Leandro Herrero: “An enlightened top leadership is sometimes a fantastic alibi for a non-enlightened management to do whatever they want”

Auto reblogging is perhaps a little narcissistic but this is something that has relevance far beyond healthcare…. Dr Herrero’s blog is highly highly recommended.

A Medical Education

From Leandro Herrero’s  website, a “Daily Thought” which I am going to take the liberty of quoting in full:

Nothing is more rewarding than having a CEO who says world-changing things in the news, and who produces bold, enlightened and progressive quotes for all admirers to be. That organization is lucky to have one of these. The logic says that all those enlightened statements about trust, empowerment, humanity and purpose, will be percolated down the system, and will inform and shape behaviours in the milfeulle of management layers below.

I take a view, observed many times, that this is wishful thinking. In fact, quite the opposite, I have seen more than once how management below devolves all greatness to the top, happily, whilst ignoring it and playing games in very opposite directions. Having the very good and clever and enlightened people at the top is a relief for…

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Review of “Love in Vain”, Lewis Shiner, SF Site 2010

Another Ticonderoga Publications review, following the review of “Ghost Seas” by Steven Utley of the prior post, here is a review of Lewis Shiner’s Love in Vain. Lewis Shiner  is an interesting writer – I will post my review of his “Dark Tangos” here also at some point. As you can see, a slight tendency to tendentious and unsubtle “allegory” marred one story, but that is pretty reasonable odds.

love in vain l s

 

Ticonderoga Publications have produced a beautiful limited edition paperback of Lewis Shiner’s 1997 collection. These are great stories, ranging over genres and locations with admirable disdain for the artificial boundaries that disfigure literature. To use one of the great clichés, there is something for everyone. More accurately, there are multiple stories to suit multiple tastes.

There are some wonderful fragments (or, if you prefer, “short shorts”) such as “Oz,” in which the lives of two villains, a pantomime pop culture villain and a real one (or, possibly, history’s greatest patsy), intersect. Similarly, “Mystery Train” takes an icon of rock and roll and puts a strangely horrific slipstream spin on him. For my money, the worst problem that writing about popular music faces is taking itself too seriously, putting a portentous spin on every aspect of itself, and forgetting the excitement, menace and atmosphere of the best popular music. Shiner’s prose — in a mysterious, ineffable way — captures the sinuous shimmering strangeness of rock at its most expressive and evocative. Reading these stories, I couldn’t get a remix of the Swiss band Young Gods’ song “Child in the Tree” out of my mind.

The “straight” stories are as well-observed, and as thought-provoking as anything else here. For instance, “Dirty Work,” the story of a down-on-his-luck man who is forced to take a job for a former high school classmate which involves tailing a rape victim, is a searing and sad account of male brutality and a decent man who tries, ineptly, to make amends. “Castles in The Sand” is a sweet snapshot of a mismatched couple at the beach — if it was a song, it would be The Mamas And Papas juddering version of “Dream a Little Dream.” There are also two pictures of father-son relationships — the intergenerational rivalry of “Match” and the casually poignant “Flagstaff.”

Then there are the historical stories, some of which are overtly science fiction, such as the portrayal of Nicola Tesla as Promethean magus in “White City,” and some of which are less so, such as the proto-Marxism of the pirate Jean Laffite in “Gold.” The most haunting stories are “Dirty Work,” again a straight story in which a down-on-his-luck family man takes a job from a former high school friend, now a successful-seeming lawyer, tailing a rape victim. The lawyer is defending the alleged rapist, and the narrator — a decent man trying to make a living — is immersed in a world of moral dilemmas. “Love In Vain,” a precursor of the Hannibal Lector/Dexter meme of a serial killer who “helps” the authorities, except this time the killer tells the police where to find the remains of victims he couldn’t possibly have killed — because the cases are entirely made up.

Shiner is able to create an atmosphere and to evoke a tone of voice that suits each of the disparate settings of his stories. This is a masterful collection, with hardly a bum note (Ok, I’ll admit it, there was one story that left me cold — the parable “The Tale of Mark the Bunny” which by my reckoning is trite and facile, but there you go) and one which I highly recommend.

Review of “Ghost Seas”, Steven Utley, SF Site, 2010

Original here

I reviewed a slew of books from Australia’s Ticonderoga publications around the early 2010s, for the SF Site. All were at the very least interesting, beautifully produced books. Re-reading this review now, it does convey that I enjoyed the read although I must also confess I didn’t recall much of Ghost Seas until prompted by the review.

ghostseas

 

Ghost Seas

Steve Utley

 

A review by Seamus Sweeney

 

 

 

Steven Utley has been described (by Gardner Dozois) as possibly “the most under-rated science fiction writer alive.” With Bruce Sterling, Howard Waldrop and Lisa Tuttle, he helped form the Turkey City Writer’s Workshop in Austin in the 70s. The prolific contributions between these authors lead to, amongst other things, the first stirrings of steampunk. Utley took something of a hiatus from science fiction as the 70s ended, pursuing other interests, only to resume in the later 80s. Perhaps this hiatus helped secure his status as a self-described “internationally unknown author.” On the one hand, it is richly undeserved — Steven Utley should be as famous (and rich) as anyone else. On the other, there is a certain pleasure in discovering an author unknown to one who induces the literary version of love at first sight.

 

The eponymous opening story of this brilliant collection is a haunting tale of the West Texas sands, a strange triangle between a dementing (but rich) old man, his apparently guileless nephew, and the nephew’s young wife. This story was reminiscent of all those J.G. Ballard stories and novels set in imagined landscapes that powerfully reflect mindscapes. The exotic and the eerie is a mirror of ourselves. For me, reading this entire collection was an exhilarating experience that brought me back to the excitement of discovering Ballard’s short story collections in Dublin Central Library as a young teenager.

 

There is not a weak, forgettable story among these tales. Even more impressive is the range of Utley’s prose — we have outright sci-fi, slipstream, alternate history, “straight” history, outer space, inner space, a dream Texas, a real Texas. All these worlds are created and explored in an utterly absorbing manner. From the hilarious slice of space opera “Upstart” to the alternate historical fragment “Look Away” to the time travel glitch “Michael Bates Michael Bates Michael Bates Michael,” each story describes a world perfectly.

 

Another highlight is the palaeontologist versus creationist murder mystery “The Dinosaur Season.” With humour and sympathy, Utley captures the cultural clash between the scientists and the local law enforcement very well. The long historical story “The Electricity of Heaven,” in which a venal, pompous newspaper editor experiences the last days of Confederate Richmond, was for me the collection’s centrepiece. “The Electricity of Heaven” is a straight historical fiction, and yet one does not notice the distinctions in this collection.

 

Writing an unreservedly enthusiastic review that is both interesting and avoids repetitive use of superlatives is actually quite difficult. So at this point I will bow out and simply encourage those who have not yet encountered these stories to acquire this fine edition from Ticonderoga Press.

Review of “Old Friends”, Tracy Kidder, 2000

This was written in around 2000 and originally appeared in The Magazine, a zine I self produced a few issues of. I ended up posting the review on Amazon  – there’s probably a morality tale there. I wrote this when I was 21 or 22, hence the references to “we young people.” Since this, I have had a lot more experience of nursing homes, and yet I wouldn’t change much about the review, although I might if I re-read the book (which was the subject of a scalding review by Mary Gordon in the New York Times)

Oddly enough I can’t find the cover of the book I read online – which featured a black and white photo of an older man and a younger man in a diner. Perhaps it was the UK edition or somesuch. The internet can blind one….

oldfriends

 

 

“For most of those long-lived, ailing people, Linda Manor represented all the permanence that life still had to offer. It was their home for the duration, their last place on earth.”

Thus writes Tracy Kidder in “Old Friends”, an account of life in Linda Manor, a Massachussets old folk’s home. It would be a useful exercise to watch a day’s television and see how many elderly people are featured. The old are increasingly invisible in our society. Once respect for one’s elders was a maxim in most cultures. Now all has changed in the consumer capitalist west; with a prevalent worship of a narrowly-defined sense of “youth” – physically slim, impulsive, impatient; and the traditional virtues of the elderly – experience, deliberation, rumination – are derided in that accurate barometer of the spirit of the times, advertising. In medical training, there is an unspoken but clear bias against the elderly; students are advised to ensure that the stereotypically scatty little old lady sticks to matters of strict clinical relevance.
The notion that we have anything to learn from the elderly has disappeared from most contemporary culture. The elderly are a nuisance, a problem to be medicated and managed and forgotten. Kidder’s book – unsentimental and heartbreaking, a clear-eyed portrait full of dignity and beauty and humour – is a counterblast to the cult of youth and the pathologising of old age. Increasingly we, as young people, live lives surrounded by people of our own age only – the decline of large families mean that we are less likely to have infant siblings or indeed much older siblings, while the large extended family gathering is increasingly dwindling.
The blurb on the back of “Old Friends” begins:”What’s wrong with Tracy Kidder? A robust man, even a youthful one, a father fit and healthy, with years of life ahead of him: why did he voluntarily enter an old people’s home?” One might fear a self-fixated meditation on the authors own concerns; but Kidder is an absent presence in the book; he gives his elderly cast the stage. The focus is mainly on Lou, a serene, wise ninety year old Philadelphian; and his roommate Joe, a tempermental impatient seventy-two year old who chafes at existence in the home after an active life.

Kidder presumably had an extraordinary degree of access; not merely physical but also emotional. We are taken into the rooms of the dying, the deepest fears of those who will shortly join their ranks, the sadness and guilt of relatives. We see the power structure of the nursing home, a relatively enlightened one where nevertheless elderly people with enormous professional and administrative experience are made – with the best intentions – to feel like children.
We learn from the elderly in this book; and the elderly learn from each other. The gruff taciturn Joe is gently coached by Lou into telling his wife he loves her. Joe and Lou coach the staff of Linda Manor in tact and sensitivity- for example the hearty “Did you have a bowel movement today?” is replaced by the less intrusive”Did you or didn’t you?” The full emotional range is here; love, ambition, anger, jealousy, pride; life in its most distilled, pure form – life facing

Further notes on the cultural hegemony of television

I have blogged before  on television’s rise, rather than fall, in recent years, to become (seemingly) the dominant cultural force. I am always struck, when logging onto twitter, to see that the trending topics are dominated by television (#latelateshow, #ptinvestigates, #cblive) or sport (which is on television) So much for the decentralising, do-it-yourself culture that the internet was supposed to bring to us.

I was struck while reading this somewhat ho-hum Daily Telegraph story by this:

The issue will be debated in the House of Lords on Monday and Mr Purnell says peers must back a an amendment to force television service providers to give top billing to the corporation.

“If we don’t update the rules, we’re at serious risk of losing something very special about our British culture,” Mr Purnell argues.

“This isn’t about forcing people to watch public service programmes, or stopping anyone watching American shows we all love. It is about making sure you can find them easily”

 

The line “American shows we all love” is perhaps not one I should overinterpret, but I am going to do so anyway – surely it is indicative of a kind of flattening of cultural interests. I have never really seen the appeal of a certain kind of glossy, slick US TV show which flaunts a kind of superficial realism and knowingness, a kind of self-congratulatory “good writing”, a kind of moral superiority… and is expertly packaged to manufacture a kind of cult-like enthusiasm. The endless one-liners, the monocultural worldview (with a superficial emphasis on “diversity”), the remorseless sense of a corporate agenda wrapped up in superficially rebellious dress.

I know I have used the word “superficial” quite a lot there.

And I have given no actual specific examples.

To hell with it – let’s just say that if you talk about “American shows we all love”, include me out.

“People who are not expecting to cry will cry.”

“People who are not expecting to cry will cry.”

I would not necessarily expected to have found an article on what will happen when Queen Elizabeth II dies as gripping as I did, but Sam Knight’s piece in the Guardian is a fascinating, and in ways disturbing read.

annigoni

While Knight reveals some of the hitherto secret details – such as “London Bridge is down” as the code phrase to mark Elizabeth’s death – and discusses the immediate issues of Charles’ succession – the real interest of the piece is the psychological impact that the Queen’s death will have:

More overwhelming than any of this, though, there will be an almighty psychological reckoning for the kingdom that she leaves behind. The Queen is Britain’s last living link with our former greatness – the nation’s id, its problematic self-regard – which is still defined by our victory in the second world war. One leading historian, who like most people I interviewed for this article declined to be named, stressed that the farewell for this country’s longest-serving monarch will be magnificent. “Oh, she will get everything,” he said. “We were all told that the funeral of Churchill was the requiem for Britain as a great power. But actually it will really be over when she goes.”

Knight links this to Brexit, to the possibility (again) of Scottish independence. Elizabeth’s coronation, in ways, marked the beginning of television age in Britain, and her death and burial will no doubt be over-interpreted in ways, but Knight’s piece is compelling in its evocation of an inevitable event that will mark a more than symbolic watershed.

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The most arresting line is at the end of this paragraph (though I do wonder how Brian Masters could possibly have come up with his estimate):

People will be touchy either way. After the death of George VI, in a society much more Christian and deferential than this one, a Mass Observation survey showed that people objected to the endless maudlin music, the forelock-tugging coverage. “Don’t they think of old folk, sick people, invalids?” one 60-year old woman asked. “It’s been terrible for them, all this gloom.” In a bar in Notting Hill, one drinker said, “He’s only shit and soil now like anyone else,” which started a fight. Social media will be a tinderbox. In 1972, the writer Brian Masters estimated that around a third of us have dreamed about the Queen – she stands for authority and our mothers. People who are not expecting to cry will cry.

No matter what one thinks of monarchy – or The Monarchy – this is one of those instances where I can only urge Read The Whole Thing. Knight writes that the life expectancy for a 91 year old is four and half years – but of course Elizabeth has very good maternal genes for longevity, and London Bridge is likely to have some years yet before falling.

George Steiner on secondary culture in 1989

real-presences

Each day, via journalism, via the journalistic-academic, the inherent value, the productive powers the savings embodied in a creative currency, this is the say in the vitality of the aesthetic, are devalued. The paper Leviathan of secondary talk not only swallows the prophetic (there is prophecy and the prophecy of remembrance in all serious poetic and artistic invention); it spews it out diminished and fragmented. In the absence of the guarantor, a counterfeit mode of exchange, that of the review speaking to the review, of the critical article addressing the critical article, circulates endlessly. It is not, as Ecclesiastes would have it, that of “of making many books there is no end”. It is that “of making books on books and books on those books there is no end.”

  • George Steiner, “Real Presences” p. 48