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George Packer drives a stake into America’s heart in “The Unwinding”. American anger, fear, and frustration build in the minds of all—whether Republican, Democrat, Tea Partyer, or Libertarian.
Whether an accolade of private enterprise or government, Packer offers stories of Americans that show American’ belief makes no difference because America is no longer a land of opportunity but a land of greed; not of the free but of the shackled—a risk noted by Thomas Hobbes in the “Leviathan”. The shackles come from society’s failure to protect individuals from the tyranny of special interests. One side argues that it is because of ineffective government–the other side argues it is because of too much government.
The unwinding of the financial crises reflected in the dot-com bubble of 2000-2001 and the 2007-08 sub-prime mortgage crises unfolds in stories told by Packer in this disturbing narrative. America has become a nation of extremes with each extreme using whatever means necessary to deny success of either “tea party”, “libertarian” or “occupy wall street” followers. The consequence is a “do-nothing” congress, an ineffectual President, and a politicized Supreme Court. One is left with fear, anger, and frustration after completing Packer’s diatribe. The only consolation is in history.
America has been in crises before–in 1776, 1789, 1865, 1929, 1941, 1951, 1967-68, 2001. Americans survived before; Americans will survive again but how angry Americans are, and how frustrating it is to watch America muddle along while Congress fails to act.
Elizabeth Vandiver travels to the past to elucidate the present in 24 lectures about Greek and Roman mythology. Professor Vandiver lectures those who wish to know something new about myths and legends but uncovers no fundamental surprise. Ancient Greek and Roman cultures infer it is a man’s world, a stage set for a future that repeats the same mistake; i.e. women as an afterthought, an extension of man to be treated as property and spoils of war.
Vandiver acknowledges that some myths may offer insight to the subconscious mind but when taken out of the context of the myth’s time, meaning changes; like a Tragicomic Mask. In its time a myth may be comic; in the future it may be tragic. Vandiver infers that Freud, Jung, Campbell and fellow interpreters of ancient beliefs need to be skeptical about the meaning of myths and legends past.
Vandiver’s lectures reveal a few of gods’ surprising details but her major contribution is in tempering wild conclusions about the meaning of Greek’ and Roman’ myths in modern times. Mythology is like the American Constitution, a living record modified by time.
Kevin Powers is a thirty-something, first-book’ author that explains what it is like to be a soldier in combat. Powers recreates war experience in Iraq and shows how combat affects a soldier’s life. “The Yellow Birds”’title comes from a boot-camp’ marching song but is about more than a walking cadence mnemonic; i.e. yellow symbolizes cowardice—its symptoms of fear, self-loathing, and death. Powers’ book-title presages yellowness in his story of war.
“The Yellow Birds” tells the story of how combat affects soldiers; i.e. it explains how heroes can become villains, how cowards can become heroes, and how every soldier is scarred by the experience of battle. War is a mess of contradictions that confuse the mind, torture the truth, and leave soldiers, parents, children, and friends alone, often broken-spirited, and sometimes broken-hearted.
As Bertrand Russell said, “War does not determine who is right—only who is left.”
Peter F. Drucker is a storied business management consultant (most famously as a consultant for General Motors) that taught business administration and sociology at Claremont University in California. He died at the age of 95 in 2005.
Drucker’s management insight reverses the power structure of profit and non-profit enterprises; i.e. management down changes to management up with organization leaders determining direction but employees (knowledge workers) controlling productivity and effectiveness.
Education is a critical component of Drucker’s philosophy of management. Drucker’s approach contradicts the present direction of educational reform that focuses on teacher accountability for educating students in the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Drucker promotes a Montessori like approach to education. Drucker believes in structuring education based on student interest rather than set curriculum. He lauds the growth of community colleges that focus on what students want to learn rather than what others think they should learn.
Peter Drucker has been an insightful sociologist and guru of American free enterprise in the twentieth century. Managers that choose to follow Drucker’s recommendations may improve their success by following his advice in the 21st century. If Drucker is correct, not only will productivity improve, Monday morning arrival at work will be interesting and fulfilling; rather than punishing.
“Zeitoun” is a return to Katrina. It reminds one of the horror, the destruction, and the ineptitude of government. It is also a story about injustice and prejudice in America. Dave Eggers tells a story that speaks to America’s conscience—its idealism, and its reality.
Zeitoun’s life in America had been a fulfillment of the American Dream but the dream became a nightmare because of Katrina and America’s bureaucratic response to disaster. Prejudice rises as control of nature declines. Because Zeitoun is unknown to his captors, the color of his skin became more important than who he is or what he does. He became “other” rather than “one of us”. He was no longer an American to his captors; i.e. he was a “Syrian terrorist”, a “Muslim cultist”, an “Other”.
Listening to a Zeitoun’ interview in August of 2010, one believes Zeitoun still believes in the American Dream. However, in August of 2012, Zeitoun is arrested for battery and accused of contracting to have his now ex-wife, Kathy, murdered. One wonders if the trauma of the Katrina disaster is to blame for the destruction of his marriage and his spiral into spousal abuse. Tragedy seems to be following Zeitoun like Katrina’s hurricane with rising water that may still consume him.
“Lies My Teacher Told Me” is a terrible title for this book. After a first chapter, there is a great temptation to put it aside because it is patronizing. James W. Loewen demeans himself as well as his audience by inferring that conscientious history-book’ publishers and teachers are liars.
Education in history provides a framework for living life; it does not predict or tell the truth of life. The truth of life is living it. There are winners and losers. History is written by the winners. Historians like Loewen can help winners understand why they won and what helped them win but all historian’s truth is, at best, probabilistically true.
Understanding leads to wisdom and wisdom may lead to a better future with more winners and fewer losers but history is not destiny. History is only one of many tools in humankind’s search for wisdom.
Once one gets over the feeling of manipulation by Loewen’s history of America, a great deal of what he writes is interesting and enlightening. Ignore the title; get the book.
The Judgment of Paris offers a story of rebellion and art's transition from classic to impressionistic realism. Art's transition takes place in the context of war. Though Ross King’s book is largely about an art movement, it is also about France’s transition from monarchy to republic. King shows that art and history are judged by Paris’ events.
King cleverly melds the transition of art with transition in politics in "The Judgment of Paris". Change is shown to be a hard; with unpredictable consequence. Consequence of change is measured by time and recorded history. Change of minds and alliances inch society closer to something different; both in art and politics. History records the value of the difference.
Edward R. Murrow interviewed several famous people in a 1950s series called This I Believe. One of the participants was Will Durant.
Durant wrote his own “THIS I BELIEVE ESSAY” after having spent fifty years of his life researching and writing an eleven volume work titled “The History of Civilization”. His wife, Arieal Durant, a scholar in her own right, also labored those fifty years on this and other historical works. Durant writes, in his “THIS I BELIEVE ESSAY”,: “I find in the Universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order and law of the world. I suspect that when I die I shall be dead. I would look upon endless existence as a curse as did the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew. Death is life’s greatest invention; perpetually replacing the worn with the new.”
Durant is not irrefutably or completely revealing the world of philosophy. He is opening a door to the importance of philosophy. He shows that philosophy addresses the fundamental questions of human life.
In Durant’s updated (1950s) version of, “The Mansions of Philosophy”, he decries the paucity of philosophical interpretation of science and the failure of late 20th century philosophers to synthesize current scientific discoveries. He infers humanity is losing its way because scientific discoveries have little context and no direction.
Geoffrey Chaucer is a master of ambiguity. Michael Drout, in the Modern Scholar series, offers an informative and laudatory appreciation of Chaucer as the Bard of the Middle Ages. Drout notes that Chaucer’s view of life is best revealed in The Canterbury Tales.
Drout offers high praise for Chaucer, suggesting The Canterbury Tales seeds centuries of fictional narratives; in part because of Chaucer’s prescient understanding of human nature but also because of life’s ambiguous truths. Drout considers Chaucer equal to William Shakespeare, the greatest poet and playwright of all time.
Though Drout does not suggest Chaucer endorses cultural’ transgressions, it appears Chaucer is ambiguous about his character’s opinions. Drout suggests Chaucer may have been repentant in The Parson’s Tale (the last of The Canterbury Tales that endorses religion of Chaucer’s era) because he is nearing the end of his life. In any case, it is clear that Chaucer is ahead of his time; earned his place in West Minster Abbey (the first poet to be buried there), and deserves his reputation as the Father of English Literature.
Drout gives his audience an excellent summary of Chaucer’s contribution to literature in these lectures; however, Chaucer is best represented by his own writing. Every listener/reader reaches their own opinion after experiencing Chaucer’s work; that is what makes The Canterbury Tales a classic.
Occasionally, Audible.com offers a discounted price on academic lectures about various literary, historical, and scientific events. After reading “The Divine Comedy” (translated by Charles Norton) Professor Shutt’s lectures are a valuable guide to a better understanding of Dante’s masterpiece.
The origin of the story seems simple but its meaning is complex and revelatory. Dante Alighieri is a wealthy aristocrat that represents a major leadership faction in 13th century Italy, the“White Gulphs” which are vying for power with the Ghibelline. Their conflict is over the integrity of the Pope in Rome at the time of relocation of the papal enclave to Avignon, France. The move occurs in 1309 and lasts for 67 years. Pope Boniface VIII sides with the Ghibelline to overthrow the Gulphs and excommunicate Dante. Dante loses his political position, his wealth, and coincidently, the life of the woman he loves, Beatrice. These crushing events in Dante’s life compel him to complete and publish (between 1308 and his death in 1321) what Shutt calls the greatest single piece of literature ever written.
Purgatory may be a way-station to heaven for a believer that is cleansed of their sin or an eternal home for the non-believer or pagan. Hell is perdition for eternity with no surcease of pain or opportunity for escape. Heaven is a place of eternal rest, peace, and love.
One is overwhelmed by Dante’s genius whether or not a believer. Shutt gives one a better understanding of who Dante was and why “The Divine Comedy” is a classic.
Jason Ryan Dorsey’s book is an insightful look at the 1977 to 1995 American’ cohort known as the “Y” or “Millennial” generation. Three observations by Dorsey are that Millennials: 1)are not tech savvy but are tech dependent; 2) are participants in the work place that includes, for the first time in history, four different employee generations; and 3) that money is not “Y” generation’s primary motivation for work.
Matures’, Boomer, and “X” generation’ managers have to learn how to suspend their ideas about what works in an organization and listen to Millennials to mutually develop a view of organizational needs that will continue to improve American’ prosperity and stability. The underlying motivation of all generations is found in human nature. Understanding human nature; meeting generational needs and desires, make the difference between organization’ success and failure.
Matures and Boomers are on the cusp of retirement. The “X” generation is too small to dominate the American system of organization management and leadership. Millennials are tomorrows leaders and managers. Current organization managers and leaders need to help Millennials grow into their futures. Millennials are the energy of America’s engine of future prosperity.
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