Last Week’s Links

The best books on Critical Thinking

I’ve been concerned that schools are not adequately teaching critical thinking skills since I first started teaching writing to college students back in 1971. Since then my concern has turned into alarm as I’ve seen the results of the lack of these skills pervade modern culture. 

Here philosopher and writer Nigel Warburton lists five books to help us learn about topics like straw man arguments and weasel words.

What Role Should Work Play in Retirement?

Behavioral scientist Utpal Dholakia, Ph.D., explains that “the idea of retiring as not working may need to be reconfigured for our times.”

Can Bullet Journaling Save You?

I keep reading about the benefits of bullet journaling, a process touted as not only the best productivity tool but also as many people’s favorite creative outlet (just search Instagram to see all the fancy bullet journal layouts pictured). “Bullet journaling has taken off as a kind of mindfulness-meets-productivity trend that equates organized journaling with an ordered interior life.”

Here Anna Russell writes about her discussion with Ryder Carroll, the thirty-nine-year-old digital designer who invented the Bullet Journal. Carroll offered Russell this parting advice: “You’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it wrong, you’re just figuring it out as you go along.”

On planes, adults have tantrums too. Here’s how to handle bad behavior at 38,000 feet

Writing for The Seattle Times, travel writer Christopher Elliott declares, “The worst behavior on a plane? It’s often adults.” And doesn’t it seem that we’ve heard and read of lot of examples that prove him right on news broadcasts and Facebook lately? Elliott has some concrete suggestions on how to deal with bad adult bahavior if it should happen near you on your next flight.

And as you’re crammed into your ever-shrinking coach-class seat, console yourself with this fact: “The worst behavior on a plane often happens in the first-class section. It’s the super-elite frequent flyers who behave as if the plane belongs to them.”

Tina Turner Is Having the Time of Her Life

I was lucky enough to watch Tina Turner perform at Harvard Stadium in the summer of 1970.

Here Amanda Hess reports on the retirement life of Tina Turner, “the symbol of rock ’n’ roll stamina for 50 years.” Now 79 years old, she has been retired for 10 years in now lives in Switzerland in a home she calls the Chateau Algonquin, with an unobstructed view of Lake Zurich. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Want To Feel Happier Today? Try Talking To A Stranger

I always wear my noise-cancelling headphones on planes, even though I don’t always switch them on. I unabashedly admit that I do this to discourage the person—any person—crushed into the seat next to me from trying to strike up a conversation with me. Many of us also fool around with our phones to avoid actual interaction with people around us in any public place.

But this article might change our behavior, with its discussion of research suggesting that even “seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Why a Thriving Civilization in Malta Collapsed 4,000 Years Ago

When we visited Malta in 2018, we toured the site of an ancient temple that had been discovered and excavated in the late 20th century. Now the site is protected by a canvas awning as excavation continues, but our tour guide told us that her grandmother remembered playing as a child on what was then thought to be just a pile of rocks.

ancient temple, Malta
ancient temple, Malta

This article therefore caught my eye. The temple on Malta, among the earliest known free-standing buildings, preceded Stonehenge by about 1,000 years but apparently lasted only about 1,500 years before disappearing. Scientists believe that studying the rise and fall of the early culture on this island nation can help with “understanding change in the wider world.”

Surviving Woodstock

If you happen to have an extra $800 burning a hole in your pocket, “On the fiftieth anniversary of the festival, a thirty-six-hour boxed set reveals some truths behind baby-boomer myths.”

Woodstock almost immediately became a myth. Shortly after the festival, Abbie Hoffman speed-wrote and then published “Woodstock Nation,” giving texture to the idea that those who had been at the event constituted a new generation: “I took a trip to our future. That’s how I saw it. Functional anarchy, primitive tribalism, gathering of the tribes. Right on! What did it all mean? Sheet, what can I say, brother, it blew my mind out.”

Bonus: If you’re looking for information that’s a bit more accessible, Publishers Weekly has you covered with a long list of books celebrating the 50th anniversary of Woodstock.

50 MUST-READ FICTION BOOKS FEATURING OLDER WOMEN

In my other life I blog about books. And as I have gotten older myself, I’ve become interested in how older adults, particularly older women, are portrayed in literature.In my other life I blog about books.

Heather Bottoms had a similar experience when she turned 50 last year and now as she approaches 51. Here she offers a substantial list of novels featuring older women as characters. “The women in these stories range in age from age 50 to 110 and represent a wide variety of experiences, personalities, and genres. All these novels feature older women as crucial characters.”

Although she lists many books that I haven’t read, I heartily second her recommendation of the following books:

Cover: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields  
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid  
  • Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos  
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Bonus: Her opening paragraph contains a link to the list she compiled last year around her 50th birthday.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

A Sea Change: Coming Home Early

We were scheduled to return home from our world cruise on May 11, but during late March, while we were visiting Australia, I began to feel what I thought was the start of a sinus infection. The ship’s doctor said, “No, I think you have something wrong in your tooth.” He sent me to a dentist in Albany, Western Australia, who really tried to help me but finally admitted that my situation, an abscessed tooth, was more than she could deal with. “You need to see a specialist,” she told me. 

The doctor and the dentist each prescribed a different antibiotic, and the two medications soon reduced the infection enough that I was no longer in pain. But the dentist emphasized that there was no way to tell when the infection would flare up again. At that time we were about to embark on a 7-day at-sea cruise across the Indian Ocean toward Africa, during which I would have been unable to get off the ship. We therefore had to make a decision quickly, and we chose to come home to see a specialist. 

We left the ship in Perth, Australia, and, after two horrendously long flights, arrived home on Friday evening, March 29th. We had gotten no sleep overnight and therefore slept most of Saturday morning. When I called the dentist’s office on Saturday afternoon to see about getting an appointment, I was surprised to get a recording informing me that the office closes at noon on Saturdays; it never occurred to me that a dentist’s office wouldn’t be open all day Saturday.

Yesterday (Monday) morning I got in to see the dentist, and that tooth has now been gone for a little over 24 hours. (Recovery will involve a lot of time sitting around reading.) We had been scheduled for a 3-day, 2-night wildlife excursion in South Africa, which I’m sad about missing. An African safari is still on my bucket list, so that will have to be the basis for a future journey. 

If I had to have some medical condition, an abscessed tooth was probably a relatively good thing to have. Last year we had 7 or 8 broken legs on the world cruise. I’m glad I didn’t have to negotiate the long flights home while in a wheelchair.

Life lesson learned: Always purchase trip insurance.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Today we got a glimpse at how the other 2% lives. Punta del Este is a glamorous seaside resort often compared to St. Tropez. From its origin as a fishing village, the area has grown into the site of high-rise hotels and apartment buildings, and of luxurious mansions overlooking miles of sandy beaches, gardens, and groves of pine, eucalyptus, and acacia trees.

beach at Punta del Este

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

The area draws the rich and famous for 2 months of the year. The other 10 months, according to our guide, the place is like a ghost town. The year-round population of the town is 10,000, but during the summer that number soars to half a million.

The area is also an art lover’s dream, with many galleries and museums. One example is Casapueblo, the gleaming white building built over a period of 30 years by Uruguayan sculptor and painter Carlos Páez Vilaró. The building is now a museum.

Casapueblo

Perhaps the most famous icon of Punta del Este is La Mano (The Hand) sculpture on a beach by Chilean artist Mario Irarrázabal.

sculpture The Hand

Another iconic sight of in southern Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina is people drinking mate (pronounced MAH-tey), a kind of tea that is prepared and served in a special cup.

cup for preparing mate

You put sugar and mate leaves in the cup, then fill the cup with boiling water. The flat metal piece protruding from the cup functions like a straw—is has holes in the bottom to draw liquid from the bottom of the cup—through which you sip the mate. In both Uruguay and Argentina our guides told us that people carry a thermos of mate around with them all the time to refill the cup. They sip mate all the time, like this woman who visited Casapueblo at the same time we did:

Our guides also emphasized that mate is as much a social ritual as it is a beverage. When people invite others to have some mate, they’re really inviting their friends to sit around and visit while simultaneously sipping mate.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

2 Days in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is a vibrant city with more than 40 neighborhoods that showcase the cultures of immigrants, especially those who arrived during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People from countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Greece, and Russia brought their language, beliefs, and customs to their new homes. Many of these newcomers lived in large houses where different lived in different rooms but shared the kitchen, living room, and courtyard. The intermingling of cultures in these houses gave birth to the tango, Argentina’s national dance.

The central square of Buenos Aires is May Square, which celebrates Argentina’s movement for independence:

May Square

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

The country’s history is long and complex, so I’ll focus on one part of it that I found particularly moving. During the military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983 thousands of people disappeared. In 1977 the mothers and grandmothers of the missing began to meet in May Square. Government officials would not allow them to congregate or march, so they showed up and simply walked around the square to keep alive the memories of the loved ones they had lost. This simple monument picturing their headscarves honors their resistance and persistence.

monument to mothers and grandmothers

The scarves are also pictured in each section of a circle around the square’s central obelisk:

headscarf around central obelisk

The mothers and grandmothers continue to walk around in the square every Thursday at 3:00 PM to keep alive the memories of those who were disappeared during the dictatorship.

Another aspect of this story is that, during that time, many pregnant women were rounded up and kept in a camp until their children were born. After giving birth, the women were killed. Their children were then given to prominent military and wealthy families. After the return of democracy, the government established a DNA database so that those children, now in their late 30s and early 40s, could search for their families of origin. Can you imagine what it must be like, as an adult, to realize that the family who raised you, and whom you love, isn’t your biological family? Even more horrifying must be the discovery of the conditions of your birth.


The Metropolitan Cathedral faces May Square. This is the cathedral where Pope Francis was archbishop before being called to Rome.

Metropolitan Cathedral, Buenos Aires

The cathedral contains a memorial to José de San Martín, leader of Argentina’s fight for independence:

memorial to San Martin

We just happened to be in May Square to witness a changing of the guard:

military guard

These guards are part of a special military unit that guards Argentina’s president and also stands guard at the memorial to José de San Martín inside the cathedral.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo, capital of Uruguay, is set on an estuary of the Plata River. The city was first settled by the Portuguese as a bastion against the Spanish, who had already established Buenos Aires nearby. Spain expelled the Portuguese from Montevideo in 1724.

Our bus tour today took us to the most important locations in the Old City, which was originally a walled city. Today only a couple of pieces of the walls remain. But Independence Plaza features a monument to the walled city:

gate monument

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

Independence Plaza sign

This plaza also showcases some of the city’s colonial-era buildings, including the early home of the parliamentary legislative council, shown in the photo at the top of this post. The building is now a museum. Government business takes place in a much newer building in the next block down the street.

Just off one corner of the plaza is the old theater:

Teatro Solis
Teatro Solis

The focus of Independence Plaza is a huge statue, erected in the 1920s, of José Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s national hero who first had a plan for the country’s independence from Spain.

statue of Artigas

Friezes all around the statue depict the masses of people who followed Artigas. He was impressed by the government of the United States and wanted to establish Uruguay as an independent nation with a similar form of governance. After a long and complicated history involving Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and Britain, Uruguay was consolidated as an independent state in 1828, with Montevideo as the capital.

Uruguay now has a large Parliament building, the Legislative Palace, that was completed in 1925. It is made of granite and 22 different kinds of marble, all from various areas of the country.

Legislative Palace

In front of the building fly Uruguay’s national flag (left) and the Artigas flag (right).

Approximately 1 million of Uruguay’s population of 3 million people live in Montevideo. The capital city contains all the country’s colleges. University education is free, but those who live outside the capital must relocate to Montevideo to take advantage of these educational opportunities.

The main resource of Uruguay’s economy is beef. This country of 3 million people houses 12 million head of cattle.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

2 Days in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

One and a half days, really. We docked yesterday morning, spent the night in port, and left a bit after 1:00 this afternoon. And one and a half days was nowhere near enough time to do this vibrant city justice.

Yesterday we took a walking tour of the highlights of this city, home to “nearly seven million” people, according to our guide. Originally settled by the Portuguese, Rio was the second capital of Brazil, from 1763 until 1960, when the capital was moved inland to Brasilia. The city overlooks Guanabara Bay, which offers 45 miles of beaches. It’s not unusual to see modern skyscrapers adjacent to historical buildings.

The central square contains city hall, the Bibliotheca Nacional (national library), the fine arts museum, and the French-influenced Municipal Theatre.

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

city hall
city hall

Biblioteca Nacional
Biblioteca Nacional

Municipal Theatre
Municipal Theatre

The plaza displays geometric mosaic designs created from tiles originally brought as ballast in ships from Portugal.

tiled plaza
tiled plaza

Today we ascended Sugarloaf Mountain, a conic mountain that resembles the way sugar was stored in colonial times. The trip up the mountain requires two different cable cars.

The top offers beautiful views of Guanabara Bay as well as Copacabana Beach, three miles of sand along the Atlantic side of the peninsula.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

A hungry iguana joined us at the top of Sugarloaf:

On our way back to the ship we drove by the beach but weren’t able to get any decent pictures. The beach was amazingly crowded, with umbrellas and chairs about 10 deep along the water. The temperature was about 97 F, so there were paths from the beach up to the sidewalk along the street sprayed with water so beachgoers wouldn’t burn their feet. The sidewalks along the beach feature mosaics similar to those in the central plaza.

We didn’t get to visit one of Rio’s most iconic sites, the statue Christ the Redeemer that overlooks Guanabara Bay from atop Corcovado Mountain. When we first arrived in Rio, we stood on our verandah and could just see the statue far in the distance.

We had hoped to get a better view on our second-day trip up Sugarloaf Mountain, but the top of Corcovado was shrouded with fog:

After we reached the bottom of Sugarloaf, the fog had lifted enough for us to catch another fleeting glimpse.

Now we have two sea days to rest up for our next adventure.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown