Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jim Fay & Charles Fay: Love and Logic Magic® for Early Childhood

I’ve got a three-year-old granddaughter living with me. That can raise the occasional (or frequent) challenge. My wife’s school (she’s a teacher) has been offering “Love and Logic” training to their parents this year. She thought the program looked interesting. So we ordered some of the materials from the Love and Logic Institute. I’ve watched the first DVD, and just completed reading Love and Logic Magic® for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay.

I am by no means an expert from having read the book – would that it were so. But the Fay’s actually expect me to change things in how I respond to my granddaughter before I can expect any improvements. The book is short and simple, with a great deal of repetition. The Fay’s make their points with great clarity.

The “Love and Logic” program described in the book offers four principles in dealing with children:
• Build the self-concept.
• Share the control or decision-making.
• Offer empathy, then consequences.
• Share the thinking and problem-solving.
They also offer two rules:
1. Take care of yourself by setting limits in a loving way.
2. Turn every mistake or misbehavior into a learning opportunity.

As you can imagine, the book elaborates on these principles and rules far more than I will. A very simplistic shorthand is that we should empathize with our children for the consequences that are about to befall them, and that we should never let them see us angry or frustrated. They give countless examples of their recommendations working. They also give countless dire examples of the failures of people who fail to follow their advice.

The subtitle of this book is Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years. The promise is that if we follow their advice, we will have loving, responsible, respectful teenagers. What a goal! The threat is that if we take the wrong path at this age, we will live with monsters as teenagers. Although I assume my granddaughter will go home before becoming a teenager, I don’t want to send back a monster.

I started the book three days ago, so I’ve barely dabbled in putting it into practice. I’ve been giving my granddaughter lots more choices. This morning she got to pick which jogging suit to wear. Tonight she got to choose her water glass. She’s had lots of choices like putting on shirt or pants first, or doing it herself or having me help. I’ve given her a lot of hugs and empathy before consequences drop. And I hope to get better after my wife finishes the book and explains things to me more.

Overall I’m pleased with Love and Logic Magic® for Early Childhood. In limited application, I think my granddaughter is responding well to its lessons.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Grisham: Skipping Christmas

I read Skipping Christmas by John Grisham many years ago. Probably in 2001 when it first came out. I remembered the basic story line, especially after being reminded by watching previews for Christmas with the Kranks. The movie previews turned me off on the prospect of a re-read. Plus I remembered that there were aspects of the book I did not like. But this year I thought, “It’s Christmas! Why not?”

Luther and Nora Krank’s daughter, Blair, goes to Peru with the Peace Corps a month before Christmas. Luther is a tax accountant, a notoriously unsentimental profession. He calculates that last year they spent $6,100 on Christmas for too much to eat, too much to drink, and gifts no one wanted. They also are under pressure and fight over decorating, last minute shopping, and all the other stress factor of Christmas. With Blair gone, why go through it all? For half the price and none of the hassle they can go on a 10-day Caribbean cruise. So why not go someplace warm? Why not skip Christmas?

Luther convinces Nora, and the book is on. But skipping Christmas is not so easy in the Krank’s town. Their neighborhood is proud of its success in Christmas decorating contests. Luther’s undecorated home sticks out badly. Police and Firemen don’t like hearing about skipping the whole things while they are selling calendars and fruitcakes to help the needy. Luther’s co-workers are alternately envious and upset about his plan to skip the office parties and other trappings of the season. But Nora’s friends are just horrified.

The first half of the book is a pretty harsh look at the commercialization and petty bickering of the modern American Christmas. And I felt pretty glad not to live in Luther’s neighborhood. There were sparks of humor, although some was dark humor. Mainly, I did not like the bickering between Nora and Luther.

But around the middle of the book, Luther’s plans go awry. And the humor and Christmas spirit picks up. Yesterday, I found myself chucking while reading in line at the Post Office. This morning I caught myself laughing out loud while reading alone in the house.

Skipping Christmas is not a typical Grisham novel – it’s a Christmas book. But Grisham is a good writer, so it’s a good Christmas book. It’s a short, easy read in the busy season. By the end, it puts you in a good mood. And it was well worth my time on the re-read.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Daniel Silva: Moscow Rules

How refreshing! After just two more serious books, it felt good to read another fun, hard-to-put-down story. If you don’t know Gabriel Allon, then you have never read Daniel Silva. Allon is an art restorer, restoring great masters paintings in various settings around Europe. He’s the best, and he loves it. But he never uses the name Allon when he is working on old paintings.

Gabriel Allon got his start with Israeli intelligence as part of the elite assassination team that tracked down and killed all the terrorists involved in the Munich Olympics massacre. His boss form those days, Ari Shamron, keeps calling him back, book after book, to deal with some crisis requiring his special skills.

In Moscow Rules, an independent Russian journalist has information he wants to pass to the West. But he will talk to no one but Gabriel Allon (who made the mistake of getting his name in the paper in a previous book). I don’t think I’m tipping the story too much to say that the journalist is killed while Allon is setting up the meet. Obviously, he did not get his message through, but Shamron and Allon are both convinced it was important.

It turns out that independent journalist in Russia is a very hazardous profession. Three are attacked in this book alone. It is especially dangerous to cross Ivan Kharkov, an unscrupulous arms dealer, bent on making as much money as possible from unused Soviet munitions. Generally he sells to Third World countries – either the government or the rebels – but now he may have an especially dangerous shipment destined for al-Qaeda.

Allon goes to Russia to learn what the journalist failed to tell him. While there, he operates under “Moscow Rules”, chief of which is, “Never look back. You are never completely alone.” Essentially the rules say that everyplace you are is bugged, everyone you meet is a counter-spy agent, everywhere you go you are being followed. So, challenging as it is, run your operation accordingly.

As the plot unfolds, Allon works with an expanding team, including Israeli, American, British, and French agencies. He gets much better cooperation than anyone in a Le Carré novel could ever hope for. But the situation remains complex and dangerous.

Gabriel Allon is a likeable character. I enjoy his reluctance to be drawn back into the fray balanced against his obvious expertise when he is. And I also like the fact that he is not an infallible super-hero. He does get into trouble. He does need help.

Gabriel Allon develops as a character across his many novels. But Silva does a good job keeping the books stand-alone. In Moscow Rules, we see occasional references back to successful operations from previous books. The references add a touch of depth, but are in no way critical to the current story. But mentioning many of them could tend to reveal some outcome from a previous book.

I loved the pure adrenaline rush of accompanying Gabriel Allon through the pages of Moscow Rules.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wilcomb E. Washburn: Red Man's Land - White Man's Law

I bought Red Man’s Land – White Man’s Law by Wilcomb E. Washburn before going into the Army in 1971. It has languished on my bookshelves, or in a box, ever since. At the time, my intentions toward non-fiction were much greater than my actions. At the same time I bought (and read) Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I had thought Washburn’s book would be another look at American history from the Native American perspective.

It turns out that Red Man’s Land – White Man’s Law is more a “current affairs” sort of book. And I waited 37 years to read it. Oops! Think of waiting 37 years to read Friedman’s The World is Flat, or Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Big mistake.

Actually, the book does have a lot of historical background, although at a summary level. His “Theoretical Assumptions” chapter gives a pretty good view of the religious underpinnings of European attitudes toward Native Americans in the early years after discovery. As I read “From Discovery to Settlement” I found myself thinking how poorly the analysis stacked up to newer books like Charles C. Mann’s 1491, Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower, or David A Price’s Love and Hate in Jamestown. And his chapters on the Eighteen and Nineteenth centuries do not compare at all well with Allan W. Eckert’s contemporaneously written The Winning of America series. Of course Eckert used five 600 page books to tell the story of the Eighteenth and first third of the Nineteenth centuries.

Washburn goes to some effort to allay the “myth” that American’s unfairly stole land from Indian tribes. He points out that they were always meticulous in paying for land acquired through various treaties. I was stunned! As Eckert would point out, yes, they did always find someone to pay. But they did not always try hard to find someone with the authority to sell. From Washburn’s apparent perspective, you would be perfectly justified in buying my neighbor’s house from me, and be pleased with the bargain price I gave you.

Washburn does a good job describing the see-saw effect of vacillating federal policy toward the Native American tribes. Some years they were trying to destroy the tribes and assimilate the members. Others they were trying to bolster the tribal government. I had a pretty fair understanding of the creation of tribal rolls, allocation of individual plots, and sale of “surplus” lands that took place at the time of Oklahoma land-runs and statehood. I did not have as good a feel for the how the Indian lands were still held in trust by the federal government after allocation.

I was surprised to see the swings in policies taking place as recently as the Roosevelt (FDR), Kennedy, and Nixon administrations. Interestingly enough, Washburn showed a lot of optimism for the changes planned by Nixon. He showed a very strong (pre-Watergate) appreciation for Nixon. But this was where my mistake in waiting so long to read the book really came home hard. I’ve got a whole string of 37-year-old unresolved issues. I know they’ve been resolved, and probably reversed a time or two. But I don’t know how they really came out.

One area of Washburn’s book really struck me as hilarious. (Not that he meant it to be.) He makes a big point of a significant segment of White America adopting Indian values. He points to the growing movement of Hippie Communes sprouting in the Southwest, often in close proximity to Native American communities. Funny, I think of Hippie Communes as a silly anecdote in recent history, not a major social movement.

Much of my negative feeling toward Red Man’s Land – White Man’s Law is my own fault. I obviously waited way too long. But it also makes me question the value of saving other “current affairs” books for very long. I should probably try to find the 1995 Second Edition, both to see how Nixon’s policies worked out, and to give Washburn to same opportunity to apply hindsight that I used in reading his book.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

John Le Carré: A Most Wanted Man

As I was reading A Most Wanted Man, I kept asking myself, “Why do I keep reading Le Carré?” John Le Carrré’s books certainly are not as much fun as David Baldacci’s. Any yet, he has the reputation as being the premier writer of espionage fiction. In hindsight, it occurs to me that I enjoy about half of Le Carré’s stuff. I bought A Most Wanted Man because I was interested in seeing Le Carré’s take on the “War on Terror”.

In A Most Wanted Man, we see the interactions among several interesting characters. Issa Karpov is a Muslim, in Hamburg illegally, taken in by a Turkish family, who happen to be trying to achieve German citizenship. Annabel Richter is a civil rights lawyer who works for Sanctuary North, an organization dedicated to the protection of stateless and displaced persons in northern Germany. Tommy Brue is the senior banker in the British bank, Brue Frères operating in Hamburg. Günther Bachmann heads the Foreign Acquisitions Unit of Hamburg’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Issa appears to be devout, naïve, young, and innocent. He also bears obvious scars of torture. It turns out he is the Chechen son of a Russian Army officer. He has apparently been in prison in both Russia and Turkey. How did he end up in Hamburg? How could an innocent young man get across the numerous borders involved?

Annabel contacts Tommy on Issa’s behalf. Apparently Issa’s father had deposited considerable cash, of questionable origin, with Brue Frères through Tommy now deceased father. Is the bank complicit in money laundering? Is Annabel perpetrating a blackmail scheme? What does Issa want to fund? Annabel’s last client was deported to certain torture and death. To what lengths will she go to avoid a repeat of that outcome?

Günther’s organization is caught up in a power struggle between the Federal Police and the Federal Foreign Intelligence Service. Who will take primacy in the “War on Terror”? Will the new Joint Steering Committee be effective, or just a new forum for in-fighting?

The international community has a warrant out for Issa. Günther finds him. Günther’s background leads him in the direction of wanting to recruit agents-in-place, to gain intelligence on terrorist plans. Other factions are more interested in headline grabbing arrests. What are British and American agents doing on German soil? Who is in charge?

All these conflicting issues intertwine throughout the story in A Most Wanted Man. Le Carré leads us to a believable conclusion.

There is something about Le Carré’s writing style that can grate on me some. And to a large extent, I really don’t care what happens to all his characters. He doesn’t get me emotionally involved. So A Most Wanted Man is not that much fun. It is not a hard-to-put-down, gripping page-turner.

But in the week since I finished the book, I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot stop thinking about what the US and its allies are doing in the “War on Terror”. Are we doing the right thing? That’s probably why I keep reading Le Carré. His books leave you thinking. And that’s a good thing.