight, and now we're back on a regular floor at the hospital while he recovers from his war wounds.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Deerslayer - James Fenimore Cooper

Having read and enjoyed “The Last of the Mohicans” a pair of times, I decided to read this pre-quel by the same author.  There are actually several books about Nathanael Bumppo, aka Scout, Deerslayer, Hawkeye – they are referred to as “The Leatherstocking Tales.”  I enjoyed this book well enough that I will likely read more of the collection later.

This book is about the introduction of Deerslayer as a youthful hunter, as he goes upon his first warpath with his trusted friend Chingachkook.  It tells of their struggles with an opposing band of Hurons.  In that respect it is true to the form of the more popular novel mentioned above.

The theme of the book is forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.  A lesser theme that runs throughout Cooper's books is how we need to act well in the context of our station and gifts in life (i.e. red man’s gifts, white man’s gifts).  The main characters involved the major theme of redemption are members of a family named Hutter who live on a remote lake in New York territory called the Glimmerglass – Thomas, the father, was a brigand or pirate in an earlier career and has settled in this remote place to avoid detection and live out his days in peace.  The mother is long since dead, but she apparently compromised her principles when young to attach herself to this man, and so she dedicated the rest of her life to teaching her two daughters the essence of Christian doctrine in the Bible, in the hopes of redeeming them.  The eldest daughter, Judith, is a rare beauty that in the recent past has let her vanity carry her to some undisclosed impropriety or sin with an officer from the nearby regiment, but feels great remorse for the misdeed and seems to have reformed.  The younger daughter, Hetty, is mentally deficient but morally perfect.

Judith recognizes the goodness of Deerslayer’s character and falls in love with him.  The climax of the book is the captivity, torture, and rescue of Deerslayer from aforementioned band of Hurons.  During the rescue Hetty is mortally wounded.

In the closing chapters it feels like Judith’s redemption might be made complete if Deerslayer accepts her love, but he does not feel the same way as she does.  There is some allusion to her never quite overcoming the transgression from her past and living an ignominious life.  Having read some other works from the same era, such as Nathanael Hawthorne, I recognize the religious and cultural perspective of the time that these types of moral sins can never really be overcome in this life.  I cannot say that I fully agree; I struggled with this conclusion in the book.  But now that the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, I long for a return to this moral perspective – it is superior to the levity with which we as a culture treat these matters today.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Power of Four - Joseph M. Marshall III

This is the third book I've read by Marshall.  This one is the basis for a leadership seminar that he has taught all over the place.  I enjoyed his simplicity.

Basically, he uses Crazy Horse and other significant Lakota leaders as a basis and summarizes true leadership in four principles:

--Know Yourself
--Know Your Friends
--Know the Enemy
--Lead the Way

    Every effective leadership approach has the same basic principles, although they are characterized in different ways.  Self awareness is the key - know yourself.  Networking and communication are essential - know your friends.  Dealing with opposition and remaining true in the face of adversity make an integral leader - know your enemies.  And of course, you have to move forward when you know it is right - lead the way.

    I especially liked the chapter on knowing your enemies - he does not limit this to people, but points out that sometimes our enemies can be less tangible, like racism or apathy.  A leader has to dig in and understand their enemy if they are going to effectively engage it.

    This is a short and simple book, and just as good as his other books.  My only negative comment is that he goes off on political tangents a couple of times which are relatively irrelevant, but I certainly don't desire to deprive a man of his opinion, and I see his perspective and comprehend him a little better through hearing what he has to say.

    Monday, February 15, 2010

    The Bielski Brothers - Peter Duffy

    As I am rarely satisfied with one perspective on a topic, I read a second history of the Bielski brothers - this one by a non-Jewish American.

    This book was an easier read than the Nechama Tec history, in that it was more chronological.  I was impressed at the level of research that Peter Duffy performed to write the book - it captures a little more detail in some areas than Tec's book.

    The conclusions are more pointed - by the time the war ended, there were very few Jews joining up with Bielski's unit, simply because they were all gone, destroyed.  It is indeed a sad chapter in human history.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010

    Defiance by Nechama Tec

    No way around it - this book was extremely fascinating.

    The image is from the movie that Edward Zwick made with Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski.  I first saw the movie, and then I was unable to resist getting the book.

    There are many shortcomings in the movie, but it was well done.  When you have to boil down the essential elements of a highly documented and researched historical work, you just can't do it justice.

    The basic storyline is set in Belorussia/Poland when the Germans invaded in 1941.  Jewish population in this region was reduced by 90% during the several years of World War II.  This is about a group of Jews that resisted, fled into the forest, built a village, and had as their primary mission to save Jews.  They were very imperfect people (who isn't?) but I was fascinated by their humanity and their reaction to the situation in which they found themselves.

    At war's end, over 1200 Jews walked out of the forest together under the leadership of three brothers - Tuvia, Zus, and Asael Bielski.  Today the descendants of the people they saved number in the tens of thousands.

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Hundred in the Hand - Joseph Marshall III

    I had a great time reading a historical novel by a Lakota - Hundred in the Hand tells the story of the Fetterman Massacre from the perspective of the native American.

    A lot of controversy surrounds the events of the Fetterman Massacre - perhaps the most argued issue is whether or not Crazy Horse was present.  To the Lakota, there is no question.  This was the place where he truly became a great symbol in the eyes of his people.

    I read another book by Marshall a year ago - it was a biography entitled The Journey of Crazy Horse.  I truly enjoyed the effort it took to see things from a different perspective than the one we get in our typical history books.  History is always written by the winners...and so it is possibly not very objective.

    Although God clearly had a hand in the westward expansion in America, a lot of really ugly human characteristics were made manifest in the treatment of the native Americans.  There was a lot of greed and ambition, and there was sometimes a thirst for blood, especially among former fighters in the Civil War.  It is also difficult to understand the historical bigotry and racism that existed amongst many who came west.  I am describing a general problem associated with the human condition throughout the history of the world - a lack of respect for differences and a closed mind when faced with diversity.

    I do understand that many migrants experienced hardship and suffering at the hands of native Americans, but it is important to consider the many reasons why the natives responded to the westward expansion the way that they did.  It is also important to understand that they experienced many broken promises from the white people along the way and therefore lost trust in them.

    I am not so much of a pragmatist to think that growth and efficiency must always be best, and I am not so much of a Darwinist to think that it was simply good for the stronger people to prevail.  I appreciate Mr. Marshall's writing, and I recommend it to others...enjoy!

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Eat the Rich

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book - in fact, I found myself feeling guilty at how much I was enjoying it, due to P.J. O'Rourke's irrevent and sometimes crude manner.  I'm not sure I could have read this one out loud with my queen.

    To understand economics, he traveled to Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Cuba, Tanzania, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Russia (and I may have forgotten a few places) to see good and bad versions of free market and socialism.  I think his press pass may have gotten him into some places that the regular Joe like you and me might not go, but his insights are spot on.

    His last chapter is the best - he talks about four ways to spend money:
    1. Spend your own money on yourself
    2. Spend your own money on somebody else
    3. Spend somebody else's money on yourself
    4. Spend somebody else's money on other people
    He does this to demonstrate why it is always best if we can earn and spend our own money - there is greater accountability and tendency toward wisdom and frugality with #1.  In #4, you buy whatever the heck you want no matter the cost (which is what government spending looks like.)

    This book goes up there with Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson - it is a treasure.  But be prepared for the vulgarity and frankness...