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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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