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Monday, November 27, 2006

Four Quick Book Reviews

The End of Iraq by Peter Galbraith

A very nice, interesting, easy-to-read and concise summary of the history of Iraq, the current civil war in Iraq and the total and complete incompetence of the Bush Administration's policies in Iraq. Galbraith is an engrossing storyteller who has firsthand experience with the current struggles in Iraq. Not only is he a trusted friend and advisor to many prominent Iraqi leaders on all sides of the current civil war, but he has also put his life on the line several times in order to help preserve the documentary record of past genocide in Iraq. Galbraith's treatment of all sides in this battle is very even-handed and it is evident that he wants what is best for the people in Iraq, not what is best for George Bush. After reading this book, I finally felt like I had a clear understanding of the history of struggle between the Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs in Iraq (and throughout the whole Middle East for that matter). And unfortunately now realize that the rifts between these three groups are currently too strong to overcome.

The bottom line: Bush's call for a unified Iraq is a pipe dream and a three state solution (Kurd, Shiite and Sunni) is the best option.

"In his 2000 election campaign George W. Bush spoke of the need for humility in our approach to the world. Yet we went into Iraq with the arrogant belief that we could remake the country as we wanted it to be. We failed miserably. We should do now what we should have done at the start--defer to the peoples of Iraq. They have concluded that a single country is not possible, except in name." (pp. 206-207)

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins

James Bond, meet John Perkins, the real deal. This is no movie with CGI special effects and stuntmen doing your dirty work. All the "players" are real and so is all the mystery, intrigue and danger.

John Perkins was an "Economic Hit Man". His job was to convince the rulers of developing nations to accept huge economic aid packages from international loan agencies (World Bank, IMF) in order to keep them in economic and political slavery to the growing corporatocracy of transnational corporations and the governments that provide them sanctuary. And he was to use whatever means necessary to accomplish this goal, including dishonesty, extortion, collusion with corrupt politicians and even finding women who would provide sexual services to a certain Saudi Arabian Prince who has a thing for blondes. Ultimately, his guilt gets the best of him and Perkins turns over a new leaf by publishing his confessions and creating several organizations dedicated to healing the damage that he and others have done over the years, such as Dream Change.

If you are a tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist who always had an inkling that the industrialized nations of this world have rigged the system to their advantage to the detriment of everyone else, you will be both sickened and vindicated by this book. But in the end, you'll also find hope that something can be done about it.

Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sandler

Sandler presents a sociological study of the burgeoning evangelical youth movement in this country. You'll meet a wide array of characters, from hard rockers to prudish home-schooled college students at Patrick Henry College; from tattoo-wearing skate punks to cadets at the Air Force Academy; from troubled youths turned born-again to sons of influential preachers groomed to carry on the gospel tradition. These kids and young adults make up what Sandler refers to as the Disciple Generation. And yes, they are rebelling; rebelling against a society that seemingly hasn't provided them with the meaningfull life they crave.

"Whether they are living in a region gutted by war, or in a banality-riddled nation like our own, the experience of modernity for many people is a lifetime of loneliness, the ache of utter isolation in an impossibly huge and uncaring world. It is a cocktail of fear and loneliness that brings people to the door of a church (or a mosque), or that encourages receptivity to the words of a skate pastor (or a madrasa teacher). Fundamentalism offers a snake-oil cure for their ills, promising the tight community groups of churches, the steadfast solidarity of activist groups, and most of all, the deep certainty of biblical inerrancy." (p. 240)

While previous youth rebellions have attempted to loosen the mores of society, the Disciple Generation's aim is to tighten the rules again based on a more literal interpretation of the Bible. All the usual conservative evangelical talking points are included: women need to be more submissive and have more babies, men need to reassert their authority in the family, homosexuality is bad, abortion is murder, we need to put God back into education and government. Yesterday's counter-culture hippies and Generation Xers are today's God-fearing Ozzie and Harriet.

While Sandler does an excellent job of presenting examples of the Disciple Generation, don't expect too much confrontation or critique. This is no God Delusion. Sandler's primary goal is to merely open our eyes to a growing phenomenon. This is a book about "who" they are and "what" they stand for, solutions for what to do about it will have to be found elsewhere. Sandler is an atheist and the book is written from an atheist's perspective, so you will feel a sense of camaraderie while reading the book. If you are unfamiliar with the Disciple Generation, this book will open your eyes. But don't be surprised if you find yourself feeling a little frustrated because you can't fight back.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God by Carl Sagan (edited by Ann Druyan)

No, Carl Sagan has not risen from the grave (as much as we may hope for it). Rather, Ann Druyan has unearthed the transcripts from a series of lectures he gave back in 1985 concerning the scientific approach toward the question of God. Any reader of Sagan will already know where he falls on the God issue, so there are no surprises here. But the beauty of this book is not so much in what he says but rather how he says it. For those of us who grew up watching Cosmos, this book will bring back fond memories of a man who can bring complex scientific ideas down to earth for us mere mortals. A man who not only exudes a passion for knowledge but wants us to share in his excitement. A humanist who was genuinely concerned for the future of our world and an activist who worked for the betterment of it. Carl Sagan helped us put ourselves in perspective to this vast Universe and made us realize that ultimately, we humans can rely only upon ourselves to find meaning in our lives.

Any Carl Sagan fan will love this book. And so will anyone else for that matter. This book will not scare away the believers out there. Instead, it will offer them a sane, rational and caring alternative to God. If the Disciple Generation is looking for a messiah, Carl Sagan is the answer. If only someone would step forward to take his place.
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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Quick Funny

Now that the Dems have a mandate, we can finally unveil our real agenda.

I'll be taking it upon myself to implement #18. Who's with me?
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Even in a landslide not everyone wins

Yes, I am very happy that the Dems will gain back the House and Senate. It is high time that somebody called Bush on his bullshit and it was apparent to the majority of people in this country that the Republican congress was not willing to do its job.

On the other hand, once again, majorites in another seven states display their homophobic bigotry with pride and deny two consenting adults the same rights and privileges we heterosexuals all enjoy merely because they happen to be the same sex.

So the moral of this election season is? Iraq is a political death sentence AND we still hate gays.

And yet homosexuals continue to serve in our military (at least until they are outed). A group of people willing to die in Iraq for a country that hates them. No wonder we don't want them in the Armed Forces. Makes us look like complete assholes when we vote to deny our fellow patriotic Americans the rights and privileges we all take for granted.

Keeping gays out of the military has nothing to do with protecting the military and everything to do with punishing gays. Likewise, banning gay marriage has nothing to do with protecting marriage and everything to do with punishing gays. Will banning gay marriage keep gay people from living together? Will it keep them from having families and raising kids? Gay marriage bans are designed for one thing only, to punish gay people by denying them the rights and privileges that we straights take for granted.

And apparently, we have no problem with that.

P.S. In yet another threat to our country, several openly gay candidates won their races yesterday. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that it won't be soon enough when the "Protect the Sanctity of our Electoral Process" ballot initiatives start popping up around the country.
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Friday, November 03, 2006

What is a book recommendation?

I usually read books on religion, politics, history, science, philosophy, current events, books with lots of facts that usually need to be read at least twice before they really sink in. But once in a while I need to take a break from the real world and indulge myself in some lighter reading. One such book I have just finished is Prisoner of Trebekistan by Bob Harris and I highly recommend it. Bob Harris is one funny guy. He should be. Before getting his chance on Jeopardy he was a somewhat successful stand-up comedian. After moving to LA, he thought he'd try his hand at game shows and decided to take the Jeopardy test to get on the show. And then he tried again. And again. And again. It took him at least five tries (he can't really remember the actual number) to finally pass muster. But can a five-time flunky stand-up comedian win at Jeopardy?

This book isn't just about how to win (or lose) on Jeopardy or what Alex Trebek is really like (seriously, you won't learn a lot about Alex, they keep him away from the contestants for the most part). This book is just as much about one man's journey from aimless wandering to finding real meaning in his life. Trebekistan becomes more than just a bunch of pointless memorized trivia. For Harris, Trebekistan becomes the realization that everything seems connected in some way and a good way to learn more about the world (and yourself) is to explore it.

Read this book if you want a good laugh. Read this book if you like rooting for the underdog (just don't always expect to win). And if you ever thought about competing on game shows, you just might learn something about that too. But most of all, this book is a heartfelt memoir of one man's gradual progression to finding himself through the most unlikely of paths. This book won't change your life, but you will be glad you read it.
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