Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best Novel I Read in 2007: Bleak House

The best novel I read in 2007, the novel that spoke to the year 2007, is Dickens's Bleak House. I agree with Edmund Wilson that Bleak House is a masterpiece; the novel is the greatest written by a Englishperson.

Dickens in his novel was describing England in the 1840s as a Bleak House, a nation dominated by corruption as symbolized in his fictional world by the Court of Chancery, supposed to fairly settle wills and estates. Within the novel the lawsuit Jarndyce versus Jarndyce in the Court of Chancery has lasted for a generation, destroying the heirs who patiently wait forever for judgment as the lawyers' fees eat up the whole estate so at the end the heirs get nothing, the estate is bankrupt, and only the lawyers have profited. What's great about Dickens is he makes judgments: against lawyers corruption, against the corrupt Court of Chancery, against the brutalization of the poor and the homeless. Well, right now the United States is also a Bleak House dominated by corruption: the corruption of the Iraq War totals billions. What is missing in a lot contemporary fiction is Dickens' moral judgments.

I read Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a novel which won a recent Pulitzer Prize for fiction; the well-written novel has a father and son trying to survive in post-apocalypse America. In many ways I thought the Road was metaphorically saying this country is now so bad off all a decent person can do is suffer it--I find that a huge cop out. Give me Dickens any day of the week instead.

Bleak House is long--881 pages. Hurrah to great length of a wonderful novel! I loved to leave the presentday Bleak House U.S.A. go to into Dickens' world where he creates characters who care for the poor, the orphans, and reunite destroyed families. As his heroine Dickens has Esther Summerson, a poor orphan, raised by an aunt who rejects her until she is rescued by wealthy John Jarndyce who rescues seven orphans, giving them a home.

Like her guardian Mr. Jarndyce, Esther is the ethical heart of the corrupt inhumane society. One small example is when Esther finds Jo, a homeless boy suffering from smallpox, so she takes him home to give him shelter and care when her maid Charley (also an orphan rescued by Mr. Jarndyce), gets smallpox, so Esther nurses her night and day until Charley recovers. Then Esther gets smallpox, so Charley nurses her night and day until Esther recovers. What's amazing in the cold brutal Bush's America of 2007 is that these characters go out of their way to care for each other. Further, Dickens says that the wealthy can't wall themselves from the poor: the wealthy will get the same diseases as the poor. Mr. Dickens says there's so safe gated communities to run to. Dickens would say either we care for each other or we will die.

One character I love is the homeless boy Jo, born an orphan in the most destitute level of society. Someone is always telling Joy to "move on" just as people in the USA tell the homeless to "move on." In the first half of the novel only the penniless clerk Nemo was kind to Jo while the rest of the callous society turned their backs on the poor boy. Well, I loved Dickens' sentiment--his emotions--for Jo. The brutal society just hounds Jo until he is sick and near death, when the kind doctor Allan Woodcourt carries him to refuge in the soldier George's fencing studio where Jo can die not on the street. In the end a whole group of people help Jo in his dying--George; his roommate Phil; the doctor Allan Woodcourt; the stationer Mr. Snasby who writes Jo's will and confession. These people redeem society, give it a heart.

But Jo still a boy does die, and Dickens addressed the reader:

"Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my Lords and Gentleman. Dead! Dead, right reverends and wrong reverends of every order. Dead, men and women born with heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day. "

Well, I love Dickens' moral outbursts because homeless in USA are dying thus around us every day, and he is still right to address directly his readers, the men and women "with heavenly compassion in your hearts."

Dickens also thinks pride will kill you, and our society in 2007 and 2008 has been overrun with material pride and greed. One character with too much pride is Mr. George, a young man who ran off to become a solider; he never felt he did well enough as a soldier to face his family, so he cuts himself off from them for years. Also Lady Dedlock was killed by her excess pride. As a young woman Lady Dedlock had an out-of-wedlock baby whom she gave away and then she later got married. She was terrified to tell her husband about her past, terrified she will be rejected by all of society, and terrified she will bring shame to his family name. Terrible terrible pride dominates both of them. But George has befriended the Bagnet family, and when he's falsely accused of murder, his good friend Mrs. Bagnet goes gets George's mother, brings her back to London, and reunites mother and son.

In contrast, Lady Dedlock flees rather than confide in and trust her husband, and she winds up dead a few days later. Her husband, who loved her dearly, would have forgiven her anything, and is striken with a stroke right after she disappears. Overcoming his pride helped George regain his family, reuniting first with his mother, then with his brother and lastly with his brother's family, giving George a whole family life for the first time in decades, but pride leads to Lady Dedlock's death.

Reading Dickens I totally fall in love with his moral voice: he is a moral, ethical England, a caring England. Dickens' novels led out of the wretched callous brutal society he described starting with the reform of the corrupt Court of Chancery --Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!Iin the 20th century. I'm sick and tired of 20th century modernist novels which give into cynicism, telling us how bad things are in 2007 and 2008. We all know how bad things are in 2008. Cormac McCarthy isn't news. Give me Dickens any day of the week. Give me novels of 881 pages! YES!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Visit to north north California: Code Blue

My brother who lives in Burney, California, in the far northeast part of California
got pneumonia so was taken to Mayers Hospital, a small hospital in Fall River Mills.
There they diagnosed him with something else and we about to operate on his non-
existent condition but he asked to be flown by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Redding, which they did. At Mercy he was correctly diagnosed with pneumonia.

The weekend this happened I was going into finals week where I had to give and
grade three finals. Also, I had jury duty on Monday, and my mom's home had
two furnaces not working, so on Sunday I arranged for a furnace repair company
to replace her two furnaces. I kept on calling my brother who was in Intensive Care
Unit (ICU) at Mercy. Luckily my jury duty was only one day on Monday the same
day the furnaces were successfully put in. I gave and grade my three finals, and flew to my
brother in Redding on Saturday.

Redding is in the Central Valley of California, the biggest city between the Sacramento
and the Oregon border, but it has a small airport. After I got a car, I drove to the
hospital where my brother at last was out of ICU and in the intermediate ward. Driving
I had to cross the Sacramento River and Interstate 5, but it wasn't far.

My brother who has had parkinson's for many years was on oxygen and making a slow
recovery from the pneumonia. That evening he sat up for the first time to have dinner
with me in his hospital room--we both ate from the trays. That was a good sign. My brother
had a roommate who seemed very ill.

Monday my third day there I was walking to my brother's room to again eat dinner with
my brother when I was all these nurses rushing to my brother's room yelling "Code Blue."
I stuck my head into the room to see my brother quietly sitting up in front of his food
tray, so the Code Blue was for his roommate. I said, "I'll see you later" and left as more
medical people were running into the room.

My brother had been eating and talking to his roommate who must have had a seizure,
choked on some food, and went quiet, so my brother hit the emergency button and yelled
out for the nurse who came running into the room to start the Code Blue. I stayed out a
half hour, and when I returned the staff had gotten the roommate breathing, had taken
his X-ray, and were wheeling him out to ICU. The nursing supervisor was talking to my
brother and said to me, "Thanks to your brother for hitting the alarm. If I were in the
hospital, I'd want your brother for a roommate." Other nurses that evening thanked my
brother for being so alert as to call an emergency.

I sat down across from my brother and ate my dinner.

The roommate did recover in ICU.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Traveling Over Holidays--Ethical Traveling

Now that Thanksgiving is over, most people are looking forward to the holidays. I already
took the pledge for ethical traveling to support hotelworkers at hotels.

According to Salon,"the Jewish Funds for Justice, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and the Jewish Labor Committee [has] collaborated to launch the Travel Justly campaign. The effort is designed to call attention to -- and perhaps even improve -- the relatively crappy working conditions of many hotel housekeepers. Ninety percent of these workers are women. "

According to UNITE/HERE what are the working conditions of housekeepers:

"- Hotel housekeepers are facing increasing injuries due to heavy workloads. In most hotels, housekeepers must clean 15 or more rooms per day.

- Hotel housekeepers must rush to meet a daily quota of cleaned rooms. They frequently skip rest periods and meals in order to finish, and even work off the clock to meet their quotas.

- In recent years, corporate hotel chains such as Hilton, Hyatt and Sheraton have increased both the pace and the amount of work performed by housekeepers.

- Most hotels have recently introduced new room amenities without reducing the number of rooms assigned to housekeepers each day. Luxury beds with heavier mattresses and linens, triple-sheeting, duvets, and extra pillows ... make room cleaning more difficult and time-consuming.

- According to a recent study of company records covering thousands of employee injuries, hotel housekeepers face an injury rate of 10.4%, almost double the injury rate for non-housekeepers (5.6%).

- Sprains and strains are the most common housekeeper injuries (44% of all injuries in one study) often resulting from demanding tasks like bed making_lifting mattresses, adding extra sheets, and stuffing multiple pillows and duvets_and pushing heavy carts full of linens and amenities.

- In a recent survey of more than 600 hotel housekeepers in the U.S. and Canada, 91% said that they have suffered work-related pain. 77% said their workplace pain interfered with routine activities. Two out of every three workers visited their doctor to deal with workplace pain. 66% took pain medication just to get through their daily quota.

- Hotel housekeeper injuries are debilitating. Back injuries, housemaids' knee (bursitis), and shoulder pain can lead to permanent disability.

- When injured workers try to return to work, most hotels do not offer them lighter tasks to do, forcing them to choose between getting hurt again or not working at all. "

The pledge I signed says that over the holidays as well as in the future I will

"- avoid hotels where workers are on strike;

- support union hotels (the site, unfortunately, requires you to enter the name of a specific hotel in a specific town; it would be a lot nicer if you could just search by city, assuming a full list would be too long to effectively navigate).

- TIP YOUR MAID $2-$5/day*

- be considerate by putting trash in trash cans, leaving dirty towels on the counter or racks so the housekeeper doesn't have to bend over to pick them up; and stripping your own bedsheets;

- leave complimentary comment cards if you are happy with your maid service;

- keep a copy of the pledge in your suicase to remind you of it when you travel.

After you sign the pledge, you can buy a luggage tag to remind you of the pledge, plus make your luggage identifiable. 75% of the cost of the tag is tax-deductible. And maybe, if you're lucky, occasionally give you an opportunity to talk to other travelers about the campaign.

So far now on I can tip $2-5/day whenever I'm in an hotel.