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Reviews: THE HANDMAID’S TALE Series, Hulu

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Reviews:  May 3, 2017

THE HANDMAID’S TALE Series, Hulu

 

Margaret Atwood published THE HANDMAID’S TALE in 1985.  I read it some time in the mid to late 1980s as part of a text-in-community program at George Mason University–where all the liberal arts classes read it as part of the core curriculum classes–each class exploring the novel from within its educational scope.  (I was so lucky to teach in this program of “linked” courses that explored the same chosen novel later in my own educational journey.)

The first reading of this novel was totally mind-blowing–as much of Margaret Atwood’s prescient work can be.  In the late 1980s too many Americans, me included, just did not know how bad things were for some people around the world.  Oh, we knew about the horrors of Nazi Germany.  I forget now how much we knew about the Taliban in Afghanistan.  But few of us thought about how absolute power could be used to control most everyone in a nation in extreme and disturbing ways because “that would never happen in America.”  That would only happen in places like Russia and China.  Everything that happens in HANDMAID’S was happening in real life when Atwood was writing, somewhere in the world of human beings.  But, again, back on the mid 1980s none of us would have ever thought that in the democratic United States of America the controls for managing a government showing total disregard for rules, the laws, precedents set for decades to protect our civil rights and environment, would be so weak against powerful forces seeking self interest.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE and Atwood’s newer trilogy are often classified as Sci-Fi literature.  I would not.  Yes, they picture a society in the future, but these novels are dystopias–or warning tales with quite a bit of actual grounding in the facts of what is going on in our culture.  Yes, most (not all) Sci-Fi is always also about our own present society in some critical way, but Atwood’s dystopian novels are functioning as cautionary tales writ large.  And we should–we must–pay attention to these dystopias because they show how fast things can change in ways that cannot be easily fixed–which is kind of exactly where we are right now in this country.  Our religious right elected someone who is ignorant and corrupt.   This choice of Trump by people who also advocate for their religion is about power, and in this case specifically white male power, and not religion.  It’s about choosing hatred and lies to benefit, supposedly, oneself.  I never would have thought that conservative GOP congressmen (you know, who used to believe in conserving things like values and ethics) would turn a blind eye to another nation attacking our election, to the smearing one of the candidates to favor the other, to the glaring and dangerous ignorance and hatefulness of their presidential choice, to the fact that he is using the presidency to make money, to…all of it that is deeply wrong.  But this power today is trumping truth, ethics, and values.
 
HANDMAID describes in detail this kind of society.  But it is not really a “feminist” novel because its victims number anyone who does not knuckle under to its power.  In these societies, good people go bad and do bad things that they know are wrong just to keep their heads above water.
I’ve watched the first three HANDMAID episodes now.  And it is much, much better than the movie that was made some years back.  Elisabeth Moss in the title role is an excellent choice as she is such a good actress.  Much of the internal writing of the novel gets carried on her face.  And the gift of the slow development–not possible in a movie–lets the changes the society experiences have a lot of weight.  The hopelessness sinks in as people realize that things are NOT going back to where they were, that in what they thought was a democracy, they are now totally powerless and totally at risk.
We are gifted today with the power of social media–something not as available in the mid 1980s.  But it is still alarming to see that in our democracy, we do not have quick levers to stop something like Trump and his rich white male robber baron companions from turning back decades of mostly positive changes in civil rights, protecting the climate, controlling the power of industry, etc.  Under the guise of stopping some government programs that go too far (like mandating vaccines when they are dangerous and the science does not support them), Trump’s government is making changes that benefit them and NOT the people Trump said he would help during his campaign.  Trump is a destroyer, not an improver.
I can’t say I am “enjoying” the series.  It’s too disturbing on a host of levels as it takes a good, long, hard look at the nature of power, what people will do to get it, how it gets wielded when it is acquired, who become scapegoats and suffer, etc.  Who would have thought that NOW we would have someone proposing building deportation camps in this country and trying to build an army to round up “aliens” living here??  Who would have thought the press would be under such fire?  Who would have thought we’d have the double-edged sword of social media in the form of fake news, of the invasion of secret communications published by another nation to rig an election, and of the celebration and defense of total ignorance?
In one place Moss/Offred says that they were all like pots in a slowly heating pot of water–until it was too late.  They were asleep.  So, yes, HANDMAID is a cautionary tale.  For sure.  It asks readers/watchers to wake up and see.
Atwood’s more recent trilogy has many of the same kind of prescient, warning hallmarks, but these novels show a society that is much further along a destructive path.  I have read one of those, the first, but just couldn’t read more as they were too depressing, and it was clear that her Cassandra powers were, again, right on target.  In these, we’ve wrecked the world with scientific meddling, like cloning, creating fake foods, allowing a much more confining class system, etc.  At my age now, there is little I can do to change what is occurring beyond writing about it and making sure I don’t participate as much as I possibly can.
But I can keep abreast of today’s realities.  I can think about them.  I can…watch.
Here is a link to Hulu’s informational page on the HANDMAID production.
https://www.hulu.com/the-handmaids-tale?utm_campaign=TheHandmaidsTale_Launch_1-wk_Q2_2017&cmp=7054&mkwid=911imMvG&pcrid=192529649467&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=online%20%2Bthe%20%2Bhandmaid%27s%20%2Btale%20free&gclid=CL6XsYb609MCFUiewAodWh8OiA&dclid=CNuKwYb609MCFU6IaQodFhsMPg
Here’s a nice review:
Source: The Handmaid’s Tale is the most horrific thing I have ever seen | Ars Technica

Written by louisaenright

May 3, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Books: THE SUMMER GUEST, Justin Cronin

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Books:  April 3, 2017

The Summer Guest

Justin Cronin

I recently listened to this book on our Maine Library download system, where all the books are FREE.

I really enjoyed it.

It’s a saga of sorts, multi-generational, interesting, SET IN MAINE, beautifully written.

Here’s a review:

Source: The Home Front (washingtonpost.com)

Written by louisaenright

April 3, 2017 at 10:52 am

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: EUPHORIA by Lily King

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  January 5, 2016

EUPHORIA by Lily King

I recently listened to Lily King’s novel EUPHORIA, downloaded from the Maine library system.

This novel was listed among the years ten best in 2014 by The New York Times.

I really enjoyed this novel, which is somewhat based on an episode in the life of Margaret Mead, but which is so much more.  King captures in the novel competing views on how one goes about practicing anthropology, something that is developing and changing anthropology in Mead’s time.  What is at stake is the recognition of what can actually be learned from explorations into foreign cultures.  The novel also asks what those cultures might learn about the anthropologists and their western culture.  Thus, peripheral, but present in the novel, is also the impact western explorers have on previously “undiscovered” cultures.

The novel is dynamic and the story moves forward in good time.  It can be read at the surface level of romance in an exotic place, but, as I said above, King is after more than that surface level.

Here’s The New York Times book review.  I have dropped in a quote from the review:

In “Euphoria,” the novelist Lily King has taken the known details of that occasion — a 1933 field trip to the Sepik River, in New Guinea, during which Mead and her second husband, Reo Fortune, briefly collaborated with the man who would become her third husband, the English anthropologist Gregory Bateson — and blended them into a story of her own devising. The result is as uncanny as it is transporting. “Euphoria” is a meticulously researched homage to Mead’s restless mind and a considered portrait of Western anthropology in its primitivist heyday. It’s also a taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace — a love triangle in extremis.

Written by louisaenright

January 5, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: SNOWDEN

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  January 3, 2016

SNOWDEN

First, SNOWDEN is an Oliver Stone movie, so one has to take that fact into account.

But, this movie is really interesting, especially today with all the information about Russian hacking.

I had no idea that Snowden was so brilliant.

Somehow, I thought he was “just” a contractor when he was far, far, far more than that.  Snowden always worked at the highest level of technological intelligence for the CIA, the NSA, etc., attached to companies with projects at that level.  He is also the kind of boy-scout patriot who would be and was terribly troubled by the kind of invasive spying on people, on countries, on…everything that could be spied on apparently.  He was sickened by what was being done with the information, how people were being blackmailed and so forth.  So, he is, I think, a whistleblower about those practices.  What he wanted was to reveal the extent of the spying so that Americans could have a debate about being “safe” versus the loss of privacy.

Laws have since been passed that shut down the spying on US citizens.

But…

Senior officials associated with these programs lied to Congress about what they were doing at the time.

There is so much power involved in knowing what this kind of technological spying produces.  Can the “powers that be” resist doing what they do so well?

And, as always, we dumb citizens who just want to live happy lives, have to trust that what is being done “in our name” is in “the right hands.”  Yet history is replete with stories of what the CIA did across the world “in our name”–and it was always already about facilitating American companies seeking to work in places where riches were to be had.  (See THE BROTHERS, Stephen Kinzer)  And, take a moment and think about how easily this information could be turned against private citizens if it is being wielded by “the wrong hands.”

It’s also an “everybody is doing it” problem.  One that I think is not going to go away.

It’s an interesting movie.

 

 

Written by louisaenright

January 4, 2017 at 11:01 am

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Interesting Information and Book Review: The Big Fat Surprise: Nina Teicholz

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Interesting Information and Book Review:  August 28, 2016

THE BIG FAT SURPRISE

Nina Teicholz

The USDA food guide finally scraped the notion that dietary cholesterol made too much cholesterol in the body.

It’s about time as that science has been out there for decades and decades.  Or, the lack thereof…

It was too much to hope that in the same year the USDA would also scrap the false notion that healthy fat is bad for you.  But that will fall next.

Really, the food guide and food advice needs to be removed from the USDA–there is a huge conflict of interest involved.  What is healthy for humans to eat is not necessarily the food crops that the USDA’s main clients raise.  Corn, soybeans, and wheat would be good examples.  (I have essays in the Mainely Tipping Point Essays about the early development of the USDA food guide and the corruption involved.)

Healthy fats are NOT the highly processed and already rancid vegetable fats–with the exception of MINIMALLY processed olive and coconut oils.  Healthy fats come from healthy animals eating what they were meant to eat.  We are talking small farms that grass-feed, pasture chickens, let pigs be pigs and goats be goats and sheep be sheep, and so on.

Teicholz explores the science of fat and explains “Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.”

Here’s Teicholz’s web site:

Source: The Big Fat Surprise: Nina Teicholz

The Wall Street Journal has a good review.

And here’s a response to Teicholz’s predictable critics:

Source: Response to Critics |

Note that there are MANY well-credentialed folks out there saying the same thing Teicholz is saying and showing science and history that proves it.  In the Mainely Tipping Point Essays there are essays on work done by Mary Enig, Gary Taubes, and The Weston A. Price Foundation.  The latter does not have a “dog in this hunt” so to speak as they are not selling anything.

 

Written by louisaenright

August 28, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Elisabeth Ogilvie

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  July 24, 2016

Elisabeth Ogilvie

I’ve heard Elisabeth Ogilvie’s name since I moved to Maine twelve years ago.  And saw her books in book stores off and on.

But I’d never read any of her books until this spring.

There are A LOT of her books, but at least seven of them take place on a fictional island, Bennet’s Island, out near Matinicus Island somewhere.  And, “Limerock” is certainly Rockland.  Camden appears as Camden from time to time.

The first six books comprise two trilogies.  I am on the sixth book, and it is going with me to the J&E Riggin later today.

I am a sucker for books set in or about Maine, so I’m not sure everyone would like these books.  Ogilvie died in 2006 in nearby Cushing, Maine, shortly after we moved up here, and started publishing in 1944.   Her books were very popular back in the day.  Today they read a bit old-fashioned, but I bet back then they were a bit racy in ways.

In any case, I am enjoying them a lot.  As I have moved through them, I can see that her books get more complicated, have more depth, are better written.  The characters are interesting and compelling.  And I am loving reading about lobstering and drag seining back in the day on a virtually self-sufficient island.

Ogilvie was born and went to school in Massachusetts, but summered in Maine.  As an adult she lived on a 33-acre piece of land on Gay’s Island, and, I think, wintered ashore in Maine.  She fostered children.

Another interesting thing to note is that she had a “significant other” woman companion.  So, in that, she joins other writers who lived in Maine:  Willa Cather, Lura Beam, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary Ellen Chase.

 

This wiki link lists Ogilvie’s books:

Source: Elisabeth Ogilvie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Written by louisaenright

July 24, 2016 at 2:27 pm

Books, Documentaries, Reviews: DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  April 27, 2016

DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC

Candice Millard

I found this book really interesting.

It’s about the assassination of James Garfield in 1881.  But it is also about this era in our history.

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I did not know much about this era.  I did work on Washington and Jackson, and being from Georgia more than anywhere else, I grew up with discussions of Civil War history.  I have studied around and about the 1920s and forward, especially the economic issues and theories.  But I knew little or nothing about James Garfield.  Or Chester Arthur, the VP who succeeded him.  Or this formative period in American history when government jobs were given out by the president in a “spoils” system and presidents walked around unprotected, and anyone could come inside the White House and ask to see the president.  Garfield’s death sparks Arthur to create a civil service where jobs are awarded on merit as a sub-text to the assassination is that an insane man wanted one of these jobs, though he was totally unqualified for any one of them.

Apparently Garfield was brilliant.  Beyond brilliant.  He embodied the “American Dream” in that his father died very early and his mother and brother really struggled not only to survive, but to give Garfield the education his mind so richly deserved.  That mind and the respect he earned (as he was not only good-natured, but ethical and moral), took him all the way to the presidency.  This was an era when education was highly prized in and of itself and highly respected by those who did not have it.

He did not want to be president.  This era was marked by conventions where ballots could go on and on until someone emerged that everyone felt they could support.  Garfield was elected in the Republican Convention on the 36th ballot!!  He went on to win the general election.

Alexander Graham Bell is featured in this story as his metal detector was used to try to locate the bullet lodged in Garfield’s back.  Bell did not find the bullet as the arrogant doctor in charge would only let him search on the side where he had determined the bullet to be.  The bullet’s path had taken it to the other side, of course.

Joseph Lister’s work on germ theory and antiseptics is discussed as Garfield’s doctors did not believe in keeping wounds sterile.  They repeatedly probed Garfield’s wound, introducing germs that created an infection that went all over his internal body, forming huge pus cavities.  The main doctor’s last name was Bliss, so the aphorism “ignorance is Bliss” has newfound meaning for me.

And the great irony is that if Garfield had not been immediately surrounded by well-meaning but ignorant doctors, if he had been on a battlefield or in one of the hospitals, as dirty as they were, he would have survived his wound.  The bullet was not in a place to threaten his life.  His body would not have been continually probed with fingers and unsterile instruments.  Literally hundreds of men of that time were walking around with bullets in their bodies from the Civil War.

The story of the “longest GOP convention in history” resonates today if today’s GOP goes to a contested convention this summer.

Written by louisaenright

April 27, 2016 at 6:08 pm