Books Available from Inverted-A Press

Inverted-A Press carries the following Titles:

The Portrait of a Lover by John Wheatcroft.

A Thousand and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz

Transatlantic Lives by Jesse Bier

Theodosia and the Pirates by Aya Katz

 

   

Vacuum County by Aya Katz

 

Our Lady of Kaifeng

 

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Misconceptions about Population Statistics

In the western world, in modern times, life expectancy is higher than it was in the past and higher than it currently is in the third world. But is that entirely a good thing? Most people think that it is, but many of us may be misinterpreting the statistics, myself included.

One of things you have to be very careful about is who is being counted when the statistics are compiled. For instance, when we read that the average life expectancy in Swaziland is 39.6 years and the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.2, we might think that living in the United States is much better. By the same token, if we hear that life expectancy in the United States a century ago was around forty years and today is closer to eighty years, we might think that we have made great strides forward due to modern medicine and our current lifestyle.

In the table below, the first number represents healthy average life expectancy and the second one represents actual average life expectancy and the third figure is the percentage of life expectancy that is healthy.

SwazilandHealth

Swaziland has a high healthy life expectancy but a low absolute life expectancy
Source: http://ngureco.hubpages.com/hub/Worlds-Best-Health-Care-Ranking-of-Health-Care-by-Countries-and-Healthy-Life-Expectancy-by-Country

But there are two factors to be considered that we usually forget to consider:

  1. How does absolute life expectancy compare to healthy life expectancy?
  2. Who was counted as a person for purposes of the calculation of absolute life expectancy?

According to the chart I posted above, the average person in Swaziland could expect to die at 39.6 years of age, but he would be perfectly healthy, without experiencing any sort of illness until he turned 38.1. That means that for about 96 percent of his life, a person in Swaziland would have no health issues. If having a healthy population is your goal, that seems to be the best country in the world to live in.

But wait, who wants to die so young? Wouldn’t it be better to experience more health difficulties, and even undergo surgery or become dependent on drugs, if that will nearly double your lifespan?

In the chart below we see that in the United States the average person could expect to live a healthy life until age seventy, after which he might continue to live an unhealthy life until he was about seventy-eight years old. While those last eight years might be excruciatingly painful and involve several surgeries and being on drugs and a reduction of quality of life, still seventy years of healthy life sounds pretty good, compared to thirty-nine in Swaziland.

AmericaHealthExpectancy

American Healthy Average Life Expectancy is 70, after which Americans get to be sick for another eight years before they die

But what if we have entirely misinterpreted those numbers, based on not thinking about what “average” means, and who is being counted as a person for purposes of the average?

I believe that for purposes of these statistics, a newborn baby counts as a person. Now, when you realize how high infant mortality is in undeveloped countries, and how high the birth rate actually is, then it changes the picture completely. Instead of imagining the average adult only getting to live to be thirty-nine, we can imagine that for every adult who makes it to seventy in Swaziland, there might have been a baby who died before age eight. Totally different picture! It means that it’s tough to be an infant or child in that country, but the benefits of surviving are a long and healthy life.

There is a story they tell about the photographer Leni Riefenstahl. After she realized that she had been wrong to support Hitler, she tried to make up for her previous actions by going to Africa and photographing native populations in all their diversity and beauty. But people still accused her of being a fascist. “All the people you photographed were beautiful and healthy!” they said to her. “Why didn’t you take pictures of any ugly or sick people?” She answered: “I didn’t see any ugly or sick people. All the people I saw were beautiful and healthy.” I don’t know if this story is true, but I did read it somewhere. It made me think.

What if in the United States, we are not lengthening our lifespan by a single year with our modern medicine? What if the average adult person has always lived to be about seventy? What if by reducing our birth rate and our infant mortality, we have simply changed the way we count people? We don’t count all the people who would have been born, but haven’t been. And we don’t let our newborns die, no matter how sick they are. That doesn’t make for a healthier population or a longer life. But it does increase the percentage of the economy that is dedicated to healthcare.

I’m not saying this is necessarily the case. My calculations about Swaziland were entirely speculative. I don’t actually know how high their infant and child mortality are.  Nor do I know to what extent American reduction of infant mortality has led to the average lifespan going up from the previous century. I’m just saying that we need to look into average life expectancy more closely and ask ourselves who is being counted for the purposes of these calculations, because the figures could be doctored in order to convince most voting adults today that they need healthcare in order to live a long life.

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http://www.pubwages.com/11/incorrect-premises-lead-to-false-conclusions-the-case-of-the-aging-brain-in-humans-and-chimpanzees

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Posted in Health, Opinion Pieces and Editorials | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Art of Conversation

There is an art to brilliant conversation. It is more than each person talking in turn. It is more than showing courtesy to your interlocutor, pausing when needed, and listening just as much as you speak. Real conversations, the ones that are truly meaningful, allow occasional interruptions of one speaker by another, to interject additional relevant facts, to help with a word choice, and in all other ways to support the better flow of information between and among speakers.

ArtofConversation

Many of us who are socially awkward have been led to believe that if only we master turn taking, everything will get better. Of course, we all know people who insist on giving a monologue or a speech to everyone they meet, and that can be annoying. It certainly isn’t a conversation. This is a problem that can and should be worked on with someone who has trouble with social interaction.

However, I have also seen the converse problem. There are some people who are so well schooled in turn taking, that they entirely forget the purpose of a conversation. I have watched some people who are socially intact but otherwise cognitively impaired take turns talking at each other. They very courteously pause to let the other person speak, but what they say after the other person has spoken in no way relates to what he said. Or it only very tangentially relates, as in sharing a general topic, but having nothing to do with the point that person just made.

A true conversation is a dialogue in which the participants are collaborating on creating a coherent text. In all my writing, and in my favorite books that I read as a child, that is the whole point of conversation. Certainly, in order to do this, some social housekeeping is required. We can’t all speak at the same time, because then nobody will be heard. But turn taking is only a very minor concern, one that can at times yield to the greater needs of the conversational flow. It is all right — and even required — to speak out of turn when you have an important point to make. The purpose of the conversation is to exchange information and build a coherent understanding of the topic. The point is not just to socially interact with whoever happens to be there.

Now, when I was a child, we practiced such conversations at home. The text of the conversation was dictated by the general topic and the specific issue being explored, not by the importance of the people involved. The very smallest person at the table was allowed to interject a relevant point, even speaking out of turn. But  a person who was ranked socially higher had better be silent if he or she had nothing to contribute to the conversation. It was not about rank. It was not about civility or conviviality. It was about content.

When I began to put conversations such as this into my fiction, I encountered some critics who said that the conversations were contrived, because real people don’t talk like that. Only characters in nineteenth century books do.

In fact, it took me years until I met someone outside my own family with whom it was possible to have coherent conversations. He did not agree with me about much, but our conversations made nice, coherent texts, which when written down looked a lot like a dialogue from a book. I have always valued the ability of people to have such conversations, and as rare as that quality in a person is, I think it is an ideal to which we should all aspire.

If autistics need more schooling in turn taking, I think most neurotypicals should also undergo training in conversational coherence. They should be taught that turn taking and social rank are not everything and that ultimately, if you have nothing to contribute to a conversation, you should remain silent. This also applies to publishing professional papers and books in which no actual content is present.

There is an art to conversation. The partners in a dialogue are contributing to a text. The value of the contribution depends on the needs of the text, not on the rank of the contributor.  Coherence is a quality in conversation that needs to be upheld, and it should yield to the lesser value of turn taking.

 

      

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Posted in Books and Authors, Child Rearing, Education: Teaching and Learning | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Reciprocity and Turn Taking in Love

  

It’s a common saying that there are many different kinds of love. Just because someone else’s idea of love is not the same as your own does not mean that it is not love. In a way, that is true, simply because people are using the same word to mean very different things. This is a linguistic issue, not an objective question of anyone’s feelings. It is possible that the word love covers a wide variety of more specific emotions, feelings that we could name, if we tried.

Here are some of the kinds of love that we may encounter:

1) Nurturing, committed and parental love that revolves around caring for someone who is not your equal. It can be a baby, a dog or cat, or even an elder in his dotage. Whoever it is may be a source of joy to you, but the relationship is unequal because of the power differential. The inequality may be temporary, as in a child who will grow up and become self-sufficient or it may be permanent, as in a pet who will always be your dependent.

I wrote about my experiences with this kind of love here:

Love and Commitment and Chimpanzees

2) Nurturing and committed love for someone who is ostensibly your equal, but to whom you have formed a close attachment.  This would be like the love that husbands and wives have for one another, whether or not they  have a strong sexual connection and whether or not they admire each other. It’s that thing that sets in to cement a relationship for the long term, when all the excitement and glitter have worn off. But it’s not just for husbands and wives. It is also something that siblings or close friends can feel for one another or parents and adult children can experience, if they are working together or living together in a way that allows for a close bond.

3) Limerent love – A love whose main component is admiration and rapt worship of the Love Object (LO), though not necessarily any desire to take care of them or use them sexually. Limerent Love is the love we have for those we feel are far above us, and it may include gods as well as men.

4) Sexual Attraction – This is the earliest form of love and we share it with all forms of life that reproduce sexually.

I wrote in more detail about limerence here:

Love and Limerence

From a biological standpoint, (1) and (2) on my list above are actually the same emotion with the same biological markers: attachment and bonding. It is designed to keep families together long enough for the children to be cared for.  Therefore, even if they are equals, pair bonded couples may each feel a parental-like desire to nurture one another, each regarding the other a little bit like a dependent.

Because they cannot both be the parent at the same time, this mutual nurturing can sometimes lead to turn taking when it comes to playing the nurturing role or the dependent recipient role.

What I have noticed, though, is that many, many people across the world associate “true” or “pure” love with selflessness, so much so that they sometimes feel compelled to play the role of the selfless parent-like provider in the pair bond.

To me, this way of conceptualizing love is troubling, because all forms of love are ultimately selfish, and because this privileges the role of nurturer as the “good” lover and the role of recipient as the “bad” lover. Turn-taking then becomes about who gets to be  ”good” at the moment.

ReciprocityOverrated

I used to teach a composition course in Taiwan, and among the assigned topics was to write about the perfect love. One of my students wrote that a perfect love is selfless, and she thought if someone really loved her he would give her a fortune and then leave her alone to lead her own life, without bothering her anymore. (She conceptualized this perfect love as coming from a rich uncle.)

While I found this composition amusing, I was never able to quite wrap my mind around the concept. It is only through this trick of requiring love to be selfless that any person could conclude that complete detachment and non-involvement would be a sign of true love. By her reckoning, receiving pure love would be like winning the lottery.

All forms of love, from the highest to the lowest, are biologically based. All are directly connected to the reward center of the brain. Mothers are rewarded for caring for their young by the joyous feeling that their involvement brings them. Lovers are enraptured by their contact with each other, and the truer the love, the less it requires turn-taking to experience it. Even when a passion is unearthly, as in worshiping a hero or a god, the reward is immediate if the love is genuine. Love is not something you give to someone else. It is something you experience yourself.

In all my books, whether the love is reciprocated, as in Theodosia and the Pirates, or one-sided as in Our Lady of Kaifeng, I make that point. Love is not a contract or an arrangement or a relationship. It is not a policy, and it does not require work. It is a feeling, and it is its own reward!

 

   

 

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Posted in Apes and Language, Opinion Pieces and Editorials, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reading And Commenting On That Blog Post

I sometimes am hesitant to post links to my blogs on Facebook these days because most people do not click through to read and comment.  One friend told me awhile back she reads only what I post on my Facebook wall, and I was not sure how to respond to this.  Obviously whatever I am writing about is not of interest to this person, and it makes me think posting links on Twitter and my Facebook website pages is the most conducive use of my time.  My honest opinion is how can you get the gist of what someone wrote if you did not click through and actually read what they posted on their own website.  I know posting blogs is considered spammy and overly promotional, but how else are bloggers going to get their writing out there?  Meanwhile no one thinks much about the abundance of Coca-Cola or Crest ads, but get quite irritated when a  blogger posts something they wrote on their own wall.  However, the truth is if you do not promote yourself, then who will?  Major corporations have PR  teams and resources to do that, and the lone blogger should take enough pride in their work to actually want to share it with others.  I suppose my wall is not the best place to do that, but this is besides the point.

The next issue I find perplexing is why do people actually read a blog post, and then only comment about it on Facebook.  Is it really that much more difficult to log into Google to post a comment?  It just seems if readers were truly interested in supporting a blogger they could take the time to make one extra step and post the comment on the actual website rather than Facebook.  I get some traffic from Facebook, but increasingly it seems like no one really likes bloggers to post things on their walls.  Some seem to have success with it, but I am feeling Twitter and other social networks are better for this.  The thing is as a blogger this is how I make my income, and why should I be ashamed for promoting myself?  People are never reticent to promote themselves in a myriad of aspects, but it seems taboo to ever call attention to the blogs one invests time and effort in.  Well, since those people are not running after me telling me they willing to hire a promotion team to share my blogs with the world, I am just going to arrive at the conclusion they are not very supportive of my goals.  No one has to support my goals, but I am not going to apologize for promoting my writing either, especially when it is okay to promote everything else under the sun.

Now when it comes to the strenuous effort involved with commenting on a blogger account, there is really not much to it.  The picture below shows a drop down menu of all the options blogger gives for commenting.

The picture  with the drop down menu below illustrates how easy it is to comment on a blogger.com post.  If someone does not comment there it probably is because they just did not want to put in the effort to do so.  WordPress is even easier because you can post anonymous comments on that platform.

The picture is a screen shot from my blogger.com blog. It illustrates how easy it is to comment on a blogger.com post with many different options. If someone does not comment there it probably is because they just did not want to put in the effort to do so. WordPress is even easier because you can post anonymous comments on that platform.

WordPress is even more lenient when it comes to people commenting on a post, and you can comment anonymously.  So why do you not comment on a blog post? Maybe you just find it boring and could care less.   That is fine, but telling a blogger you read the first three lines of the post on their Facebook wall and got the gist is kind of dismissive to that person.  I guess I will not comment on much of what you post either, since I know you feel about my posts.

 

Posted in Opinion Pieces and Editorials | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Where Have All the Nannies Gone? A Review of Saving Mr. Banks

I saw the Disney movie Saving Mr. Banks yesterday, and what’s more I liked it. I am as hard to please as P.L. Travers when it comes to movie appreciation, so this is in itself a small miracle. Though the movie came out in December, it only just now appeared in my neck of the woods.

The story is about how Walt Disney and his entire script writing team, including composers and lyricists, won over the reluctant and exacting P.L. Travers and got the rights to make the movie, Mary Poppins.

YouTube Preview Image

 

To a lot of reviewers, the value of the film turns on the verisimilitude of the historical portrayal of Walt Disney, P.L. Travers and the Sherman brothers. The clothing, the sets, the period pieces are what is all about.

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To me it is also about the making of a musical. I took no small interest in the songwriting process, being a lyricist myself and part of the songwriting team of Carter and Katz. The way in which the Sherman brothers came up with their songs and even how they demonstrated the newly or partially written songs was dramatized realistically.

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I enjoyed the little moments, such as when Travers refused to accept made up words, or suggested that “let us fly a kite” might be more proper English than “let’s fly a kite”, but then quickly gave up that notion when she realized it didn’t scan. It was extremely amusing to see her refuse to sign the contract unless the color red were entirely removed from every scene in the movie.

But what I really went to see and was intrigued by was the story of how the character of Mr. Banks came about. To me, Mary Poppins was never about Mary Poppins. It was always about Mr. Banks and his values.

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 Would you believe that as a child I identified with Mr. Banks and was rooting for him and his way of life? It may seem inconceivable, but it is true. After all, Mr. Banks was a capitalist. He sang the praises of free enterprise

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I knew at once that there was something fishy about the song “Feed the Birds”. Yes, it was a pretty melody, but there was something tricky and treacherous about inserting the song at just that junction in the movie.

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True, feeding the birds, the homeless and the hungry, when you are using your own money is perfectly fine. But to fill the children’s heads with that idea so as to cause them to withhold their tuppence from the bankers they were going to visit that day and thereby trigger a run on the bank where their father works seems like a very cruel thing for a magical nanny to do.  It’s almost as if she were brainwashing her young charges to harm their father. After all, she was the one who suggested he take them to the bank that day, and now Mr. Banks’s life is in ruins.

A man has dreams of walking with giants
To carve his niche in the edifice of time
Before the mortar of his zeal
Has a chance to congeal
The cup is dashed from his lips
The flame is snuffed aborning
He’s brought to rack and ruin in his prime

My world was calm, well ordered, exemplary
Then came this person, with chaos in her wake
And now my life’s ambitions go with one fell blow
It’s quite a bitter pill to take

In Saving Mr. Banks, I learned that Travers Goff lost his job as a bank manager not because young Helen (P.L. Travers’ real name) refused to deposit tuppence in the bank but because he had a drinking problem. In other words, he was not a diligent banker betrayed by a conniving, socialist nanny. He was a poor banker, undone by dissipated living. Unlike Mr. Banks, Mr. Goff was a dreamer who had trouble with self-discipline. He went flying kites with his daughter way too often, and  that was what led to his undoing, as well as that of his wife.

At the beginning of the movie, we see the Goff family saying goodbye to their comfortable house in a nice neighborhood and to their servants, among them a nanny of the starched-cap variety. “Goodbye, Nanna!”

Mrs. Goff says “thank you” to the servants for all they have done to help her, and she is obviously sorry to leave them. The servants, in turn, are very kind to Mrs. Goff. They seem to realize the family is on its way to ruin, and they feel sorry for the lady of the house, who, without their help, will not be able to cope.

What is a 21st century audience intended to make of this scene? Does it seem strange to them that the loss of servants is the real cause of all the suffering in this movie? How many of us have servants in our home to cook and clean and take care of our children?

Today, only the very rich have servants. But it was not always this way. In the not-so-distant past, every middle class family had servants. The family could be very poor or in difficult financial straits, and still they had servants as long as it was middle class. Think about the fictional family in Little Women or of the problems of the very real Bronte sisters, forced to take up jobs as governesses — and yet still they had servants at home, helping with the chores.

Even as late as 1939, in Poland, my father had a live-in nanny. His mother was an educated woman. She had a Masters degree in mathematics, but she did not work outside the home. And yet a nanny was giving her son his baths and helping to clip his fingernails. This did not mean that my grandmother was not involved in bringing up my father. She spoke to him in Hebrew while the nanny spoke Polish. She read to him from the Bible in the original. But she did not cook or clean or do menial tasks. The presence of a nanny did not imply the absence of a mother. And no, they were not rich. They were middle class.

Fast forward to the 1960s in America,  and nobody but rich people had nannies. Some mothers worked outside the home, but most had replaced the nanny and the scullery maid and the housekeeper in their middle class families. They had automatic dishwashers and washing machines, but no servants. And they were expected to dedicate their lives to having shiny floors and dusting the furniture and baking delicious pies and changing diapers, even if they had masters degrees in mathematics. Women needed to be liberated from this, the feminists felt, but actually the middle class females had been thrust into this drudgery by the “liberation” of the servants. Now all the servant class worked in factories, and their employers were not the Banks family. They worked for big corporations that could afford FICA and FUTA and health insurance for their full time employees.

P.L. Travers was not against nannies or housekeepers. She was not for women’s lib. At the beginning of the movie, we see that she had had to let her maid, Polly, go because she was in dire financial straits. After she signed the contract with Disney, Travers was able to rehire Polly. And Polly, far from being an exploited worker, was seen to be a happy person with a strong independent spirit, perfectly capable of standing up to the crotchety author and match her blow for blow in a  battle of wit.

The “classless” society in Disney’s America bothered P.L. Travers. She did not like everybody being called by their first name. And she thought the idea of Mrs. Banks being a suffragette was downright silly. The scriptwriter and the Sherman brothers tried to explain that Mrs. Banks was made into a suffragette in order to explain why she needed a nanny when she didn’t have a job. Otherwise, she would have seemed like a slacker. Why didn’t she take care of her own children? Travers replied that a mother didn’t need to have a job to employ a nanny. Being a mother was a hard enough job as it was. The Americans did not understand.

The terrible thing that happened to the Goff family when their fortunes went down was not simply the loss of the father’s earning capacity. It was not just that his health declined until he drank himself to death. It was that somewhere along the line, they lost all their servants, and all the household work fell on the shoulders of the mother.

In a lower class family, where people are used to not having servants, the mother usually delegates much of the work to her many children. Some scrub floors. Some set the table. Some wash dishes. Some hang up the wash or fold it. But in the Goff family, when the mother tried to delegate some of the work to Helen, the father did not support her. He wanted Helen to keep on playing, while her mother carried the load all unaided. This created a rift between mother and daughter and ultimately led to P.L. Travers conflicted personality, at once “perfectly capable” of doing everything herself, but not really able to do anything besides writing fantasies.

In our society today, the stay-at-home mother is rare. Servants are non-existent. Both parents work, whether they are married to each other or not. All children go to school for twelve years. Some help a little at home, but because the entire command structure of society has unraveled, much of the time nobody cooks dinner, and people end up getting their nourishment at McDonalds. Obesity is the rule rather than exception, not because people are too affluent or because they eat too much, but because nobody is paid to cook except those who work at restaurants, and people eat the wrong things. Cooking is neglected. It’s not the sevants’ job, it’s not the mother’s job and it is not the children’s job. In most homes, there’s just nobody who is required to do it.

By the same token, nobody is the nanny, and nobody is the mother, and people don’t realize anymore that these roles can be different. If mom is the scullery maid in your house, she’s not going to have time to read to you. If parents both work outside the home and there is no nanny, then who is bringing up the children? These are important questions, but nobody is addressing them.

Winifred Banks liberated herself right out of having any help for all her burdens. But Mrs. Goff was not a suffragette. She was a good wife who had a less than responsible husband.

Some reviewers suggested the movie was about the clash between Disney’s capitalism and Travers’ anti-capitalism. In fact, it seemed to me that neither of them was pro-capitalism. Both of them thought money was the root of all evil.

When Disney finally wins P.L. Travers over, he does so by telling the story of his own father, Elias Disney, who had a profitable business, but was too much of a skinflint to employ paper delivery boys. So the entire burden of delivering the paper fell on the shoulders of his two underage sons. Instead of realizing that employing the poor in menial jobs like delivering papers and changing diapers was the way to relieve suffering for society at large, Disney put out a movie whose message was “feed the birds” and “let’s go fly a kite.”

In 1957 Atlas Shrugged came out. It’s too bad Disney’s daughters were not as taken in by that classic as they were by Mary Poppins.  Otherwise in 1961 Disney might have been romancing Ayn Rand, instead, and Dick Van Dyke could have been playing John Galt to Julie Andrews’ Dagny. With singing penguins, no less! Now wouldn’t you like to see that?

Still, Saving Mr. Banks was a very good movie. It was funny and intelligent, and it did not short change the real people it was based on. There’s a lot more dirt on Travers in this BBC documentary:

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Does the Disney movie play favorites, making Walt Disney look good while vilifying P.L. Travers? Actually, no. To some extent, this movie whitewashes the lives of both, concentrating on the matter at hand, and not overdoing the flaws of either.

Ultimately both Disney and Travers were conflicted and inconsistent. He enjoyed great business success, but put out movies that pandered to the foes of industry and free trade. She wanted to hold on to her artistic purity, but did not realize that only money could set her free to do that. All in all, it’s still a very optimistic movie. Why? Because the Sherman brothers wrote great songs! They showed both sides of the coin equally well.

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Posted in Composers, Money, Movies and Films | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Is It For Children?

BookDisplay

A Display of Inverted-A Press Books, including some by me

As an author, and also as a reader, I have a problem with genre in general. My books do not fit squarely into any given genre, because basically they are all about the same thing: my view of life. It does not matter whether I am describing events from the Bible in a setting of modern day rural Texas, or telling the story of a Chinese six year old learning English, or writing a romance about historical figures from the 19th century during the war of 1812; it is all basically about this: what is right, what is just, what is language, how do people from different cultures and perspectives view the same event or even the same word?  How do people parse things?

  

If you have read one of my books, then in one sense, you have read them all. Themes will reemerge, even though the setting is different. That is because I am a hedgehog and not a fox, as Isaiah Berlin would put it. I may not be a very good hedgehog, but, for better or worse, that is what I am.

For a long time now I have been aware that I can’t answer the question: “What is your book about?” in a way that really prepares the average reader to accept its content. Whatever answer I give will seem like a lie. People used to ask “What sort of book is this?” and I used to glibly answer “A good book.” Now I think the better answer would be: “A difficult book.” It’s difficult, because it requires the reader to think.

But is it for children?

Only recently did I realize that this question, quite surprisingly, is also hard to answer truthfully in a way that prepares the reader for the content. But I think lots of others struggle with this question, too. This year I saw Hayao Miyazaki skirt the issue very gracefully in an interview:

 http://www.pubwages.com/11/hayao-miyazakis-the-wind-rises-for-children-or-not

One very popular children’s author, Roald Dahl, wrote surprisingly similar books for both adults and for children. Compare Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with My Uncle Oswald. 

    

All of Raold Dahl’s books are a little disturbing. They are not nicey-nice books. His treatment of chocolate in his book for children is not that different from his treatment of  aphrodisiacs in his book for adults.

One clue as to whether something is for children or adults, of course, is the subject matter. Books that refer openly to sexual situations are off limits to children. That makes my novels Theodosia and the Pirates and Vacuum County clearly books for adults and not children.

But what about my books for children? Are they not for adults?

Readers have been confused about both. There are those who felt Ping and the Snirkelly People, though a useful and thought provoking book, was not right for children, because it dealt with culture clash, religion as viewed by an outsider, and — of all things — the parsing of the word “infidelity”.

There are also those who have read Theodosia and the Pirates and, despite the explicit love scenes, decided it must be a book for children. Maybe it was the discussion of English spelling that did it.

In a way, the critics are right. Both books are, at the heart of them, about the same thing. All my books are. And they are not typically books for children or adults. They are not books for women or for men. They are not books for liberals or for conservatives. They are books for people. And they might even be appropriate for non-humans and extraterrestrials.

People who are too invested in being either a child or an adult, a woman or a man, or a member of any particular group, might have a problem reading them, though.

Copyright 2014 Aya Katz

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Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises: For Children or Not?

Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film is a biography, based on the true life story of Jiro Horikoshi, (堀越 二郎), the man who designed the Zero fighter used by the Japanese during World War II. This may be Miyazaki’s last film, and it is an ambitious one, touching on important human issues such as war, love, art and the making of a killing machine. But is it a movie for children?

The question was addressed to Miyazaki in a recent interview embedded below. It is in Japanese, but is closed captioned in English.

At about 2:47, the following exchange between Miyazaki and the interviewer appears:

Q: The phrase “I like you so much” made an impact in this film.

A: Yes.

Q: In your films I saw before, I did not hear romantic phrases like that, and I got surprised this time.

A: Yeah, well this that kind of film… It’s weird saying that kind of film, though… It’s a film where the characters are grownups. This isn’t a film for little children. However, I’ve always been making films that might be difficult for children. But once a film is made, somehow it all becomes understandable for children. But this time, I don’t really know. I kind of feel low teens may understand something, though.

It is amusing to think of the phrase “I like you so much” as being too much for children to understand. It is certainly much milder than what most children are exposed to these days in a Disney movie. But perhaps it is a problem with the translation. And it could also reflect differences between Japanese and American culture.

I noticed that in movies about teen romance like “Whisper of the Heart” and “From Up on Poppy Hill” the characters seldom declare their love (or liking) in an open fashion, even when they are planning to make a life together.

But besides the cultural issues, the question of what makes something a movie for children or not is an interesting one. What is it that should be off limits to children? Is something that is anime necessarily relegated to the realm of fantasy? Can important social and emotional issues be touched on in a serious anime film?

I am looking forward to seeing The Wind Rises and finding out for myself.

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Roasting A Giant Organic Pumpkin

The pumpkin has been sitting on my counter for a few weeks, and I decided today was the day I needed to roast him.

Above are two pictures illustrating how I cut vertical slats in the pumpkin. Does it seem funny that I did this? The rationale behind cutting slats in the pumpkin is so steam can escape since I am roasting it whole. Yes, I find it easier to roast the pumpkin whole rather than cutting into the hard gourd and scooping at the insides before cooking. Once it is roasted I allow it to cool completely, and then it is soft when I scoop out the insides.

YouTube Preview Image

The pumpkin looked lovely after I took it out of the oven, but it needs to cool off before I scoop out and puree the pumpkin fruit on the inside.  You can watch more of my YouTube videos to see the pumpkin pies I have made over the years.

Here is what the pumpkin looked like as it was roasting in the oven.

Here is what the pumpkin  looked liked after I took it out of the oven.  It needs to cool off!

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Songs of Slavery

Songs of Slavery

Slavery, as a human institution, has existed since time immemorial. It is sanctioned in the Bible and was practiced by the Greeks and the Romans. It was prevalent in medieval eastern Europe, and it was even a part of early America.

What is slavery? Why does it arise? How can we prevent it from happening again?

And why does it inspire such beautiful songs?

Slave Market in Medieval Eastern Europe

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Slaves were not always lower class citizens, underprivileged or manual laborers. Some slaves were better educated than their masters, and they worked as tutors, poets or entertainers. A dramatization of the plight of such a slave can be seen in this clip from Spartacus. Slaves were not always foreign or members of conquered nations, although many were.

One of the problems for modern day readers in understanding what is meant by slavery in historical accounts is that the terms change at least as much as the relationships. For instance, did you know that employee is just the modern term for what we used to call a servant in EnglishAnd did you know that the master/slave relationship is sometimes confused with the relationship of a servant to his master? I didn’t realize this until I went to law school, and I noticed that older case law concerning servants was cited in current cases about employees. The same doctrines applied, only the words were different.

Respondeat Superior

The doctrine of Respondeat Superior, which is still applicable today, says that an employer is responsible for the torts committed by his employees during the course of their employment. Respondeat superior means “let the master answer.” It makes sense, if you think of the servant  as a mere instrument in the hands of his master, having no will of his own. It makes a lot less sense if you think of the employee as a free man or woman.

There are those who argue that the view of the employee as a mere instrument is just a legal fiction designed to get at the deep pocket of the employer. However, there is more to it than that. If you hire someone to work for you, but they are self-employed, then despite the wages they receive for doing your work, you are not held responsible for their wrongful acts while on the job. It is only if someone works for you full time, is directed by you as to how to do the work, not just which work is to be done, and is completely dependent on you for his livelihood that you end up paying for his misdeeds.

The key here is control. Is the employee entirely under your control? Does he take his orders from you? Do you basically own him during the work day? In that case, he’s not really an independent person, he’s your instrument, and you are responsible.

Who are we responsible for? Our children, our pets and our servants. Why? Because we control them. We get to tell them what to do, we support them and they answer to us.

What rights do slaves have that free men don’t?

When we read about slavery in history books, it is often taken for granted that no one would choose to be a slave, or that slaves are always exploited, while slave-holders are in an enviable position, although slightly evil. Actually, the institution of slavery can be quite unpleasant for all involved. Ayn Rand described the master/slave relation as a leash with a noose at both ends.

In any event, in societies where slavery is allowed, there are usually strict rules about the rights of slaves. Did you know that the Biblical injunction not to work on the Sabbath day was intended to protect slaves and beasts of burden from being overworked? (Exodus 23:12 )

שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי תִּשְׁבֹּת–לְמַעַן יָנוּחַ, שׁוֹרְךָ וַחֲמֹרֶךָ, וְיִנָּפֵשׁ בֶּן-אֲמָתְךָ, וְהַגֵּר

“Six days you will do your deeds and on the seventh you will stop — in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave and the alien may take a breather.” (My translation.)

Notice that the beasts of burden come first, and the slaves and guest workers are mentioned almost as an afterthought. In any event, there is definitely a parallel structure to the verse.

Is it really any different from our modern five day work week and eight hour work day? The limitations on how long people are expected to work are intended to protect employees from exploitation by their employers, servants from over-reaching by their masters. We all know that when we work for ourselves, we work much longer days and usually don’t take the weekends off. It’s only the servants of others who have the luxury of a guaranteed respite from work.

The right to basic necessities

It makes perfect sense that if someone is not free to go where he wants or do as he chooses, then those who have the right to make those decisions for him must provide him with the basic necessities of life. Prisoners, children and domesticated animals are fed by their keepers. On the other hand, free men and wild animals are able to go where they will, and they hunt for food where they can find it. Responsibility and control have always gone hand in hand. You are not your brother’s keeper, unless, of course, your brother is your slave, your servant or a minor or incompetent person under your supervision. If you own it, you have to feed it.

This is not an arbitrary rule that can change with social custom or alter from one historical period to the next. It is a natural rule that tends to crop up by itself in every society, and even in the wild. Mammalian mothers provide for their children only so long as the child is physically dependent on them, and they control the child’s movement and behavior only so long as the child needs their protection. Chimpanzees riding on their mothers’ back defer to the mother in all things, but as soon as they are able to provide for themselves, the mother loses control. Responsibility and control go hand in hand.

If you offer to take responsibility for another, then you are also assuming control. When you stop providing for another is when you lose control. The downside of being a slaveholder is that you are responsible for taking care of your slaves. The downside of having all your basic necessities provided for you by someone else is that you lose control over your life.

From this it follows that there are two ways to become a slave: (1) being overpowered by another and forced to serve and (2) accepting a dependent relationship to another, and having all one’s needs met by that other person. The first route to slavery may be more violent, but the second is equally effective in robbing a person of his freedom.

A New Pharoah that Didn’t Know Joseph

Exodus: The Song Sung After Pharoah drowned

Welfare, the dole and the story of Exodus

An illustration of these basic principles can be found in the Old Testament story about slavery in Egypt. We don’t have to necessarily believe that these events happened, or that the account is historically accurate, in order to appreciate the basic truths that emerge from the story.

The tale starts with sibling rivalry and favoritism and a cruel act of revenge. Joseph was the favorite son because his mother was the favored wife. This was not a monogamous household, and the father was too lavish in his gifts to the one he loved most. The brothers who were sons of a less favored wife ganged up on the favorite, threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery.

One thing led to another, and Joseph became an adviser to the ruler of the land. And what did he advise? The government should tax the people and store up grain against a famine. This way, when the famine came, the government could dole out bread to all the people, and nobody need starve. Joseph went from being a slave to being a “public servant”, and the doctrines he preached were those of the welfare state.

In time, there was indeed a famine, and Joseph’s family, who had been independent herdsmen and farmers, came in to Egypt to get some of that free welfare. There was a tearful reunion, all was forgiven, and the family stayed in Egypt for many generations. During that time, the clan lost its independence, and since they were entirely living on food they did not grow, they naturally became slaves. By now, nobody remembered that they were related to a high official who started the system, so they did not get any special treatment. They were slaves like everybody else. Like all their neighbors.

When the burdens became too hard, these people rebelled and were eventually granted freedom to return to their own land. But generations of living as slaves left them unprepared to fend for themselves. They expected to receive food from others, like manna from heaven. They cried out that being free was too hard! They wanted to go back. Moses had to wait in the desert for the generation that had been born slaves to die out, and for those who were born free to take their place.

Moral of the story: it is easy to fall into slavery, but hard to re-learn how to live free.

The Desert Generation

In Israel, this aspect of the story was reinforced, when the original settlers were called “the desert generation”. Those born free were expected to take their place and forget about being provided for by others. The untimely appearance of Holocaust survivors at a crucial point in history threw things off balance, leaving too many former slaves in evidence and diluting the voting power of those who were born free.

But the story of exodus applies to everyone, not just Israelis and Israelites. It shows how having one’s basic needs met by the state of necessity leads to slavery, how easy it is to fall into slavery, and how hard it is for those accustomed to the dole to learn to live free.

Staying Vigilant

The possibility of slavery is always there. It doesn’t matter that the words change. Nobody is called a “servant” anymore, except for “public servants”, but the laws that applied to slaves and servants still apply to employees. It isn’t the label that matters, it’s the function.

If someone offers to carry all your burdens for you, to provide for old age or ill health or famine or plague, tell them “No, thank you.” Tell them you know that that is the road to slavery. Tell them that you know that slavery is easy to fall into, but hard to outgrow.

Copyright 2010 Aya Katz

Related Hubs and Links

Note: This article was first published on Hubpages in 2010 and has been unpublished as overly promotional. To learn more about its unpublication, you might want to read this Bubble:

http://www.bubblews.com/news/1108176-overly-promotional

 

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