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Agatha Christie and Qanon

Agatha Christie is one of my go-to authors. Her mysteries are often second to none and great adventures to boot, as her characters often travel to exotic places. Most of her stories can be read in one sitting, and most are more than mysteries: they give us her insights into human nature as well as quiet, no frills love stories.

That being said, she has a few misses, at least in my opinion. I don’t care for her Harley Quin stories and some of her stories that are political spy thrillers. However The Man in the Brown Suit is my absolute favorite by her, and as I’m going to read that again soon, I’ll be sure to do a review later on. This week I read Passenger to Frankfurt and though I enjoy politics and spies, I found this story tedious and difficult to follow.

When this happens with an author I like, I often try to finish the book anyway and find something to enjoy about it. Strangely enough, the violent, anarchic world revolution happening in the book has similarities to the violence and anarchy happening in our world today. Christie refers to certain people of wealth being behind violent youth movements that think they are going to change the world, but really are only puppets for those with power who want more of it.

This has a lot to do with what the elusive Q or Qanon shares with followers on the 8-Chan boards. If you don’t know about Q, I highly recommend at least brushing up on it, as for good or bad, this Qanon is influencing a lot of people. We are all hoping the Q team is on the side of good and he/they appear to be working in conjunction with President Trump in order to get information out by bypassing the media. Q posts questions, phrases, codes, essentially, and asks anons (the anonymous users of 8-chan) to research people and their connections to power, trafficking, crime, and the like.

Despite the Q phenomenon being painted like a cult, the point of it seems largely to get people to think for themselves, to do their own research, and really to realize how much they are lied to and how much is purposefully kept hidden from them by the media. It is also has been a great boost for Trump and MAGA supporters, especially those who find following politics via legal moves and C-Span rather tedious and boring. Researching death and sex cults will always be more interesting. In recent weeks, some Q followers have gotten frustrated that there’s been no fantastic arrests of all the evildoers yet or that we aren’t fighting a physical war yet, or something. People are bored again, because politics, research, and the like, it’s not glamorous or exciting. It’s tedious, dogged work, and one often has to take the longer route when the shorter would be far more exciting.

In consequence the Q team, too, seems a bit down. No one’s seeing the amazing things that have already happened–the true exchanges of power happening in the USA and the world–and are only focusing on what hasn’t happened yet, and frankly, what may never happen. The “wheels of justice are slow,” Q says, and they understand the followers’ frustration.

So how does this connect with Passenger to Frankfurt and Agatha Christie? Well, the story is essentially about a group of people, spies, trying to stop a violent world movement. It is the same thing, old rich people stirring up the young. The young think they are fighting for good and that their violent overthrowing of everything will eventually bring about some kind of utopia. We have seen this in countless revolutions throughout the ages, but it is only the rich and powerful who win in these movements, for they are safe from the violence and get away with instigating crimes while the young get batoned, tear gassed, and arrested. And the utopia never comes, because it’s all about more power or new power for certain people.

At one point in the story, someone draws a diagram showing how so many things are connected or controlled by the same rich people, the same 13 families or Illuminati of conspiracy yore: finance, armament, art, the drug trade, the sex trade, slavery etc. Q research has shown many that the same groups of people (think George Soros) are pulling the strings behind, well, almost everything. It’s unsettling to find that certain people have so much power. Who do they think they are? That’s the question. Do they think they are gods or what?

Christie envisions one such person as a very old, fat woman who has every indulgence and only surrounds herself with beautiful young people all eager for the revolution. This revolution is connected largely to Hitler of WW2 fame, and its hinted that these people are yet again trying to create a “pure” human race using a supposed descendant of Adolf. Today, where anyone who doesn’t agree with anyone else is labeled as a “Nazi” or the next “Hitler,” placing him on a pedestal as the ultimate evil yet again is, well, tedious. Hitler wasn’t the first to start this kind of thing or try to rule the world, and he wasn’t even the most successful. Yet, Christie uses him, because he’s an easily identifiable evil, or was, to most people in 1970.

I saw this revolution stuff, too, in my college years. I graduated in 2000 and I can tell you my classmates were as much in love with Mao and Che Guevara as students probably are today. No eyes were batted at these people being violent mass murderers; it was enough they were not American, or against America, or against being just boring vanilla or something. That was the thing, then, and probably still is today. The young are taught that being peaceful and having a happy family, that these things are all lies of some kind because of course some families and some people are unhappy, so therefore it’s wrong for anyone else to be happy or normal or something. We see this in the LGBTQ movement, where the normal romantic loves between a man and woman are pushed aside in pursuit of being unique or troubled in some way. Why is youth so tempted by this stuff? It’s first of all a desire to fit in with one’s peers, the exact opposite of what’s professed, and also the wanting to do something special. And it is a desire for a world with no bad outcomes, no bad choices, and no bad consequences. (But it’s a lie, and as a result so many of these young people commit suicide because they know it’s a lie and they’re just waiting for someone to chastise them with the truth and no one does. It’s like seeing a brother hit his sister and the child knows he’s doing wrong, but the parents always say it’s good, what he’s doing is good. Nothing wrong, no wrong choices, and after awhile the child can’t take it anymore because he knows it’s wrong what he’s doing. It’s written on his heart. It’s written on all of our hearts.)

The trouble with the “heaven on earth” idea is that we are all humans who have only lived on earth. We don’t know what heaven is, not really, and if we are marching to another’s drum, we are trying to implement their version of a heaven, not actually Heaven. Human nature also can’t be controlled completely by other humans, and if it can, the loss of freedom would be great. We’ll stab you in the back as much as we’ll love you, and so utopian movements fail as people start to grab power only for themselves or lose faith in the movement.

Near the end of the story, Christie brings up this Benvo project or benevolence project, basically a scientific experiment to make people stop being violent and desire only other people’s good. Normal benevolence is a great thing, this would be a nightmare. By this point in the story, I honestly wasn’t sure if these people were the good guys or the bad guys at this point. They wanted to stop the violent movements by drugging people into being good, no, not being good, making them have no desires but to please others. Ella Enchanted, anyone? It would be the worst kind of slavery! Basically, the conclusion is that people who want to rule the world for whatever reason are ultimately not be trusted. They come to see themselves as gods and other people as ants. Like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, they think of themselves all as great Napoleons, too smart to be chained by any laws whatsoever. And they will eagerly commit murder or lobotomies for the sake of their future “heaven on earth.”

What does that have to do with Q? Well, we want to believe the Q team is the good guys, and I do hope they are, but the reality is that they may be, too, envisioning a world that can only succeed with careful control over everyone and everything. If the “swamp” is drained, if all corruption stamped out, and all the criminals brought to justice, even then, even then, new people will be waiting at the gates to seize power. The peace and prosperity will only be until the corruption and revolutions start again. Q says to “trust the plan” and says the followers are watching things unfold almost like a movie. It’s mostly good and it’s mostly exciting, but the truth is that it’s not a movie, it’s real life. And the truth is, all the new information people have unearthed can be just as useless as it can be useful. The strides made are largely political moves that bore the young to tears. Talk about FISA and people’s eyes glaze over (as one example).

This is not to dampen the efforts of Q, Trump, or MAGA, but this all is about exchanging the old guard of power into a new guard, hopefully better than the last, but still never quite the “power for the people” that’s always promised. We can have anarchy or we can have rulers, and anarchy only leads to stricter rulers. Peace, prosperity, freedom. These are the goals, and can only be reached for the average person by having a good strong man in power, and good, strong men are rare, rarer still if they don’t get corrupted by being in power.

The real good in the world is found in everyday life, in normalcy, in living in the truth. And so Christie’s book ends with the promise of a wedding, the man has gotten his girl, their naughty little bridesmaid says her prayers and seems back on the straight and narrow, and the world is whole again, for a time. As a Christian I know without God, we are nothing, that a world without Him would be hell. Still, it’s tempting to look to other people, like Trump, as someone who can save us from ourselves, but he’s not a savior, he’s breaking the media’s hold on us, and that’s no small thing. He’s showing us how hollow the promises of our congressmen are, and that’s no small thing. He’s showing us that good has to be fought for, and that’s a big thing, perhaps the biggest thing. We can’t have utopia, but we may be able to live in peace for a time, and this may mean embracing nationalism and discarding the globalism that is only putting the poorest of us in stricter chains.

The world is bad enough already, Q says, but there are those rich and powerful who are only fostering more hurt, manufacturing more war, and they should be relieved of their power for the sake of everyone. The Clinton’s should be in jail, shouldn’t they? It’s best to think of things in those terms, I think: Crimes and punishments for them. It does no good to dream on about utopias, Libertarian or otherwise. There may be no mass arrests or martial law, but why would we want either, really? It’s enough if there’s one significant arrest and we avoid martial law and the good strong man becoming the bad strong man. It’s good enough if we avoid being experimented on and made to love being good or love the state, like in 1984. Even God doesn’t force us to be good, even God doesn’t force us to believe in Him.

Sigh. One tries to be an insightful writer, telling truths no one else seems to get or something, but it’s all like a lecture and tedious and I got sort of bored writing it all out, just as I got bored with whatever dear Agatha was trying to say in her story. The truly profound is elusive. Politics are politics. Power is power. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Passenger to Frankfurt like Qanon, is only remarkable because today we have been so very, very steeped in lies. In a climate where the truth is mostly apparent, i.e. common sense, these kinds of stories and devices wouldn’t be needed. But humans tend to lie and be illogical, so we’ll see these stories pop up time and again to remind us we are being manipulated. We are being manipulated, but aside from knowing the truth, there’s not much the average person can do. That’s the lesson. At most one can share the truth with other people. As a Christian, this makes sense to me, for Christianity is much the same: Here is the way things are. Here is Jesus, the way to salvation. You can believe in Him or not. That’s about it. But that’s everything! Because believing in Jesus gives us the confidence to go out and do good and have that power of positive thinking that Trump was raised on. So in Christ’s name, we can have the grand plans, the grand stories, and also the everyday ones. We can have all the cake and eat it too, but that Heaven will not be on this broken earth.

Ok, there I go again. One tries to say something wise and it just ends up sounding like a lecture. Anyway, Passenger to Frankfurt strangely connects with the Q movement, if only in the sense that it tries to pull back the curtain, so show the people pulling the strings. Things are more interconnected than we’d like to believe. People have a staggering amount of power and wealth and hide it well. These are things to be aware of. Conspiracy theories should be researched, not scoffed at. Great wrongs are often righted in the world behind the scenes, sometimes with spies and crazy plans and people who will forever have to be anonymous. They are not important, but what they are doing is.

How to Stop Time: Love

A couple of housekeeping things to get out of the way, and then I’ll dive into the book review.

Things I’m grateful for: Friends and family I love to spend time with. Fall in Minnesota even if’s it’s cold and rainy one day and blazing hot the next. My apartment complex finally turned on the heat, a big reason I have come to love October when it rolls around. Crazy, brilliant dreams. This time of year I have these weird complex dreams I half remember in the morning. Some good story ideas in there.

The Smile Has Left Your Eyes: It’s not often that I watch Korean dramas as they are being aired each week, but I make exceptions for either stories or actors that I really like. Viki.com has gotten the license for The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (or Hundred Million Stars from the Sky). Hopefully, I will get my review of each episode out early in the week, but it just depends when the English subtitles are added. Amazingly enough, even though I’ve watched a ton of Korean TV, I am not yet fluent in Korean. The Smile is a creepy murder mystery starring my current favorite actor Seo In Guk. He finally has his dream of playing a villain. Also starring the delightful Jung So Min from Playful Kiss and D-Day. This is a remake of a Japanese show that was pretty popular awhile ago.

Book review: How to Stop Time by Matt Haig isn’t so much an instruction manual as a thinking manual. Sometimes it’s fun to dream about living forever or near-forever and just having so much time to do whatever. The story is narrated by Tom Hazard, a man who has loads of time and opportunities, but just can’t get out of his old man head.

Like Tom, I am now in my forties, and it’s true the older you get, sometimes the memories from the past just come flooding in, clearer than you would have thought possible, and if your mind dwells there, you can miss the very real and awesome present. At first Tom seems only old and jaded. He has a rare medical condition in which he ages slower than the rest of humanity, so at forty, in regular years he’s hundreds of years old. As we get more into his thoughts, though, we realize–and so does he–that he’s just stuck dwelling on time instead of enjoying it.

The book also involves a bit of intrigue. There’s a shadowy society protecting others who have this condition–think passing reference to X-Men–and a couple of tight moments that get resolved a little too easily, but the book isn’t so much about the plot as about Tom finally changing his thinking.

Imagine yourself now having whatever time you think you have left, and being afraid to ask that person out or jump into a relationship or really get to know your kids, grandparents, friends, etc., because there just isn’t enough time. Or you’re afraid you’ll spend too much time with them, get attached, and fall to pieces if you ever lose anyone of them. Now magnify that fear across hundreds of years. How do people ever overcome this fear? Using the only way they can overcome it, like the way Tom overcomes it: Love. He falls in love, he finds someone who loves him back. It’s really not that complicated, but people live their whole lives standing on the brink of happiness and never, ever jumping. They have not learned how to trust the power of love.

Aside from the musings on life, time, love, etc., as an avid English reader and writer, I love the nods to Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, and the like. It makes me feel proud to be a part of this heritage, this heritage of speaking, reading, and writing English. I can speak a smattering of words and phrases in other languages, but even if I was fluent in them, they wouldn’t be my heritage.

Okay, back to love. How, you are asking me. How exactly does this stop time, Pixie? Think of the best times of your lives. You’re at your brother’s wedding, you’re hanging out with your friends, you’re babysitting your grandkids and laughing up a storm with them. You’re at a funeral, but there’s so many friends and family to see and talk to and catch up with. You’re staring into your darling’s sparkling eyes. At those times, in those moments, is it not as if TIME itself does not exist? God is LOVE and love is outside of time.

In How to Stop Time, Tom learns to enjoy the present of his days and to stop worrying over the past and the future. He learns to to put the guilt aside and marvel in the moment. He learns that the risk is worth it and he can finally let go of the albatross hanging around his neck that is telling him that falling in love is a waste of time. I felt bad for him. The guy was essentially stuck in a Groundhog Day (and if you don’t know what that is, I suggest you watch the movie, starring Bill Murray, immediately.)

In reading the book, it’s impossible not to start thinking about time and how we spend our time. Most of my best times are spent with my family, friends, and fellow Christians, and I know that people are really the only things we can take with us to heaven, and that God has put us all together on this rock to be blessings for each other and to love each other. Everything else becomes so unimportant in comparison.

At the beginning of time, humans did live for hundreds of years and they probably got as downhearted and depressed as Tom did, but unlike Tom, they had a Creator and Savior who loves them to look to for comfort and strength. And I think that’s why some leap so easily into love instead of dithering on the precipice. They know that even if their fellow humans fail them, God never will. Some days I think my faith is that strong, other days not so much. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to live forever and with a start have to remember I will live forever, just in a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus’s love made it possible. Anyway, I don’t want to get too religious about it, but that’s what I thought of at the end. I will live forever in love and with those that I love. It’s pretty amazing. It’s like having a secret super power.

We Die Alone: Book Review

Cold is something one doesn’t forget. Cold burns with slow patience, settling into your bones quietly, but persistently. The coldest I’ve ever been was living in a huge house in Shorewood, WI, a few blocks up from Lake Michigan. For a few months I lived there with a group of eccentric college classmates who had passions for pizza, cooking, and saving money. It was a snowy winter that year and although the old house would have still been drafty had the heat been turned on full blast, the temp was kept at arctic temperatures–as least, that’s what it felt like to me. At work and out and about I seemed like a normal person dressed in winter wear. In the house, I became an abominable snowman. Never ever ever, do I want to be that cold again.

Since that time, I have found it fun to occasionally read about the trials and adventures of those others who must venture into cold temperatures. Once such book that riveted me was Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. It is about a climb of Mt. Everest that ended in disaster for many of the climbers. Another great one is In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides that tells the tragic story of the Jeannette expedition to the Arctic.

This past month I have read another great story to add to the ice-encrusted list: We Die Alone by David Howarth. Not only is it an amazing tale of survival under the coldest of circumstances, but is a another of the great stories coming out of the WW2 era. During the war, a group of Norwegians based in the Shetland islands were commissioned to go help with the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis occupying Norway. A fated voyage, the trip was not a success, save as an amazing story of one man surviving against incredible odds with the aid of hardy, dedicated locals.

Set in the world of fjords in winter, this story had me hooked right away. I am half Norwegian (5th generation immigrants to America), but don’t have a lot of connection with that heritage, except through religion. My family are diehard Lutherans and probably consider ourselves more Minnesotans than Norwegians most of the time, so it’s fun to delve into Norwegian history and culture sometimes. Stories like this help explain part of that stoic, unemotional Scandinavian spirit. Living in that area of the world (at least at that time), if you dissolved into tears and despair, you would die. You had to keep your wits about you and possess bottomless persistence to beat all of that cold and climbing and avalanches, and who knows what else.

Jan Baalsrud is one of those men I’m not even sure they make anymore. How he went from one calamity to the next, cheerfully and determinedly, I don’t know if I’ll ever understand. If the environment wasn’t to do him in, the Nazis certainly would have, had he been caught. The same risks were taken by all of those who helped him, especially Marius from Lyngenfjord and those from Mandal.

There’s really only one woman of note in the story, and I can only wish I had her strength and stamina to withstand the cold and climbing up a thousand feet to be moral support for Marius, the man she loved. People have a different perspective and different abilities, too, growing up skiing on snow and ice. In Minnesota, though we have the cold, our skiing is mostly on the water in the summer, and though we are all hardy in our way due to the crazy winters we often have, these people were and likely still are in a league of their own.

The best parts of We Die Alone are the bits just talking about the culture, the culture of northern Norway and Scandinavia, the culture of the war and occupation, the environment and climate of the place–all of these things add depth to an already heart-stopping tale. The best part is that the story is true and a testament that life continues on even after the toughest of experiences.

This book made me cold just reading it, so I recommend a warm fire and a cup of hot cocoa if possible while devouring the tale.

A String in the Harp: Welsh Tourism

Sometimes novels are more than just stories. Sometimes they double as travelogues, where the author was so completely immersed in the place they were living that the descriptions in the story act almost as an advertisement for that country or city. The very long and epic Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, set in India, is a bit like that, as is my current read, A String in the Harp, which is set in Wales.

Wales is a bit of a mystery to many Americans. Is it its own country? Is it part of England? What can you even do there? And so on. Thus has been my own view of Wales added with a vague notion that Merlin lived there or King Arthur, or someone from that legend.

A String in the Harp (at least halfway through) doesn’t have anything to do with Arthurian legend. It is a story about a broken family mourning the loss of their wife and mother. The younger kids and dad have fled to Wales where Dad can be immersed in his university work. The oldest, Jen, flies over on her high school Christmas break to spend a few weeks with them. Wales is alternately cold, windy, rainy, mucky harsh, and in glimpses for her, beautiful.

Written the the 1970s when author Nancy Bond was attending school there, the plot is very slow, but it’s almost like a day by day travelogue of what Jen and her siblings are experiencing being in this wild and lonely country.  In this country tour inside a story, readers learn a bit of the culture, history, language, and meet a few of the locals. Jen’s brother Peter finds a key on the beach and soon realizes that this key open a window into ancient Wales. Things really start taking off when his sisters realize that something very odd is going on. This adventure may be what they all need to become content with each other again. I’m excited to see where the story goes.

A String in the Harp is a great book to read with a hot drink on a rainy night.

 

Arc of a Scythe: Playing God

Thunderhead coverWhat happens when humans are in charge of dealing out death? The Arc of a Scythe series by Neal Shusterman takes on this question. In a world where humanity has conquered death and is ruled by a collective consciousness called the Thunderhead (think of our modern internet “Cloud” on steroids), utopia still has not been reached. It has been deemed necessary that people still die, keeping to the natural order of things. And so a Scythedom was formed, a collection of humans chosen to be the grim reapers of mankind. The second installment of the series, Thunderhead, digs deeper into questions surrounding Scythes, namely, the biggie: Are they playing God?

As a nearly all-seeing, all-knowing artificial intelligence, the Thunderhead, is far more godlike, but is not allowed to deal out death or bring about life. There is a separation between Thunderhead and Scythedom in this futuristic America, much like separation fo church and state in what the series refers to as the “Age of Mortality.” Despite that separation, the Thunderhead finds a way around its own rules to alter the course of human history.

Thunderhead is one of those books you know is going to be great and it’s going to end on a cliffhanger and so you don’t want to finish it until the next book in the series is out. I was on a deadline to finish reading Thunderhead before returning it to the library, and I did return it a day late, but left the last third to read when book three is out. Thankfully, Shusterman will likely have the next book out in short order, not like, ahem, me.

The Arc of a Scythe series isn’t so much a plot-driven story as it is a philosophical debate. What is mortality, really? What would life be like if we never died? What would bring us to a state in which we allocated our fellow humans to periodically execute certain numbers of mankind? Is our technology merely an advanced way of building our own god? The rules and organization of Shusterman’s world are built and defined well. It has some similarities to The Hunger Games series, but, thankfully, leaves out most of the angst and hints at a more satisfying ending.

Arc of a Scythe seems at first a simpler tale than other teen series, but it has layers and layers of ideas, themes and concepts all building on each other and as a reader, you just know there’s going to be some big reveal (or maybe just hope there will be) like in The Giver, that just turns everything on its head. I really like the highlighting of autonomous or charter regions in Thunderhead, as it reminds me of my time in China and their similar setup. The idea of a sort of “planned community” type of freedom intrigues me. So many good stories are based off of this idea, The Truman Show, The 13th Floor, The Giver, and so on, and it’s a relatable concept for today as we have so much “freedom” and simultaneously so many, many laws to follow.

I can’t wait to read book three of this series and also to finish Thunderhead, and I really hope the series will be more than a trilogy, but Shusterman’s writing and world are great, so I think I’ll be happy with it either way. And I have to also add, his book covers are outstanding.

Book Review: The Blithedale Romance

Upon finishing this strange, voyeuristic tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the single, burning desire I had was to reread the first few chapters.  I did, and it was if a veil had been yanked away, so different was my perspective after knowing the whole story.

Hawthorne, known by most because they had to read The Scarlet Letter in high school, is one of those authors that I’ve really come to love through his short stories. He fits into this sort of gothic colonial genre along with Washington Irving of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame. They make America into this wild, untamed place of both delight and horror.

Hawthorne’s sort of like O. Henry, too.  Although his endings are not complete twists, there’s a sense of irony pervading everything. “The Birthmark” is my favorite short story of Hawthorne’s and is about a scientist who marries a beautiful woman who has a birthmark on her cheek. The scientist becomes obsessed with removing the birthmark, trying experiment after experiment, and for love of him, his wife suffers through it.  I won’t spoil the ending, but you can probably guess that it’s not happy.

The Blithedale Romance does indeed have romance in it as well as other themes and topics.  It deals a bit with the Transcendental movement of the time and the search for utopia–basically the idea that with enough brain power and ingenuity humans can make themselves and the earth perfect. I was surprised to find that Hawthorne himself took part in one of these commune schemes because he’s always seemed to be someone practical about the limits and foibles of human nature. Contrasted with this Walden Pond-ish scheme for getting back to nature, is the Spiritualist movement. Table turning, magicians, and veiled ladies were all the craze at the time as well, and the first clue we have that the narrator and main character, Miles Coverdale, is not very serious about “going to the woods and living deliberately” is that he attends a magician’s show featuring a veiled lady right at the beginning. Coverdale is a man in search of an epoch in his life, especially one that will give him a purpose.

As both a narrator and a character, I don’t really like Miles Coverdale, perhaps because I see some of the same annoying traits in myself. Coverdale is an observer, not a man of action, and he overthinks everything. The second clue that he’s not too serious about this striving for utopia is that he falls extremely ill the day they are to begin work and takes what feels like decades to recover, sitting and musing in his room, when it is clear he’d be a lot better off outside in the sun and getting exercise.

Now, he did surprise me by eventually doing the hard work (according to himself), but I was shocked by how affronted he is by his friend, Hollingsworth, who seems to be a genuine believer in being able to reform people. Coverdale believes Hollingsworth’s philanthropic desires and plans are leading him straight to the doorway to hell next to the gates of heaven in Pilgrim’s Progress.  As Coverdale tends to overdramatize everything and is not a very reliable narrator, I struggled to understand just what was so awful about Hollingsworth, a man of action who has purpose and a good heart. Now, the saying goes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and I gather that’s what concerns our narrator, Coverdale. It is also no big revelation to find that Coverdale doesn’t really believe in the whole utopian idea like his friend does. Coverdale’s problem is that he doesn’t believe in anything and has no purpose to his life. He is pretty honest about that by the end of the book, along with his final revelation, which makes his issue with Hollingsworth clear.

I had to go back and reread the first few chapters, because I just plowed away into the book without knowing anything about the story. (I usually don’t read introductions or anything, because they often give away too much of the plot.) The happenings of the first 2-3 chapters, I was thinking, okay that’s nice, veiled lady, maybe a mystery? Scary story? And the farm. Something about the follies of hippie communes?  But The Blithedale Romance actually ended up being about romance, about the clash between men and women in the world, and that I didn’t expect.

The first character Coverdale scrutinizes in the book is a young woman with the stage name of Zenobia. She is necessarily beautiful, vivacious, and is a mover and shaker who appears to be somewhat the head of this group (not sure how many) of people who have come to live at Blithedale to farm and live off the land. Coverdale fancies a love triangle is being played out over the summer among Zenobia, Hollingsworth, and another woman. Our narrator plays at being detached when he’s anything but. Zenobia’s a bit theatrical and takes pride in living unconventionally for a woman at the time. She jokes about how at first the women will take care of the house duties and then move on to sharing the men’s work. She and Hollingsworth argue about her wish to begin or be a part of a women’s liberation movement (something with which Coverdale appears to agree and Hollingsworth disagree), and Coverdale is surprised when Zenobia gives into this philanthropist rather easily and meekly.

Underlying the plot is the theme of women just wanting to be loved aside from or despite age or beauty or riches. The story of the veiled lady that Zenobia orates for her comrades is a peek into her heart. With a mention of Eve near the beginning of the book, the thought of the Biblical curse that God put on women is present, specifically that they will always have a desire for their husband or a husband.  Zenobia is young, beautiful, single, rich, independent, and it’s ultimately not enough. And it’s not enough, because she’s a woman. It is a curse of womanhood, and we see this most clearly at the end of the story as we realize she and Coverdale share the same heartache, yet Coverdale with no purpose except maybe his poetry, is able to move on and be content in middle age.

Zenobia also delivers one of the greatest lines and I don’t want to make fun of it because her character means it in all seriousness, but it’s definitely a line you could use as a joke, too. Coverdale takes her hand and it’s as cold as ice. He says as much to her and she replies: “the extremities die first, they say.” I really got a kick out of that line for some reason–maybe it was the extreme drama from both her and Coverdale.

At the end of the book, Coverdale fancies Hollingsworth to be living in a state of perpetual defeat. All life and purpose seems to have left him. The readers are again made aware of the unreliable and fanciful nature of our narrator as he describes Hollingsworth’s woman as trying to keep Coverdale away from him. Is Hollingsworth truly defeated or has his life found a different purpose? It’s evident in a lot of ways that Coverdale isn’t just the poetic voyeur and analyzer that he pretends to be. I reread the beginning and then fully understood that he may know all of these people a lot better than his narration tells. That this carefully detached man ends up alone in middle age isn’t surprising, his grand ending confession aside. Coverdale reminds me a little bit of the narrator in Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, another character who can’t stop overanalyzing everything, and to his own detriment.

The Blithedale Romance will eventually require a second reading for me to really soak in everything going on in the story, and it’s the knowledge of that which really brings to light just what a master Nathaniel Hawthorne was at his craft. That subsequent readings of a work would make the story even better and richer is one of the ultimate goals in writing because you know your work has value that can be experienced again and again.  Now, of course, I need to put The Scarlet Letter on my list of classics that I’m either rereading or reading for the first time.

Dissolving Illusions: Disease, Vaccines, and the Forgotten History – Review

Not too long ago I wrote a post about vaccines, that I had started reading and researching about them and that the criticisms regarding vaccines were hitting home with me. Since then, I’ve been following the “anti-vaxx” movement and reading some of the articles, books, etc., that detail that side of the argument. I’ve also looked some into the “pro” side, as well, however, I don’t find that side quite as interesting, just because it is the default view everyone seems to have. It is the view that I used to have and I didn’t really care about the evidence that vaccines were safe and effective. I, like most people, just believed what I was told.

If you look into the anti-vaccine movement, the first thing you realize is that these people  were at some point pro-vaccine until something happened. Some they knew or they themselves, had a reaction that made them question just how safe vaccines are. Or they got the flu shot or another shot and got really sick with similar symptoms shortly after, prompting them to question how effective vaccines are. The second thing you realize is that legitimate or not, right or wrong or not, the anti-vaccine movement has an enormous amount of studies, examples, historical accounts, personal testimonies, and other such literature to back up their reasoning. At some point being pro-vaccine, I realized it was foolish of me to keep that stance when it wasn’t resting on any true knowledge I had and also foolish to think the other side had no validity when I had never fully researched or looked into their arguments. We fall into the same traps with many aspects of our lives, but vaccines are especially interesting.  For most on the pro-side the idea of even questioning vaccines seems ludicrous. As a Christian, I realized it is not the questioning that is ludicrous, but holding up vaccines, scientists, doctors, drug companies, government, and the like as equal to God. No, scratch that, we’ve placed them even higher, asserting that vaccines are so safe and effective, they must not even be questioned.

God himself welcomes us questioning and wrestling with Him. If it’s okay with God to test His scriptures and see if they are true, why not mortal man-made vaccines?  I tell you, I don’t think even Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propagandist, has anything on the pro-vaccine spell cast on the world. People will come up with the most bizarre rationalizations in order to never put any vaccine in a list of possible (only a possible cause!) causes of a negative health issue. Some of those rationalizations may include: it’s all genetics, the human race is simply deteriorating, the non-vaccinated are spreading more diseases. Let’s just take that last one. Think about it. You are not vaccinated for smallpox. Does that mean you have smallpox? Is this really a reasonable position to hold, or are we avoiding really looking at vaccines and how they work? Vaccines certainly are not responsible for every health malady in the world, but it’s truly odd they are rarely considered a cause, especially when a person just had a shot and then has a major health issue like a seizure or brain swelling. Actually, we do worse than not questioning, we are told these reactions to vaccines are “normal.” With more chronic health maladies, we easily jump to medications and drugs as possible causes, but never vaccines, even though they should be considered if we’re doing a thorough investigation. Even if you still end up agreeing vaccines are great, I think it’s a good practice to look into them to make sure you have the facts, and that includes taking a long, hard look at the massive evidence the anti-vaccine side has that vaccines are actually quite a problem.

If you’re looking for fact-based arguments, Dr. Suzanne Humphries is a good place to start. She’s a nephrologist who also used to be pro-vaccine until her patients mentioned they had kidney problems after getting the flu shot. Instead of blowing them off, she took their complaints seriously and was surprised by the hostility she received from her coworkers merely for considering vaccines a factor in this. The hostility was especially surprising to her, as she knew had she been questioning a medication they would all have said of course they should stop the medication, do more research, tests, etc. In essence, medications were allowed to be a cause of kidney issues, but not vaccines. Vaccines were safe and effective and had eradicated both smallpox and polio, never mind that the complaint was with the flu shot. So Humphries started to look into the history of the smallpox and polio vaccines, and she found that what we had all been told was far different than what actually happened.

Of all the people on the side of the anti-vaccine movement, I find Dr. Humphries to be the most persuasive. She has a practical air about her and has made it her life’s work to research health and vaccines. If you don’t like reading, she has hours and hours of her talks and speeches on vaccines, Vitamin C, and general health issues on Youtube.

Dissolving Illusions, by both Dr. Humphries and Roman Bystrianyk, another vaccine researcher, is a fairly quick read. It first lays out why they wrote the book and how they fell into researching vaccines. It then launches into the historical account of just how dirty everything used to be, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s. This is the basis for their case that it was public cleanliness in the environment, water, food, and health practices (the doctors washing their hands) that actually caused the massive impact to the disease death toll.  The graphs are certainly hard to argue with, a ski slope of falling death rates, and close to the bottom, only when fear of death of the disease was near non-existent, did vaccines enter into the picture. I would say for most of us, that fact was likely not mentioned at all in school.

They then go through vaccine after vaccine, starting with smallpox and show, with historical examples, just how unsafe and ineffective they actually are. One fascinating thing I learned was that the smallpox vaccine caused several hand, foot, and mouth outbreaks in both animals and people. What I learned with polio is that they changed the way polio was diagnosed after the vaccine was put into public use, thus falsely making it look like the vaccine lowered the polio rate. We still have polio, it’s just categorized as Guillain Barré syndrome and other diseases. I learned that physical therapy contributed largely to the restored health for those who did have immobile limbs. There was also some disturbing connections made theorizing that tonsillectomies and other medical procedures were the actual cause of the “outbreaks” in school children every year.  With measles I learned that good nutrition and sunlight are the best ways to fight it off, especially Vitamin A (it depletes your levels severely, causing blindness in some), Vitamin D and Vitamin C.

Dissolving Illusions makes a strong case that vaccines may be more harmful than helpful. It makes a strong case that cleanliness, good health, and nutrition are our best defenses against malady, better than any manmade medication. That is the positive.

The negative, is how much the book highlights the lies of both government entities and the medical professionals that invented, still invent, and to this day promote vaccines that they knew from day one were neither safe nor effective, especially compared with other, more natural options. It shows the reader their own ignorance. How many people puffing up their chests and declaring all vaccines should be mandatory know even a tenth of this information? How many people are aware that just like the vaccine lies started on day one, so did the anti-vaccine movement? In England the only thing that stopped forced smallpox vaccinations and jail time, was voting in politicians who believed in freedom of choice.

And the book barely touches on all of the massive reactions, side effects, and lifelong health struggles for the vaccine injured today. And we are arrogant enough to think that the non-vaccinated are spreading disease? What great mountain of evidence do we have for this, exactly? How many people even understand that you are injecting a disease into your body when getting a vaccine and that you are also vulnerable to that disease as well as being capable of passing on that disease while it’s going through your body and building antibodies? In addition, the book also talks about antibodies and lays out a case that this is no true measure of immunity or eradication. It also indicates that medicine and science still have a long way to go in fully understanding our immune systems and how disease affects them.

If the information in Dissolving Illusions is true, then it is truly staggering how much we have been lied to. It’s such a huge, incomprehensible lie, and whether it was made in malice, for profit, or just wishful thinking, the reason seems almost irrelevant. How do you even begin to reteach people the truth when everyone’s been so brainwashed by lies that only at a severe turning point or crisis will they even question vaccines? The good thing is, lies can’t last forever, because, well, they’re lies, and the truth eventually rears its head. Due to so, so many reactions and problems today from vaccines, people are waking up more and more every day. The anti-vaccine movement would be happy if we could simply actually properly study vaccines and make them truly safe and effective. The unsettling conclusion from Dissolving Illusions is that even that desire may be a pipe dream. The big question I have is, are vitamins the answer? Are cleanliness, good nutrition, and sunlight, the collective miracle pill we’ve all been looking for? How strange it would be if we were to find that we’ve been injecting ourselves with poison to ward off disease only to ignore that simply caring for ourselves and our bodies would give us the best health we could ever want or need, at least on this side of heaven?

In doing this reading into vaccines, I’m mostly on the “anti” side now. The last time I had to get a vaccine (the flu shot aside), I didn’t I had much of a choice at the time because I didn’t have a record to prove I already had the shot. I thought it would be no big deal to get an additional shot, and a few weeks later I was very, very sick. My immune system really felt like it had taken a severe blow in a way I’d never felt before, and it took a long time for me to fully recover. Now, I’m not saying it was definitely the vaccine, but it was a possibility often nagging at the back of my mind, so much so that much later I was eager to watch the documentary Vaxxed and find out more about this anti-vaccine movement and what they thought were the problems with vaccines.

My view on health is different today. I’m more careful of what I eat, what I drink, and more aware of how much sleep and sunlight I’m getting. Since vaccines ultimately cause inflammation in the body, I try to destress as much as possible, too, get outside, get walking and do other exercise when I can. The difference is, mindfulness. It takes few brain cells to get injected with the latest vaccine, or to pop the latest drug, but it takes dedication and persistence to truly be invested in one’s health. Parents instinctively know much of this, as they are tasked with nurturing and promoting the good health of their children. For us who are childless, we need to be parents of our own bodies and treat ourselves with care and nurturing, too. Even if vaccines were totally safe and effective, how could a quick injection possibly be the ultimate answer to health in a world where anything worth anything has to be fought and strived for? This question can also be applied to the numerous health remedies of the natural medicine industry, and even Dissolving Illusions‘ touting of Vitamins A, C, and D. We can’t just pop supplements, either, and think they are going to be as effective longterm as getting real sunlight and eating real fruits and vegetables.

I have to say the best thing about this book is finding how much there is to read and study. I also really appreciate the times I live in and the fact that our environment, food, and water are all so clean today. I appreciate the fact that we still have a choice in whether to get vaccines or not and pray they will never be forced on anyone again. As a Christian, I appreciate the fact that many of the loudest voices in this struggle for truth when it comes to vaccines are also Christians. Christianity teaches us that the truth isn’t some mysterious thing only for the authorities, or experts, or those in power. Truth is something that God wants everyone to know, even (and perhaps especially) lowly commoners.