In a standard baby hissy fit, the republican party has decided to disallow Senate hearings. Senate hearings are allowed while the senate is in session due to a generally unanimous agreement that has long bee upstanding. In a hissy fit, the party of hell no has decided that no senate hearings will be held while they feel jilted over the health care bill.
Ironically, one of the meetings they shut down was on North Korean security, which military officials from Korea and Hawaii had flown in for. I’m finding it interesting that the very next day, a matter of possible security happened. Although, now it is being said that the explosion in the South Koran Navy ship was possibly caused by a flock of birds, and not a North Korean missile. Let’s hope the S. Korean navy people who are still missing are found safely, and that the U.S. republican party gets their head out of the asses and learns how to do something constructive, and not just destructive.
Eco Libris, in a random act of generosity, offered 100 free books to 100 bloggers who were willing to review them. The idea is to get the word out about publishers that are environmentally friendly with their printing/paper services.
“Today 100 bloggers are reviewing 100 great books printed in an environmentally friendly way. Our goal is to encourage publishers to get greener and readers to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books. This campaign is organized by Eco-Libris, a a green company working to green up the book industry by promoting the adoption of green practices, balancing out books by planting trees, and supporting green books. A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website”.
This is a very conversational, thoughtful, and engaging look at the history of various civil rights movements in California. Being a huge, and hugely diverse state, I think it serves as an example, and interesting reading for anyone just about anywhere. The first thing that struck me about the book, is that we really do need reminders that a short time ago in history, discrimination and violence were not only legal, but encouraged by majority groups.
Although this book could be used as a college level textbook, it is not at all dry, and has so many other uses for anyone interested in American rights movements, history, and globalization.
The book is largely split into chapters that follow a time period, but although each chapter ends a little later in time, they all go back in history to roughly the mid-1880s looking at the chain of events that lead to the breakthrough in rights. Chapters one through three look at early California history including immigrant rights and workers’ rights. The next set of chapters look at racial equality, the rights of women, and political dissent. Moving further in time the authors examine free press, religious freedom, GLBT rights, people with disabilities, and criminal justice.
The first chapter Staking our Claim was a horrific look at some the early practices of violence against, in particular, Chinese laborers and Mexican people. One story was of a Mexican woman whose house had been broken into. She defended herself, wounding her assailant, and was then dragged into the streets, beaten and hanged for doing so. This chapter references some of CA early women’s rights laws, such as a woman being able to keep her property after a divorce, which wasn’t so much for the concern of women, but to attract wealthy, single women to California as potential wives.
Under Color of Law looks thoroughly, but not only, at African American rights, times of indentured servatude after slavery was ended, and also Mexican anti-segregation movements, the Filipino movement to end anti-miscegenation laws, and the Native American take-over and protest at Alcatraz.
The only chapter not in the time line is the final chapter, and is the one that is probably most personal to the co-author Stan Yogi. It is entitled Behind Barbed Wire and addresses the removal and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Stan’s dedication in the beginning of the book reads, “Stan Yogi dedicates this book to his parents…who were incarcerated during WWII and still had faith in the promise of American freedom and justice.”
Although this book is very readable in its entirety, there is no need to read each chapter followed by the other. They stand alone as well researched pieces that could be used as references to each particular issue.
Book Giveaway I would be happy to pass on this book. If you are interested in reading it, leave a comment and I will pick someone at random.
“We elected to print this title on 30% post consumer recycled paper, processed chlorine free. As a result, for this printing we have saved:
22 trees (40′ tall and 6″ diameter)
9,884 gallons of wastewater
7 million BTUs of Total Energy
600 pounds of Solid Waste
2,052 pounds of greenhouse gases”
Filed under: Books, Dewey's Read-a-thon, Peace | Tags: Child Upliftment Cetner, Cork Boat, Dewey's Read-a-thon, John Pollack, Nepal orphans
So my reading has gotten off to an incredibly slow start as I received two lengthy phone calls, and have been distracted by other people’s blogs since I started almost two hours ago. So far in Cork Boat, we learn about the author’s obsession with building things, particularly things that float, his sailing adventures in college, and his job as a Washington speech writer for the folks in the Clinton administration. At some point around the time of Clinton’s impeachment, Pollack becomes so disillusioned with politics that he decides to quit. Not just find a new job. Quit.
So far this is my favorite quote: “Worse yet were the press conferences that members held in the Radio and TV Gallery, standing in front of the shelves filled with fake books, just to lend some gravitas to their empty rhetoric.” Fake books! What! For how much money that is spent in Washington, they can’t go down the local thrift store and find some real books to put on those shelves. Who knows, some of those people might even start seeing titles that catch their eye, and slyly slip one into their briefcase and get a little dose of perspective. If you could pick a book to send to a Rep. or Senator to read what would it be?
I can’t believe I didn’t think of this myself, but on the official read-a-thon page many people are trying to raise donations for charities. I have recently taken on the task of becoming the international fund-raiser of a charity that is very close to me, as it is run by a couple of really good friends I met while living in Nepal.
It is a small non-profit orphanage that was started by a group of karate instructors and students to help out 20 kids that they knew who had become homeless and sometimes parent-less due to inter-caste violence, and from the civil war with the Moaists that has been happening in Nepal for about ten years. They rented a house and run the orphanage all from their own funds and some small local donations. Their bills have become higher than what they can raise locally, and they have asked me to help them find some new funding so they can keep the orphanage open.
Besides just providing housing, they also pay for all the food, clothing, and school supplies (public school in Nepal requires kids to pay for their own books and uniforms), so that the kids can lead as normal a life as possible.
Child Upliftment Center website.
I managed to get a paypal account set up for them to make it easier for people to make donations. No amount is too small, as even $5 goes a really long way in Nepal. The average yearly income is only about $250 US per person, and they are still at only about a 40% literacy rate for women.
Currently reading: Cork Boat: A True Story of the Unlikeliest Boat Ever Built by John Pollack
Pages read in current book: 28
Pages read total: 28
This was a pretty good month. I’m almost getting back into the swing of things. Lots of travel stories, some book club choices, and the final instalment of Harry Potter.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, who died before the book was published.
I wasn’t sure about this book at first. I wasn’t sure I could keep the characters straight. I thought at first it was going to be stuffy and over-rated. But by the end I was completely won over, even to the point where Guernsey Island, an occupied island during WWII, seems like a place everyone should visit at some point. When I was finished I wanted to start it over again because I’m sure there is stuff I missed in the beginning before I figured out who was who. Read for the Bookleaves bookclub.
Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for Women Who Are Changing the World by Holly Morris
I really enjoyed this book, although it was clear it was written to try to fund the Adventure Diva enterprise, which is a multi-media mother-daughter team who travel the world looking to interview women who are true “adventure divas.” They have an interesting website, including (pricey) tours that you can go on with them.
Expat: Women’s True Tales of Life Abroad
A wonderful little collection of really well thought out essays on what it means to live in a country other than your home. One thing I really liked about it is that it was essays by women I’ve never heard of. Sometimes reading essay collections from authors who you already love can get tedious (as I often find the pieces seem like they are throw-aways that didn’t get published elsewhere, but by shear force of the author’s name can still make money).
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguiseby Ruth Reichl
I had never even heard of Ruth Reichl and didn’t know that she is an extremely famous food writer, restaurant critic, and editor of Gourmet magazine. This book was fantastic, funny, interesting, and intrigued me on a subject I’ve never been the least bit interested in. This book in particular deals with her need to create disguises so that she could go into a restaurant and be treated like a regular customer and not as herself. The two experiences proved to be vastly different dining, and gave her chance to see how much of New York is really just for the show.
Burnt Shadows: A Novel
Talking about this book at the Seoul Women’s Bookclub brought teary eyes around the table. I had to remind myself several times that the characters in this book are not real. They almost all could have been people that we’ve met on our travels.
I just found this picture on SquidLit blog. I was having a hard time imagining what the “tattooed” burns looked like, when women in the blast were wearing white kimono that had a dark pattern on it, that got inlayed in their skin.
Filed under: economics, Korea, Peace, Politics, Travel, War | Tags: DMZ Korea
The Demilitarized Zone tour, or DMZ as it is known, was one of the more interesting things I’ve done since being in Korea on many levels: at once a cultural event, an educational event about a hotspot for violence in the world, and an interesting look into how two countries are shaping their own history and public information.
It was also a chance to be around the type of foreigners that I’ve avoided since coming to Korea – the loud ones that think the whole bus needs to be regaled with their tales of drunkenness, sexual excursions, how various penises from around the world compare, and all the things Koreans do wrong. This in turn led us to make friends with two of the very cool type of foreigners who agreed that the other type were being way too loud and ruining our view.
For anyone back home who might not be aware, the DMZ is a swath of land bordered on both sides by a fence and razor wire, that divides North and South Korea. No one has been allowed onto this skinny piece of land that runs the entire width of the Korean peninsula for fifty years, and they claim it has become a haven for wildlife. Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the tour were the parts we were not allowed to take pictures of.
First we stopped at Unification Park, where the fact that South Korea has turned this into a huge tourist venture is blatantly obvious. People from all over the world, including Koreans, come to the boarder in droves to glimpse a little of the insanity that is North Korea, and also to pay homage to the fact that eventually they may be a unified country again. They’ve gone as far as to build a theme park to keep the kiddies happy, and the start of a “bridge” that may one day join the two countries – an enormous steel structure that at the moment is truly a bridge to nowhere.
Our first stop after joining the larger tour was the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This was truly fascinating, and unfortunately we couldn’t take pics in the inside of the tunnel. South Korea has found four tunnels, the latest in 1990, that are assumed to built by NK to be used to tunnel in ground support for an air strike on South Korea. They believe there may be more tunnels that have yet to be found – yet another case were geologists and archaeologists may be of help – Jim and I were talking about how if they did a survey of the border with a resistivity machine, they’d find out pretty quick if there were more tunnels or not. I had a feeling that the threat of more tunnels might actually just be being used to keep people concerned.
One of the more interesting facts about the tunnels is that the North Koreans smudged them with coal and tried to claim that they were coal mines that went too far underground and “accidentally” made it over the border. Anyone who has worked in coal country doing survey knows this is utter BS. First of all, coal exists in layers (as it is formed by compression of layers of organic material over a long period of time), which is why strip mining is so popular. You need to strip off a broad swath to get the most coal; skinny tunnels would not be effective at all. The other reason is that the area is mostly granite, not a place where coal layers are likely to be found.
It is said that the North Korean government told its people that South Korea actually built the tunnels to infiltrate North Korea and ruin their society with their filthy westernized ways. One interesting thing about the video we saw before going into the tunnels is that it makes almost no mention of the American, British, or Soviet involvement with WWII and the Korean war. It shows footage of the two different factions of Koreans, calling it a “fratricidal” war – almost implying that no one else was involved.
The closest thing I could get to a tunnel shot, was an outside shot of where the recently bored new tunnel was constructed to join with the actual Infiltration tunnel so that tourists could go down into it. It is thirty meters underground and we had to wear hardhats – this is all getting very familiar. Don’t forget your PPE! (If you don’t get it, don’t worry, it’s an inside joke.)
We moved on to the observation tower – and lucked out with having a gorgeous day with a great shot of the North Korean mountains, and a “city.” Apparently when North Korea became aware that this observation tower had been built, and tourists were coming to view this area, they promptly built a fake city to prove that North Korea is doing well and prospering. Someone comes to switch on and off the lights, but no one really lives there. You could really tell, to me it looked like one of those pre-fab midwestern towns where the Home Depot has been built, the townhouses are up, but no one has actually lived there yet. There is something so distinctive about the traces that humans leave, that I think we can really tell if no one has ever lived there even if it is made to look on the contrary. We were not allowed to take pics of this town either (or the map of the area inside the building).
The last stop was a blatant piece of overly optimistic propaganda. With the money raised from tourism, there has been an entire subway station built right at the border, complete with destination Pyeongyang, North Korea. It claims with absolute certainty that when North Korea collapses and is once again unified with South Korea, that the train line will eventually join with the Trans-Siberian, and Trans-China lines. We were even able to use a “commemerative stamp” to stamp our tour books and prove we had been there. Scrap-booking is apparenlty alive and well everywhere. There were also large photos of when Bush came to the opening of this station, declaring his support for the unification of the peninsula.
Although these are nice sentiments, is South Korea really willing to take on the financial, social, and political burden of bringing a populace of brain-washed people, who have a standard of living one hundred years behind the rest of the world, who truly believe that if you touch something western your hand could fall off, up to South Korean consumerist standards? (There was even some discussion that maybe they are looking at North Korea as a possibility for really cheap labor – a job now farmed out to Burmese, Pakastani, and Nepali folks. Using North Koreans would have the advantage of the people speaking at least some form of Korean.) There was a windowless building next to the station, that the tour guide noted that she was required to tell us was a storage unit for goods from the area. She was implying that that is not at all what it is, and more likely, I’m assuming it is probably a weapons cache or some such.
Of course there are also North Korean refugees who just really want to see their home again before they die. All along the border there were old ladies wearing pink and praying along the fences. To me they were a much bigger sign of hope than subway stations that go nowhere. At the end of the day, what people are willing to do for each other is really what matters the most.
All in all, it was a fascinating, thumbs-up day.
For anyone that cares, we used Grace Travel 02-332-8946. 48,000 won, but it does not take you to Pannumjeon – where the US and North Korean soldiers stand and stare at each other. We’ll save that for another time.
Well, it’s become clear that North Korea wants something. The last time they stamped their feet and threatened their neighbors, the US gave them fuel aid. I’m not sure it’s clear what is going on now, but they have escalated their actions by holding two journalists and sentencing them to twelve years hard labor, as well as shooting off the test missiles we are aware of.
I thought the Democracy Now report was interesting, and wanted to let people know that overall, people here do not feel an eminent threat. For the most part, it seems locals folks were much more worried about swine flu than getting blown up by North Korea.
Filed under: Books, Buddhism, Peace, War | Tags: Ani Pachen, Diane Ackerman, Harry Potter, Katherine Dunn, Namkhai Norbu, Philip Gourevitch, Shambala Sun, T.C. Boyle
It was a slow reading month, I didn’t quite make it to thirteen, so I added a couple of magazines. Lots of moving around, and very little sitting still.
Short excerpts from Gourevitch at the Pen Festival of authors:
Geek Love Nominee for the National Book Award, this is a disturbing tale of a carnival family that attempts to engineer “freaks” with the use of drugs and poisons. All of their children are deformed in some way and we watch them grow up and manipulate each other. Interview with the author at Wired for Books.
Sorrow Mountain A wonderful book about Ani Pachen’s childhood in rural Tibet, how her life changed after the invasion of the Chinese army, and her 21 years in prison. She tells her story without resentment, but in attempt to make the world understand how her spiritual practice sustained her. She recently died in Dharamsala, but here is a nice piece in her honor.
Shambala Sun Magazine
For all the reading I’ve done, I’ve never bothered to pick up the Harry Potter series. I’m in Maine visiting my mother right now, and she had this inviting, hardcover, texturally interesting complete set sitting on her floor. I picked up the first one, and am half way through number 4 with no break at all. Highly entertaining, now I see what all the hype was about.
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, War | Tags: Axis of Evil, Big Boy Rules, Blackwater, Steve Fainaru, Triple Canopy
Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru
I’ve been listening to the audio version in my car. Usually I avoid books that look like this because they are glorified versions of weapons technology, hero worship, and killing “the other.” This cover was slightly deceiving, and luckily, I had heard a book review on NPR before I saw the cover.
Fainaru has spent a lot of time in Iraq as a embedded journalist were he became interested in the “parallel army” that arose around the US military. When there weren’t enough US soldiers to cover missions, private contract armies arose including the now famous Blackwater, and Fainaru follows two lesser known companies (that contract to Halliburton); Crescent and Triple Canopy.
These contract armies have no rules, no official equipment, very little training, and make enormous paychecks. As opposed to many of the soldiers who make a small enough paycheck on combat pay that they are eligible for welfare benefits, the contract “soldiers” are pulling in $7,000 a month. Fainaru decides, under great controversy, to call these contract workers mercenaries. Hired guns. The problem is that ultimately, since they are contract workers, the US government is paying these bills. Enlisted soldiers stand by insulted while the “mercs” rake it in.
These mercs are the same young men who make up the US army. But they aren’t protected in the same ways. The contract mercenary that Fainaru follows throughout the beginning of the book swore that he would never get captured, and even had a death pact with his fellow mercenaries. John Cote, pronounced Co-Tay, was captured, skinned alive, and beheaded not too long after these series of interviews. He had done two tours of duty in the real US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and decided he couldn’t go back to “civilian life”. He traded his twenties, and eventually his life, for the money and adventure of working in a contract security company.
Because of the lack of rules and military control over the contract mercenaries, there is a lot of confusion over who governs them. When this question was posed to George Bush, Bush laughed and said, “That’s a great question, I’m going to have to ask Rumsfeld about that.” To which Rumsfeld replied that he didn’t know, and thought the President was responsible for that. Which means there was no one there to bring accountability when a merc went crazy and shot up a cab filled with civilians. There is no screening process, several of the mercenaries are self-proclaimed alcoholics and people who “just want to kill.” The residents of Alice’s Restaurant are welcome here.
Likewise, there is no one there when a convoy of mercenaries is driving around with no armor and no back-up support.
At the same time I’ve been reading Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations released by Words Without Borders.
This is a collection of stories from states considered enemies of the US government. It starts with the official Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Countries that have little to nothing to do with each other, but which had been lumped into the same category by the Bush administration. The editors of this book note that they are in objection to the use of terms like Axis of Evil, and declare that they are also against the US notion of being against free trade of literature and culture with countries it doesn’t agree with. Many of the authors in this book are living in exile, being the subject of that kind of discrimination in their own countries.
The opening story, The Vice Principal in my opinion, is the best. It is an Iranian story of a boy who takes liberties with a writing assignment, and feels the wrath of a teacher who doesn’t agree with his opinion.
In the section of stories by North Korean authors, it is very apparent that there are tight restrictions on what people are allowed to write about, and I would even say that in the first story presented, A Tale of Music it appears that some of the original work was taken out and propaganda about “our dear leader” put in it’s place.
Other countries included are Syria, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Cuba stands out, in that it is a culture that is much more open about sexuality than most of the others included. With it being the last group of stories included, the open sex and discussion of a character’s girlfriend’s period almost comes as a shock.
These two books were very interesting to read together. The mixing of US force policy and the point of view of the countries our policy is forced upon.
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, Politics | Tags: Ethiopia Orphans, Haregwoin Teferra, HIV positive orphans, Melissa Greene, There Is no Me Without You
One of the best books I read all of last year was:
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children
Heregewoin Teferra was a woman living in Ethiopia, like most people, living her own life and not too concerned with what was going on outside of her immediate friends and family. That is until her husband had a sudden heart attack, and her oldest daughter died of seemingly no cause (although years of emotional abuse from her husband probably had a lot to do with it.)
When she became a recluse and had withdrawn from her social life, a local priest came to her needing help taking care of a couple of teenage orphans. This first attempt at taking in orphans was not her most successful, but after several years, her house turned from a stopover for an orphan or two, to a major house complex, including its own medical facility and school, for dozens of abandoned children, many of them HIV positive.
Fellow blogger Real Mama recently informed me that Mrs. Teferra has passed away, leaving 59 orphans with no care.
WorldWide Orphans Foundation is taking donations and trying to find these children, again most of them HIV positive, new homes. If you choose to donate, make you sure you check the box indicating the money is for the Heregewoin orphanage.
Pictures from Melissa Greene’s wesite:
Filed under: Books, Peace, Travel | Tags: Eric Weiner, Geography of Bliss, NPR audio interview
Twelve Publishing is a Canadian publishing company that has dedicated itself to publishing one book a month. The twelve best books it receives every year.
I’m currently reading one of their choices, which has turned out to be superb.
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.
The NPR correspondent goes around the world, travelling to the places considered the happiest to discover their collective secrets. We often relate our happiness to our geography, and he seeks to find out if this has any truth to it. “With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought, ‘I could be happy here’ knows what I mean.”
He travels to the Netherlands where happiness is being researched scientifically, to Switzerland where shear boredom and cleanliness seems to be the answer to the world’s purported happiest people, to Bhutan where happiness is a government goal and mandate. In Qatar he finds folks who think money can buy anything, including happiness, to Iceland – the happiness of failure, and in Thailand where happiness is just plain not thinking about it. In Moldova he finds the concept that happiness is always somewhere else, and in the US where it is in the place you consider home.
I laughed outloud three times while reading just the opening page. Weiner’s descriptions are so good, I was brought back to the places I’ve been, and felt a huge sense of desire for the places I haven’t seen yet. Except for Moldova. Moldova is the one place he visited that isn’t happy. They are described as the unhappiest people in the world. Their reasoning is that they don’t have enough money. But as Weiner viewed in Bhutan, money isn’t as important as a strong sense of culture and belonging. 90% of Bhutanese that have a chance to study in the US or Britain return to their home country, even though there is virtually no economy there. (To which an American tourist commented, “well, why would they do that.”) The real reason Weiner encounters for unhappiness is a lack of trust and true friendships, two qualities that are belittled as weakness in Moldova.
Overall, I just found this to be an intensely enjoyable book.