Book Reviews

Friday, July 6, 2012

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Swan Song

Kat and I made this Swan Song because she is leaving for Australia.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Barack Obama

Dreams From My Father By Barack Obama

After reading "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" (see my previous book review) I was interested in seeing what Obama had to say about that author's claims that the USA conspires to keep poor countries poor, and ruins their natural resources for their own selfish purposes.
Indeed, Obama is no stranger to poverty. He was not born wealthy, and he lived for a few years as a child in Indonesia--not in wealth, but immersed in a poor environment. As an adult, he went to Kenya, his biological father's homeland, where his African relatives were also very poor.
But he does not adhere to any conspiracy theory. Instead, he says poverty exists whether you live in a third world country, or in the backstreets of Chicago (where he worked as a community organizer among the poor).
What Obama fails to mention however is that first world countries have a strong middle class, while third world countries do not.


Obama best imparts how he dealt with loss in his personal life. As a child, his biological father abandoned him, and while there were a few letters through the years, and a one month visit as an adolescent, there was little else.

His mother's second marriage is what brought him to Indonesia, and he found many likeable traits in his stepfather. But that marriage ended up badly, too, resulting in his second loss. His mother, his half sister and he then moved to Hawaii, to live with his grandparents.

Obama's third loss was when his mother decided to go back to Indonesia, and asked him if he would like to go too. He declined, and so he lost both his mother and half sister, and grew up with his grandparents. This is a fine blueprint of bitterness, but you will never get any sensibility of that in his book.


Obama chose to stay in the States because he wanted to discover his identity as a Black American. This was his situation: He lived with his white grandparents who nurtured and loved him, and went to a school where there were only three black students. He was at the age where he could already be sensitive to discrimmination.

And yet it was only in this way that he could hope to understand why his father left him. He juxtaposed the racism he experienced to its greater intensity in the past, and tried to comprehend why his mother chose not to go to Africa. Cultural differences, the shortcomings of society became his means to understand what he could never otherwise hope to know.


Obama grew up in an environment of strong women. His mother never failed to set his sights on higher things, ambitions and ideals. His grandmother, Toots was the family provider. She had a good career, and she paid all the bills. She also was so loved by him that he briefly stopped his presidential campaign so he could attend her funeral.

It has been said of late that Obama's half brother plans to write a book of his father's darker side. In this way, the President may finally learn what, all his childhood, he has never known.


If you read only this book, you will really presume that Obama lacks experience to be president, because it only ends with his work as a community organizer in Chicago and his trip to Africa. It does not touch on his studies in Harvard, and his work in the senate. But then, this book had different intentions.


I realized through this book how difficult it must be to be a second class citizen in your own country. No wonder so many blacks had looked to Africa for their identity. No wonder black churches have an ebullience and energy unique only to them. The church is where they deal with discrimination and sift their experience through the Word of God. No wonder Jeremiah Wright would be Obama's pastor of choice for so many years. He could do all of the above better than many others.

Long ago I read a book by Jacobo Timmerman, a newsman who was imprisoned and tortured. He said the one thing most commonly brought up while he was tortureds was that he was a Jew. As if being Jewish , being himself, and being born were his biggest crimes.

Having a homeland, I now know, is a privilege I have taken for granted. Feeling at home in my country is a right that many others must fight for.


Since then, there are more complexities involved in racism, disagreements among mixed blacks and pure blacks, with lighter blacks considered "prettier" and who seem to have it easier. And yet I remember in my time that if you were white, but even had 1% black in you--even if it didn't show--you were black.

Obama asserts himself to be a man who is part black, part white, who ha lived partly in Indonesia, and is 100% American.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
By John Perkins

The communists and terrorists and new agers would have loved this book. It explains how large businesses, the American government, the World Bank et al collaborate to keep smaller countries poor and in debt by taking on loans they could not possibly expect to repay maybe 30 years down the line.

In the case of the writer, electricity. He would make proposals to government leaders with inflated expectations down the line of growth and profitability. The catch – they would build it and costs would be paid by bank loans from the World Bank and so when the leader takes it on the electricity also only caters to rich people, making the poor even more poor and then there’s this debt to pay that keeps them from using the money to build programs for the poor and so in essence America owns them and the global empire is expanded and the company that builds the electric plant makes a lot of money to boot.

The author does this stuff in Indeonesia, Ecuador, Panorama, etc. sometimes he gets a shot of conscience and tries to do stuff a bit tweaked like with Torrijos in panama, where the electricity actually was designed to benefit the poor. Sometimes he tweaks stuff to meet different situations like in Saudi when they had all this money generated by raising the price of oil many times over. The whole point was making money and getting the country to the point where it is owned. Saudi was owned because according to the author, the deal was that America would build all the infrastructure it needs, but the money would be placed in the American banks and both countries had to decide what projects the money would be spent on.

Well, from the beginning of time there have been owners and properties. Or kings and people. Or bosses and workers. So if not America, then who? In an idealistically equal world where each country could find its true destiny, one or maybe 5 would try to own the rest anyway. That’s my quirky zen.

I enjoyed this book though cause the information is truly compelling and written well, and it explains a lot of global events that we had been seeing in the past from a more in-depth and more informed view. I also loved learning about countries in South America, about rain forests, about indigenous cultures in these countries. I was truly intrigued about what happened in Saudi in the House of Saud and how America made much out of a less than perfect situation. And the story of Iraq and Saddam, let me not even begin.

This is a good read. Whether you like the writer or not, perhaps the fact that there is feeling on the part of the reader, showed the author wrote it well. He becomes a new ager in the end, which one other blogger ruminated, now he has a new group to exploit. The future is best anticipated by being informed about current history. So much to know, so many viewpoints to consider.

Anyone who is interested in entering the world of diplomacy should read this. It would be very helpful…..Also anyone interested in history or who would like to find reasons to grind one’s incisors against America or, or, …….

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaardner

It is a good idea to read "Sophie's World" by Jostein Gaarder after one had just finished Pope Joan. This is because it gives a wider picture of the transition to Christianity under the time of Constantine. In between those who prayed to gods like Thor and Odin and all the others, there were philosophers, from Socrates to Aristotle to Kierkegaard to Marx to Darwin, et. all of whom questioned what is real, what is life, it's purpose, etc. And so the European world did not just transition from one set of spiritual beliefs to another, but in between and amongst them were intellectuals, ie philosophers who tried to find answers outside of the arena of faith to explain mysteries that were then incomprehensibles.
I do recall in college wanting to major in philosophy, believing so much in one's ability to think one's way through anything. People often told me it was a useless course, that the only thing you could do with it is teach. And while I loved using my brain to try to bring together the enigmas of the world, I wasn't sure if the life of the Academician would suit me in the long term.
Besides, getting into the initial courses of these people, one simply studied what each of them believed. That was it. The advantage of Sophie's World is that it brings together the connections and the role that Philosophy played in an age where books were not plentiful and mass media not available. Entertainment and the search for answers were found in cafe conversations and that is how people learned, because in the earlier times, there were not even schools.
Philosophy was prominent then, forming new connections of knowledge through the years even as new scientific discoveries were made. Discerning superstition from fact, dissecting a thought to tiny parts to sometimes the point of exasperation (on the part of this reader) in search for that kernal of knowledge that may form a component in the building up of a complete picture not dissimilar to putting together the myriad tiny parts that compose a child's robot or dynosaur.
Warning; You must be sincerely interested in this stuff to enjoy the book. Because it will cover the whole story of philiosopy from its beginnings to the present time, and not in a necessarily entertaining way so much as in a way that may replicate what such a conversation was like in an old cafe in Greece hundreds of years back when people were not bombarded with choices from book stores, the net, print media, television, gimiks, and the like. Just sheer conversation.
There are the rewards. One will be amazed at the accuracies of philosophers musings, not yet backed by science, biology, astronomy, research, etc. how they were very much on track using what today would resemble a "caveman's intellectual tools" referring not here to intellectual brilliance but an absence of sufficient scientific and technological discoveries at that time to back up their musings.
In the end the book attempts to pull a little surprise, if you will, a virtual adventure to the things philosophers often pondered on, where you find yourself being the voyager, the topic of dissertation, someone apart from and alienated, and in your own way being the mystery and posing the mysteries to the philosophrs themselves.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pope Joan

Was there ever a woman pope?

A question related to that is, could a woman successfully disguise herself and live as a man and get away with it?

If you read this book by Donna Woolfolk Cross, you will see how it can be possible. But then a part of you wonders, can one really get away with it? It is, after all, fiction.

And yet the issue of a woman pope has certain pieces of evidence stated at the end of this compellingly written book that indicate that yes, there may have been a woman pope.

I tried googling “women who disguised themselves as men” and found that it has actually not been an uncommon thing historically. During the American civil war many women disguised themselves as men so they could fight. Conversely, there are stories of men who disguised themselves as women so they wouldn’t have to go to war!

Through the years there are documents of women who disguised themselves as sailors, or taking on other male identities, usually to get some freedom, to escape the restrictions that were placed on women. Sometimes, to go to war alongside the man they loved. Sometimes, in the quest for love. Sometimes for economic reasons, because they would not be able to find employment otherwise.

So yes, women have many times in history disguised themselves as men and for good reason, and gotten away with it. And yes, there may have been a Pope Joan who did so in her quest for learning, another gift forbidden to women at that time.

More compelling than the question itself is the history the book covers, the transition from paganism to Christianity under Constantine, how people had to secretly play to Thor and other gods while pretending to be Christian.

And the extensive writings about herbal medicine and the role it played in healing, and how it could lend stature to someone such as Joan to the point of eventually elevating her to become Pope.

These things interested me most – the extensive portions on alternative medicine, the history, the transition to Catholicism, the life in a monastery, the outer trimmings of ceremony and dress as compared to the secret goings on in mind and secret acts behind the pulpit.

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