Thursday, August 30, 2018

"The Adventures Of Nagel Of Ancient Babylonia"

Wilma R. Forester, raised in Chico, has a tale to tell. It's not about her own childhood, but about a fictional youngster who lived long ago, "a tall lean boy about eight years old but nobody ever celebrated his birthdays. When and where he came from was unknown…." 

"Once upon a time," the story begins, "a boy named Nagel came for his spin on the earth. God sent him to the land of ancient Babylonia. The time in history as we count time was about 1400 BC."

A slave boy who runs away from Master Armen, and then returns, Nagel will have much to learn, especially about a dream that haunts him, of "beautiful white feathers" turning the color of blood.

"The Adventures Of Nagel Of Ancient Babylonia" ($19.95 in paperback from ReadersMagnet LLC; also for Amazon Kindle) is dedicated to "the free-spirit of young boys and girls the world over." The narrator suggests lessons that might be learned along the way and even provides background music.

One day an old woman gives Nagel a "magic" whistle, telling him: "When you were born, you cried and others rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, others cry and you rejoice." Much later, Nagel joins Master Armen's desert lion-hunting party, along with his dog Scrappy and his big friend Nio, the eunuch, when they are all waylaid by nomads.

The nomads have donkeys but not horses and demand them from Master Armen. Nagel and Nio (who acts as translator) are held hostage until the animals can be delivered. Nagel meets a girl his own age named Sara but as the deadline for Armen to return runs out, with the fate of Nagel and Nio in the balance, the two plot their escape. The narrator adds: "Music full of suspense here please."

The story is about promise-keeping and its sacrifices. Nagel, Forester writes, "had learned real sorrow and how to cry. If we live long enough sorrow comes to ALL of us…Very heavy slow sad music here…" But there is joy as well when Nagel finds out his true identity and that there is steadfast love greater than he ever imagined.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"Dennis My Menace: My Brother's Memoir"

The story Magalia resident Michael ("Mikee") Richards has to tell seems prosaic. In a news release he says it's about "two boys growing up in rural Idaho in the 1950s and 1960s who seek their father's approval and love. Much of this time was spent on a cattle ranch where there was lots of hard work. Always in search of their father's love by following his code regarding women and sex, the boys did things that got them in plenty of hot water."

But the boys are raised in a highly dysfunctional family, an absent mother (gone when Mike was eight) and a father who spends much of his time drinking. Mike is especially close to his younger brother, Dennis, who is "mentally challenged" ("later diagnosed as an adult with paranoid schizophrenia"). Mike becomes his protector (and, sometimes, the instigator).

Richards imagines reflections that Dennis might write, were he capable, and adds entries in his own name, especially as Dennis gets lost in the mental health system and is found again, still alive. 

"Dennis My Menace: My Brother's Memoir" ($14.95 in paperback, self-published; also for Amazon Kindle) is an unsparing and explicit portrait of a young man who wants to show affection (he's a hugger) but cannot understand the world.

"You will know that I live in my own head in ways that you cannot imagine," "Dennis" writes. Angry voices "would get me agitated and cause me to pace back and forth and talk to myself. … I guess some of those voices were of different people talking in my head. I was just answering them out loud. … I developed some very bad habits like uncleanliness, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. … I was put on medication when I was twenty years old in the mental institution."

The story is suffused with immense sadness as Richards, looking back, tries to make sense of his life with (and apart from) Dennis. He is "still living in Ogden in a group home. He doesn't have much of a life now because most of his mind is gone. … My hope now, Dennis, is that I will be with you until the end."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

"The Nazi Card"

Chico State University grad Brian Johnson is now Assistant Professor of Humanities at Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland, Ohio where he teaches American literature and popular culture. 

In a new book he examines with scholarly precision the roots of what has become commonplace in the internet age, reflected in "Godwin's Law," which asserts that any online discussion (about anything at all), if it goes on long enough, will inevitably usher in some comparison to Adolf Hitler.

Johnson argues that such comparisons have lost their original meaning. "Historically," he writes, "the Nazis were defeated in 1945, but rhetorically they continue on through analogy until today. Each incarnation of their reference has altered their definition subtly so that Nazis now can refer to totalitarian politics, a drive toward world domination, racism, … irresponsible science, … feminist excesses, warlike attitudes"--the list goes on. Yet "what is the nature of Nazi evil if it isn't the Holocaust?"

"The Nazi Card" ($85 in hardcover from Lexington Books) traces "Nazi comparisons at the beginning of the Cold War," as the subtitle says, ranging not only through the age of the anti-Communist "Red Scare," and the Black Power and the Civil Rights movements, but also developments in the twenty-first century. 

Focusing primarily on Nazi analogies in American film (such as Charlie Chaplin's rendition of "Adenoid Hynkel" in "The Great Dictator" of 1940 and Peter Sellers as "Dr. Strangelove" in 1964), the book finds that even after the horror of the death camps entered public consciousness,  the Nazi analogy, representing absolute evil, has been over time sundered from the actual "egregious crimes" of the Hitler regime.

Applications of the Nazi analogy grow more and more arbitrary in popular culture, Johnson maintains, even when better analogies are available. "Why aren't Communists, better armed and a more imminent threat, a better description of a present menace than the Nazis, who were long ago defeated?" And, at times, "analogies to Nazism were employed to justify, not condemn, harassment of Jewish-Americans."

The bottom line for Johnson is that the misuse of Nazi analogies impedes careful moral reasoning. There is danger that the abundance of arbitrary Nazi comparisons may tempt us to forget what really happened.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

"Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"

"I grew up in Corning," writes Tony Palermo. "Everyone there, including my own family, are good, hardworking loving people." But after "a very tough break-up" at 19 he was plunged into sadness and depression and didn't ask his family for help. Perhaps, he thought, they wouldn't understand. 

He studied business at Butte College and moved up the ladder to a managerial position with Media News Group (the parent of this newspaper) but lasting happiness proved elusive. By age 36 it seemed clear that nothing would stop the emotional roller coaster. "As far as I was concerned, all my energy for the last 16 years had been expended in a continual effort to keep the darkness at bay."

Things began to change when he "decided to work with a life coach." Palermo learned "how to productively manage my negative thoughts … learning how to turn my negative thoughts into positive thoughts." The affirmations of self-love he practiced began to have an effect. 

Palermo himself became a life coach ( and what he teaches is embodied in "Positive Thoughts Will Change Your Life: A Handbook For Personal Transformation"($9.99 in paperback from CreateSpace; also for Amazon Kindle).

Central chapters focus on changing negative thoughts to positive ones. "One of the most commonly-used healing methodologies of this New Age are affirmations … something you say to yourself repeatedly." The affirmation "validates the precise role that thoughts and emotions play in creating our lives." 

The idea is to avoid negative affirmations ("I hate school") and embrace positive ones ("I'm a good student"). "If we focus on positive thoughts," Palermo writes, "the universe rallies round us, ushering in our deepest dreams."

In line with New Age teaching, affirmations are seen as a creative force. They require one to "consciously do what aligns with and supports the manifestation of your affirmations" knowing that "the universe will support me in every way." Separate chapters are devoted to forgiveness, relationships, and health.

Those who do not subscribe to New Age metaphysics can nevertheless affirm with Palermo the importance of cultivating appropriate habits of life and, as he has learned, to let others help. 

"The heart is built for sharing."

Thursday, August 02, 2018

"Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor"

When the Evangelical Free Church of Chico partnered with Amor ministries ( to build homes in Mexico, Amor's founders, Scott and Gayla Congdon, little knew of a historical connection with World War I. 

Now, after seven years of research, church member Dan Irving tells the story in vivid detail. "Heart Of The Poppy: From War To Amor" ($10 in paperback, self-published, available at ABC Books in Chico; also for Amazon Kindle) begins with "The War to End All Wars" and a Christian hospitality ministry that arose near Ypres, in Belgium, during the height of the conflict.

Trench warfare is unimaginable. "Your senses are numb, you are surrounded by death. Its lifeless stare bores right through you…. The stench of death is everywhere, and it will never leave you. Never! You cannot escape death’s objective: to hunt you down and destroy you, anyway possible. You would prefer a merciless bullet to the brain. … For now, this is your home, where the mud and blood flow together in the trenches on the Western Front."

In 1915, a man named Philip Thomas Byard Clayton, ordained by the Anglican Church, was sent to the Western Front, to Poperinge, Belgium, in West Flanders, a small town near Ypres. "He was short and pudgy," Irving notes, and his nickname, "Tubby," stuck with him.

Tubby performed services on the front lines and saw the need for respite. He turned a damaged mansion in Poperinge into "Talbot House," named for one of the war dead, a place of hospitality known by its initials, Toc H (the "toc" sound a way for Army Signal Code to distinguish t from p).

The Toc H movement grew worldwide, later including a ministry in Mexico building homes, which influenced the Congdons and, years later, led to the formation of Amor. 

It is an extraordinary history, involving 800,000 dead at the Third Battle of Ypres ("for the Allies it represented a gain of two inches for every dead soldier"), and, astonishingly, a field of dark red poppies "sprouting up in life" in Flanders fields, a memorial to death--yet one day, a hundred years hence, yielding life and hope for Mexico.