Hope is a decision–now more than ever

Joe Biden is President-Elect–so say all the major media, including Fox News.

A change is coming but not the radical one those on the other side feared. The Democrats lost seats in the House and at best may get a tie in the Senate.

The good news is that America dodged the bullet of losing its democracy and slipping into autocracy. Now, the people of America, led by a President who intends to serve ALL the people and to heal the partisan and cultural divisions will have the chance to be truly United States.

That won’t be easy. There will be resistance to change, this time by those who were enamored of Trump and enabled by him to defend white privilege. Also by those who feared “Socialism” would come to America (it never was coming and certainly isn’t now). Or some who thought COVID-19 was a hoax or would go away by itself.

There will be resistance by some of the progressive members of the Democratic party who were looking forward to establishing new policies that others viewed as a bridge too far. Not happening in 2021 or 2022.

Consider this excerpt (those of you who live in the US, at least) from a very long article in the 2nd Eagle Peak Annual, published on October 30th. It offered commentary and analysis on three books. Just check the link to see which ones.

We all live here, in these United States. We depend on one another producing goods and supplying services. Goods that we wear. That we use in our daily lives. Services at medical facilities, schools, retail stores, repair shops and more. “Can’t we all just get along?” Asked Rodney King in 1992, a victim of police brutality that resulted in costly riots in Los Angeles. Nearly 30 years later, the answer remains uncertain.

Here’s a couple more excerpts, snippets really, from that item on the Annual.

But change is sorely needed. Policy changes. Dealing effectively, for a change, with the still deadly dangerous pandemic. Spurring economic recovery. And healing the divisions of race, class and party.

Political solutions are not a panacea. Yes, we all hope that the candidates we vote for will keep their promises made on the campaign trail. Promises that suggest if only we did X, Y and Z instead of A, B and C, we all would be happier and more prosperous. We should all know better by now! 

Don’t rely on elected officials to do it all! We all need to work together within our shared humanity to make America a better, more prosperous and more just nation. Don’t believe all the stuff that people post on social media–conspiracy theories and nonsense abound there. Verify through fact checking sources, what you do see on such sites. Go beyond the echo chambers of your favorite news sources that tell you what you want to hear. Make new friends among your neighborhood and community.

Finally, let’s get to the title of this post. It comes from a book by Daisaku Ikeda. Hope Is a Decision.  My review of the book appears below.

Hope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku IkedaHope Is a Decision: Selected Essays of Daisaku Ikeda by Daisaku Ikeda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For 43 years I have been practicing the engaged Buddhism that Daisaku Ikeda has spread throughout the world over the last 60 years. While you might suppose that indicates a bias on my part in writing this review. On the other hand, you might conclude that I know the extent of wisdom he can share. That said, I should also note that this book is neither an introduction to Buddhism nor an appeal to follow it’s teaching. It is what the title implies and the review below describes.

Even after so many years, one needs encouragement now and then. One needs words to share with others, words that provide hope in times of crisis. In the US and around the world we have been in a variety of crises–the worst pandemic in 100 years, poverty, political turmoil and more.

This is a very inspirational book of essays, with comments on the wisdom of poets, writers and historians from throughout the world. It’s easy enough to give in to despair, as Ikeda points out. At the same time, as the title says, hope is a decision that one can make. He spells it out in a series of essays written over decades. Here’s a couple examples. Both are from page 14 and 15 of the Kindle edition.

The moment we make a powerful resolve, every nerve and fiber in our being will immediately orient itself toward the fulfillment of this goal or desire. On the other hand, if we think, “This is never going to work out,” then every cell in our body will be deflated and give up the fight. Hope, in this sense, is a decision. It is the most important decision we can make. Hope changes everything, starting with our lives. Hope is the force that enables us to take action to make our dreams come true. It has the power to change winter into summer, barrenness to creativity, agony to joy. As long as we have hope, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

There may be times when, confronted by cruel reality, we verge on losing all hope. If we cannot feel hope, it is time to create some. We can do this by digging deeper within, searching for even a small glimmer of light, for the possibility of a way to begin to break through the impasse before us.

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Starting now, you won’t see so many knocks on the current president of the US. They won’t be needed soon. We may have some comments on what transpires in the White House or the administration over the 70+ days until Biden is inaugurated. Perhaps some coverage of what happens in the life of Trump thereafter.  

What you will see, often, is progress on the front of healing the wounds in America. Finding a path to accomplishing positive results in controlling the pandemic, restoring the economy, restoring civility and more. 

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Giannoulis Chalepas–featured in the Eagle Peak Annual

The 2nd Eagle Peak Annual–out last week! 

Giannoulis Chalepas–The Greek Rodin

A guest article from gifted writer and blogger, Nicholas Rossis.

He shares something of the difficult life of sculptor Giannoulis Chalepas–and photos of his pieces.

Great art is often thought to come from those who have suffered much. In the case of Giannoulis Chalepas, it’s true. A mother who opposed his dream of sculpting. A lost love and more. Yet his work is renowned.

If you visit Wikipedia, you will find a brief entry under Chalepas’ name. Born in 1851, he was a Greek sculptor who suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to the Mental Hospital of Corfu. In 1916, after his mother’s death, he began to work again, continuing until his death in 1938.

View the article to see just a few of his 150 works–or visit the National Gallery of Greece!

Check out the full issue of Eagle Peak Annual here.

Two More Book Reviews

You know I stint on five-star reviews, but I gave out five for both of these very different books. One, a memoir, the other a sci-fi book. Both on Kindle. As the brain freezes from finishing my own projects, it’s almost always possible to read something somebody else wrote.

Hippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still AmHippie at Heart: What I Used To Be, I Still Am by Lynne Zotalis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

On a 30th anniversary trip to Mexico, her beloved husband dies on a beach of an apparent heart attack. That’s an opening frame in this memoir of discovery in her home state of Minnesota. As many youth in the sixties, she finds escape in a variety of drugs readily available then and well into the seventies and beyond. Miraculously, she encounters the love of her life in that world.

The title exemplifies the life the author and the man who would become her husband led for some time–the counterculture rejection of the staid life normal parents led. I didn’t go quite so far as they did–building a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. Yet, I can identify. Especially in the rejection of the traditional cultural and political values. The two found a very different spiritual path than I did–one I could never in my wildest nightmares have adopted. One so far from the drug culture that they had been a part of. Still, you will find that–and their eventual departure from it, a very intriguing journey.

If you can’t find this book engrossing, you must be from a very different place. Not just a time, but a culture. It’s well-written and should keep you wanting to know what happens next. Despite knowing the end, it’s how Zotalis gets there that is where the rich tapestry of this story lies.

Oddly enough, we might have met decades ago–or at least been at the same Zappa and the Mothers concert in the Depot, a former bus station for “the Dog,” that briefly became a club for music and dance in Minneapolis in 1970-71. We might have been neighbors in South Minneapolis as well–hard to say. But then, those girls in their early twenties and guys as well had certain features in common–long hair on both, freak or hippie styled clothes and beards on the guys.

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Spiders & Spice (Federation Diplomat #6)Spiders & Spice by E.J. Randolph
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another great story by EJ Randolph about Kate Stevens, Federation Diplomat. This is my fifth read in the series. I received an ARC copy through StoryOrigin. Yes, it is a space opera–of sorts. But tech and space are setting and incidental challenges, not the main story. NOTE: you don’t have to read the others before this one–each stands alone. But to paraphrase the food jingle– “Bet you can’t read just one.”

Revisit the same cast of quirky characters on the crew of the transport that takes Kate to strange planets.–or meet them for the first time.  In Spiders & Spice they’re on an  intentionally backward planet that chooses to avoid technology and change. Consensus is the rule–a very strong rule. For those who can’t abide that requirement, there’s banishment to a more freewheeling town.

As always, Kate is challenged to save a planetary culture from itself–and a nefarious enemy. What makes the series worthy of reading is the world and culture building–with a well-developed sense of engaging diplomacy in peculiar political environments. Randolph does a fine job of doing that. With a good bit of humor thrown in. Humor like her supervisor (humorously referred to as “Really Big”),  who plays his usual shell game on her. All part of the reality of those who have ever worked for any form of bureaucracy will identify with. Or the stomach churning food combinations like marshmallows on sauerkraut that crewmember Nick produces from the food fabricator.

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There’s a Madman in the Whitehouse with the Blues

It has come to this–a madman on drugs


as the Lincoln Project will attest.

Karma’s a bitch. Hoist by his own petard. Reap what you sow. 

Yes, all those sayings apply to Biff’s (AKA Trump) COVID case. The Lincoln Project or some other group could take on a new spoof inspired, like me, by the Lowell George/Little Feat song, “Fat Man in the Bathtub. (Could replace Juanita with Covida or Covita).

But it’s the family and friends of those 212,000 dead of the coronavirus who will find nothing funny here.  Nor those who had the preexisting condition of believing Biff’s lies.

He gasps for air on the Truman Balcony after climbing the stairs. Did Fox show that clip? Or maybe just the one he recorded after shedding virus cells amongst the White House staff. The one where he said of the virus, “Don’t let it dominate you. You can beat it.”

Consider what Anand Giridharadas said of Trump,

“He hosted a super-spreader event to honor a justice who would have the government control your body but refuse the duty to care for it, and when the virus he helped go around came around, he availed of the healthcare he would deny others, financed by the taxes he refuses to pay.”

Biff is obese, has high cholesterol, is 74 and is being treated by a primary care physician, with certification in emergency medicine. BUT Commander Sean Conley is not a pulmonologist, not an epidemiologist, not apparently well-versed in COVID-19 treatment either. He is, however, well versed in HIPAA–which enables him to withhold LOTS of information about Trump’s health that the public wants AND NEEDS to know.

So now, with Trump desperate to be reelected and suffering from COVID-19, we have a non-specialist pumping Biff full of experimental drugs and a high-dose of dexamethasone. A powerful NSAID with the potential side effects of mania, depression and more.

Assuming the Madman Trump makes it through the election (that he should lose badly), he could still be around in the White House until January 20th, 2021. Who KNOWS what he might do during all his free time away from Fox News, tweeting and golf. Be afraid, very afraid. Offer prayers in whatever faith you believe.

BTW: In addition to legislation making it mandatory that a future presidential candidate’s taxes must be disclosed, perhaps a HIPAA waiver should also be required.

Don’t forget to vote!

Addendum: If America is lucky–or the derelict spreading of the coronavirus among the macho maniacs among GOP Senators continues a few more won’t be present to vote to confirm Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. With a big loss by Biff, the GOP will be afraid to do it in the lame duck session.

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RIP Notorious RBG

Shock and sadness. Disbelief. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had overcome so much over the years. More than most people we know. Meanwhile, she kept doing the job on the bench–remotely this year, like all the other justices. Still, in the end she was mortal. She may have seemed like Superwoman, but she couldn’t live forever.

She had accomplished so much for women’s rights. For the rights of so many that had been foreclosed by narrowminded jurists intent on strictly interpreting words that held broader meanings than what they thought.

She gladly accepted the moniker of Notorious RBG. She had that much equanimity and sense of humor in 21st century culture. It was a fun thing.

Then we have Moscow Mitch. The man who dishonored RBG–and America’s democracy yesterday. He couldn’t wait another day after her passing to announce:

“President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate.”

In 2016–just ONE HOUR  after the passing of Justice Scalia, in February 2016,

McConnell said: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,”

McConnell has different rules for Democrats and Republicans. An appointment by  a newly elected Joe Biden just wouldn’t be the same.

We know that McConnell doesn’t like being called “Moscow Mitch.” He has demonstrated that he has no integrity, no principles, no sense of justice or fairness. So let’s just add one more word to capture his essence: 

#Disreputable Moscow Mitch

I think that fits. Let’s make sure he is never majority leader in the Senate again. Better yet, let’s vote in Amy McGrath in November, his opponent–unlikely and difficult as that may be.

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Review of On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An essential and easy read for the times. Times that portend the end of American democracy and descent into authoritarianism, should Biff (think Back to the Future, the movie), AKA Donald J. Trump, be reelected. Noted historian Snyder has the expertise to describe the historical antecedents from Germany, Russia and more to how tyranny arises. Unfortunately, that happened elsewhere with the acquiescence of the populace. It
could
happen here.

The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.

So says the back cover of Timothy Snyder’s book. Snyder offers twenty lessons from the last century, in short and simple chapters in this powerful book. Which makes the author eerily prescient on what was to come during the next three and one half years of the Trump administration.

But then, Donald J. Trump was not a complete unknown by the 2016 election—he had announced a campaign the year before and had made countless appearances and tweets even before the inaugural. There was the transition and the inaugural as well—which gave many clues on what was in store for America.

Snyder had the goods on Trump before the current president got started on his path to destroying the rule of law, setting America back decades of progress on so many fronts and–through his appointment of uninformed sycophants to key positions, managed to fail overwhelmingly at dealing with the worst health crisis in 100 years.

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NOTE: Coming late this month, more on this book, plus many more and other great topics in the 2nd  Eagle Peak Annual. Stay “tuned.”

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Acknowledgements: Quotation from back cover of "On Tyranny"

Book Review: The Voyage of the Lanternfish

Voyage of the Lanternfish (The Lanternfish #1)Voyage of the Lanternfish by C.S. Boyack
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining book with serious (not too serious) characters–including normal folks, root? monsters, strange sea creatures and more. Took longer to read than I expected only due to interruptions that took me away from breezing right through.

Surprising details about weapons–some I’d never heard of. The same goes for parts of a sailing ship–more than I ever wanted or expected to know. But the main thing is that the storyline stayed on course even as the ship and its crew ran into one hassle–or battle, after another.

An enjoyable escape to a different time and places–some clearly based on some real geography but the names are changed somewhat. C.S. Boyack has great sense of humor as he tells his stories.

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Book Review: Dan Brown’s Origin

Getting in lots of reviews while other challenges keep serious writing at bay.

Speaking of both, a review of Anne Applebaum’s The Twilight of Democracy : The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism is coming soon–along with more analyses of current political issues America faces. 

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing you can count on from Dan Brown in his Robert Langdon series is a plethora of references to scenic locations, art, history, etc. After a while, it does get tiresome. In most cases these settings have some connection to the plot so it’s not all for naught. I excuse these excursions for the sake of tracking the intriguing plot twists. Origin saves the biggest for last but no spoilers here.

As always, it’s Brown’s preoccupation with peculiar attributes of the Catholic Church that dominates. Never having been a Catholic and having no particular opinion of the foibles any millennia-long organized religion has, it’s one more thing to finesse for a reader like me. Like any other thriller/suspense story it’s really about who did what to whom, why and when. Brown dots the i’s and the t’s of those.

The other thing he does differently with this story is to raise a somewhat different issue than does the various Terminator-related stories on AI and where its connection to humans is headed. Can’t say more without getting into spoilers. But that’s what makes this worth reading, even if it’s not the best examination of the subject.

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Review of Death in Panama

Death in PanamaDeath in Panama by William Venema
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brings back not-fond memories of the military. Since the author based the story on his own experiences as a JAG lawyer in Panama, it rings true. I’ve never been to Panama before or after my Vietnam era service (including Vietnam) and I was enlisted not an officer. Still, enough there to identify with–lots of drinking, whoring, misogyny, racism and condescension toward the locals. Yes, lots like Viet Nam.

On the legal side, as a guy with a JD, I know the lingo and the judicial process that the author puts forth–except that proceedings in Courts Martial are more than a little different than civilian criminal courts. The author does a good job of distinguishing and explaining those differences along the way so no one will miss the issues that unfold.

Military or not–evidence is what it is. Inhumanity and adultery are what they are. Crime is what it is. So if legal drama, conflicted and flawed characters are in your reading repertoire, you will find this satisfying.

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Review of Coelho’s The Alchemist

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that once I read it, I had to wonder–how did I overlook it? It takes me back to a whole host of other books which share the inspirational aspects as well as some elements of style. Mostly, it shares profundity. Books like Candide–to which this book’s main similarity is an innocent on a journey of discovery. Candide is a savage satirical attack on philosophical foibles of the time it was written. In the end, he dismisses “best of all possible words” view of suffering offered by Pangloss with the realistic perspective “That’s well said,” . . .”but we must cultivate our garden.”

It also reminds me of both Cervantes and Lewis Carroll. As with the Alchemist, (more so than Candide), it is quite useful for youth. Alice and Through the Looking Glass offer much in wordplay to the writer and clearer understanding for anyone in communicating–“Say what you mean,” says the March Hare to Alice. “I mean what I say,” Alice replies. Clearly she doesn’t understand. I used to read those books every several years. It’s been decades now. Perhaps it’s time again.

As for Cervantes, Don Quixote is on a quest like Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in the Alchemist. Quixote, the dreamer is counterbalanced by his realist companion Sancho Panza. Eventually, they come to exchange perspectives. Santiago does a bit of that as well with the various people he meets. Like Candide, he too suffers losses–not quite as severe but nearly as surreal as Voltaire’s protagonist.

Finally, I found a lot of Buddhism in the Alchemist. Seeing and understanding omens for one. A capacity that anyone can acquire but few have. For the Catholic Coelho, it perhaps came from a pilgrimage he made two years before the publication of this book. He explains the realizations that Santiago comes to through his experiences and through the interaction with the various teachers, of sorts, that he encounters. It reinforces my faith and determination that following dreams is essential but happiness lies as much in the process as the result. It’s all there in the effort–remaining undeterred by the obstacles one confronts.

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