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I just added this review of “The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn to amazon.com and Goodreads   Leave a comment

My back loved this long book as I spent two days comfortably lying on my loveseat, giving it a rest as I made my way through this page-turner. Many books get five-star reviews, maybe deserving them or maybe not, but the truth is this one deserves a six or better. And by the end I was envisioning it as a movie – an exciting action movie.

So let me start out with the negatives – the length. As I read it, I tried to imagine what I might cut. I found quite a few things that weren’t essential to the story, but oh so good I’m glad they weren’t removed. Kate Quinn is an excellent storyteller.  The other negative is more my own failing. I gave up on trying to understand the decoding process, but the real story was in the decoders, not the process.

The characters were a delight, and it’s always a pleasure to read love stories with men who are just like we women would like them to be. Of course, they weren’t all so ideal. I did giggle a bit, or maybe longed for the past, when at least one of the women was naïve about the process of sex, and the men didn’t demand it. It seemed like they reflected the time – WWII era – when our dates were expected to be gentlemen. Except when they weren’t. Speaking of gentlemen, I enjoyed spending so much time with the British upper class – the kind we read about in the news. A relief from the heavy reading I’ve been into lately. It seemed to me from what information I’ve picked up that she portrayed them accurately. Like all her characters, they were well drawn and real.

It was a pleasure to be reading about a period of time I personally shared, though not in a country being bombed and at the top level of society. Details like painting legs brown when silk stockings, or even stockings, weren’t available because of war shortages — and the description of clothes.

The author did a wonderful job of conveying the very special comradery of definitely-not- ordinary people working together in stressful secrecy to decode crucial documents – a job major to the war effort. And of the strain of sworn holding-the-work-close-to-the-vest.

Great character development, wonderful usage of real people in fictional ways, intriguing mystery, and just plain growing up and surviving in a world of terrible danger. Sadness, anger, grief, silliness, hope, love and sex. It’s all here in a mix that makes sense and draws the reader in to donate major time to taking it in.

Posted September 3, 2022 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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WHY I APPROVE OF GOVERNMENT FORGIVENESS OF STUDENT DEBT   2 comments

To be upfront about it, I’m coming from some 35 years as a college instructor/professor/administrator – not my primary occupation since 1986. There are so many changes I could rant about since my happy years in academia. I still experience feelings of coming home when I’m attending some event on a college campus.

But that’s not my topic today. Now I want to talk about what I would call false advertising – being sold a bill of goods – that a degree is the magic entry into a high-paying career. Yes, there is a correlation between obtaining the degree and financial career success. But the degree itself doesn’t hold the magic key. To put it bluntly, college was the place where people of some means to begin with met others with connections. It was the place of learning intellectual and interpersonal techniques that helped to find and keep appropriate and successful jobs. It was above all a place to meet the right people – to network. It was the place to go for advanced training to become a physician, dentist, lawyer … you name it. It was the place to go if you aspired to be a college professor.

Let me stop right here to point out that it’s extremely difficult today to become a tenured professor. Financial demands have emphasized the use of adjunct faculty, who, like me in my early years, could be hired to teach one or two courses at a fixed price if enough people registered for the course. No health care, or savings for retirement. No guarantee of an option for next semester. A far cry from the financial goals to which one might aspire. [I am forever grateful that I hit the field at the right time. Luck really.]

And the appeal of the college loans was to those of limited means, most of whom were ready to work hard to achieve the degree, often while working another job – to give the “right” answers on the test. At one point I supervised a PhD who took a job teaching a psychology course in an on-line degree program. The teaching was scripted, included a run-through of what should have taken four years to approach mastery, and distributed good grades if students could mark the right box on a multiple-choice test. That degree program is still approved. My supervisee refused to accept the job again. Students can still acquire such a degree, which, as far as I know, still rarely provides the networking and other skills that lead to outstanding financial success.

Or maybe they’ve gained an excellent degree like the PhD adjunct professors to whom I’ve referred above, but they’ve graduated into a world where the jobs don’t exist. All of that would be okay if the cost had not been signing their futures away with huge non-negotiable loans with regular interest payments to be met. It’s like taking out a huge loan to buy a highly desirable piece of property sight unseen that turns out be an unbuildable marsh on the edge of a rising sea.

I sympathize with my friends (and people better known) who feel it is inappropriate to forgive debts to which people have committed themselves. It could encourage future pledges that they don’t intend to keep. I can’t back up my next statement with data, but I’ll bet most of the people set free – or at least partially free – of their debt – would just as soon not go through the stress again and get on with building a life.

To summarize my own point of view, I think people who could least afford it were advertised into taking out a non-negotiable mortgage on a future home without being given an honest visit to it, or even a clear picture of it and its neighborhood. only to find it was a wreck of a house, perhaps never well-constructed in the first place, clearly misrepresented – really a fraudulent sale. And still required to continue to pay on that pile of nothing. And maybe I’m wrong.

Call me a bleeding heart.

But it doesn’t hurt the economy to have that money flowing.

US SUPREME COURT ENCOURAGES GAMBLING   2 comments

The Supreme Court in overturning Roe v. Wade has validated the legitimacy of gambling. It’s Russsian Roulette not only permitted but required.

The US maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 deaths per100,000 live births compared with a rate of 20.1 in 2019. What will happen to those data in the future? And who will be the [un]lucky women struck by the bullet.

Feel free to click on the attached site for more detailed and complex information. There’s nothing simple about requiring people to give birth.

THE COMPLEX ISSUE OF MATERNAL DEATHS

Posted August 27, 2022 by Mona Gustafson Affinito in Uncategorized

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“THE COLOR OF LAW.”   Leave a comment

I JUST POSTED A REVIEW OF THE COLOR OF LAW: A FORGOTTEN HISTORY OF HOW OUR GOVERNMENT SEGREGATED AMERICA. Richard Rothstein.

Definitely needs reading. Definitely not at bedtime.

With a Doctorate in Social Psychology and years of professor-ing, plus a year of shared readings and discussions via a Zoom group during the COVID quarantine, I thought I had constructed a pretty strong cognitive structure of knowledge and understanding about racial matters. But Rothstein’s book has revealed and repaired the cracks in my structure one nail of reinforcing fact at a time. As a person with a pretty hefty load of compassion ability I found it painful reading – not to be read at bedtime.

At about an eighth of the way through the book I looked at the remaining width of the softcover book in my hands and thought, “What more torture/horror can there be?” And there was more – and then more. Now that I’ve finished, the thoughts keep coming. How can humans be so cruel to each other? How can one deal with the fact that inborn appearance condemns one to limited options no matter what one can do or accomplish that would evoke honors in the white world? How frustrating to suffer the physical restraint of red-lining and then be blamed for the results of living in a crowded space.  How would it be to raise a productive and healthy child in a world where he or she is defined from the beginning as inferior? How would it be to have one’s productive and successful neighborhood destroyed to make way for a highway to convenience the people who can live where you are not permitted to live? How could it be that I didn’t notice in graduate school that none of my classmates supported by the GI bill were black?

I’m ranting. But then there were my other thoughts. What have been the strengths of a people so deliberately restrained who could still be loving, joyful, dedicated patriotic contributors to our country? What might I learn from that?

 Finally, I find myself wondering how this knot in the freedom of our special country can be loosened? I find myself thinking how beautiful it would be if all our people could enjoy the kind of responsible opportunities described in “My Father’s House.” If this were fully the land of the free? Remember that simple point from your Intro Psych class? Punishment prevents behavior. Reward encourages it … ?

But this is a book review. What did I think of the book – as if I hadn’t already told you? It’s an important book but I wouldn’t choose it for the first assigned text in an advanced course in racial equity. I’m afraid it would drive some people to resign from the rest of the program. It’s painful.

Now I’ll go look at the other reviews of this book.

“My Father’s House” appreciated in Bristol, Connecticut   6 comments

July 21, 2022

I have read My Father’s House: Remembering my Swedish-American Family which has now found a new home in the library of The Bristol Historical Society. Thank you for that. I found it most interesting. You write so easily and descriptively that one feels they are there witnessing those events.

I’m very familiar with a lot of the names that you have included. Jim Critchley’s sister Celia was my first boss when she hired me as a high school page for the Bristol Public Library and ultimately as a fulltime employee. Mona O’Hara, whom you mention as the inspiration for your given name, was a library Board member for several years.

I remember Paul and Astrid Gustafson and their daughter Janet and the aroma of Astrid’s coffee. I was told how she would put eggshells in the brewing coffee.

Places and businesses that you mention bring back fond memories of how vibrant Bristol was at one time, with a great downtown. You mention the Freshman Building of the high school, which has been home to the Bristol Historical Society now for some twenty years. Your old high school on the Boulevard has been recently renovated and updated for its reopening as a magnet school.

Ironically, back in 2001, I wrote an article about Officer James McNamee (1890-1930) who was killed in the line of duty whom you mentioned as your sister’s friend.

It has been a pleasure revisiting these memories.

Thank you for your contribution,

Ellie Wilson, Program Planner for the Bristol Historical Society

CRITICAL RACE THEORY: ACADEMIC OBFUSCATED VERBIAGE TOXICITY   2 comments

In case it isn’t obvious, I’m making fun of the way academics talk. I think it’s OK for me to do this because I’m one of them. In plain English, what I mean is, “Academic words can cause trouble because they have a special meaning not clear to most of us.”  In case it’s not obvious, this post is a rant about the confusing and therefore toxic words “Critical Race Theory.” I’m driven to do this because the wide-ranging, angry, hysterical, downright mean, responses to those words are producing in me an awful stomach-curdling, heart-shattering, sleep-disrupting, stress reaction. And just when I was becoming hopeful that we might broaden the scope of study of American History to include all of it.

I’m sure Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a highly respected law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School and her group thought they were making perfectly good sense when they coined that term to describe their work. And they were! — if you realize they were talking to people with years of training in talking their jargon, “special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for those outside their group to understand.” Almost any profession has its jargon. Listen to a group of lawyers, or medical people, or architects, or electricians or plumbers , or even artists or writers …. I’m quite sure you will hear jargon. The problem is that academic jargon often derives from English words that sound enough like “real” English words so folks think they know what they mean. You know, the words that have people fighting – sometimes literally coming to blows – at schoolboard meetings and other places.

Jargon is a handy shortcut when you’re communicating with others who use the same language but obfuscating for others. (To obfuscate: render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.)

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of “Critical Race Theory,” please join me in playing a bit with what I have experienced in my former life as a psychology professor.

Decades ago, when I was about to begin my career as a college instructor teaching “Introduction to Psychology,” a more experienced friend of mine said, “You’ll be surprised how long it takes for your class to understand what it took you only five years to learn.” So true!

Way back when my children were small. my big sister explained to her husband, “Mona’s a psychologist. They talk funny.” It was funny when she said it, but true.

I want to believe, for example, that my students came to know and understand the specialized meaning of words like:

Reinforcement: In plain English it means “strengthening the rickety steps to the back porch.” In psychological jargon it means “strengthening the connection between stimulus and response.”

and

Rationalization: In plain English it means “applying rational thinking to a problem.” In jargon it refers to the action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate. –  a defense mechanism.

One last example, Denial: In plain English it means “I didn’t do it.”  In jargon it’s “refusing to admit to oneself the truth or reality of something unpleasant.”

And, beyond jargon, I learned something else that’s important. Words evoke emotions, or interpretations one may not have predicted.

So what’s this got to do with “Critical Race Theory?”

Commonly when people hear the word “critical” they hear “You are being criticized because you did something wrong.” That presumed attack creates a defensive, often angry, sometimes screaming reaction.  In academic jargon, on the other hand, “Critical” refers to “an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.” (Go ahead. Check me out. Google it.)

And the word “race?” Holy smokes, what does “race” mean? That’s what’s in need of study “in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

And that final word, “theory.” I confess I can only guess at what the theory is that the “Critical Race Theory” folks intend. What I do know is I’m upset that people haven’t stopped to ask before they began screaming and passing laws. And I’m bothered any time I hear someone say, “It’s only a theory,” apparently thinking it’s just some idea that popped new-born out of someone’s head. For scientists, “theory” has nearly the opposite meaning. It’s honored with the word “theory” only after a long history of study, experimenting, and fact checking.

So, the best plain English translation I can offer is, “Critical Race Theory” means “Let’s examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

 Now can we get down to the business of whether we are willing as a nation to examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly? And how should we do part of that through our educational system? Can we just take an honest look at our history, being prepared to incorporate both the good and the bad? Or are we too scared or set in our ways to take a careful look?

End of rant for now….

 

SOMETIMES LEARNING THE TRUTH CALLS FOR COURAGE — REVIEW OF “EVICTED”   1 comment

I just posted the following review on amazon and Goodreads.

EVICTED,: POVERTY & PROFIT IN THE AMERICAN CITY, MATTHEW DESMOND

Don’t even think of reading this book if you’d rather not know the truth, or if compassion is annoying, or your compassion has worn you thin, or you don’t need or want to know anything more about the lives of your fellow Americans, or if people don’t count as fellow Americans if they are surviving below your status.

 Do make contact with this book if you care about our democracy and still hope for its long and healthier survival, or your compassion leads you to care about the lives of other people, or if you still believe that understanding/knowledge will help construct a road to solution.

This in-depth, detailed report of real people – mostly black – living lives of poverty in the inner city – to which they have been confined by laws and regulations – cannot but make you sad, angry, maybe even hopeful that something might be done to make this more like the America you want to live in. Consider this on page 295: “The persistence and brutality of American poverty can be disheartening, leaving us cynical about solutions. But as Scott and Patrice will tell you, a good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers, and citizens.”

 Spend a day with mothers whose time is completely taken up with the search for an apartment not only that they can afford, but that will accept them. Be with them when they have been evicted because their son or daughter has done a childish act of disturbing mischief that led to eviction – eviction, which is now a cause for rejection from other apartment rentals. Be with them when the apartment they do manage to rent – for a huge portion of their take-home pay – has non-functioning plumbing which they hesitate to report to the landlord because complaint can lead to eviction. Learn about the complex understanding of the financial and relational economic system that governs life on the move from one eviction to another. Try to raise a child who is regularly moved from one school to another because of frequent evictions and homelessness.

 Also on p. 295: “If Arleen and Vanetta didn’t have to dedicate 70 or 80 percent of their income to rent, they could keep their kids fed and clothed and off the streets They could settle down in one neighborhood and enroll their children in one school, providing them the opportunity to form long-lasting relationships with friends, role models, and teachers. They could start a savings account or buy their children toys and books, perhaps even a home computer. The time and emotional energy they spent making rent, delaying eviction, or finding another place to live when homeless could instead be spent on things that enriched their lives: community college classes, exercise, finding a good job, maybe a good man too.”

(And remember, until recently most renting families could reach the goal of spending not more than 30 percent of their income on rent.)

 Notice that each of the quotes above begins with names, and that’s the value of this disturbing but essential book. The author is telling the real stories of real people he has come to know in depth. These are not cold statistics reported by some distant observer. The author knows the renters – and the landlords – their lives and problems.

 For those who have the courage to reach into and understand these lives a new world of understanding will open and, one hopes, a world of new, creative, saving potentia

 Yes, I’m passionate about this most unusual and important book.

SUSAN, LINDA, NINA, & COKIE   2 comments

Recently I posted this review on amazon and Goodreads.

SUSAN, LINDA, NINA, & COKIE: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR, by Lisa Napoli

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this [audible] book read by the author. Her voice was perfect for conveying the atmosphere, maybe even the period, in which these women grew and worked. Perhaps if I’d been reading a paperback I might have been offended by some of the specific language usages critiqued by a previous reviewer, but for me it was as if a friend had carried me with her to provide a personal flourish to the stories of these four women. Their family backgrounds were generally of a higher caste than mine, but oh how I did resonate to their college experiences! In a way it surprised me given that they were over a decade behind me in age. As with my experience at Connecticut College for Women (only in the 60s did they admit Conn. men) academic progress and creative focus were intense and satisfying, With the overarching expectation that the talent would be used in supporting productive husbands and raising successful children! I think it was Cokie’s story that especially grabbed my attention with her discovery that “supportive wife” was a position that depressingly used only a few of her abilities.

Their struggles with gender bias were all too familiar to me, not only from personal experience, but also as a former professor of the Psychology of Women. To tell the truth, I was a bit dismayed that women so much younger than I had faced such battles in their career progressions. I resonated as well to Cokie Roberts “mixed” marriage, and I appreciated the importance of the wise and strong men in their lives who were willing to grow in their own marital roles. What I really enjoyed, though, was the down-to-earthiness of the stories as Lisa tells them.

To be honest the purpose in writing the book was not clear to me, and it’s not the kind of story that keeps me up late at night wanting to know what’s next, but I do know I anticipated with pleasure each listening session I could find time for. I guess it’s not a great literary work – but then, it doesn’t pretend to be. So, it’s a five-star book simply because that’s how much I enjoyed it.

And, by the way, I hadn’t appreciated the extent to which women had facilitated the progress of public radio. Maybe gender bias helped to make it possible. After all, who, at that time, might have had their defenses up anticipating that women could propel such competitive influence.

THE BOOK WOMAN’S DAUGHTER. BOOK 2 OF BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK   Leave a comment

Recently I posted the following review on Goodreads and Amazon

I’m glad I read the first book with my book group, but one needn’t have read it to enjoy Book 2. (To tell the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be a Book 3). As a previous viewer has pointed out, there is so much to learn. I’m sorry it’s no longer a shock to me to learn of human cruelty, but it did horrify me to learn that – at the time I was busy getting educated and married (1950s) – there were children imprisoned for being orphans or the wrong color. I haven’t done the research thing to validate the story, but I’ve decided to accept it as true.

This wasn’t a can’t-put-it-down-in-time -to-go-to-bed novel, but it was gripping when I did spend time with it. Listening to Katie Schorr read it on the audible book enhanced the effect of being there in the Kentucky hills. I do have friends, however, who tend to skip past descriptions to get to the action who might, therefore, find it a slow go. I, on the contrary, enjoyed being immersed in the sights and smells of an area otherwise unfamiliar to me.

I have to admit I would have liked more detail/understanding of how the story ended for the original Packhorse Librarian and her husband. It seems to me some potential richness was overlooked there. Maybe we’ll get more in the next (?) book?

But these comments, rather than reflecting disappointment, reflect the extent to which I was gripped by the characters. I have a warm feeling even as I remember the book woman’s daughter.

BOOK REVIEW: THE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING: IN SEARCH OF A BETTER LIFE. Anu Partanen   5 comments

Recently I posted this review on amazon and Goodreads. (Maybe as you read it, you’ll think of My Father’s House.

“The core idea is that authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal.” (p.50)

Maybe It’s personal. After all, my parents were immigrants from Sweden, immersed in a Swedish-American culture that constituted the theme of my own growth experience in the twentieth century. Or maybe it’s just that it’s so sensible. Maybe it was my parent’s encouragement of positive goals in life and utter discouragement of humiliating child training techniques. Maybe it was the belief my neighborhood encouraged in taking responsibility for one’s own life even while granting the same right to others. Maybe it was believing in a United States where that was possible for everyone. Maybe it’s what I know as a psychologist that the core idea of authentic love as described in the author’s opening is indeed the way of personal and cultural growth. And maybe it’s what I learned in my mature years that the freedoms I accepted were not so equally available to everyone. Maybe it’s the dream I still hold for a United States where one day the ideal will be reality. Whatever the reason, that opening theme clutched my heart with longing and joyful sadness.

Maybe it’s that I believe loving someone or something is open to accepting their imperfections and believing the good can be strengthened even as the bad is corrected. Maybe it’s that genuine love of my country includes the belief that, like an effective parent, I can help correct it for the good.

O r maybe it’s just that I have often thought how freeing it would be not to worry about being available to love and care for one’s child while at the same time being able to pay for sufficient food and housing, or the best possible education for encouraging individual growth and responsibility from toddlerhood through adulthood, or paying for the maintenance of good health, or not losing one’s home because of a catastrophic accident or illness, or being sure of a good healthy life in old age. How it would make sense to me to pay sixty percent of my income in tax if all needs were covered so forty percent would be available to me to develop my own creative – or just plain comfort – goals. How very practical. How free of unnecessary stress. How very much what the Nordic way has to offer, based on the idea that “authentic love and friendship are possible only between individuals who are independent and equal.” (p.50)

As for the author’s personal message and style, it is so clear that she has a fondness both for her native Finland and her adopted United States. And I love the way chapter by chapter she takes down the objections to the Nordic way.

I like the final conclusion:  “Individualism is one of the great foundations of Western culture. But unless society secures personal independence and basic security for the individual, it can lead to disaffection, anxiety, and chaos … While some of the praise heaped on the Nordic nations in the international media and various studies has surely been exaggerated and overpositive—no place is flawless, as Nordic people themselves will be the first to point out—the Nordic countries have undeniably created a model for what a high quality of life and a healthy society can look like in the twenty-first century.” (pp.328-329)

p.s. I’d be happy if you’d check out http://www.forgivenessoptions.com

 

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