Monthly Archives: July 2013

Book review: A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett

imagesHoliday reading time and I’ve just finished A Postcard from the Volcano by Lucy Beckett. It tells the story of a young Prussian Count Max von Hofmannswaldau as he grows up and reaches adulthood through two world wars. Max makes friends with a Polish aristocrat and the story is woven around their different paths towards truth and the wholesale madness that takes over Germany as the country slides with ever increasing speed into the horror of Nazism.

Beckett’s knowledge of history is deep and profound. She has been criticized by some reviewers for using her characters to explain the history and philosophy that ended Prussia and brought poor Germany to such a terrible place. But I liked the way the characters argued with each other over what had happened and how the wise Classical Tutor kept his boys thinking right up to the point where all minds were closed and made Nazi.

Rather alarmingly there are far too many parallels with today’s media and Government approach. New laws in America in particular (as well as less obvious laws here in the UK) are very similar to those that came out in Germany before the Second World War in which people could be arrested and detained without trial or hope of justice.  As Pro-life and pro-family people around the First World are targeted by police today, so pro-life and pro-Jewish people were targeted then.

The history of the world wars is a vital part of our human history in that it really can teach us and warn us. It is with sadness that so much of what Beckett writes in her rich truthfully historical novel is still happening and repeating today.

Some of the men are offered scientific research posts in which they are to prove the Aryan race is superior and the Jews are less human. Just as today scientists are rewarded for “science” that helps the Government and Insurance industry wash it’s hands of sick people, so it was then.

Three wise men hold Max’s life together as he negotiates the pitfalls of growing up and learning love. His tutor at home Dr. Mendel is wise but too saddened and perhaps too influenced by the pagan Roman culture he teaches. Max’s grandfather Dr. Meyer who builds a harpsichord showing that in good music there is still hope and in Bach there is still a soul for Germany.

I am sure I read or heard once that someone had said that the music of Bach was a proof for the existence of God. Bach does shine gently throughout the story, an old portrait of the great musician and composer being a sort of presence in Max’s life, along with the violin that Max plays.

Finally there is the very wise Dr Fischer who is the tutor at the Gymnasium Max attends.

Breslau is a city full of a mix of people, Jews, Germans from all over old Prussia, Austrians and Poles and more. It could have been a wonderful cultural sharing space for music and art and learning.  The people are like people everywhere, good, bad, saintly and evil.

One thing that interested me was the realization (I hadn’t known this) that the economy of Germany was already on the mend when Hitler came to power. The people didn’t need to blame the Jews or the Poles or the Catholics. They were on the way up already. But something was already “rotten in the state of Denmark” as Max’s friend Zapolski who plays Hamlet while they are at University notes.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a backdrop to the thought that runs through the book. Playing the role has a profound effect on the Nietzsche loving Zapolski for Shakespeare’s worldview is diametrically different from Neitzsche’s.

While there’s a lot in the book that points to how a good culture based on fine thought like Goethe, Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson and of course the wonderful Bach can steer a person around the banality of evil, there’s some points that are missing in the story.

Beckett talks about the beliefs of the local parish priest, one a true Christian, another a Nationalist and anti-Semite, but she never mentions the Vatican Document Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Zeal) which was and is the only Vatican document to be written and promulgated in German. All documents are usually made in Latin and then translated. This document was given out on Passion Sunday (Mar 14th) 1937 and spoke strongly and clearly against the rise in Hitler’s National Socialism. I think it’s a strange thing to leave out when she was clear about the Concordat, which of course Hitler signed but reneged on. I personally don’t have an issue with the Concordat that some people have. The Holy Father saw what was coming, he’d warned the Bavarian people against voting for Hitler and in very large part they didn’t. He was trying to save his people as best he could. That seems a good thing to me.

Becket traces the culture of evil that in some ways made Hitler inevitable from Nietzsche through social Darwinism, runaway materialism and all this built on fear and loss for Germany. Luther is condemned but Darwin let off the hook somewhat.  I am not sure what I make of that.

If you want to get to understand how those wars came about, reading this book straight after the Head of the House of Coombe and Robin is a really good way to learn. They are very different books, written with a different style but they both show facets of the culture and thought that made the 20th century into such a century of slaughter.

I wish we would learn. But we don’t.

On the buses. Adventures in Disability.

Whenever we go out, especially somewhere new my dh calls it “an adventure in disability” because we have to find the most accessible route. Back home I don’t use public transport much. I haven’t been on a bus even with crutches because my balance is seriously off and in a wheelchair – I just can’t face it. Even using the local train service can be difficult. Officially I am supposed to give the train service 48  hrs notice if I want the ramp. I don’t know why.

P1030056But here in Edinburgh it isn’t at all wise to try and take a car into town. So we use the buses. But it’s not a nightmare at all.

The buses have a ramp that slides out and then there’s a place I can park on the bus. Easy.

I think I would still need someone pretty strong to help though as getting in and out of the space requires a lift and turn as it’s 180° in a small space. But the drivers are all sensible and don’t hurtle at bus stops, which makes it easier for the children and me.

Thanks to the buses being very regular they tend not to be over  crowded even now, at the height of the season, and that makes it all the safer and easier.

I seriously recommend taking a bus up the Mound if you are wanting to get to the high end of the town. It’s bloomin’ steep and quite frankly even if you can get to the top, coming down is downright scary. The bus avoids all that and it also means you can avoid the torture of cobbled streets under your wheels. No cobbles is bliss!

The National Museum of Scotland has very good toilets for crips. The doors aren’t too heavy and there’s plenty of space to maneuver the wheelchair. The bars are sturdy and don’t rock as you try to grasp them.

The crip toilet is also the baby changing area and I know some disabled people disapprove of that but it doesn’t usually bother me. In the museum the room was big enough to cope with the changing table and me in the chair without me bashing on the folded table.

So, good adventure in disability.

Blog rest

I don’t think I’ll be do much blogging for a couple of weeks. Might not be doing any at all.

But I will be back.

You have been warned.

A question of the DRM vs open source and the cost of curriculum.

070409_uncivilized_drm_ufoAs a raving Distributist I love the idea of an alternative economy. I love how many bloggers and websites offer free resources and information and we can all share it and give back our own, also for free. Our family have benefited hugely from freebies available around the net and from things fellow home edders and others have given us. And in our turn we (hopefully) have benefited others in what we can offer as freebies (such as my lessons on ThatResourceSite and all the freebies Kalei provides there) and lend and hand down to friends.

I still spend a lot of money on copyrighted material though. A lot of the curriculum I buy comes as copyrighted whether in hardcopy or ebook (mobi or pdf). I don’t have an objection to copyright, but there is a growing concern about the nature of DRM coded ebooks.

Even though I prefer, when possible to buy my ebooks direct from the seller ( Ignatius Press, Bethlehem, Sophia Press etc) there are times when it’s either easier or I don’t know the alternative so I buy from Amazon.

All ebooks from Amazon are DRM encoded. This, essentially means I don’t own the books I have paid for. I only lease them. A lot of people are questioning the ethics of this and more and more people are trying to source ebooks from DRM free providers.  Others have found ways to hack the DRM and remove it. While this is not legal (as far as I can tell) it’s considered ethical on the grounds that the DRM itself is the unethical item.

As my children’s Kindle’s are registered to me and I can share books on up to five kindles on my account, it hasn’t been a big issue so far. But while I can lend out hardcopy books to fellow home edders – I can’t lend out ebooks unless they are either a) free or b) DRM free.

Having had to pay shocking amounts of tax on imported curriculum recently (which again in grossly unethical for educational material, which used to be tax exempt) I have emailed some providers asking if they could make more material available as Pdf or other ebook format to bypass the tax man.

I am already able to source ebooks from Critical Thinking Company and have bought ebooks from EvanMoor

One provider is up for this, no problem, (Classical Academic Press are working towards this and already on the way)but another one was more skeptical being concerned that pdf downloads would lead to less sales and less money for the writers, (even though, thankfully they have a couple of items for download)Personally I think this is a mistake. I am sure more homeschooling and home educating families would be willing to buy curriculum if it was more cost effective and this would lead to a rise in sales, not a loss of income. I have pointed out the dearth of quality curriculum over this side of the pond, so that many of us face having to import from America. I really think American homeschool providers could do a great trade in pdf and DRM free ebooks.

Open Source Economics is moving on quickly and showing great results already. I can’t help thinking it is a little like a modern, internet savvy approach to the old cooperatives.

I think a return to guilds wouldn’t go amiss either. In some ways the smaller business can undercut the shark-like giants by offering something the rest of us want and can’t get either at all or at least ethically.

By the end of August I will be spending a scary amount of money on curriculum and resources. I can justify a lot of the expense in that it will be well used by all three children and I can pass it on to fellow home ed families or even sell some stuff on.

But if I go down the road of DRM ebooks and etexts I am faced with not even owning what I’ve paid for, let alone being able to use it for years and then pass it on or sell it on. So, while the initial price might look better, I’m still loosing a lot of cash.

It seems a shame that so much homeschool stuff is stuck in DRM- particularly the Christian stuff. How many Christians are pirates really?

End of term. Little garden party for the children.

Iona and her friends organised a garden party at her friend’s house. They have one every Summer and then a dinner party here in the Winter for Christmas and the Christmas tide birthdays.

Well, little Miss Heleyna was somewhat put out that these events went on and she was not invited to them. “Aha!” she cried, “When I’m a grown up girl I will have a garden party and not invite you!”

TRADITIONAL-SCHOOL-MILK-BOTTLE-CRATE-MILKSHAKE_1Feeling a touch chagrined on behalf of her youngest sister, and being in possession of some very neat mini milk bottles and some left over paper straws Iona decided that an end of term garden party for the children was in order.

So today the washing line was hung with bunting and the garden table loaded with finger sandwiches, crisps, homemade sausage rolls and many other goodies. There was pink milk and chocolate milk with proper paper straws.

All followed up with ice cream.

A lovely day.

I’ve looked at the photos but I wont upload them as I haven’t talked to the other mums about permission. Must do that.

A question of pain and it’s treatment.

Pain is a major symptom of all sorts of medical conditions. It’s the body’s number one alarm system to tell you something is wrong. Those who have the very rare disorder of congenital anesthesia live dangerous lives as they have no warning system. So, in some ways pain can be good.

But for a lot of people pain can be bad. It can be so bad it kills. That’s how people get tortured to death. The pain is so bad, it kills them. Research shows that people who have chronic pain are not only at a higher risk of suicide, but a much higher risk of heart failure leading to death.

So, you would think that something as common and often very serious as pain would have proper medical procedures associated with it, wouldn’t you?

But for so many people pain is the last thing a doctor knows anything about, how to treat, and often refuses to believe the patient’s description of the pain. This in turn leads to the, frankly stupid, opening paragraphs of studies into pain showing fMRI and blood chemistry changes of “Imagine that! The patients weren’t lying! Shock and amazement as science discovers that patients really are in a lot of pain!”

Recently a woman was left to die when a qualified nurse decided that despite the terrible pain she was in, she didn’t require an ambulance. This is one of a deluge of stories of patients left in severe pain, sometimes to die of it, because medical and nursing staff don’t think pain meds are important enough to bother with. Or they are wrapped in the myth that patients requesting pain meds are junkies. (And that’s before you consider that a person with an addiction needs more than dismissal as well!)

There have been some tragic deaths when people, having no proper pain management from their doctor will end up accidentally overdosing on over the counter drugs as they desperately try to get some relief.

Are doctors really so dim, so incapable of listening and making observations that they need to see very expensive (not available on the NHS as far as I’ve seen) High Spec fMRIs and SPECT scans before they will help a person get on top of their pain?

It was the great Dr. Osler who pointed out that as medics relied too much on machines that the standards of medicine would decline. I don’t think, even in his nightmares he envisaged a computer deciding whether a woman in so much pain it was going to kill her, should be refused an ambulance.

A return to basic compassion and a genuine recognition of the devastation that pain can cause is urgently required. Whatever happened to common sense and common human decency?

Back to the steroids, or not?

I was given a script for Prednisolone to keep by for those sudden onset emergencies. The idea was to help prevent my rather inconvenient (to me, the kids and the doc) sudden requirement to turn up at the GP for the nebuliser and   the inevitable script for yet more Prednisolone. The heat hasn’t helped my breathing. My lungs are having a hissy fit and while my dear ol heart and BP seem fairly stable (whoo-hoo) (for now – I am nothing if not a realist) my lungs are squeaking wheezing and waking me up at night demanding air. They are showing signs (again) of being too idle to bother to breathe unless I’m awake to help them. Honestly, you can’t get the organs these days!

The Big Pillow is back on the bed. This works a bit like calling in dad – the Big Gun- when teenage boys got a bit too big for their already over-sized boots and dad needs a word. So the Big Pillow keeps me more-or-less upright at night so I can breathe and then if I slip my lungs are quick enough to wake me up demanding better posture and more air.

Originally the pillow was a breastfeeding and baby nest thing so it’s big, and firmish. I recommend them for you fellow lung-lubbers.

Now, I hate taking steroids and up until recently I have also loved the little things. You see, while I am acutely aware of the nasty side effects and the long term nasties in particular thanks to a looooong history of taking steroids orally, intramuscular and IV I also am aware that they work like a minor miracle; not just on my breathing but on pain and that bone grinding feeling that goes with it.

As most of the side effects are part of my “normal” illness anyway I haven’t noticed much other than the weight gain and the moon face. I can spot a fellow steroidy by that face.

So, back to the question at hand. I have the Pred in my drug box. I am struggling to breathe and I have two reasons to take them. First – it might help avoid a doctors appt or an emergency doc appt. and second, we’re off on holidays soon and I don’t want to spend the hols doing a magical mystery tour of Scotland’s NHS provision. It won’t be good for the family.

My dh says everyone will take it in their stride if I need to sample the NHS up north. And I’m sure he’s right. But we are off with 5 of the children and a girlfriend. I would rather steer clear of stethoscopes and hissing masks.

Is that a good reason to take the Prednisolone? Because I’m a bit (ok, quite a bit) worried about wrecking the hols for everyone?

Who knew that taking drugs could be a moral or ethical question?

Having written all that my lungs have made the decision for me – back on the Pred.

On a side note, the Respiratory Doc has spotted that some of my breathing problems are not just asthma. He is a bit concerned that I’ve been on almost daily high doses of steroids for months and months and wants to separate out the asthma – that needs steroids and the other stuff that might need something else.

While there’s definitely the Lump in my throat around my voice box thing at the moment I am pretty sure it’s asthma.