Archive for November, 2016

bookmark: beyond belief

Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape – Jenna Miscavige Hill

One of the strongest desires of humans is the desire to “belong.” This is evidenced in many ways; identifying by race, joining clubs to share common interests, supporting political movements, belonging to fraternities and sororities, cheering on the local sports team, to mention just a few. One of the most common of these is religion.

It can be difficult to define religion. Generally speaking, I define it as a system of belief in something that cannot be confirmed by science and that must be taken as truth by faith. Usually this relies on belief in some supernatural entity, but it is not required. What is required is an unquestioning acceptance of the tenets of the religion.

I have been aware of Scientology through the popular media, but have never looked at it more closely. I thought that this book, written by someone who had been literally raised in Scientology, would give me an insight into that “religion.” It did, and left me with déjà vu wonder at what people will believe and accept in the name of religion.

The author is the niece of David Miscavige, who is the current head of the Church of Scientology. This book does not act as a history or analysis of the Church of Scientology, but rather as the personal story of a child reared in the church, up through the time she left the church. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking that this sounded like a child being raised in a third-world country where child labor is a normal part of everyday life.

As the author obviously has a vested interest in the story, I tried to maintain some skepticism while reading it. I found myself wondering about parts of her story, but I had to remind myself that I have never been in the kind of situation she was in. She goes back and forth, at points being supportive of the things she was going through and then rebelling in the next breath. In the end, this story could be that of many children raised within a restrictive religion, with religious teachings enforced through many different psychological and physical means. I’m grateful that I was never put into this kind of situation and would never, have never, considered putting a child of mine in such circumstances.

While this book is not necessarily riveting reading, the insight into the treatment of people within the Church of Scientology is revealing. Is it worse than other religions? Well, at least they are not out blowing people up. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ll be signing up any time soon, and I’m sorry to see that a child could be put into such circumstances as the author was.

Finished 11/21/16

bookmark: driving mr. einstein

Driving Mr. Einstein: A Trip Across America with Einstein’s Brain – Michael Paterniti

This book fed my penchant for road trip stories. The essence of this true story is that the author drives the pathologist who did the autopsy on Albert Einstein across the country to visit old friends and former haunts. The hook in the story is that the pathologist has Einstein’s brain with him, which he had acquired when he did the autopsy many years ago.

With a setup like that – a somewhat odd, old man with Einstein’s brain, traveling across country with a driver who has his own personal relationship problems – it seemed like there could be some interesting metaphysical insights. While I enjoyed the book well enough, it just didn’t seem to go much of anywhere.

I had expected more about the old pathologist, and while we got some information about him, he remains a stranger. Considering his attitude towards the author as merely his chauffeur, I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising. He seemed loath to give up much personal information.

The book was largely about the author assessing his relationship with his girlfriend, who he had left at home, writing a book herself. At first he questioned whether the relationship was dying or dead, but as the trip went on, he realized that he missed her and started to understand the nature of their relationship. This is more the theme of the book than anything else.

It was a bit disappointing when they finally hit the end of their trip from the east coast to the west. I had assumed that the purpose of the trip was going to be to make a final disposition of Einstein’s brain, but such was not the case. In what is essentially an epilogue, we do find the resolution to both the author’s relationship situation and the disposition of the brain, but by that time it’s more about wrapping things up than gaining any great insights.

So, while I don’t consider reading the book a waste of my time, it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped it would be.

Finished 11/11/16

disowning the party

Thank goodness this election will be over after tomorrow. Well, I’m not sure how “over” it will be, but at least we will be past all the political ads. I’ve noticed a very interesting tactic this election. Almost every political ad I see on television, or hear on the radio, and all the candidate yard signs I see, fail to mention the party the candidate belongs to. Somehow I don’t think this is just an oversight.

It seems that identifying as either a Democrat or Republican is considered risky, as though you are making yourself the personal representative of either Hillary or Trump. In fact, the only political ads which identify a party are those which attempt to paint a local candidate as a supporter of Trump or Hillary, something which supposedly should disqualify you from winning. Even if you have announced that you do not support either of the main candidates, the other party still puts out ads smearing you with the party standard bearers.

I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad strategy. If people don’t know what party you belong to, how are they going to be able to find the candidate on the ballot? If a voter prefers to vote by party, this can be an issue. On the other hand, by not identifying themselves as either Democrat or Republican, it could force the voter to actually do some research to find out what that candidate actually believes and to vote intelligently. Yeah, I know – like that is going to happen. People are still going to go to the poll and go through the ballot only voting for those in their preferred party.

Still, not identifying with a party is a novel change in electioneering. It will be interesting to see if it happens again in the next election cycle, or if this is only symptomatic of this particular election with these two particularly reprehensible candidates. All I can say is that I am grateful that they are not the only choices in this election.

As for me, I happily declare that I am a Libertarian, though I’m not running for office. If I were, I would be proud to advertise that fact.

bookmark: a moment of war

A Moment of War – Laurie Lee

A Moment of War is the third book of the memoir trilogy written by the English author Laurie Lee. It has a decidedly different tone than the earlier two books, which is understandable considering that it all takes place in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

Sitting in my place, at this point in time, I cannot understand why anyone would have gone to Spain to fight in that war as, essentially, a mercenary, though it is obvious that you did not do it for the financial rewards. Instead, as evidenced in this book, most of the people who left their homelands to fight in Spain were idealists who thought they were fighting for the Communist cause, or were people who had nothing to lose and were escaping what they left behind, or were people looking for some grand, romantic adventure that they thought they would find in Spain. From the tale in this book, I think that they all would have been greatly disappointed.

There are some who question Lee’s veracity in this book, suggesting that it may be more a work of fiction than of factual reporting, but even if that is so, the mood of the times comes through loud and clear. Personally, I cannot understand, first, why anyone would put themselves into this kind of situation in the first place, and secondly, why they would not try like hell to get out of it as soon as they found out what they were in for.

But, that’s me, an old fart sitting at the comfort of his desk in the middle of America in 2016. It is hard to understand the circumstances of different eras if you have not lived in them. You can only judge based on the history you read and how you think you would have reacted. And I think I would have been really glad to just stay home.

You can read the facts of history, but it is the personal stories of the people involved in that history that help us really understand that history. I may not totally understand the motivations of all involved, but this book has helped me to see this history in a personal way.

I think that my inclination upon meeting the author during this time would have been to slap him upside the head and say, “Get over yourself, and go home.” Eventually , he figured that out for himself. He’s just lucky that he lived to tell the tale. The other two books in this trilogy, Cider with Rosie, and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, are much lighter reading, but all three give an interesting, personal perspective of the times.

Finished 11/4/16

CUBS WIN!

Want to know why I don’t watch sports? Well, mostly because I’m just not a big sports fan, but the other reason is games like the one last night. I don’t like stress, and if you are a Cubs fan and that game didn’t stress you out, then either you have ice water running in your veins or you are dead. Then again, I’m not even sure about dead. I bet my dear departed mother-in-law, a die-hard Cubs fan, was somewhere agonizing over the game, too.

I think that all Cubs fans were watching the season in a bit of disbelief, as they did last year. So close last year, but they were swept in the National League Championship Series by the Mets. While we all hoped the Cubs would win it and go on to the World Series, when they didn’t make it we fell back on the old “maybe next year” that we fallen back on for decades.

This year, with the best record in Major League Baseball, we had reasonably high hopes that they would make it to the World Series. They beat the Giants in the National League Divisional Series rather handily and advanced to the National League Championship Series, where they took six games to beat the Dodgers and move on to the World Series. And that’s when we really started biting our nails.

Beginning the World Series with a 0-6 loss was not a good omen. Hints of “maybe next year” started creeping into my thoughts. I mean, come on – 0-6? Ouch! OK, so game two is better, with a 5-1 win. Whew, we are back into this thing. But game three with a 1-0 loss and game four with a 7-2 loss meant that Cleveland only had to win one more game to win the Series. Sigh. Time to accept the fact that we were going to have to wait for next year for another shot at winning (or even getting into) the World Series.

On Sunday I couldn’t watch the game, and by “couldn’t” I mean that I didn’t want to watch the Cubs lose. Instead, I followed the scores on my computer while I did other stuff. Whoa! A 2-3 win! Not the kind of winning margin I would like to see in a score, but a win is a win. Still, they need two more wins to take the whole thing. What are the odds of that? Better than I thought, apparently.

Surely the next game they would lose the whole thing, so I didn’t even bother keeping up with the score. Some Cubs fan, eh? What can I say? It’s just my usual glass-half-full approach to life. But holy crap – they win 9-3. Now that’s the kind of score I like. Suddenly we are at game seven with winner take all.

Early games are a little easier to take, assuming that a loss can be made up later (which they were), but this was crunch-time. I know the Cubs are really good this year, but can they do this? OK, first inning – Bam! First run of the game, and Cubs are in the lead. Good, let’s hold Cleveland to no runs and increase our number of runs for safety’s sake. But then in the third inning Cleveland gets a run and it is tied up. No, I can’t watch. My stress levels are going through the roof. I had to leave the room, assuming the worst.

A little while later I had to at least check the score to see how badly the Cubs were doing. Wait a minute. The Cubs are ahead 3-1. Yay! Now let’s keep that lead, for cryin’ out loud. I watch for a bit and the Cubs score two more runs, but the Indians come back with two more of their own. I can’t watch. Gone again, but I can’t stay gone. Checking again, the score is 6-3 – Cubs are going to win this! I decide to watch again. Oh man, a mistake. Maybe it’s my watching that is causing problems for the Cubbies, because now the score is tied at the bottom of the eighth. Son of a bitch! Time for bed. I cannot handle the stress of extra innings, if they make it that far, and I need my sleep. Good night, all.

So I’m peacefully dozing when my wife takes a break from her tv watching to hit the head and stops by to ask me if I was watching the game. I say “no” and she says the Cubs won. What!?! Holy Cow! This is almost unbelievable, but I turn on the tv and sure enough, the Cubs are celebrating. I have to admit – and I guess I wasn’t alone last night – I shed a few actual tears of joy. I have never shed tears over a sporting event, ever. But last night, there they were. Yeah, it’s only a game, and you feel bad for Cleveland, but the idea that the Cubs have won the World Series for the first time in 108 years is overwhelming.

But there was a more personal reason for those tears. As I mentioned before, my mother-in-law was a true-blue Cubs fan. So much so that at her funeral six years ago, they sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” That choked me up so much I couldn’t even come close to singing. The Cubs win last night was vindication for her faith in her team for so many years of her life. It was so sad that she hadn’t lived to see her team finally win it all. My tears of joy also encompassed that sadness.

They say that the Cubs are a relatively young team and that we haven’t heard the last of them. There should be more great years to come. I hope so, but to tell the truth, I am able to say that I saw the Cubs win the World Series and I’m happy with that. There are a lot of people who have never had the chance. Even if the Cubs were to tank next year (um, how do I prevent that from becoming a curse? knock on wood?), I still could face the year happy.

Now, if only the Bears could get their shit together.