altIngathering: The Complete People Stories by Zenna Henderson (NESFA Press, 1995)

In the days of my youth, to use a common expression of my father’s, I was quite a science fiction fan. My tastes were almost exclusively for what I’d call hard science stories—those in which the science was paramount, and reasonably accurate—from authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein. But I made a few exceptions, and among my very favorites were Zenna Henderson’s fantasy stories about The People.

The People are beings from another planet who become stranded on Earth around the end of the 19th century. They are indistinguishable from Earth humans, except for their many special powers, such as lifting (flying), healing, and nonverbal communication. Henderson's stories were published individually, then gathered together into books with connecting stories woven around them (Pilgrimage: The Book of the People, and The People: No Different Flesh). Ingathering includes all these stories, plus a few more from other sources.

I once had four of Zenna Henderson's books, but in a fit of foolish decluttering I gave away my two least favorites. (Henderson's People stories are excellent, but some of her others are a bit weird.)  I don't mean the decluttering is foolish, but the mistake I made was in thinking that there was no point in keeping books I could get out of the library. Let the library be my storage site! That was a good idea, but did not take into account our library's even more foolish idea that it should only be a repository for new and popular books. Instead of seeing themselves as a storehouse of treasures old and new, they focus on books that are easy to find elsewhere and get rid of those that are hard to find but less popular. Very short-sighted, I think. That's when I radically slowed down my book-paring, when I learned that I would have to be my own museum.

I recently re-read Pilgrimage and No Different Flesh, and discovered that my copies were disintegrating. I had hoped to purchase versions for my Kindle, but there are none to be had. Fortunately, I found Ingathering on amazon.com and snatched it up.

Not only did I now have the stories preserved in a form that was not crumbling in my hands, but—wonder of wonders—included were four People stories that were new to me. To have even one new People story after all these years!

 


 

I understand the impulse to want to tie all the stories together, but re-reading them with an eye toward introducing them to others makes me realize the weakness of the "interlude" stories, at least the first one. The original tales stand well on their own, and that's the way I encountered my first one, Pottage. It's one of the best, and so impressed me that when I encountered it again much later I didn't find the interlude stories a bother. As a first-timer, I might have been tempted to say the book gets off to a slow start.

Not all the stories are of the same caliber, but most are good and some are great. In the introduction to Ingathering, I learned that Henderson's stories are today considered sentimental, even mawkish. How sad for this generation! Must everything be edgy, sad, and disturbing? Henderson's writing is well-crafted, and her fantasy is believable: that is, consistent within its own parameters, and having characters whose emotions and reactions we can understand. The best of the stories are far from sentimental: they are sublime. Beautiful, uplifting, and they pass my own personal test—they make me want to be a better person.

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altHold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté (Ballantine Books, 2004)

If you can read only one book about parenting, this is it.

If you can read only one book about the future of America, or even the human race, this is it.

How is it that Hold On to Your Kids is more than a dozen years old and I'd never heard of it until our daughter in Switzerland brought it to my attention? If ever America needed to hear a message about our future, it is now, and this is it.

The message is not just for parents. What Neufeld and Maté are describing is a phenomenon that has radically changed society, and appears to be headed for a train wreck of mammoth proportions: the peer orientation of our children.

Mind you, I initially approached the book with skepticism. Not about their conclusions, but about why it took them so long to discover the obvious. The way we react when someone publishes the conclusion—from a multi-year research project, funded by millions in Federal funds—that we need to eat more vegetables. Don't we all know that? Haven't our parents and grandparents told us that all our lives? Similarly, I found it laughable that someone published, as a new discovery, what homeschoolers have always known: peer socialization is almost always negative.

And yet, Hold On to Your Kids turns out to be a valuable compendium of evidence that, beginning after World War II, we have become a society of children raising children—and I'm not talking about teenage mothers. Parents, often with the best of intentions, have unconsciously abdicated their natural role as guardians and guides of their children. Into the void has swept peer influence—actually, peer dependency—on an unprecedented and dangerous scale. Parents have lost their power and authority in favor of the peer group, with the result that rearing children has become much more difficult than previous generations could have imagined.

The authors point to two modern phenomena as evidence for this bewildering loss of parental influence: an explosion of books on parenting, and an equal burgeoning of medical diagnoses (such as "oppositional defiant disorder") to explain why today's children are so hard to manage. But the real disorder, they insist, is with the attachment bond between children and their parents. Children are equipped—for survival—with a great need to attach to their caregivers, and if that bond is not well established and maintained, other attachments will rush in to fill that need. Increasingly, and at an increasingly young age, children's primary attachments are being given to people their own age, who have neither the love nor the knowledge nor the skill to help them grow up properly.

It is essential to the survival of a civilization that its culture be passed on from one generation to another. Today's children are not receiving culture, they are inventing it as they go along. We are into the third generation of this problem, and appear to be reaching a tipping point. If the idea of peer culture being more important to children than their family culture doesn't seem strange and wrong to us, it's because that's how we grew up, too.

Every time I hear someone whine that rearing children is more difficult than it used to be, I respond that parents have been saying that for millennia. Neufeld and Maté have almost convinced me that today's parents really do have a much harder row to hoe.

I found Hold On to Your Kids a difficult book to read, and I'm not sure why. The language is well-written and easy to understand. It's true that the authors spend a lot of ink making their basic point over and over again, from different angles, and that can get as tiresome as a Presbyterian sermon, but given what they're trying to do, they need to be thorough, and each section contains important points not covered elsewhere. Perhaps reading the book was somewhat of a hard slog for me because it's so depressing.

And yet the authors are optimistic. I was frustrated that they seem to give modern societal practices too much of a pass: they acknowledge that divorce, the two-income family, daycare, school, high mobility, and social media are major contributors to the problem, but don't even consider what society might do to try to reverse some of these trends. For example, instead of focussing on creating conditions in which families can be together more, they advocate better-trained parent-substitutes. Instead of encouraging more parents to work out differences rather than divorce, they push for divorcing parents to pay more attention to their children's attachment needs in the process. No doubt this is the more practical approach, but I like to see the ideal set out clearly even if we know we must settle for something less. It's far more important to encourage parents to provide for their own children than it is to promote better substitutes, though of course we need both.

Be that as it may, as tragic as the authors believe our situation to be, they do believe it is reversible, as long as parents and other caregivers are aware of the problem. In the latter part of the book, they give some practical ideas, but the main problem is simply awareness.

Just what the authors mean by attachment is key to the book's arguments, one reason there are so many introductory chapters before they get to solutions. I'll clear up one misconception that I had going in: it's not about the childrearing approach known as Attachment Parenting, although it certainly encompasses the latter in its overall philosophy.

How important do I think Hold On to Your Kids is? Enough that even as I returned the library's copy, I ordered a Kindle version, even though I hate paying as much for an ebook as I would for a hard copy. I wanted to be able to have a record of the multitudinous sticky notes festooning the book's pages without typing them all out by hand. I had over 50 pages marked, and that leaves out many that I would have marked had I not simply given up. I should have gotten the Kindle version first—but I had no idea.

By the way, there was another advantage to buying the Kindle version, versus the hardcover book our library has: the ebook includes an additional chapter, devoted to electronic devices and social media, which have changed our children's world even more dramatically since 2008.

What do I like best about Hold On to Your Kids? A few things.

  • The facts  This is a compelling collection of observations and research from school experiences to brain studies. Even if some of us have "known this for 30 years," it's nice to have documentation.
  • The authors' optimistic attitude  If I think he's too easy on modern culture for encouraging the practices that directly foster peer dependency, and outright discouraging the practices that support the healthiest nurturing environment for children, I very much appreciate their belief that we can make significant progress starting from wherever we are, and that small steps can make a great difference.
  • Their acknowledgement that every situation is different They lay down principles, but not rules. They give facts and opinions, and let parents figure out how they apply to their particular families. They present no magic bullet, but sound ideas and advice.

If you're like me, you'll have to get over the occasional use of psychology-speak. (I would have said psychobabble but I'm being polite.)  It's not all that bad, and what else could you expect from a developmental psychologist?

Don't worry; you won't get all 50+ pages of quotes here. I'll just whet your appetite. If you're a parent, or a grandparent, or think you might become one, or if you just want some keen insight into social changes over the last half-century and some of their consequences, I highly recommend Hold On to Your Kids.

 


 

This YouTube video is a long introduction to the ideas (an hour and 40 minutes), but if you like the video/audio approach you can hear Dr. Neufeld speaking at a child development conference.

 


 

It's so hard to choose the quotations! But I promised to whet your appetite, not drown you.... I've marked in bold a few special points.

[Update, now that I've actually put in the quotes: I failed utterly in not drowning you, but you should see what I left out. Everything is so important! Take advantage of it all or not, as you wish.]

According to a large international study headed by the British child psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter and criminologist David Smith, a children’s culture first emerged after the Second World War and is one of the most dramatic and ominous social phenomena of the twentieth century. This study, which included leading scholars from sixteen countries, linked the escalation of antisocial behavior to the breakdown of the vertical transmission of mainstream culture. Accompanying the rise in a children’s culture, distinct and separate from the mainstream culture, were increases in youth crime, violence, bullying, and delinquency.

We struggle to live up to our image of what parenting ought to be like. Not achieving the results we want, we plead with our children, we cajole, bribe, reward, or punish. We hear ourselves address them in tones that seem harsh even to us and foreign to our true nature. We sense ourselves grow cold in moments of crisis, precisely when we would wish to summon our unconditional love. We feel hurt as parents, and rejected. We blame ourselves for failing at the parenting task, or our children for being recalcitrant, or television for distracting them, or the school system for not being strict enough. When our impotence becomes unbearable we reach for simplistic, authoritarian formulas consistent with the do-it-yourself/quick-fix ethos of our era. 

Historically ... it was simply the natural order of things that the innate attachment drive itself bonded the young with caregivers—adults of the same species—until maturity. That is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the young into healthy adulthood. It is the context in which the young are fully enabled to realize their genetic potential and in which their instincts are best given full and vigorous expression. In our society, that natural order has been subverted. From an early age, we thrust our children into many situations and interactions that encourage peer orientation. Unwittingly, we promote the very phenomenon that, in the long term, erodes the only sound basis of healthy development: children’s attachment to the adults responsible for their nurturing. Placing our young in a position where their attachment and orienting instincts are directed toward peers is an aberration. We are not prepared for it; our brains are not organized to adapt successfully to the natural agenda being so distorted.

Shouldn’t it be possible for children to be connected with their parents and teachers and, at the same time, with their peers? That is not only possible but desirable, as long as those several attachments are not in competition with one another. What does not work, and cannot work, is the coexistence of competing primary attachments, competing orienting relationships—in other words, orienting relationships with conflicting values, conflicting messages.

Peer-oriented kids are repelled by similarity to their parents and want to be as different as possible from them. Since sameness means closeness, pursuing difference is a way of distancing. Such children will often go out of their way to take the opposite point of view and form opposite kinds of preferences. They are filled with contrary opinions and judgments.

We may confuse this obsessive need for difference from the parents with the child’s quest for individuality. That would be a misreading of the situation. Genuine individuation would be manifested in all of the child’s relationships, not just with adults. A child truly seeking to be her own person asserts her selfhood in the face of all pressures to conform. Quite the reverse, many of these “strongly individualistic” children are completely consumed with melding with their peer group, appalled by anything that may make them seem different. What adults see as the child’s individualism masks an intense drive to conform to peers. ...

There is a foolproof way to distinguish peer-distorted counterwill from the genuine drive for autonomy: the maturing, individuating child resists coercion whatever the source may be, including pressure from peers. In healthy rebellion, true independence is the goal. One does not seek freedom from one person only to succumb to the influence and will of another. When counterwill is the result of skewed attachments, the liberty that the child strives for is not the liberty to be his true self but the opportunity to conform to his peers. To do so, he will suppress his own feelings and camouflage his own opinions, should they differ from those of his peers.

It is not both parents working that is so damaging. The key problem is the lack of consideration we give attachment in making our child-care arrangements.

If there were a deliberate intention to create peer orientation, schools as currently run would surely be our best instrument. 

The authors clearly want children to form strong attachment relationships with their daycare providers and teachers. Most parents, I think, are naturally against that, wanting the attachment to stay with them. Who, even in the strongest homes, hasn't had to deal with a child who rejects what his parents say just because Teacher says differently, from how to do math to moral behavior? But the research suggests it's a Hobson's choice: children bond with the people they spend time with, so if it's not the teacher, it will default to the other children.

Superficially, one could argue that their attachment with peers is serving them well if it keeps them from being lost and bewildered. In reality, it does not save them from getting lost, only from feeling lost.

In today’s society, attachment voids abound. A gaping attachment void has been created by the loss of the extended family. Children often lack close relationships with older generations—the people who, for much of human history, were often better able than parents themselves to offer the unconditional loving acceptance that is the bedrock of emotional security. The reassuring, consistent presence of grandparents and aunts and uncles, the protective embrace of the multigenerational family, is something few children nowadays are able to enjoy.

today’s children are much less likely to enjoy the company of elders committed to their welfare and development. That lack goes beyond the family and characterizes virtually all social relationships. Generally missing are attachments with adults who assume some responsibility for the child. ... The family physician, ... the neighborhood shopkeeper, tradesman, and artisan have long been replaced by generic businesses with no local ties and no personal connections with the communities in which they function.

The next issue is one I've dealt with personally and find vitally important. CHURCHES, LISTEN UP! In a world that insists on dividing families at every turn, we are exacerbating the problem. Shouldn't we be demonstrating a better way rather than following society's lead?

Another attachment void has been created by the secularization of society. Quite apart from religion, the church, temple, mosque, or synagogue community functioned as an important supporting cast for parents and an attachment village for children. Secularization has meant more than the loss of faith or spiritual rootedness; it has brought the loss of this attachment community. Beyond that, peer interaction has become a priority for many churches. For example, many churches divide the family as they enter the door, grouping the members by age rather than by family. There are nurseries and teen groups, junior churches, and even senior classes. To those unaware of the importance of attachment and the dangers posed by peer orientation, it seems only self-evident that people belong with those their own age. Large religious organizations have evolved to deal with only the youth or the young adult, inadvertently promoting the loss of multi-generational connections.

Divorce rates have soared. Divorce is a double whammy for kids because it creates competing attachments as well as attachment voids. Children naturally like all their working attachments to be under one roof. ... Furthermore, many children are attached to their parents as a couple. When parents divorce, it becomes impossible to be close to both simultaneously, at least physically. Children who are more mature and have more fully developed attachments with their parents are better equipped to keep close to both even when they, the parents, are apart.... But many children, even older ones, cannot manage this.

When parents lose each other’s emotional support or become preoccupied with their relationship to each other, they become less accessible to their children. Deprived of emotional contact with adults, children turn to their peers. Also, under stressed circumstances, it is tempting for parents themselves to seek some relief from caregiving responsibility. One of the easiest ways of doing so is to encourage peer interaction. When children are with each other, they make fewer demands on us.

Modern society has completely undercut parental authority, and in the ensuing chaos we have turned to two explanations that boil down to: (1) It is the parents' fault, and/or (2) It is the children's fault.  Childrearing is no longer considered to be a natural process, but a special skill to be learned—under the teaching of professionals. The reasoning behind parenting as a set of skills seemed logical enough, but in hindsight has been a dreadful mistake. It has led to an artificial reliance on experts, robbed parents of their natural confidence, and often leaves them feeling dumb and inadequate.

To manage children when our parenting power has been cut is ... next to impossible, yet millions of parents are trying to do just that. ... Too often the children are blamed for being difficult or the parents for being inept or their parenting techniques for being inadequate. It is generally unrecognized by parents and professionals that the root of the problem is not parental ineptitude but parental impotence in the strictest meaning of that word: lacking sufficient power. ...

The absent quality is power, not love or knowledge or commitment or skill. Our predecessors had much more power than parents today. In getting children to heed, our grandparents wielded more power than our parents could exercise over us or we seem to have over our children. If the trend continues, our children will be in great difficulty when their turn comes at parenting. The power to parent is slipping away. ... [Power does not mean force, but] the spontaneous authority to parent. ... The loss of power experienced by today’s parents has led to a preoccupation in the parenting literature with techniques that would be perceived as bribes and threats in almost any other setting. We have camouflaged such signs of impotence with euphemisms like rewards and “natural consequences.” ... The power we have lost is the power to command our children’s attention, to solicit their good intentions, to evoke their deference and secure their cooperation. Without these four abilities, all we have left is coercion or bribery.

Some parents may avoid giving direction in the naive belief that they have to leave room for the child to develop his own internal guides. It doesn’t work like that. Only psychological maturity can grant genuine self-determination. While it is important for their development that children be given choices appropriate to their age and maturity, parents who avoid giving direction on principle end up abdicating their parenting role. In the absence of parental direction most children will seek guidance from a substitute source, likely their peers.

Difficulty in parenting often leads to a hunt to find out what is wrong with the child. We may witness today a frantic search for labels to explain our children’s problems. Parents seek the formal diagnoses of a professional or grasp at informal labels—there are, for examples, books on raising the “difficult” or the “spirited” child. The more frustrating parenting becomes, the more likely children will be perceived as difficult and the more labels will be sought for verification. It is no coincidence that the preoccupation with diagnoses has paralleled the rise in peer orientation in our society. Increasingly, children’s behavioral problems are ascribed to various medical syndromes such as oppositional defiant disorder or attention deficit disorder. These diagnoses at least have the benefit of absolving the child and of removing the onus of blame from the parents, but they camouflage the reversible dynamics that cause children to misbehave in the first place. Medical explanations ... ignore scientific evidence that the human brain is shaped by the environment from birth throughout the lifetime and that attachment relationships are the most important aspect of the child’s environment. They also dictate narrow solutions, such as medications, without regard to the child’s relationships with peers and with the adult world. In practice, they serve to further disempower parents.

The wisdom of well-seasoned cultures has accumulated over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Healthy cultures also contain rituals and customs and ways of doing things that protect us from ourselves and safeguard values important to human life, even when we are not conscious of what such values are. An evolved culture needs to have some art and music that one can grow into, symbols that convey deeper meanings to existence and models that inspire greatness. Most important of all, a culture must protect its essence and its ability to reproduce itself—the attachment of children to their parents. The culture generated by peer orientation contains no wisdom, does not protect its members from themselves, creates only fleeting fads, and worships idols hollow of value or meaning. It symbolizes only the undeveloped ego of callow youth and destroys child-parent attachments.

Despite our attempts to teach our children respect for individual differences and to instill in them a sense of belonging to a cohesive civilization, we are fragmenting at an alarming rate into tribal chaos. Our very own children are leading the way. The time we as parents and educators spend trying to teach our children social tolerance, acceptance, and etiquette would be much better invested in cultivating a connection with them. Children nurtured in traditional hierarchies of attachment are not nearly as susceptible to the spontaneous forces of tribalization. The social values we wish to inculcate can be transmitted only across existing lines of attachment.

In response to the intensifying cruelty of children to one another, schools all over this continent are rushing to design programs to inculcate social responsibility in youngsters. We are barking up the wrong tree when we try to make children responsible for other children. In my view it is completely unrealistic to believe we can in this way eradicate peer exclusion and rejection and insulting communication. We should, instead, be working to take the sting out of such natural manifestations of immaturity by reestablishing the power of adults to protect children from themselves and from one another.

The key to activating maturation is to take care of the attachment needs of the child. To foster independence we must first invite dependence; to promote individuation we must provide a sense of belonging and unity; to help the child separate we must assume the responsibility for keeping the child close. We help a child let go by providing more contact and connection than he himself is seeking. When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer one than he is giving us. We liberate children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it.

Isn't the follwing a lovely expression of the Gospel? And a clear reminder that we shape our children's view of God, whether we want that responsibility or not!

Unconditional parental love is the indispensable nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth. The first task is to create space in the child’s heart for the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love—in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost.

Owing to their highly conditional nature, peer relationships ... cannot promote the growth of the child’s emerging self. One exception would be the friendship of children who are secure in their adult attachments; in such cases the acceptance and companionship of a peer can add to a child’s sense of security. Feeling fundamentally safe in his adult relationships, such a child gets an extra glow from peer friendships—not having to depend on them, he need not feel threatened by their inherent instability.

A major problem with peer orientation is the extinguishing of a child's healthy curiosity. Peer-dependent children have adapted to school, because that's where they meet their friends, but are at a severe disadvantage when it come to education. The following quote is long, but important. And still less than I want to share from this section....

Ideally, what should lead a child into learning is an open-minded curiosity about the world. The child should ask questions before coming up with answers, explore before discovering truths, and experiment before reaching firm conclusions. Curiosity, however, is not an inherent part of a child’s personality. It is the fruit of the emergent process—in other words, an outgrowth of the development responsible for making the child viable as a separate being, independent and capable of functioning apart from attachments. Highly emergent children usually have areas of keen interest and are intrinsically motivated to learn. They derive great satisfaction from forming an insight or in understanding how something works. They create their own goals around learning. They like to be original and seek self-mastery. Emergent learners take delight in responsibility and spontaneously move to realize their own potential.

For teachers who value curiosity, invite questions, and give the child’s interests the lead, emergent learners are a delight to teach. For such children, the best teachers are those who serve as mentors, fueling their interests, igniting their passions, putting them in charge of their own learning. If emergent learners don’t always perform well in school it is probably because, having their own ideas for what they want to learn, they experience the curriculum imposed by the teacher as an unwelcome intrusion. Curiosity is a luxury, developmentally speaking. Attachment is what matters most. Until some energy is released from having to pursue safe and secure attachments, venturing forth into the unknown is not on the developmental agenda. That is why peer orientation kills curiosity. Peer-oriented students are completely preoccupied with issues of attachment. Instead of being interested in the unknown, they become bored by anything that does not serve the purpose of peer attachment. Boredom is epidemic among the peer-oriented.

A dangerous educational myth has arisen that children learn best from their peers. They do, partially because peers are easier to emulate than adults but mostly because children have become so peer-oriented. What they learn, however, is not the value of thinking, the importance of individuality, the mysteries of nature, the secrets of science, the themes of human existence, the lessons of history, the logic of mathematics, the essence of tragedy. Nor do they learn about what is distinctly human, how to become humane, why we have laws, or what it means to be noble. What children learn from their peers is how to talk like their peers, walk like their peers, dress like their peers, act like their peers, look like their peers. In short, what they learn is how to conform and imitate.

If we took our cues from the natural sequence of development, our priorities would be clear. First would be attachment, second would be maturation, and third would be socialization.

Necessary as we may consider it to impose order on a child’s behavior, it is much more important to impose order on a child’s attachments. We have two jobs here: establishing structures that cultivate connection, and restrictions that enfeeble the competition. And believe me, if we saw the situation clearly, we would realize that in our culture it’s a knock-out-drag-out, no-holds-barred, no-quarter-given, winner-take-all and loser-gets-nuthin’, devil-take-the-hindmost struggle for our kids hearts and minds!

Structures and restrictions safeguard the sacred. Part of the role of culture is to protect values that we cherish but that, in our daily lives, we do not experience as urgent. We recognize, for example, that exercise and solitude are important for our physical and emotional well-being, yet seldom is our sense of urgency powerful enough to induce us to honor those needs consistently. Cultures in which exercise and meditative solitude are built-in practices protect their members from that lack of motivation. As our culture erodes, the structures and rituals that protect family life and the sacredness of the parent-child relationship—vitally important but not urgent in our consciousness—are also gradually eroded.

The current tendency in the parenting literature is to cater to the demand for parenting skills or parenting strategies. That is not what parents need. Strategies are far too definitive and limiting for a task as complex and subtle as parenting. They insult the intelligence of the parent and usually the intelligence of the child as well. Strategies make us depend on the experts who promote them. Parenting is above all a relationship, and relationships don’t lend themselves to strategies. They are based on intuition. These seven principles are designed to awaken or support the parenting intuition we all possess. We do not require skills or strategies but compassion, principles, and insight. The rest will come naturally—although I’m not saying it will come easily.

The following is obvious to parents who teach their toddlers to say please and thank you, but perhaps it's not so obvious that the technique should continue beyond toddlerhood.

There is another way to deal with immature children: rather than demanding that they spontaneously exhibit mature behavior, we could script the desired behavior. Following our directions will not make the child more mature, but it will enable him to function in social situations that otherwise she is not yet developmentally ready for. [The book generally does a good job of mixing up the personal pronouns; this is evidence that mistakes sometimes slip through multiple proofreaders, not that the authors are obsessive about gender issues.]

We have been taken in by peer orientation, much like the ancient people of Troy were fooled by the Trojan Horse. Perceiving this large wooden horse to be a gift from the gods, the Trojans brought it within the walls of their city and set the stage for their destruction. In the same way, today’s parents and teachers view early and extensive peer interaction in a positive light. We encourage it, unaware of the risks that arise when such interaction occurs without adult leadership and input. We fail to distinguish between peer relationships formed under the conscious and benign guidance of adults and peer contacts occurring in attachment voids. Unwittingly, we encourage peer orientation to sabotage our children’s attachments to us. ... The Trojan Horse of peer orientation is perceived as a gift rather than the threat it is.

Our failure to foresee the ill effects is understandable, since the early fruits are appealing and enticing. At first glance peer-oriented children appear to be more independent, less clingy, more schoolable, more sociable and sophisticated. ...

In the first days of school in kindergarten, a peer-oriented child would appear smarter, more confident, and better able to benefit from the school experience. The parent-oriented child, impaired by separation anxiety would, by contrast, appear to be less adept and capable—at least until he can form a good attachment with a teacher. Peer-oriented kids have all the advantages in situations that are adult poor and peer rich. Because peers are plentiful and easy to spot, the child need never feel lost or without cues to follow. Thus, in the short term, peer orientation appears to be a godsend. And it is undoubtedly this dynamic that research taps into when discovering benefits to early education. In the long term, of course, the positive effects on learning of reduced anxiety and disorientation will gradually be canceled by the negative effects of peer orientation. Thus follows the research evidence that early advantages of preschool education are not sustainable over time.

The belief is that socializing—children spending time with one another—begets socialization: the capacity for skillful and mature relating to other human beings. There is no evidence to support such an assumption, despite its popularity. If socializing with peers led to getting along and to becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relating would tend to be. In actual fact, the more children spend time with one another, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civil society.

What is praised as getting along in children would, in adult life, be called compromising oneself or selling oneself short or not being true to oneself.

Developmentally, children have a much greater need for a relationship with themselves than for relationships with peers.

Kids have always had playmates their age, in all societies throughout history, but in most of those societies there was no danger of peer contacts being transformed into peer orientation. Children’s interactions occurred in the context of strong adult attachments. Today’s parents also cannot be expected to isolate their children from peers, but they do have to be aware of the dangers.

Peer interaction is routinely prescribed for yet another purpose: to take the rough edges off children who may be a bit too eccentric for our liking. We seem to have an obsession in North America with being “normal” and fitting in. Perhaps we as adults have become so peer-oriented ourselves that instead of seeking to express our own individuality, we take our cues for how to be and how to act from one another. ... What is regrettable is that we as adults should dignify this homogenizing dynamic by honoring it and deferring to it.

We must understand ... that peers are not the same as siblings and that siblings are more than playmates. Siblings share the same working compass point. The unique attachment with the sibling is the natural offspring of the attachment with the parent. ... More appropriate substitutes for siblings are cousins, not peers.

The way we socialize also needs to change. Socializing tends to be peer-oriented in North America, splitting along generational lines. Even when several generations are together, the activities seem to be peer-based: adults hang out with adults, children with children. [In Provence, France] we saw that socializing almost always included the children. Meals were prepared, activities were selected, and outings were planned with this in mind. ... The greater the number of caring adults in a child’s life, the more immune he or she will be to peer orientation. As much as possible, we should be participating with our children in villagelike activities that connect children to adults....

Under today’s conditions, in many families both parents need to work—to say nothing of the growing number of single-parent families. We cannot turn the clock back to some idealized past when one parent, usually the mother, stayed at home until the children were grown, or at least in school. Economically and culturally we have reached a different stage. But we do have to ensure that our kids form strong relationships with the adults we entrust to take our place.

That is the sad realism of the book. I understand, but I also strongly believe that we could do better in recognizing that chronological progress is not necessarily progress in all areas, and that we would do well to work hard to retain the best of past practices and structures. I know many mothers who would love to be able to full-time homemakers—what, after all, can be more honorable and important than making a home?—but believe that they can't. Surely society could to more to encourage parents not to give their children into the care of others for large portions of the day.

The cultural milieu in which our book was written was already characterized by the increasing peer orientation of our young people, but that was before Facebook was launched and Twitter came on the scene, before videogames came to preoccupy our youth and online pornography accounted for 30 percent of Internet activity, and before anyone would have thought that within a few years 90 percent of children ages eight to sixteen will have viewed pornography online. Doctors had not yet expressed their concerns about the deleterious effects of screen time on children’s health, nor had they yet issued their warnings of rising Internet addiction.

How do peer-oriented kids keep close to their peers in the evenings and on weekends and on holidays? And what about when they leave school? As we all know and have experienced, there is nothing more impactful psychologically than facing separation from those we are attached to. The resulting alarm is immense, and the pursuit of proximity desperate. The motivation to close the gap becomes all-consuming. I believe this was the force that bent the digital revolution into the shape we see now. Remember that attachment is the strongest force in the universe. The digital devices designed to serve school and business became repurposed to connect the peer-oriented with one another. The digital revolution has become, for all intents and purposes, a phenomenon of social connectivity.

I often wonder what would have happened if the digital revolution had occurred before peer orientation took hold, but after increasing mobility, job scarcity, and high divorce rates had separated us from those we love. Without peer orientation, perhaps a culture would have evolved to digitally connect children to their parents and teachers, uncles and aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers. Parents might be reading bedtime stories to their children through these digital tools when away from home; teachers and students creating a context of connection to facilitate learning; grandparents connecting with their grandchildren when far away. ... There are many who use digital devices and social media for this purpose, and this should be applauded. But the facts and figures suggest that those of us who use social networking this way are not the ones shaping this phenomenon. It is the peer-oriented who rule the Internet waves.

The digital revolution is irreversible. There is nothing inherently bad about these devices; the concern is about their use, especially in the hands of our children. When to introduce and when to discourage such use is the question. ...

We have many precedents for dealing with things that are inevitable, even good, but with potentially damaging side effects for children. ... We don’t prohibit desserts, despite their being relatively empty of nutrients. We control the timing. After dinner is the rule, at least until the child is mature enough to have formed healthy intentions and to control impulses. In other words, cookies are okay as long as a child is full of the good stuff. The less a child feels the need for a cookie, the less harmful the empty food is. Timing is always the key issue in healthy development. For everything there is a season. The secret to handling potentially damaging experiences is not prohibition, which can be an exercise in futility and act as a potent trigger for counterwill. The secret of reducing the damage is in the timing of things. We want children to be fulfilled with what they truly need before they have access to that which would spoil their appetite....

An activity is genuine play when it is not outcome-based. In true play, the fun is in the activity, not in the end result. True play is for play’s sake, not for winning or scoring.

There is a deep and disturbing paradox to the information age. Humans, and most certainly children, were not designed to handle the amount of information they have been subjected to, even before the digital revolution. The only way our brains can process information in the first place is by tuning out 95 to 98 percent of the sensory input. The human problem is not that we don’t have enough information, but rather that we have much more information than we can possibly make use of. The ultimate and paradoxical effect of increasing access to information is to evoke further defenses against it. ...

Attentional systems cannot develop properly while dealing with a constant onslaught of incoming information. Studies show that we need downtime, time away from stimulation, to integrate the information we receive. ...

There are no shortcuts to getting ready to take in the world, and there is a heavy price to pay for being too much in a hurry. Childhood should be primarily about coming out as a child, not about taking in. The inflow of information is interfering with the outflow of emergent ideas that was meant to happen first. First curiosity, a willingness to learn and to receive, then information.

Although I agree with most of the above—I certainly experience it as an adult—I do fear that some will take this as a reason to deprive young children, even infants, of what they crave at least as much as food: opportunities to learn. Despite what the authors say elsewhere about curiosity being a fruit of maturation, I know that infants are born with an insatiable curiosity and are all about learning and growing in every way. I believe the authors would agree with that, while emphasizing that parents need to be careful that the information received is appropriate and controlled, and that their children have plenty of time and space to process what they take in, remembering that processing takes much longer than input.

What we offer here is not a precise recipe but an understanding, an explanation, along with broad guidelines. How these will apply to each child and each family will depend on the parents’ ability to foster the necessary relationship with their offspring. No age-specific recommendations are possible—a child’s relationship with the parents and his or her level of emotional maturity dictate what needs to be done. It is futile to suggest universally applicable, rigid rules.

Neufeld and Maté are waving an enormous red flag as we race headlong into the future. They offer no once-size-fits-all solution, but they do offer awareness—the vital first step—and hope.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 28, 2017 at 10:27 am | Edit
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altThe Power of Mathematical Visualization by James S. Tanton (The Great Courses)

We are loving our Great Courses Plus subscription. We leapt right in with The Power of Mathematical Visualization, and I recommend it enthusiastically.

The great physicist, Richard Feynman, used visualization extensively to understand problems. Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, suggests we may be too hasty in trying to prevent and cure autism, since mild forms ot Autism Spectrum Disorder, at least, lead people to different and possibly important ways of thinking. But what about the rest of us, who are neither geniuses nor autistic (nor autistic geniuses)?  Visualization is still a powerful and fascinating way to think about math, from basic arithmetic to esoteric and high-powered concepts.

Back when The Great Courses was called The Teaching Company, the course format was primarily a talking-head lecture, perfectly suited for audio-only listening in the car while commuting to work. Many of the courses still work well for that, but the company has grown and expanded considerably, not just in content but also in format. The Power of Mathematical Visualization includes plenty of diagrams, images, and physical demonstrations.

James Tanton is an engaging teacher. He does spent a bit too much time complaining about the unhelpful ways he was taught math in school, but I soon learned to forgive and ignore that. His enthusiasm for math is infectious. You can watch the introductory lecture on YouTube, if you want to check it out.

Here's a picture of the course contents. (Click for a larger image.)

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I'd recommend this course to anyone, including all our grandchildren. Certainly the oldest three could get a lot out of most of the lectures. The six-year-olds, being especially interested in math, are also good candidates. Even the younger ones would benefit from at least being in the same room while others are watching. You never know what they are absorbing from their surroundings.

James Tanton has another series on The Great Courses Plus, called Geometry: An Interactive Journey to Mastery. Would I ever have picked that one out of their long list of topics that are at first glance much more interesting? Not likely. But we're watching it now, because Tanton is such a good presenter, and so far it's as intriguing as Visualization.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 10, 2017 at 6:09 am | Edit
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altThe Stranger in My Genes by Bill Griffeth (New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2016)

The New England Historic Genealogical Society has been pushing its new book for quite a while, and I've mostly been ignoring it. I love the NEGHS, especially its treasure-filled library in Boston. But I mostly—perhaps wrongly—associate them with dusty old tomes, the value of which lies in the bits and pieces of genealogical information that can be gleaned from them. The Stranger in My Genes is NOT that kind of book. The NEHGS very wisely published the first chapter in their American Ancestors magazine, and I was immediately hooked.

The book I was in the middle of reading (okay, barely started) is H. D. Smyth's Atomic Energy for Military Purposes. It was a gift for my father from his parents on his 24th birthday, and currently sits on my bookshelves with his other books on the immediate post-Hiroshima period. It is also nearly 300 pages of dense technical writing, so when The Stranger in My Genes became available at our local library (I had requested that they add it to their collection), it's small wonder I jumped at the diversion.

Part genealogy, part mystery, and part cautionary tale, this soul-searching human-interest story is also beautifully-crafted. What's not to like?  Both Porter and I read it in a day. That's not to say it's short or simple; we just couldn't put it down.

I won't say much about the story itself to avoid spoiling the mystery. Author Bill Griffeth, an amateur genealogist, received a big surprise when comparing his DNA test results with his cousin's: they weren't related. Where that led is the subject of his book, and illustrates well the risks and benefits of genetic testing.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 13, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Edit
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altMain-Travelled Roads: Six Enduring Stories of the Midlands of Americaby Hamlin Garland (originally published 1891)

Main-Travelled Roads is the kind of book an English teacher might have assigned me, though none did. In my school days I would have probably hated it; now I merely find it depressing. It's well-written; I can't deny that. And the stories of unrelenting poverty, toil, and hopelessness in farm life probably provide a good balance to a santitized, Little House on the Praire-style perspective. But neither view tells the whole story, and if stories of deprivation and misery have been popular among English teachers for decades, that only explains why I didn't learn to like literature and writing until after I left school.

But it gets me one book closer to reaching my 95 by 65 Goal #63: Read 26 existing but as yet unread books from my bookshelves.  This puts me at 21.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 4, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Edit
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altInto the Atomic Age: A Plan of Action for Canada Now edited by Sholto Watt (Montreal Standard Publishing Company, 1946)

This, the fourth of my father's collection of early post-Hiroshima books (see here, here, and here), is as fascinating as the others, although the fascination has less to do with atomic energy and atomic bombs than with the immediate post-war culture.

The Greatest Generation was, in a word, terrified. For the scientists who developed the Bomb itself, the politicians attempting to address the consequences of its very existence, and those whose business was social and political commentary, these were "what hath Man wrought?" times, just over a century after Samuel F. B. Morse's famous telegraph transmission.

In 1946, The Standard, a Canadian national weekly newspaper, published a series of essays on the subject of atomic energy. The contributors were diverse, from military men to scientists to politicians to prominent men from a variety of fields, whether or not they bore any relation to atomic energy. (Contract bridge, anyone? Ely Culbertson was one of them.)

In the early years of my adulthood, I remember hearing people express great fear that we were headed towards a "one world government."  They were suspicious of the United Nations, and viewed every international agreement through the lens of how it might affect our national sovereignty. I confess I gave them little respect, because I saw not a shred of evidence that anyone was interested in forming a unified world government.

But I was young. Even if I did grow up with "duck and cover" drills in elementary school, and spent time pondering the feasibility of building a fallout shelter in our backyard, I was blissfully ignorant of the politics of it all. Almost to a man, the writers of these essays were convinced that the only alternative to nuclear annihiliation was for all nations to give up their sovereign rights to an international government—either entirely, or "only" in the right to maintain armed forces and to wage war. The United Nations was brand-new in those days, and much hope was expressed that it would become the entity that would rule the world.

Fear makes people do crazy things, and put up with crazy things done by their leaders. It wouldn't surprise me if more freedoms have been lost through fear than through outright conquest. Fortunately for us, the one-world-government crazy idea never made it off the ground, though we've certainly lost plenty of freedom through fear—the Patriot Act and the bailout of companies "too big to fail," for example.

Be that as it may, here's a sampling of what people were thinking 70 years ago in response to what they perceived as the world's biggest threat. Text in bold is my own emphasis.

The picture of the next war thus becomes one of surprise, of sudden and unannounced aggression, of an “anonymous war,” in which the aggressor leaves no traces, mobilizes no armies, proclaims no hostilities.” A city might explode one night, another the next. In one night, a flight of rockets might demolish 20 cities and kill 40 million.

“This is the one-minute war of the future,” the scientists state. “This is the war that will be hanging over the heads of the nations of the world when all have possessed themselves of atomic explosive and sit in fear and trembling, wondering when their neighbor—or a country on the opposite side of the globe—may press the fateful key. … This picture is not projected a century or even half a century into the future; it is a possibility five years from now, a certainty in 15.”

To every man and woman it may be said with certainty that to secure a world authority is now part of the business of personal survival.

The more deeply one ponders the problems with which our world is confronted in the light … of the implications of the development of atomic energy, the harder it is to see a solution in anything short of some surrender of national sovereignty.

We are afraid that the understanding and sympathy that binds us together may not be as strong as the conflicts of national interest and the dark hates that threaten to separate us. Atomic energy in itself does not endanger us. It is the possible use of atomic energy by persons and nations motivated by hate that causes our fear.

The establishment of this world government must not have to wait until the same conditions of freedom are to be found in all three of the great powers. While it is true that in the Soviet Union the minority rules, I do not consider that internal conditions there are of themselves a threat to world peace. (Albert Einstein)

That one is evidence, as if any more were needed, that intellectual brilliance and practical sense do not necessarily reside together.

The scientists give us five short years in which to save ourselves and the world…. Five years in which we must build out of the present infant United Nations organization a world government capable of outlawing wars and the causes of wars. Five years in a world in which, from the dawn of Christianity from which our own democracy stemmed, it took nearly 2,000 years for our democracy to develop. Five years in which to project ourselves 1,000 years in maturity, in understanding, in social development.

But not to worry. The public schools can fix the problem.

I am optimistic enough to think that, with success in the intermediate and short-term period, we have a margin of twenty years in which to work. The long-term programme, the twenty-year programme, is the establishment of world government under principles of law, justice and human freedom. Such a world government cannot be imposed by force. It cannot be successfully negotiated by the statesmen of the nations of the earth. The plain fact is that world government requires as its foundation a moral and psychological sense of world community, and that foundation does not exist. To impose or to negotiate world government under existing conditions of prejudice and hate would do nothing more than set the stage for world civil war. The minds and hearts of men are not yet prepared for a world of law, justice and mercy.

We in North America are not prepared. Too many men despise women. Too many women despise their servants. Too many white men despise black men. Too many Christians despise Jews. This lack of sympathy and respect extends not only across group lines, but also within the groups themselves.

I feel that with twenty years to spare, the moral and psychological foundation for world peace can be laid. The hope is not that hundreds of years of history, tradition and custom will automatically and suddenly change their direction. The hope lies in the fact that it takes only a period of about a dozen years to implant a basic culture in the minds of a man—the period of childhood between the age of two and the age of 14.

The following may sound absurd now, but I know for a fact that Kodak built a special bomb-proof facility in Rochester, New York so that they could continue to manufacture paper in the event of nuclear war.

Drastic changes in defence measures would be called for, including the abandonment of all large cities, the decentralization of communications and the placing of all important factories far underground.

Not everyone was all gloom-and-doom. Some were downright science fiction in their ambitions.

The world-shaking discovery of atomic power, the greatest since the discovery of fire, can have only one of two end-results: either the unparalleled shattering of our civilization through atomic blasts, or an unparalleled era of peaceful science and mass happiness.

We have now within our grasp the means for creating an abundant life for all peoples of the world. Even before the development of atomic energy this was true, but now that we have tapped this tremendous new source of power, perhaps within half a century all nations can be raised to the same economic level occupied by the most advanced nations today.

There has never before been a discovery equal to that of atomic energy. The greatest discoveries of the past have advanced the material aids to humanity but a few years, but the forward move in the development of atomic energy must be measured in centuries. It can open the door to an age of plenty without revolution or war. It can make equality of opportunity a reality in our day. It can give the backward areas a chance to reach equality with others.

Some were downright nuts.

Why go slowly shepherding great liners through the locks on either side of the Culebra Cut when you could readily use atomic energy to blast a sea-level canal from ocean to ocean? (You would, of course, have to arrange for the temporary evacuation of all the population of the canal zone, but that, in these days of mass transfers of population, is perhaps not impossible.)

How many people realize that we could alter the entire climate of the North Temperate zones by exploding a few dozen or at most a few hundred atomic bombs at an appropriate height above the polar regions?

As a result of the immense heat produced, the floating polar ice-sheet would be melted; and it would not be re-formed. It is a relic from the last Ice Age, and survives today because most of the heat of the sun is reflected from its surface.

If it were once melted, most of the sun’s heat during the polar summer would be absorbed by the water and raise the temperature of the Arctic Ocean. Ice would form again each winter, but it would not cover nearly so large an extent as now, and would be thick enough to be melted in the succeeding summer.

As a result, the climate of Scandinavia would become more like that of Southern England, and the climate of Southern England would become much like that of Portugal.

As usual with all grandiose projects, there are snags.

Thus with the northward movement of the warm temperate and cool temperate zones, the arid zone would move too; and the countries which had the prospect of being turned into the Sahara of the future might reasonably object!

Perhaps it would be best to begin in a small way, by melting a small chunk of the ice-sheet with the aim, say, of slightly ameliorating the climate of Nova Scotia and Labrador, and seeing what happened elsewhere, before attempting anything further.

And we think we have climate change problems now.

Some writers had a better grasp of political realities than others.

We should do well to take stock from time to time of our original purpose in establishing the UNO [United Nations]. What was that purpose? The commonest reply perhaps would be, “To preserve peace.” For many years statesmen have been in the habit of saying, “The greatest interest of our country is Peace.” They have said that usually with complete sincerity and in bad confusion of thought.

For it is not true.

Any nation which suffered invasion would fight if it could. That is to say, it would sacrifice peace for the purpose of defending its national independence. Which means that we do not put peace first; we put defence first: the right to existence, national survival. And no international organization can succeed if it ignores this truth that defence, security, the right to life, must in the purpose of men come before mere peace. We could have had peace by submission to Hitler and Hirohito; we refused it on those terms.

But that brings us to the question: “What is defence? What rights of nations must an international organization defend if its purpose is to be fulfilled? Russia declares that its rights of defence must include “friendly” governments in the whole of Eastern Europe. What precisely does “Friendly” mean? More than once Russia has described Switzerland as “unfriendly and semi-Fascist.” On one occasion Russia refused participation in an international conference on aviation because Switzerland was included. If each nation is to claim in the name of defence conformity with its own special views to the extent which Russia seems to claim that conformity, a workable international organization for collective security is going to be extremely difficult to establish.

No kidding.

Despite the book's small size, there's a lot more to Into the Atomic Age, from following a spelunker deep into a cave in search of a place to set up an underground factory, to the convincing argument that there is no effective way for international inspections to prevent a country that has nuclear energy from also being able to make nuclear bombs. I wish those who negotiated our treaty with Iran had read this book.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 29, 2016 at 7:10 am | Edit
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altEarly Tales of the Atomic Age by Daniel Lang (Doubleday, 1948)

My father was employed by General Electric his entire career, but much of his work was actually done for the federal government. As a child, I was never very curious about what he did when he "went to work," which was a good thing, since he usually couldn't talk about it. Much later, I picked up glimpses, as when we were visiting the Franklin Institute Museum in Philadelphia, and he casually pointed to a (formerly) top-secret military jet in the Aviation exhibit, saying "I helped build that plane." And when he revealed that the maps and information that "The Customer" had provided for my sixth-grade project on Ethiopia actually came from the CIA.

In his early years, he worked on the Manhattan Project, hence the number of books in his library (now mine) on Hiroshima and what was called the Atomic Age. This one is fascinating on several levels.

First, and this is of no little importance, Daniel Lang writes very well. I no longer take that for granted. He could make any subject sound interesting.

Second, it provides perspective on our own time. Here is a well-known, respected, seasoned writer for the New Yorker magazine, in an age generally considered much more concerned with civility and politeness than our own, casually using phrases like "the Japs" to refer to our then-enemy, "girls" when talking about female employees, and "the lady of the house has no servant problem, because Spanish maids from Santa Fe and Indian maids from the pueblos in the Pojuaque Valley are both available and efficient," when speaking about life in Los Alamos.

Most of all, the subject itself is fascinating. The world stood at the very beginning of a new era, and no one was quite sure what to do with the genie we had let out of the bottle. What surprised me the most was the naïveté, driven by fear, with which otherwise highly intelligent and experienced people, not to mention the general public, embraced the idea of putting one, internationally-controlled organization in complete charge of everything pertaining to nuclear materials, from mining and storage to what research might be done and who would be permitted to do it to who would control any bombs that were made. The United Nations had just been born, in much hope, and people had an almost worshipful attitude toward scientists, who had done this wonderful and terrible deed. An elite collection of right-thinking people could and should rule the world!

The broad fear ... was that by recommending an international monopoly they might be helping to create a Frankensteinian bureaucracy which, once it got going, would threaten this nation's civil liberties as well as its economic system. "But the stakes ... were too high for those men not to overcome the fear eventually. They knew that we would have to pay a price for security."

Although during this time the United States was the only country with nuclear technology, no one expected the monopoly to continue for long. The hope was that international control would keep the world's stock of nuclear weapons down to one or two for research purposes, too few for any country to start anything other than a conventional war. They could never have imagined that the Cold War would stay nuclear-free not because there were too few atom bombs, but because there were too many!

What I liked best about Early Tales of the Atomic Age were the stories of the people at all levels of the Manhattan Project (called "Manhattan District," the Army's term, throughout the book), especially when they coincide with what little I remember of my father's business (mostly trips to exotic places like New Mexico), or with what I've read in Richard Feynman's books.

Herewith a few tidbits:

One of the special headaches for the C.I.C. [Counter-Intelligence Corps] was handling the top scientists. Most of the people the Army was trying to keep quiet didn't actually know what the District wanted to produce. The scientists, however, knew more about it than the Army did. An inadvertent tidbit from one of them to an enemy agent, or even to a patriotic gossip, about the state of our plutonium research or some new idea that had been figured out for our electromagnetic separation process might bolix the works. Nor could the Army afford to fire its civilian geniuses for talking loosely. The nuclear boys wanted very much to co-operate, but, owing to a set of apparently ineradicable habits and eccentricities, they failed valiantly on occasion. "Free interchange of information" had been a lifelong practice with them. They were itching to discuss their work.

Also, they didn't take care of themselves, which disturbed the Army, since it was vital that the scientists stay alive at least until the first bomb was dropped. "Some of the world's lousiest auto drivesrs developed the bomb," a lieutenant told me. He added that they didn't walk so well either. ... Dr. Bohr was quite a jaywalker.... They used to say down in General Groves' office, in Washington, that they could always tell when he was coming to call by the sound of screeching brakes. Bohr was a problem from the beginning. When the British smuggled him out of Sweden in the bomb bay of a Liberator, they had to fly very high on the way to England to avoid being intercepted by the Luftwaffe. The crew put on oxygen masks and tried to put one on Bohr, too. The scientist's head, however, proved to be so massive that it wouldn't go on. The plane landed with its precious passenger out cold.

Why he couldn't have held the mask up to his face, since he didn't need his hands to fly the plane, the author does not explain.

A single shelf holds the library [of the newly-formed Federation of American Scientists], which consists of three books—the "Congressional Directory," "American Men of Science," and a copy of the Smyth Report.

The Smyth Report, a.k.a. Atomic Energy for Military Purposes, is also in my father's library and on my list of books to read. What is notable about the above quote is that Lang apparently thought it needed no explanation to his reading public. Similarly, although he clarifies place names like Los Alamos and Oak Ridge in detail, when he mentions Schenectady, he doesn't even add "New York," as if the home of the General Electric Company should be familiar to every American citizen. (It is to me, but I grew up there.)

U-235 becomes so radioactive if more than a certain amount of it—the critical size—accumulates in one pile that it can kill people in the vicinity and that it also soon becomes useless. Yet there was a time when only a few men working on the project, at Los Alamos and the University of Chicago, knew what that critical size was. Meanwhile, Oak Ridge was producing and storing the stuff. A Los Alamos scientist, visiting Oak Ridge on some unrelated errand, inadvertently discovered that the whole installation was heading for trouble. Possibly violating Army rules, he let his colleagues in on the secret.

That story is told, from the other side, in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Writing in 1985, Feynman still refers to women as "girls.")

These scientists had worked for the Manhattan District on various phases of nuclear research, and the Army, temporarily abandoning its policy of "compartmentalization of information," had recently brought them together to pool their knowledge in an effort to determine whether control of atomic energy could be achieved solely by inspecting plants engaged in developing it.

At that time, this method of control was widely regarded as a likely way out. ... The consultants had a variety of reasons for being skeptical about the effectiveness of plant inspection. To begin with, many of the steps involved in developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes are the same as those required to make atomic explosives. ... [A]lthough an international group of inspectors might systematically check on a nation's atomic plants, the possibility of quickly converting those plants to the production of bombs would remain. ... Inspectors working in countries in which they were strangers might easily be given the run-around. ... Moreover, some inspectors might not be particularly interested in doing a good job and might feel not the least insulted if they were offered bribes....

Oops. Tell me again about that treaty we negotiated with Iran?

I knew that at the end World War II the United States had acquired many high-level German scientists, but I hadn't realized that we also plundered a large collection of V-2 rockets. These were employed for many research projects, military and civilian, after the war.  I'm certain that this was part of my father's work.

Besides the research, a program of educating personnel in the mechanics and principles of guided missiles is under way. ... The make-up of the student body is international. In addition to Americans, the class includes officers from Canada, Britain, Turkey, Chile, Denmark, France, India, Ecuador, Argentina, the Philippines, China, Mexico, Iran, and Guatemala—all countries, it would appear, that are at the moment considered to be among our likely allies.

Oops again. Emphasis on at the moment.

[Many fears, mostly irrational] manifested themselves during the spring of 1947, when there was nothing radioactive anywhere on the [Brookhaven National Laboratory] site [said director Philip Morse]. Then he corrected himself. "I beg your pardon. In May, one of our physicists did send away to the Kix Cereal Company for an Atom Bomb Ring. They give it to children who save Kix box tops. It has just enough radioactivity in it to keep making little sparks. Rather cute."

Note that both the director and the author were concerned about the public's irrational fears of atomic research, not that an American cereal company was sending a radioactive product to children.

Like most men of research, Dr. Green was reluctant to discuss the possible applications of the White Sands data. Military uses, as I expected, were absolutely secret.... Dr. Green did, however, speculate on one general possibility from which a number of other possibilities could flow. This was the idea of an orbital satellite—a missile that would revolve indefinitely around the earth.... At the height of a hundred miles, the G.E. expert remarked, the satellite would circle the world in one hour and thirty-three minutes. He felt reasonably sure that such a satellite could become a reality in perhaps ten years if this country cared to spend the great sums necessary for its manufacture and maintenance. ... Equipped with the right instruments ... a satellite of this sort would undoubtedly improve weather forecasting. ... A satellite ... could serve as a repeater, or relay, station for transmitting programs or messages. ... Dr. Green abruptly ended his speculations. "Pretty soon I'll start talking about trips to the moon," he said, "and you won't believe anything I tell you."

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 10:02 am | Edit
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This time we tried a few new things, but made a point of revisiting some favorites.

Continuing from Part 1 and Part 2

FOURTH VISIT

Greenhouse Guru Mini San Marzano Tomatoes. Almost everything at the Festival is overpriced, but this is the only one I'd call an out-and-out ripoff. I was hoping for something fresh and tasty, you know, like a real tomato. This was a small bag of the kind of tomatoes I can get any day (for a much better price) at Publix. On top of that, they had been refrigerated.

Chocolate Studio Ghirardelli Chocolate Raspberry Torte. It was every bit as good as it sounds.

Canada "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter SauceOne of my favoritesYou have to special order if you want it to be cooked rare, but it's worth itPLUS, I had gone ahead to grab a table, and when Porter found me he was bringing not only the filet but a small cup of hideously expensive but delicious apple ice wineHe was spoiling me....

France Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes, AND Soupe à l'oignon au Gruyère et CognacOld favorites that are too good not to indulge in both.

Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped CreamAnother well-worthwhile repeat.

Craft Beers Piggy Wings: Fried Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame SeedsThis must be what you get when pigs flyThe pork was small, fatty, and bony (like a true wing), but the barbecue sauce was good.

China Sichuan Spicy Chicken. Everything at the Chinese kiosk sounded delicious, but I remembered how good the chicken was. If we return before the Festival is over, maybe we'll try something different.

We also visited the Ghirardelli booth twice this time. It's a little disappointing that the sample chocolate square is always milk chocolate caramel instead of a chance to taste more of their many, different, delicious varieties, but it's hard to complain about chocolate caramel.

For all the times we've visited EPCOT, we'd never done the Soarin' Around the World ride, so we remedied that deficiency. In contrast to most of the new rides at the theme parks around here—and despite the dire "lawyer warnings"—Soarin' does not bounce you around and slam you into the sides of the car. It only lifts you a bit into the air; the awesome effects are all from the movie that nearly surrounds you. Nor did it make us queasy at all, though it was nearly impossible to avoid flinching at some of the apparent close calls as we soared around the world, from the Matterhorn to Sydney Harbour to the mighty Iguazú Falls. You can see the ride, sans special effects (which included scents), here.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be inside the EPCOT fireworks show?

Soarin' was the highlight of the non-food part of our visit. The other rides, Spaceship Earth (no longer sponsored by AT&T) and Journey into Imagination with Figment (no longer sponsored by Kodak), are but pale shadows of their former selves. I've included the YouTube videos for those of you who grew up with the better shows, so you can see what you're (not) missing.

Spaceship Earth is especially disappointing, as the poetry has completely gone out of it. The attraction opened two years before we came to Central Florida, and we've seen many revisions through the years.  Walter Cronkite knew how to tell a story; this is probably the version our kids remember best.

But my absolutely favorite was the one before Cronkite's. I can find no video online (this was in the early 80's, after all), but you can see some pictures and most of the text at Walt Dated World. I've extracted the text below so you can compare the language with the prosaic (boring) lecture-style of today.

Narrator: Where have we come from, where are we going?  The answers begin in our past. In the dust from which we were formed, answers recorded on the walls of time. So let us journey into that past, to seek those walls, to know ourselves and to probe the destiny of our Spaceship Earth.

Narrator:  Now, suns reverse, moons re-phase, let us return to ancient caves where first we learn to share our thoughts-and to survive.

Narrator:  Where are we now?  It is the waiting dawn where vast things stir and breathe. And with our first words and first steps, we draw together to conquer the mammoth beast. It is the dawn of a new beginning, the dawn of recorded time.

Narrator:  On cave walls we inscribe our greatest triumphs, a growing record of our deeds, to share with others so they too may greet tomorrow's sun.

Narrator:  Ages pass and more walls rise in the valley of the Nile. Man-made walls of hieroglyphics. Then with new symbols, we unlock our thoughts from chiseled walls and send them forth on papyrus scrolls.

Narrator:  On fine Phoenician ships, we take our scrolls to sea. Real scrolls simplified by an alphabet, eagerly shared at distant ports of call.

Narrator:  Deep in the shadows of Mount Olympus, our alphabet takes route, flowering with new expression. Hail the proud Greeks: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. The theater is born.

Narrator:  North, south, east, and west, all roads lead from Rome, a mighty network reaching across the land, welding far-flung garrisons into a growing empire.

Narrator:  Glorious Rome, until consumed by the flames of excess. Imperial Rome, lost in the ashes of darkness.

Narrator: Far from the dying embers, Islamic wise men preserve ancient wisdom and weave a rich network of new knowledge linking east and west.

Narrator:  In western abbeys, monks toil endlessly transcribing ancient wisdom into hand-penned books of revelation.

Narrator:  At last!  A new dawn emerges. The dawn of the Renaissance-and a wondrous machine performs as a thousand scribes. Now for all: the printed word.

Narrator:  Our books fuel the fires of the Renaissance. It is a time to discover anew the worlds of poetry and philosophy, science and music. As our minds soar, our hands find new expression in the flourishing world of art. Behold, the majesty of the Sistine ceiling.

Narrator:  The Renaissance: a beacon through the mists of time, guiding us to a new era. A time of invention and exploding communication.

Narrator:  With each day come more paths, more ideas, more dreams, and we build new machines: computer machines that think, that store, sift, sort, and count, that help us chart our course through an age of boundless information.

Narrator:  With these machines comes a wondrous new network of communications, a vibrant maze of billions of electronic pathways stretching to the very edge of space.

Narrator:  Poised on the threshold of infinity, we see our world as it truly is: small, silent, fragile, alive, a drifting island in the midnight sky. It is our spaceship. Our Spaceship Earth.

Narrator:  Now our Future World draws near -and we face the challenge of tomorrow. We must return and take command of our Spaceship Earth. To become captains of our own destiny. To reach out and fulfill our dreams.

Woman:  GPC report. Odyssey is complete with position home. 

Man:  Can you switch to manual payload?

Woman:  No problem. Manuel payload is activated. Signal from command execution. 

Man:  Roger. Are you getting video? 

Woman: Affirmative. Delta camera is on and tracking. 

Narrator:  Our journey has been long. From primal caves we have ventured forth traveling the endless corridors of time seeking answers to our tomorrow. With growing knowledge and growing communication, we have changed our lives, changed our world.

Narrator:  From the reaches of space to the depths of the sea, we have spun a vast electronic network linking ourselves as fellow passengers together, on Spaceship Earth.

(Ride vehicles pass by several TV screens.)

Narrator:  Today our search for understanding is unbounded by space and time. Vast stores of information, knowledge from everywhere, standing ready at our beck and call to reach us in an instant. With our great network, we harness our knowledge, give it shape and form to serve us, to help create and communicate a better awareness of ourselves, and our world.

Narrator:  Ours is the age of knowledge, the age of choice and opportunity.

Narrator:  Tomorrow's world approaches, so let us listen and learn, let us explore and question and understand. Let us go forth and discover the wisdom to guide great Spaceship Earth through the uncharted seas of the future. Let us dare to fulfill our destiny.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 31, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Edit
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One of the perks of having an annual Disney pass is the ability to make the spontaneously suggestion, "Do you want to go to EPCOT for lunch?"

Continuing from our list of food experiences

THIRD VISIT

New Zealand Steamed Green-Lipped Mussels with Garlic Butter and Toasted Breadcrumbs, and Seared Venison Loin with Wild Mushroom Marsala Sauce and Kumara Dumpling. I passed on the mussels, but Porter said they were delicious. The venison was as well, though he said it was not as good as the venison he had in New Zealand itself, being less flavorful. Most of the food at Disney is made more bland than it should be.

Australia Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas. Good, with more spice than I've come to expect from Disney, probably too much for our friends who like their food mild.

China Sichuan Spicy Chicken. Delicious!  Definitely too spicy for our friends who prefer their food mild.

South Korea Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi. Good, but nothing special, and far too mild. I would have said the salad was cucumber slices with a dash of vinegar—hardly kimchi.

Japan The shaved ice is becoming a tradition. Because we've had the tangerine flavor twice, we tried cherry this time. Good, but tangerine is still the best. Of cousre we had the sweet milk sauce; I need to figure out how to make that at home.

Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Delicious!  Surprisingly, the concoction was not too sweet, which made it delightful.

Morocco Kefta Pocket: Seasoned Ground Beef in a Pita Pocket. Very good.

France Boeuf Bourguignon: Cabernet Sauvignon-braised short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes. Porter voted this even better than Canada's Filet Mignon (see previous post). Good as it was, I disagreed, and had planned to reassure myself on that point, but...

Canada Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup served with a Pretzel Roll. By the time we had eaten our way to Canada, I was too full to appreciate the filet, so we chose the bacon-y cheddar soup instead. It was very good, but next time I'm saving room for the beef.

As we made our way to the park's exit, we stopped by the Festival Center's Ghirardelli booth to top off our meal with some complimentary chocolate.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 5:09 pm | Edit
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We're not finished, I hope, with our visits to EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival, but someone asked which were our favorites, so I'll make my answer into a review, albeit one that will need updating.

This annual event at EPCOT is not for the epicure who can find cheaper and more authentic ethnic food nearby. This is Disney, after all, and thus the food is more Americanized that we would like. But for us—living here and having annual passes—it's a delightful way to enjoy many little tastes of different foods. Not having to pay for admission and parking makes us feel more free to spend what amounts to a lot of money for the quantity of food consumed.

Our procedure for getting the most out of our tasting experience is to order one item at a time from each kiosk, and share it. The portions are very small, so we can eat from many countries before running out of appetite. At those prices ($4-$8 per taste) there's no temptation to eat when we can't truly appreciate the food.

So far there has been nothing we didn't like, though some dishes were more impressive than others. In the list below, assume we liked it unless I note otherwise. If it was really special, I'll note that, too.

FIRST VISIT

Ireland Irish Cheese Selection Plate: Irish Cheddar, Dubliner, and Irish Porter.

Belgium Beer-braised Beef served with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes.

Japan Tangerine shaved ice with sweet milk topping. It's basically a glorified snow cone, but delicious and just right for a hot day. The "sweet milk" topping costs an extra dollar, but is the reason we bought this in the first place, having fallen in love with sweet milk ice cream on our visit to the real Japan.

SECOND VISIT

Hawai'i Spicy Tuna Poke with Seaweed Salad and Nori Rice. It left me craving one of those big chunks of raw tuna they celebrate with in Japan.

Canada "Le Cellier" Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce. The beef was delicious and tender, though hardly the "rare" we were told it would be. The wild mushrooms and the truffle butter were fantastic.

France Soupe à l'oignon au Gruyère et Cognac. Awesome. We're coming back for this a second time, though all of the offerings at France look delicious and will need to be sampled.

Brazil Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread). Okay, but not worth buying again. The bread was good, but the cheese bland.

Belgium Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream. Delicious!  Surprisingly, the concoction was not too sweet, which made it delightful.

Morocco Spicy Hummus Fries with Cucumber, Tomato, Onions, and Tzatziki Sauce. It seems disingenuous to call these "fries."  "Fried hummus" would have been more accurate. But they were good.  Morocco is always one of our favorite places to eat at EPCOT.

Japan Reprise of the tangerine shaved ice with sweet milk sauce. The days are still hot in Florida. There are other flavors, but the tangerine is so good....

We travelled counterclockwise around World Showcase, but stopped eating mid-way around. We'll have to go the other way next time, and catch the many countries we had to walk reluctantly past.

We did, however, stop at the Festival Center on our way out of the park, for the free samples of Ghirardelli chocolate.

Now I'm hungry just writing about it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 8:21 am | Edit
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altEmber FallsThe Green Ember, Book II by S. D. Smith (Story Warren Books, 2016)

It was with a heroic effort I refrained from reading Ember Falls until this week. I'd received an advance copy because of supporting its publication on Kickstarter, and when it arrived I nearly drooled on it, but I had decided to wait until I finished some other books—not more important, but important in a different way—and also so that I could reread the other two books in the series: The Green Ember, and its prequel, The Black Star of Kingston. It had been almost exactly a year since I'd read them, and I figured I'd enjoy Ember Falls more with a little refresher.

But finally the day came, and Ember Falls was mine to devour. It didn't take long, even though I refused to let myself stay up all night to finish it. I'm not that crazy. And in any case the story didn't end: I'm already panting for Book III.

Not that the ending of Ember Falls is unsatisfactory, but it isn't an ending.

Pretty much everything I had to say in my review of the previous books applies here, so I'm going to quote a big chunk of it. At the end I'll add some Ember Falls-specific comments.

The Green Ember is just a story. It's not a lesson, it's not a sneaky vehicle to teach you something. It's just a story. But I believe in the power of stories. — S. D. Smith

I also believe in the power of stories, whether from a book, a movie, a video game, or any other medium. Even at my age I must be careful what stories I let myself experience, because I'm so vulnerable to their effects. By now most of you know what's coming, my definition of a good book, slightly paraphrased: A good story inspires me to be a better person. These are good stories, not at all in a syrupy way, but shot through with reality, life, action, and beauty.

It was a little jarring at first to wrap my head around the idea that the rabbits have both human and rabbit physical characteristics. That is, they are fully capable of using their front paws as hands (e.g. wielding swords, making stained glass windows, knitting), while their hind legs are rabbit-style powerful weapons. But it didn't take me long to get over it.

Let's see, what do I like about this book, other than its positive impact and the fact that I was immediately entranced and didn't want to put it down?

  • The primary protagonist is a strong female character. I've mentioned before how I grew up with books that made me embarrassed to be a girl, and nearly always identified with the male characters instead. Here's a female character who can think, fight, nurture, worry, and push herself beyond her limits. 
  • This rabbit heroine is named Heather!
  • The secondary protagonist, Pickett, is highly intelligent and mathematically talented, and his gifts don't make him a freak, but rather a valuable asset in the community.
  • Due to his young age and the trauma in his life, Pickett has some dangerous emotional issues. The wisest rabbits in the community don't seek to make him "normal," but instead help him find healing through becoming more, not less, himself.
  • This is very much a medieval rabbit world. They fight with swords and arrows—and feet and just a little bit of gunpowder. They make clothing by hand. Skills are learned through apprenticeship. Somehow chivalry and honor and high callings fit better in a medieval-themed world, as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis amply demonstrated. Even George Lucas filled his high-tech future with swords and knights.
  • The rabbit community values, supports, and praises excellence in every good endeavor, from cooking to fighting to building to storytelling. The end of the rabbits' world seems imminent, yet they emphasize the importance of the arts, and value doing the work of ordinary life extraordinarily well.

Ember Falls did not disappoint. I'll admit that of the three books thus far, it's not my favorite.  That would be The Green Ember, because it shows more of the beauty of ordinary life done well. Ember Falls is clearly a middle book, necessarily darker and more filled with battles. (You all know how much I dislike battle scenes.)  There are wonderful moments, definitely: goodness, truth, and beauty still pierce the darkness. But sometimes life is hard, calling for courage, loyalty, sacrifice, wisdom and forgiveness to shine more brightly than in happier times.  At this Ember Falls succeeds abundantly.

I'm still very pleased with the way Smith handles his female characters. They are determined, and strong as steel, yet gentle and nurturing. If I have one complaint it is that Pickett, the young genius, hasn't yet been allowed to use his mathematical abilities for anything more than an extraordinarily good sense of spatial relations. But maybe that's necessary in war—and I am glad that Smith breaks the stereotype that associates mental gifts with clumsiness and lack of common sense.

Bring on the next book!  Bring on the next Kickstarter appeal. I'll be there.  #RabbitsWithSwords


This is my 100th post for the year. Apparently I'm pretty consistent. Last year I wrote my 100th post on September 21.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Edit
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Saturday is baking day, and I was just taking the first sheet of chewy M&M cookies out of the oven when Porter came into the kitchen and announced, "If we can get there in 40 minutes, we can catch the $6 showing of Sully."

I judged I could get the second sheet baked while cleaning up the kitchen and getting myself ready to go, so I thrust it in the oven and got to work, putting the remainder of the dough in the refrigerator to be baked later. (I had originally written simply, "for later," but there are those among my readers who would suspect me of setting aside the dough to be eaten raw. That has been known to happen.)

We arrived at the theater in time to sit through 20 minutes' worth of ads and previews that convinced me there was nothing I wanted to buy and no more movies I wanted to watch.

But I certainly am glad I watched Sully.

There's a wee bit of bad language, but nonetheless I highly recommend the film for our older grandchildren. The true story of the 2009 "Miracle on the Hudson" is awe-inspiring, and very well crafted. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time despite already knowing the outcome. I understand the filmmakers were a little hard on the National Transportation Safety Board for dramatic purposes, but otherwise I believe the movie is true to the facts.

I walked out of the theater with renewed appreciation for the value of experience, practice, and preparedness. For what it takes to be an asset rather than a liability in an emergency situation. And for always knowing the nearest exit and where to find your life vest, even if you've heard the spiel a thousand times.

As others warned us, don't leave without watching the credits.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Edit
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altHiroshima: The Unforgettable Account of the Event that Opened the Atomic Age by John Hersey (Bantam Books, 1946)

The paperback copy I read shows an original price of twenty-five cents; the pages are darkened and some are coming unbound. Hersey was the Pulitzer prize-winning author of A Bell for Adano. Hiroshima was his next book, arising from his experiences in Japan. (Our bookshelves also hold another of Hersey's many books, written forty years later: Blues. Based on Hiroshima, I've moved Blues higher up on my reading list.)

The story—actually, a compilation of stories from several survivors of the bombing—is not surprisingly very similar to the events in Hiroshima Diary, but from other perspectives and enough difference to make it worth reading both.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 9:00 am | Edit
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altHiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6 - September 30, 1945 by Michihiko Hachiya, M.D., translated and edited by Warner Wells, M.D. (University of North Carolina Press, 1955)

Dr. Hachiya was at his home in Hiroshima when the Enola Gay flew over. Critically injured, he somehow made his way to his hospital, which was only a few hundred meters away. The diary chronicles his experiences as observer and victim, patient and doctor, human being and Japanese citizen. I recommend this book highly. Even though my copy is from 1955, Hiroshima Diary is not hard to find, even in Kindle form—though the Kindle version is surprisingly pricy for an old book.

Nobody said it better than William Tecumseh Sherman: War is hell. Even when it's necessary, even when it's the most merciful option, there's no getting around that point. And even if we believe that dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to less suffering than a protracted war would have, it's good to take an up-close-and-personal look at the collateral damage.

Hachiya's description of the wounds, the burns, the heat, the lack of essential supplies, the incessant rain, the filth, the flies, the fear, and the grief-stricken cries could be from almost any war or natural disaster. Unique to Hiroshima, however, was the great unknown. The horror of a city suddenly gone. Except for a very few hulks that had been well-constructed buildings, Hiroshima was just gone. Even to a people accustomed to bombs and destruction, there was nothing like this. Doctors stitched up wounds and treated burns, but what was it that caused the skin to blotch and the hair to fall out?  Why did people without a burn or a wound suddenly sicken and die?  I was reminded of the years of the Black Death, when large numbers were dying a horrible death, no one knew how to treat or prevent it, and anyone who stayed or came to help feared he was signing his own death sentence.

Reading Hiroshima Diary is a good exercise in seeing "the enemy" as human beings with the same loves, joys, concerns, fears, and hopes that we have. The same virtues of self-sacrifice, kindness, concern for others, generosity, and patient suffering.

And, lest we make the opposite mistake of idealizing the victims, they have the same vices, too.

Following the news that Nagasaki had been bombed, a man came in ... with the incredible story that Japan had the same mysterious weapon, but until now, had kept it a strict secret and had not used it because it was judged too horrible even to mention. This man went on to say that a special attack squad from the navy had now used the bomb on the mainland of America.... If San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles had been hit like Hiroshima, what chaos there must be in those cities! At last Japan was retaliating! The whole atmosphere in the ward changed, and for the first time since Hiroshima was bombed, everyone became cheerful and bright.

Crime, too, became a problem: from Jean Valjan-style stealing to keep a loved one from dying, to "mere" selfishness, to unspeakable abuse of power.

What a sorry spectacle, I thought, to have such ugly behavior added to the burden of people already crushed by defeat. The ruthless and greedy were ruling the city whereas never before had there been such need for unselfishness and good breeding.

The old proverbs: "Justice is strength" and "Better is character than birth" were no longer applicable. At least they were not adhered to. It seemed to me that the discipline of education was effective only during peace time when there was law and order. Character cannot be improved by education. It reveals itself when there are no police to maintain order. Education is a veneer, a plating. Educated or not a man exposes his true character in times of stress, and the strong win. The proverbs invert and strength becomes justice, and birth more important than character. Force then rules the country.

We are the same in virtue and in vice—and yet different, too. I understand Hachiya's anger and frustration with the Japanese army, which he (and apparently many others) faulted for driving the Emperor into war, as well as for general abuse of the public. What I, as an American, don't get is their absolute adoration of the Emperor. And not him only, but even his picture.

A visitor interrupted my meditation. He was an employee in the General Affairs section of the Bureau who had had the grave responsibility of protecting the Emperor's picture in case of emergency. He was on a streetcar which had just reached Hakushima when the bomb exploded. Making his way through the darkened streets and around fallen houses, he managed to reach the Bureau ahead of the fires. His first act on arriving was to run to the fourth floor where the Emperor's picture hung and pry open an iron door behind which it was kept. With the assistance of Messrs. Awaya, Oishi, and Kagehira, he carried it to the chief's office and discussed with Mr. Ushio what should be done with it. After much discussion it was decided the safest place would be the Hiroshima Castle, where less smoke appeared to be rising than elsewhere. Thereupon, the picture was placed on Mr. Yasuda's back and with Mr. Kagehira in the lead, Mr. Ushio guarding the rear, and Mr. Awaya and Mr. Oishi covering the flanks, they made their way to the inner garden of the Bureau and announced they were going to take the Emperor's picture to a safer place. Two or three times they repeated:  "The Emperor's picture will be transferred to the West Drill Field by the Chief of General Affairs!" Those among staff and patients who heard this announcement bowed low and the procession went out through the back gate. Suddenly, it was realized they had forgotten the Communications Bureau flag, a part of the ritual necessary when the Emperor's picture was moved from one place to another, so Mr. Awaya was chosen to go back for it. Before he could return with the flag the party was threatened by fire and went on without him. At the castle entrance they explained to a soldier the purpose of their mission and asked the nearest way to the drillfield. The soldier told them the field was threatened by fire, so they changed course and went in the direction of the Asano Sentei Park. Reaching the dikes of the Ota River skirting the part Chief Ushio got the picture across to a safer place.

During its flight, the party encounered many dead and wounded, as well as soldiers near the barracks, the number increasing as they neared the dikes. Along the streetcar line circling the western border of the park they found so many dead and wounded they could hardly walk. At one point it became impossible, so great were the masses of people around them. The party shouted, "The Emperor's picture! The Emperor's picture!" Those who could, soldiers and citizens, stood and saluted or bowed. Those who could not stand offered a prayer with hands clasped. Miraculously, the crowd opened and the picture was borne triumphantly to the river's edge!

"Oh, it was magnificent!" Mr. Yasuda exclaimed. "When I gave the Emperor's picture to Chief Ushio and when the chief got in a boat someone unaccountably provided, I was desolate. An officer drew his sword and gave orders in a loud voice for the crossing and in response all the officers and soldiers lining the river bank stood at attention and saluted. Civilians stood in line and bowed."

One more thing, for those of you who have or have considered stockpiling supplies, from food and water to weapons and ammunition, in case of dire emergency:  have you considered cigarettes? Farthest thing from my mind. But nothing has convinced me more of the addictive properties of nicotine than this, written just 17 days after the bomb fell.

Mr. Shiota was our manager and for several days had been back at his post. When he was able to walk, one of the first things he did was to show up with two bags, each of which contained fifty packages of cigarettes. Where and how he got them I will never know, but you can imagine our surprise and delight. ... For a while, we kept the packages on display the better to enjoy this unexpected bounty. Throughout the hospital habitual smokers drew a breath of relief. Why, a good, strong, working man could do more work with a pack of cigarettes. By the same token, the efficiency of our student helpers could be measurably increased. We could do anything as long as we had an abundant supply of cigarettes. This luxury had become exceedingly scarce in Hiroshima because of its value in barter.

In the ruins of Hiroshima money was valueless and cigarettes took over as a medium of exchange.

Perhaps nicotine addiction is not so widespread at this time, but is there something else—small, easily transported, and not prone to spoilage—that might be a useful form of currency in a situation where money has lost its value?  It's worth thinking about.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Edit
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altMark and Livy:  The Love Story of Mark Twain and the Woman Who Almost Tamed Him by Resa Willis (Atheneum, 1992)

Mark and Livy was a gift from a friend, who thought I might be interested because Samuel Clemens' wife was a Langdon. As it turns out, we are not related through the Langdon line—unless our common ancestor was back in England and in the 17th century or earlier. The book sat on my shelves until my 95 by 65 project (goal #63) encouraged me to pick it up.

I was going to say that Mark and Livy does not meet my primary criterion for being a "good book":  that it inspire me in some way to become a better person. On reflection, however, I realized it has left me with a determination (which needs to be won repeatedly) to be less judgemental of others, especially those of other times and cultures. There are so many advantages we take for granted here and now—and how easy it is to believe that our good characteristics are the outflow of our good character, and not simply because we are not in pain!

Samuel and Olivia Clemens lived in the latter half of the 19th century. They died years before antibiotics were available. They didn't even have aspirin. Common vaccines had yet to be developed. Diphtheria took the life of the Clemenses' firstborn when he was not yet two—as it did so many children of the time. Headaches could last for weeks, and infections linger for months. In an age of great medical ignorance, treatments were often worse than the diseases. It is now known that even three weeks of remaining in bed does terrible damage even to healthy bodies, but at that time bed rest was the go-to cure for everything. As a teenager, Olivia was kept in bed for two years. Even mental exertion was considered harmful and to be avoided as much as possible.

No wonder so many middle- and upper-class women of that time suffered from a malaise sometimes called nervous prostration. With careers and mental stimulation mostly closed to them; with cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, wet nurses, nannies, and tutors doing all the meaningful work around the house; and with every illness sending them into darkened bedrooms, deprived of most human contact (visitors, even beloved husbands, put too much strain on the system)—they were bored out of their minds. And out of their health much of the time as well.

Some things never change: Doctors blamed the problem on the demands of modern life:  "...the fast ways of the American people, with their hurried lives, late hours, and varied excesses, wear upon the nervous system of all, especially that of sensitive, impressible women."

Should I be condescending over Mark and Livy's susceptibility to every quack and crackpot philosophy that came down the pike?  Needs must when the devil drives.

For more about health and medical care in the 19th century, don't miss The Luxury of Feeling Good from The Occasional CEO, coincidentally published this morning.

Langdon Clemens, the couple's firstborn son who died young, was considered sickly all his life. He was born a month premature and never seemed to be healthy. It was diphtheria that killed him in the end—it killed many who were otherwise healthy—but the book gives no clue as to what caused him to be "sickly."  What struck me, however, was that he was considered "slow" in his development. Perhaps he was, but I'm not convinced by the concerns that he wasn't walking by nine months, nor talking when he was "almost a year old"!  What did they expect in those days?  And of a preemie who started life a month behind?

Here's a fun fact:

Livy and Clemens felt the need to get away [from Hartford's summer heat]. In July they left for New Saybrook, Connecticut ... where all could enjoy the cool winds off Long Island Sound.

New Saybrook?  Old Saybrook I know well enough!  But New Saybrook?  Where on earth is that?  Here's a hint:

...they lodged at a hotel called Fenwick Hall....

New Saybrook, it turns out, is an old name for Fenwick!  Here's a bit of its history in a New York Times article from 1995, though it doesn't mention a thing about the best-of-all-Fenwick-houses. Still, it's rather amazing to think that Mark Twain could have walked past where the Maggie P. now stands.

Despite being wealthy enough to vacation at Fenwick, the Clemenses had endless money problems and often lived in Europe because that was less expensive for them. That tells less about Europe than about the difficulties of living up to the expectations of their Hartford social set, I'm afraid. Still, it was fun to read:

Clemens ... walked to the top of the Rigi in the Alps.

We've been there!  We did not walk, however. I wonder from which point he started his hike?

Despite the strictures of the day and her onerous social obligations, Livy found some outlet for her considerable intelligence. The best part of her day was when she felt free to teach their children:

After breakfast and after she had given the servants their orders for the day, Livy and her daughters worked diligently in their schoolroom on the second floor. Their studies included German, geography, American history, arithmetic, penmanship, and English, with some extra diversions of tossing beanbags, gymnastics, and sewing. [The girls were five and seven at the time.] If they finished their lessons before twelve-thirty, Livy read to them. [Clara] at five and eager to please, knew all the answers but often got her questions confused. When her mother asked, "What is geography?" she replied, "A round ball." When asked what was the shape of the earth, she replied, "Green."  

Moreover, Livy was Mark Twain's most important editor, smoothing off the rough edges of the wild writer from the West and making his books acceptable and marketable.

This she far preferred to her social responsibilities as the wife of a famous author and the scion of a wealthy family. (Yes, the Langdons were wealthy—further proof that we're not closely related.)

She increasingly questioned her role as hostess and felt bad because she did.

This is my work, and I know that I do very wrong when I feel chafed by it, but how can I be right about it? Sometimes it seems as if the simple sight of people would drive me mad. I am all wrong; if I would simply accept the fact that this is my work and let other things go, I know I should not be so fretted; but I want so much to do other things to study and do things with the children and I cannot.

In the plus ça change department, do you think we suffer from helicopter parenting today?  The Clemenses kept their daughters close in what today would probably be considered an unhealthy relationship of mutual dependence. Further,

[Clemens] insisted his daughters be chaperoned everywhere they went, and Clara was until she married at the age of thirty-five [emphasis mine].

That makes being on your parents' health insurance until 26 seem almost reasonable.

And still more:  I'll admit I'm weak in history. I knew about the Great Depression, but if I thought of it at all, saw it as an anomaly, a one-time, terrible event. Thus the economic problems we have been having lately have been particularly concerning. I had no idea, until reading Mark and Livy, how common market crashes, panics, and recessions have been throughout history.

Just as John Marshall Clemens never recovered from the Panic of 1837, this panic [of 1893] nearly destroyed his son. It began who knows where but was aided by a drain on the gold reserve by foreign investors who sold their securities and withdrew them in gold from the U.S. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act, allowing gold to be used to purchase silver, further depleted the federal gold reserve by nearly one hundred million. Gold meant confidence. Without either, the dominoes began to fall. The stock market crash eventually took with it 160 railroads, five hundred banks and sixteen thousand businesses. It was estimated by 1894 that 20 to 25 percent of the work force was unemployed. Those with jobs went on strike to get decent wages as there seemed to be no money anywhere. Miners across the nation refused to work. Eventually the Langdon coal mines and Livy's income shut down.

Rich or poor, black or white, first- or third-world, centuries ago or yesterday morning:  our tragedies and our trials, our worries, our hopes, and our joys are more universal than not.

We are humanity.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, August 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm | Edit
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