Sunday, December 31, 2017

All the Shah's Men



Title: All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
Author: Stephen Kinzer
Genre: non-fiction, American history, Middle Eastern history, Iranian history, politics

**This review has been adapted from an essay I wrote for my Modern World Civilization class**

            Before I read All the Shah’s Men, my personal knowledge about Iran was very limited. I knew that the Shah had been overthrown in the 1970s, with help from the United States government, and that the Ayatollah was put in place as ruler in the Shah’s stead. I have also hard about the American hostage crisis that took place in Iran in the late 1970s, but I have not completed any in-depth research about either event. Before reading this book, I had never heard about the 1953 coup in Iran (orchestrated with assistance from the U.S. government). I knew that Iran and the United States have had unfriendly diplomatic relations for decades and this book explains the beginnings of this animosity. I have described the events of this book to a few other people and they had never heard of the 1953 Iranian coup either.
            Iran, like the Congo, was a victim of European imperialism. Africa was carved and divvied up between European powers in 1885 at the Berlin Conference, with no African input. Iran suffered a similar fate in 1907 when Great Britain and Russia met in Saint Petersburg and divided Iranian soil between them, with no Iranian say-so in the matter (I see a disturbing pattern here….): “Britain assumed control of the southern provinces, while Russia took the north. A strip between the two zones was declared neutral, meaning that Iranians could rule there as long as they did not act against the interests of their privileged guests” (38). Britain was interested in Iran because of its proximity to India and the Russians were also interested in Iran since it was adjacent to its southern border. This paternalistic attitude towards Iran was indicative of the imperialistic and condescending attitudes many powerful Westerners held towards non-Western peoples and societies.
Iran’s relationship with Great Britain can be traced back to numerous bad business and economic decisions made by Nasir al-Din Shah, who “came up with the idea of raising cash by selling Iran’s patrimony to foreign companies and governments” (31). The Shah’s plan was implemented after he and his hundreds of children had bankrupted the country with their lavish lifestyles. Soon after the Shah put Iran’s various industries up for sale, the British obtained exclusive control of Iran’s agriculture, mining, railroad, banking, and tobacco industries. Muzzafar al-Din Shah continued his father’s poor business legacy with the sale of Iran’s natural gas and oil industry to British banker William Knox D’arcy in 1901. With the growing popularity of automobiles in the early twentieth century, the British realized if they “could not find oil somewhere, they would no longer be able to rules the waves or much of anything else” (48).
After the confirmed discovery of oil in Iran, the British created the Anglo-Persian Oil Company “to take control of oil exploration and development in Iran” (49) and to enrich British coffers. Unfortunately, only the British were enjoying the perks of the booming petroleum profits. While British petroleum workers lived in individual, comfortable housing with access to many amenities (shops, theaters, swimming pools, etc.), the lower class Iranian workers enjoyed no such luxuries and “lived in slums and long dormitories with only primitive sanitation” (50). Iranians viewed the Shah as a literal sellout and his most vocal critic was Mohammad Mossadegh who despised the British takeover of his country: “If bringing prosperity to the country through the work of other nations were of benefit to the people, every nation would have invited foreigners into its home. If subjugation were beneficial, no subjugated country would have tried to liberate itself through bloody wars and heavy losses” (59). The British government offered a Supplemental Agreement in 1949 that guaranteed increased petroleum royalties, more Iranian promotions, and less drilling. The Iranian legislative assembly debated for months on whether to accept this deal and things were coming to a stalemate when the Iranian government learned that Saudi Arabia had reached an agreement with Aramco to split all oil profits on a 50/50 basis. When a similar idea was floated to the British government regarding Iran, they rejected the idea of an even split of profits (77). In Iran, calls for nationalization of the country’s oil field divided legislators, angered the British, and was looked upon favorably by the Truman administration who felt that “if the United States did not align itself with nationalist forces in the developing world, those forces would turn toward Marxism and the Soviet Union” (88).
Mohammad Reza Shah officially dismantled the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company on May 1, 1951, and created the National Iranian Oil Company; the British were furious since they considered Iranian oil, found on Iranian land to be British property. The Truman administration “worried that the argument between the United States and Britain over how to deal with Mossadegh might spiral out of control and split the Atlantic alliance” (99). During this time of heightened tensions with the Soviet Union, the United States wanted to maintain as many alliances as possible to stop the spread of communism.
When outright political demands and hostility refused to sway the pro-nationalist Iranians, the British took to more subtle forms of economic sabotage: British refinery managers refused to repair or replace equipment and refused to properly train new managers; the British persuaded their western European allies to deny visas to petroleum workers applying for relocation to Iran. In a desperate move, the British government took their case to the United Nations to justify their monopoly on Iran’s oil industry. That tactic failed as well but a change in the leadership and diplomatic styles in the American and British governments in 1952-1953 brought the United States, Great Britain, and Iran on a collision course. The United States and Great Britain co-authored plans for a coup to overthrow Mossadegh titled Operation Ajax. “One looked forward to recovering its oil concession. The other saw a chance to deliver a devastating blow against communism” (164). Intelligence operatives from both countries used their extensive network of local contacts to start protests and counter-protests to keep the Iranian government and people distracted from the true architects of the imminent coup. After Mossadegh’s overthrow, the British government tried to reinsert itself on the Iranian oilfields but ironically “the logic of power dictated that since the United States had done the dirty work of overthrowing Mossadegh, American companies should share the spoils” (195).
From the 1950s American perspective, the overthrow of Mossadegh and reinstatement of the Shah appeared to be a success but six decades later the world is paying the price of American and British greed and demand for oil that was deemed more important than Iranian democracy. The proverb “Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive” is an apropos viewpoint of the 1953 coup and its after effects. The Middle East is in a constant state of political, economic, and religious turmoil, most Iranians hate the Americans for butting into situations in which they weren’t asked to assist, and the West has inadvertently contributed to the spread of terrorism. Some members of the British and the US governments still subscribed to imperialism in the 1950s and this narrowmindedness and ethnocentrism blinded government leaders to the long-term consequences of interfering in another country’s politics and industry. The Western powers did not realize that interfering in Iran would have negative ripple effects in a globalized world. I think the worst thing about this is that the United States still has not learned its lesson in orchestrating coups. The US was also involved in disastrous diplomatic incidents in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran again in 1979; this is why studying history is so important- so we don’t make the same mistakes as our predecessors!



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Loot




Title: Loot: The Battle over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World
Author: Sharon Waxman
Genre: archaeology, museums, history, non-fiction

**This review has been adapted from a book review I wrote for my Anthropology and Pop Culture class**


            The phrase “All that glitters isn’t gold” could be applied to the museum world. Museum goers only see the “finished product” carefully displayed in a well-lit, climate-controlled setting. The public rarely finds out about the dark underbelly of museums: the looting and illegal sales of antiquities. In Loot, Waxman examines the histories and procurement processes of four of the world’s most prestigious museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City), The Getty Museum (Malibu, California), The Louvre (Paris, France), and the British Museum (London, England). As a journalist, Waxman also interviewed people involved in multiple aspects of the antiquities debate: repatriation activists, lawyers, curators, museum directors and staff, archaeologists, smugglers, and legitimate antiquities dealers. Everyone that Waxman interviewed had passionate (and biased) positions regarding the sale and restitution of antiquities. Her numerous interviews revealed that imperialist attitudes are still rampant in the antiquities trade, restitution/repatriation of cultural objects is a controversial subject in the art and archaeology communities, and provenance of objects is related to nationalism and the national identity of source countries.
            Egypt, Turkey, and Greece were conquered by various Western empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and these empires’ “urge to possess” (Waxman 2008:225) ranged from land and resources to a conquered nation’s art and other cultural objects.  The armies and agents of these empires experienced no qualms about removing artifacts and shipping them off to England, France, or Germany: “After conquering foreign cultures, Europe brought back home the trophies that it desired along with slaves, spices, treasure, and raw materials” (Waxman 2008:4). These spoils of war were carried off to Europe and filled up the new museums created in Western nations, whose purpose was to glorify the might of empires: “This nationalistic competition by European powers was about getting the biggest, most noticeable stuff” (Waxman 2008:25). Looted art from ancient civilizations was also a status symbol among the European elites; the artifacts not sold to museums were sold to wealthy, private collectors to grace their domiciles (Waxman 2008). The locals were not involved in the excavation and partage processes; for example, “The antiquities authority in Egypt was headed by a Frenchman… The reason for this was simple: Egypt produced no archaeologists of its own. There was a reason for this, too: Egyptians were not allowed to study Egyptology” since the French considered the Egyptians a primitive people incapable of studying and understanding a past civilization (Waxman 2008:57).
            Unfortunately, imperialist attitudes are alive and well in the modern museum community. Phillipe de Montebello, director of the Met stated that “people should not so ‘blithely’ accept the idea that cultural objects belong in the countries where they happen to have been dug up” (Waxman 2008:176). And Aggy Lerolle, press attaché for the Louvre told Waxman, “Who would be interested in Greek sculpture if it were all in Greece? These pieces are great because they are in the Louvre” (Waxman 2008:65). [This is just my personal opinion, but if a sculpture was deemed “great enough” to be shipped halfway across a continent to reside a museum, it’s great enough to be placed anywhere. A true art fan can appreciate and respect art from various sources and geographic locations.]
            These snobby and elitist quotes are indicative of the Western mindset in the art and antiquities world to restitution demands from source countries such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Italy. These countries want their cultural patrimony returned home to their original environments. Repatriation, or the return of artifacts to their source country, “is usually connected to the idea that a country’s modern cultural identity is tied to objects of its ancient history, that these objects are the tangible symbols of the link between a nation’s past and its present” (Waxman 2008:142). Repatriation activists claim that looted objects are tied to national identity: “As once-colonized nations seek to stand on their own, the countries once denuded of their past seek to assert their independent identities throughout the objects that tie them to it” (Waxman 2008:4). The countries mentioned above have also criticized the use of wealthy donors in the West to supplement museum collections and Western museums’ unwritten procurement philosophy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which repatriation activists believe encourages the cycle of looting and illegal selling of antiquities (Waxman 283).
            Waxman found during her research, that while repatriation activists have the best intentions regarding their country’s heritage, the reality is far different. Many people in these countries (especially Egypt and Turkey) have low literacy rates with lives that are a daily struggle. For generations, there has been little emphasis or value placed on these “national treasures” which has resulted in extremely low museum attendance numbers, abysmal government funding, staff shortages, outdated or broken security, and limited storage space. “If Egypt has taken too long to claim ownership of its past, and to expend political and financial capital to preserve it, it is partly because Egyptians were actively excluded from the process of discovery and knowledge” (Waxman 2008:58). Western museums criticize Greece, Egypt, and Turkey for focusing on the return of objects looted centuries ago while modern looting remains unchecked, and express concerns about the safety of antiquities in countries that have a history of political and economic instability and horrible environmental pollution.
            In contrast, the West has high literacy rates and high value is placed on cultural objects; yearly attendance can number in the millions for well-known, high-traffic museums. Western museums also benefit from access to multiple funding sources (especially from wealthy donors) state-of-the art security systems, organized storage, and paid, knowledgeable staff members. While Western museums are full of treasures from the ancient world, most of these objects lack clear provenance which means they were probably illegally excavated, illegally exported from their source country, and illegally sold to museums. Most Western museums are unconcerned about provenance issues until legal action forces them to revise their procurement and display policies. Western museums also like to highlight the fact that their museums and artifacts are in economically and politically stable regions of the world which brings “an element of safety in dividing the sculptures should something catastrophic happen in one place or another” (Waxman 2008:269 and “saves the monuments from extinction” (Waxman 2008:70).
            Italy has experienced both sides of the repatriation debate: “Italy does not fit the postcolonial paradigm of Egypt and Greece. Italy itself was a colonizer, not a country that was colonized” (Waxman 2008: 285). Italy looted its own colonies in the past and is now one of many source countries demanding restitution of cultural objects, believed to be critical to Italian identity, “and yet when plundered countries have asked Italy for objects to be returned to them, Italian officials have been slow to respond, much in the manner of other Western institutions” (Waxman 2008:286). Italy also suffers from funding and preservation issues similar to Greece and Turkey alongside a reputation for rampant corruption within the government.
            So, what is the solution to the looting and repatriation in the museum world? Everyone that Waxman interviewed had opinions on fixing the antiquities world as well. While the smugglers, antiquities dealers, and most major museum directors thought nothing wrong of the status quo, Anne Distel, a Frenchwoman that handles the repatriation requests sent to the French national museum system, “envisions a different system where museums would no longer buy works but would exchange them with source countries, under agreements worked out in advance” (Waxman 2008:122). Özgen Acar, a Turkish investigative journalist believes that, “the rich Western countries must help the poorer nations. It is the only way…to protect what is the cultural patrimony of the world” (Waxman 2008:171). Michael Govan, the director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, states that the values and mindset of museums themselves need to change; instead of cultural hierarchy, “every culture has its place” and museums need to build around the future of an object instead of its past (Waxman 2008:372).



           


Sunday, December 10, 2017

King Leopold's Ghost



Title: King Leopold's Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa
Author: Adam Hochschild
Genre: non-fiction, African history, colonialism, racism

**This review is adapted from a reflection essay for my Modern World Civilization class**

            Before reading this book, I knew that Africa had been politically “carved up” between various European powers without any input from Africans and I knew that the Belgians had colonized the Congo but I had never read or learned about the details of Belgian colonization until now. After reading this book, I think the Belgian regime can be summed up in two words: greed and brutality. The Belgians were in Africa due to the restlessness and greed of King Leopold II. His ambition and restlessness affected his personal life (his wife and daughters despised him; Leopold disowned his daughters), he constantly defrauded the Belgian government to raise money for his insatiable desire for land and empire, and his race-based, Euro-centric regime killed and maimed millions of Congolese. After thirty-eight years on this Earth I am aware that humans have been cruel to each other since the beginning of recorded history, yet I am always horrified to find out how that cruelty is manifested.
            Hochschild uses the phrases “African cake” or “cake of Africa” many times throughout this book, a sentiment first expressed by King Leopold to one of his staff members (Hochschild 1998:58). This phrase confirms the European attitude towards African and its inhabitants: an object or thing to be devoured or consumed instead of a continent that was (and is) home to millions of human beings. After Britain abolished slavery in the early 1800s, the British empire focused on abolishing slavery in other parts of the non-European, non-Christian world as well: “Righteous denunciations poured down on a distant, weak, and safely nonwhite target: the so-called Arab slave-traders raiding Africa from the east” (28). Africa became an object of desire in the Victorian era since “these were the years when, to the distress of many young male Europeans, Europe was at peace. For a young man looking for a battle…the Congo was the place to go. For a white man, the Congo was also a place to get rich and wield power” (136). When it was confirmed that Africa could provide the raw materials needed to fulfill increased manufacturing and consumer demand during the Industrial Revolution, (27) Africa’s fate was doomed. Once Europeans reached Africa they viewed Africans as lazy (68) yet forced them to do hard labor that benefited European interests: “To Europeans, Africans were inferior beings: lazy, uncivilized, little better than animals. In fact, the most common way they were put to work was like animals, as beasts of burden” (121). Thanks to this inhumane treatment and racist mindset, thousands of African men died from the intense physical labor, meager food rations, and disease.
            Victorian-era explorers, soldiers, and businessmen cloaked their racism under the banner of guns and glory; unfortunately, some missionaries also hid their racist biases under the guise of humanitarianism or a spiritual call to serve. British Protestant missionaries were originally sent to Africa to help Africans improve their quality of life (according to European quality of life standards) (211). This goodwill eventually morphed into the belief “that improving the lot of downtrodden people everywhere was good for business” (212). Sometimes missionary zeal developed and colluded with something more sinister: Leopold planned for military, religious, and vocational schools to be set up for African children (133). The military schools were filled with children whose orphan status was in doubt- these schools were run by Catholic missionaries loyal to King Leopold who rewarded their loyalty through financial means. Like the male adults, African children often died of disease or starvation on their way to the orphanage or soon after their arrival.
            The Belgians maintained control of the Congolese through firepower and the much-feared chicotte which was a “whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide cut into a long, sharp-edge corkscrew strip” (120). Lashes from the chicotte were unleashed on a victim’s bare buttocks while the victim was tied to two poles laying on the ground during the administration of his punishment. To add salt to the wound, “the bulk of the chicotte blows were inflicted by Africans on the bodies of other Africans” (122). This allowed the Belgians to physically and psychologically separate themselves from the dirty work of administration and “created a class of foremen from among the conquered” (122) and probably soured relations between Africans.
            Other terror tactics included alliances with certain ethnic groups (which did not protect them from later enslavement by the Belgians), the lack of promotional opportunities for black soldiers (who were mostly conscripted), and state-sanctioned kidnapping. In a cruel twist of irony, Hochschild points out that “white officers who bargained with village chiefs to acquire ‘volunteer’ soldiers and porters were sometimes dealing with the same sources that had supplied the east coast Afro-Arab slave-traders” (130). During the natural rubber boom of the 1890s, male laborers were forced to meet rubber-harvesting quotas. To prevent rebellion and runaways, the Belgians would loot a village of all its foodstuffs and food sources and then kidnap the village women until the required rubber quota was met (161). Rubber-harvesting areas were also controlled through the issuance and denial of travel permits for Africans (similar to the travel permissions in the antebellum South). Males were required to wear a metal disk around their necks that noted the status of their rubber quota (163). Sometimes rebellious Africans were shot on sight by the colonial police force (the Force Publique) but this practice was frowned on by the officers who wanted proof that bullets had been used in military skirmishes, not in recreational hunting (165). The proof soldiers brought back was the right hand of dead Africans (165). Like all unofficial policies, this was not enforced, and soldiers amputated hands from living Africans to cover up personal use of ammunition.
The atrocities in the Congo were finally exposed through the words and evidence provided by three whistleblowers: Edmund Dene Morel, William Sheppard, and George Washington Williams. Williams was an African American Civil War veteran, pastor, journalist, and lawyer. He was no stranger to controversy- while in the States he often spoke out against post-Civil War violence against blacks. The purpose of Williams’ trip to the Congo was to scope out work opportunities for African Americans: “In Africa, surely, there would be the chance for pioneering and advancement then denied blacks in the United States” (105). Williams’ idealistic vision of opportunity was quickly dashed by the horrors he personally witnessed. Williams used his outrage to publish a pamphlet exposing King Leopold’s regime to the world. Williams’ Open Letter “was the first comprehensive, systematic indictment of Leopold’s colonial regime” (109). Williams accused the Belgian regime of fraud, widespread death and destruction, excessive cruelty, starvation, kidnapping, slavery and other “crimes against humanity” (112). The Belgian government issued a rebuttal against these accusations while Belgian newspapers defended Williams. Williams died soon after his exposé which allowed the Belgian government to save face.
Edmund Dene Morel was a clerk for the Elder Dempster shipping company which held a lucrative and exclusive monopoly on all shipping between Antwerp and the Congo. Morel was tasked with supervising the shipping between Liverpool and Antwerp and he soon realized that his reports submitted to the Belgian government did not match up with the trade statistics released to the public. Upon further investigation he discovered that weapons were being secretly shipped to the Congo, someone was making a huge profit (King Leopold), and African workers were not being paid for their labor: “From what he saw at the wharf in Antwerp and from studying his company’s records in Liverpool, he deduced the existence-on another continent, thousands of miles away-of slavery” (180). Morel quit his job at Elder Dempster to focus on exposing Leopold’s lies full time; Morel created and edited the weekly journal, The West African Mail. Thanks to his extensive research and fact checking, documents and photographs were smuggled to him by missionaries and others within the Congo (190). The photographs were the most important pieces of evidence against King Leopold for they “provided evidence that no propaganda could refute” (215).
William Sheppard was an African American, Presbyterian missionary who brought joy to everyone he met in Africa. Hochschild notes that Sheppard grew in self-confidence while in Africa once he was away from the chafing restrictions of American society and the Southern Presbyterian denomination. His outlook as a marginalized American allowed “his writings [to] show an empathetic, respectful curiosity about African customs” (156). His demeanor, curiosity, and language skills allowed him to meet with the Kuba, one of the last African kingdoms, unharmed. Unfortunately, not all of his discoveries and adventures were pleasant- he discovered the policy of severed hands mentioned above and published his findings in numerous missionary magazines upon his return to the United States. His reports along with the photographic evidence submitted to Morel was the beginning of Leopold’s downfall in the public eye.
I think the truth of the Congo was able to stay secret for so long was due to multiple factors: Leopold put a humanitarian spin on his conquest and colonization of the Congo and very few people seemed to question his real motives. After Leopold’s death, his real motives were revealed through his convoluted accounting system which took years to uncover (276). Most Europeans didn’t think anything was wrong with their treatment of the Africans; Europeans believed themselves to be a superior race and civilization. When Leopold did set up investigative committees, these committees were mostly a PR move to maintain his humanitarian image. Committee members were usually appointed by the king and they had personal and financial interests in the activities and future of the Congo. When investigative committees did release reports criticizing the king, the reports were never released to the public or they were rewritten in a more favorable light.
Hochschild also points out that the humanitarians that were outraged at the atrocities found in the Congo often turned a blind eye to atrocities committed by their own countries or political allies, “…it was a safe target. Outrage over the Congo did not involve British or American misdeeds, nor did it entail the diplomatic, trade, or military consequences of taking on a major power” (282).  “The Dark Continent” as Africa was called, was not only an allusion to African skin color but was also a euphemism in the eighteenth century about the unexplored portions of the continent. The Dark Continent is also a metaphor for the dark deeds perpetrated by various European regimes over the past four centuries- deeds based on greed and the thirst for land, resources, and power.

****************************************************************
During our class discussion of this book, the professor asked us, “How would you describe this book in one sentence?” As you can see from my above review it would be very difficult to describe the events recounted in King Leopold’s Ghost in once sentence. Well, one of my classmates responded with this succinct statement: “King Leopold was a douchebag!” In all seriousness though, the class was shocked that the world (outside of the Congo) knows little to nothing about this “forgotten holocaust.”



Thursday, December 7, 2017


Title: Matilda: The Algonquin Cat
Author: Leslie Martini
Genre: picture books, cat books, cat storytime, based on a true story, NYC history

I first read about Matilda a few weeks in a back issue of Catster magazine during one of my cats' vet appointments. A cat that lives in a hotel? I was intrigued. After some research I discovered this book; my son loves cats and I can still get away with reading picture books to him, so I ordered the book through my library's interlibrary loan program. The book is adorable and as an added bonus (for me), my son took the initiative, with no prompting or begging from me, to read this book aloud on his own. This book chronicles the daily duties and thoughts of our precious Matilda with plenty of cat-itude!

Unfortunately, Matilda passed away this past October due to complications from a stroke. But fear not- a feline still graces the hallway of the famed Algonquin- Hamlet! You can read more about Hamlet here (and book a hotel room): http://www.algonquinhotel.com/story/algonquin-cat/


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Black and Blue


Title: Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America
Author: Jeff Pegues
Genre: nonfiction, American history, racism, civil rights, African American history

**This review has been adapted from a book review I wrote for my Anthropology and Pop Culture class**

            The beating of Rodney King was one of the most infamous police brutality cases of the twentieth century. Police brutality cases involving African American men appear to be on the rise in recent years- between 2014 and 2017, Laquan McDonald, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Keith Lamont Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, and Terrence Crutcher died during police interactions or while in police custody. Jeff Pegues, in Black and Blue: Inside the Divide Between the Police and Black America, brings to light why police brutality is once again making headlines throughout America: the roots of racism in police brutality, the lack of accountability in policing, and the need for reconciliation between the police and the African American community.
            The first theme that Pegues tackles in his book is accountability. Members of the police and African American communities were interviewed by Pegues about their thoughts on police accountability. Both sides agreed that police need to be held accountable and punished when they overstep their bounds but each side measured that accountability in different ways. Achieving accountability was on the minds of many Chicagoans after the police shooting death of Laquan McDonald in 2014. After the shooting, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) originally released a statement that the shooting was justified after McDonald had acted in an aggressive manner; when the video was released to the public thirteen months later, the video revealed that “Van Dyke fired the first sixteen shots, and Laquan McDonald was leaning away from the officer. The CPD’s so-called code of silence had been exposed along with other systemic problems going back decades” (Pegues 2017:63).
            What is the “code of silence’? It depends on whom Pegues interviewed. Mayor Rahm Emanuel described the code of silence as “the tendency to ignore. It is the tendency to deny. It is the tendency [to] in some cases cover up the bad action of a colleague or colleagues” (Pegues 2017:46). Dean Angelo, a CPD veteran and president of the Fraternal Order of Police claims the thin blue line “keeps the beast from the door” and is “the line of separation between the good and the bad” (Pegues 2017:54). To Angelo the code of silence is not covering a colleague’s bad behavior but “listening, not talking. Learn by observing, learn by hearing” (Pegues 2017: 190). The police view the thin blue line and the code of silence as the noble concepts of protection and duty while the African American community views it as an “oppressive force” (Pegues 2017:50) of corruption.
            In response to the Laqaun McDonald shooting the CPD established the Police Accountability Task Force to “actively seek out, listen, and respond to voices all over this city” (Pegues 2017:63). The Police Accountability Task Force would also be responsible for the thousands of abuse complaints that are lodged against the CPD every year: “From 2011 to 2015, 40 percent of complaints against police officers were not investigated” (Pegues 2017:114). The Task Force also recommended the creation of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability- this agency would have “greater power to investigate alleged police abuse and the use of deadly force…offer recommended changes to both police policy and procedure” (Pegues 2017:222); Unfortunately, the civilian task force was a voter-based ordinance which was struck down by voters, especially voters in white neighborhoods that contained police residents.
            The rejection of the civilian-led accountability agency by white Chicagoans sheds light on a dirty secret within the police community (and the second theme of this book): the infiltration of white supremacists in the law enforcement community. Some of this infiltration manifests itself in obvious ways and sometimes racial bias within in police ranks is more insidious. In our class lecture, we learned that some Los Angeles police officers hailed originally from Mississippi and they brought their racial biases with them to California. These LAPD officers were known to cruise African American neighborhoods for the sole purpose of stirring up trouble by yelling racial epithets and acronyms from their police cruisers (Trunzo class lecture, September 5, 2017). Liberal San Francisco was no better in their viewpoints towards African Americans- one police precinct in an African American neighborhood was known to have a picture of a KKK grand wizard displayed on a public bulletin board (Trunzo class lecture, September 5, 2017).
            An example of insidious racial bias within law enforcement is the controversial “stop and frisk” policies initiated by the New York Police Department that were later adopted throughout the country. The original purpose of stop and frisk was crime prevention: “officers were encouraged to stop and question pedestrians and then frisk them for weapons” (Pegues 2017:26) but complaints and statistics show that this policy was abused by cops with racial motives and usually only enforced in minority communities. For example, in Baltimore stop and frisk was “concentrated in predominantly African American neighborhoods and often lacked reasonable suspicion” (Pegues 2017:22) and
BPD searched African Americans more frequently during pedestrian and vehicle stops, even though searches of African Americans were less likely to discover contraband. Indeed, BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching white individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops (Pegues 2017:23).
On paper, this aggressive form of law enforcement appeared to lower crime but there were other repercussions: the breakup of families, job loss, increased prison populations, and the temptation by police departments to turn stop and frisk into a source of revenue.
            The final theme in Black and Blue is reconciliation which is repeatedly mentioned in the book by Pegues and by many of his interview subjects. Pegues recognizes that reconciliation will be a long process and hard work for both sides of the thin blue line. Pegues recommends a multi-step reconciliation process: acknowledgement, expungement of bad cops, sessions of open dialogue, and the establishment of positive interactions between civilians and the police.
            “This divide in the United States between law enforcement and black Americans shows that our country is still grappling with a troubled past when it comes to race” (Pegues 2017:99). The “troubled past” this quote refers to are the slave patrols in the colonial and antebellum periods of U.S. history and the Jim Crow laws “which set different rules for blacks and whites…based on the theory of white supremacy” (Pegues 2017:100). Because of hundreds of years of oppressive regulations, laws, and policing techniques, the African American community not only distrusts most police departments but has also had to resort self-protection because they knew help would not be available outside their community. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) points out that acknowledgment of racial bias must also include racism within the police ranks, not just racism between police officers and the community (208).
            The cliché “one bad apple spoils the bunch” is also symbolic about bad cops who ruin the reputation of their own police department and the entire law enforcement community. The Chicago Police Data Project found that police officers “with 10 or more complaints- make up about 10% of the force but receive 30% of all complaints” (Pegues 2017:229). Another way to root out bad cops is the prevention of bad hires in the first place. Various entities quoted within this book mentioned that hiring standards for police officers needed to be increased: stricter psychological testing, increased salaries for police officers, and continuous training which includes: “bias awareness, crisis intervention, mental health issues, interpersonal and communication skills” (Pegues 2017:135) just to name a few, and police departments need to acknowledge that not every police academy candidate is mentally capable be a police officer. Local government officials also need to view police as “critical infrastructure… If we don’t invest in our infrastructure, what happens? It breaks down” (Pegues 2017:133). Finally, Pegues believes there must be civil, open dialogue between the police and the local African American community to build trust with one another. This tenuous trust must be sustained through continuous positive interactions between African Americans and law enforcement.



           






Sunday, October 8, 2017

Tastes of Paradise


Title: Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants
Author: Wolfgang Schivelbusch
Genre: non-fiction, food and culture, food history, history, European history

**This review has been adapted from a reflective essay I wrote for my Modern World Civilization class**

            Spices and stimulants that are commonplace to twenty-first century Westerners were considered luxury items in medieval times and the early modern era: pepper, chocolate, tea, coffee, tobacco, and opium. I was surprised to read in Tastes of Paradise about the various controversies surrounding most of these items- who would have thought that chocolate and coffee had negative connotations and superstitions surrounding them? Even politics and the overall culture of a country played a part in who was able to enjoy these delicious bits of happiness.
Spices were used in medieval times in medicinal preparations and as social clues to denote a household’s rank in the social hierarchy: “The higher the rank of a household, the greater its use of spices” (4). In addition to being consumed in great quantities, spices were given as gifts between members of the nobility and sometimes used in lieu of cash payments (7). The long journey from India to Europe increased spices’ monetary value and added to spices’ allure as “emissaries from a fabled world” (6), especially in a time where very few Europeans traveled outside of their native homeland. The nobility and elite of Europe also used spices as a way to separate themselves from their common subjects- the poor souls who could not afford the expense of spices and whose status in the social hierarchy could not be “tasted” or shown to others (7).
            The use of spices by the European elite paralleled the elite’s new focus on “style”- clothes, home furnishings, etc.- all of which were supplied through Arabic traders throughout the Orient. The author compares the early modern era dependence on Arabic spice trading with the modern Western world’s dependence on Arab oil in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (9)- which brought to my mind the quote: “the more things change, the more they stay the same. Eventually the middle class in Europe expanded along with the demand for spices as the expanding middle class tried to emulate their wealthier contemporaries (10-11). High demand, high tariffs, and high prices along with increased understanding of sailing technology prompted European explorers (and their wealthy investors) to search for a direct sea route to India (10-11). By cutting out the Arabic traders/middlemen, Europeans hoped to decrease the prices of spices while keeping up with demand on the Continent: “Whoever controlled pepper would essentially control the purse-strings of a continent” (11-12).
            Views on alcohol in Europe swung from one extreme to the other from medieval time to the age of encounter. In medieval times alcohol, especially beer, was consumed daily “as the main source of nourishment for most central European and northern Europeans (22). Daily consumption started with beer soup for breakfast and continued throughout the day. Alcoholic beverages were also heavily consumed during special occasions and holidays. The common consumption of alcohol mixed with obligatory social drinking rites meant that intoxication was rampant. Intoxication was considered normalized behavior until the Protestant Reformation redefined man’s relationship with God and, by extension, alcohol (31).
            While Protestant attitudes towards alcohol were changing, coffee was becoming readily available as a substitute for alcohol. While alcohol numbed one to the miseries of life, the caffeine in coffee encouraged sobriety (35), increased efficiency and energy (39), and was believed to curb sexual libido (37): “It marked the start of the working day, formally putting an end to the night’s rest, and making its drinkers alert and cheerful for the day ahead” (63). Energy and efficiency were core virtues of the Protestant work ethic, thus, coffee became a popular non-alcoholic beverage in the Protestant-dominant countries of England and Germany.
            While chocolate is a beloved ingredient around the world now, chocolate was imported from the New World into predominantly Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain. Chocolate was originally used by the Spanish clergy as a “fasting drink” (91) during religious holidays but it soon became a status symbol of the aristocracy (91). When chocolate entered the world of the aristocracy it was a rich, sumptuous breakfast beverage that “created an intermediary state between lying down and sitting up” (91). Chocolate was the antithesis to coffee: it relaxed the body, was high in calories, and believed to be an aphrodisiac (perhaps that is why chocolate is a traditional Valentine’s Day gift?) (92). The status of chocolate declined in the nineteenth century as its popularity rose among the middle class: “The former status drink of the ancient régime had sunk to world of women and children. What formerly symbolized power and glory was now in the hands of those excluded from power and responsibility in middle-class society” (93).
            The Columbian exchange brought tobacco and its new way of consumption (smoking) to Europe during the Era of Encounter. Originally tobacco use was referred to as “drinking smoke” or “drinking tobacco” since European cultures had no point of reference or name for this new recreational habit: “The analogy with drinking was thus first a conceptual aid for grasping an otherwise bewildering novelty” (97). The medical view of tobacco was similar to that of alcohol: it dulled the senses, thought to be an anti-erotic agent, and first-time use could be an unpleasant experience. Since smoking calmed the nerves, the rituals around smoking tobacco focused on preparing one’s mental activity and concentration.
            As each smoking process (pipe, cigar, cigarette, etc.) grew in popularity, the actual time spent on smoking and its accompanying rituals decreased (111). Schivelbusch theorizes that the modes and amount of smoking in a society reveal that society’s “standards of tranquility and concentration” (115) and “demonstrates to what depth the culture is permeated by nervousness” (129). I thought this was an intriguing correlation. Often attributed to world events, social factors, or personality traits, anxiety seems to be at an all-time high in American society. What if American anxiety levels are so high because Americans are smoking less? If this is true, it is a terrible trade-off though- smoke now and be calm, die of lung cancer later.
            Opium was a commonly prescribed painkiller in the nineteenth century and used for a variety of mild or easily treatable medical conditions. Opium was the drug of choice of for poets, artists, and writers since it infused their artwork and writings with a dreamlike quality. Society viewed the lone wolf tendencies and mindsets of these artists and writers as dangerous: “It was the asocial significance attributed by poets to opium and hashish which first caused them to lose their identity as ordinary household remedies” (210). Awareness of the negative consequences of addiction due to the post-war morphine addicts of the various nineteenth century wars stripped away the glamor and appeal of opium.
            Another habit that was frowned upon by the upper and middle classes was the excessive consumption of distilled spirits (hard liquor). Of course, the definition of excessive consumption is subjective; what the upper and middle classes thought of as distasteful was the source of bonding among members of the lower working classes: “Drink and drunkenness carried no social stigma; on the contrary, they were almost a symbol of class identity” (149). The working classes consumed their alcohol in loud, public places while middle class drinking subscribed to a more moderate mindset: “The middle-class citizen drank moderately, and he drank in a private circle” (148). Excessive drinking was also a form of escapism for the lower working classes- industrialization increased the physical and mental energy expected of workers without an appropriate increase in pay or rest. Many urban workers had migrated from the countryside for economic opportunity only to find themselves living in squalid living conditions and without the financial and emotional support of their extended family network.
            Like spices, liquor was originally used in medicinal preparations but it was also used in the military as part of a soldier’s rations before finding its way into civilian life during the Industrial Revolution. “Liquor… created new qualities of alcoholic inebriation, just as coffee created new qualities of sobriety. The polarity of these effects was reflected in the polarity of the two classes that adopted these drinks” (152). Liquor sped up the inebriation process which Schivelbusch parallels to the “processes of acceleration of the modern age” (153). Wine and beer were looked upon more favorably (by the upper classes) as acceptable forms of alcohol for the lower classes- these drinks kept the social and political bonds alive for the working masses without the constant and debilitating drunkenness (165).
            After reading this book it is my opinion that coffee had the most positive effect on Europe and world history (personally, I am a chocoholic so this was hard to admit). Coffee consumption increases a person’s physical energy level and mental prowess (temporarily). Increased physical and mental energy was needed in the Industrial Revolution to increase efficiency, production, and consumption. Coffee also contributed to the field of journalism, discourse, and free thought- coffeehouses were the precursors to newspapers and were available to the common man, although, unfortunately, not to the common woman (57). Although coffee consumption eventually moved to the domestic sphere, newspapers, literature, and journalism stayed in the public sphere and contributed to the Western ideals of free speech and free thought.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017



Title: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: dystopian, books on TV

The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books that has been on my to-read list for years- numerous friends have recommended it to me and discussions about this book have bounced around on Facebook for the past year or so. I finally moved this book to the top of my currently reading list after Hulu released a TV adaptation of the novel.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**


The events in The Handmaid’s Tale take place in the United States in the not too-distant future (the novel was written in the 1980s but is still relevant 30 years later). Congress has been disbanded and the Constitution overruled by a group of elitists that set up a theocracy and rename the United States as the Republic of Gilead. This theocracy is also highly patriarchal- they reduce women’s freedoms one by one- in one day it becomes illegal for women to work outside the home and all their financial assets and credit cards are frozen. Add to this mix social instability due to environmental disasters that have contributed to declining birth rates.

This patriarchal theocracy also believes in and enforces strict gender roles according to their interpretation of the Bible. The theocratic government, set up by a group called “The Sons of Jacob” round up fertile women, separate them from their families, and force these women to become Handmaids to the childless elite. Childbearing by these Handmaids is placed on a pedestal in this society- there is a once-a-month ceremony where the male head of household has forced sex with his Handmaid- with the Wife in the room, holding down the Handmaid’s hands (yep, the Wife is in the room, sitting in the same bed. Pervy, no?). The Sons of Jacob cite Biblical precedent for this as well: “And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her” (Genesis 30: 1-3, King James Version). The Sons of Jacob seem to forget all the drama and jealousy this caused between Jacob and the women in his life…



Life for Handmaids in The Republic of Gilead, as you can imagine, Is not kind. They are stripped of their former identity- a Handmaid’s name changes depending on which house she is assigned to; the Handmaids wear a uniform of red dresses (to signal their fertility and special status in Gilead). Women in Gilead are not allowed to read or write and are separated by a strict hierarchy based on fertility status and/or age. Young, fertile women become Handmaids, Marthas are childless women placed in servile roles, the Aunts are childless women who train the Handmaids on their roles and life within Gilead, enforce the rules, and deliver punishments. Older women or women that are viewed as corrupting influences or untrainable are sent to the Colonies to clean up nuclear waste or engage in backbreaking labor picking crops. Lesbians are branded as “gender traitors” and are usually executed by hanging.

In the book, these changes happened slowly over decades while in the TV show these changes happened in a shorter period of time. In the book, The Commander and Serena Joy are older with wrinkles; in the TV show they are around the same as our protagonist, Offred. Offred’s name from before is never mentioned in the book; on the show she confesses her birth name as June. In the book Offred/June never sees her husband again after her kidnapping and assumes he is dead. In the TV show we see Luke escape to Canada and rebuild his life while holding out hope that he will be reunited with June. The book and the TV show both end on a cliffhanger- Offred/June is taken away from the Waterfords but the reader/viewer doesn’t really know if it’s to her doom or newfound freedom.



I have mixed feelings about this dystopian novel- it’s not action-packed, the reader spends time in the protagonist’s head. After the cliffhanger there is an epilogue that takes place 200 years in the future and the epilogue is basically a transcript of a Canadian college conference on “Gileadan Studies.” I found this change in point of view to be jarring and a bit of a head scratcher- it doesn’t really answer the cliffhanger question. A friend of mine who has read the book thought that the point of the epilogue might be to point out that such regimes and extremism is temporary.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1984


Title: 1984
Author: George Orwell
Genre: dystopian fiction

I have a confession to make. I have never read the dystopian classic, 1984. Given the peculiar political climate in the US lately, I decided that now might be a good time to read the novel. It’s (obviously) set in 1984 London and the protagonist is Winston Smith. Winston decides out of the blue one day to keep a diary. Keeping a diary in this version of dystopian London is dangerous and illegal and Winston finds that he must enter his thoughts and musings in the blind spot of his home’s telescreen. The illegal diary begins a domino effect in Winston’s thoughts and behaviors that allow him to question everything in this society.

In this world, there are no one-dimensional televisions; the telescreens are a surveillance tool of the Party (Big Brother). The Party controls the population through the destruction and revision of the past; the past is rewritten so that the Party can take credit for accomplishments, victories, and inventions: “If all records told the same tale then the lie passed into history and became truth. Who controls the past controls the future?” Of course, if a citizen remembered an event that differed from the party line (pun intended), “how could establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory?”

The erasure of the past is assisted by the removal of all physical and written references to statues, memorials, and historical markers and all original records are modified and destroyed to reflect the new truth of the Party. Scraps of paper are discarded and incinerated immediately- can’t have any contradictory evidence hanging about, you know. The Party even changes the structure of the English language, truncating it as much as possible to that multiple definitions and nuances cease to exist. Speaking of ceasing to exist…in this world rebels and thought criminals are vaporized. Once a person disappears all records of their existence are erased and they briefly become an unperson before memories fade. 

Marriage is no longer a religious ceremony or an act of love but a duty to the Party since any children born of this union are the future of the Party. Solitude and individualism are looked down upon- all extracurricular activities and free time are expected to be used in service of the Party.
As if all this wasn’t depressing enough but Oceania (yep, countries and alliances have changed too), is constantly at war with her (supposed) enemies; in a war in which no progress is ever made. Winston finds out that this continuous state of war is a conspiracy to decrease wealth and upward social mobility among the common people.


So, all these plot points sound exciting for a dystopian novel but I found George Orwell’s writing style boring and I felt the book ended too abruptly and with no change in atmosphere or events than from the beginning of the novel (no hero’s journey). As a result, it has taken me most of the summer to read this book since there were more interesting books to read. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Reading Hangover




Image result for sheldon i need answers



Title: Written in My Own Heart's Blood
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: time travel, historical fiction, romance, adventure, books on TV

You see the above meme? (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory). This was me this past week. When I need answers while I'm doing my fun reading, I end up with a reading hangover the next day. What’s a reading hangover, you ask? It’s the sluggish feeling you have the next day after staying up too late instead of getting much needed sleep for work. Disclaimer: reading hangovers only happen when a person stays up too late because of “fun reading” (homework doesn’t count).
 I am reading the Outlander series and I finished reading Book 8 (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood) today. This series deals with time travel (but not in a nerdy, technical, sci-fi way) and this is what I've had to deal with and why I also need answers at 1am....

**Some spoilers ahead**


 Seriously, if you have not read the first seven books, turn back now!




Don’t say I didn’t warn you…


*Claire Randall accidentally time travels from 1948 to 1743
*Claire travels back to 1948 to escape the Jacobite rebellion
*In 1968 Claire travels back to the 1760s to reunite with Jamie Fraser
*Her daughter Brianna travels back to the 1700s to be with Claire.
*Brianna's boyfriend, Roger, also travels back in time to the 1700s
*Now everyone is together in the mountains of NC
*Brianna and Roger have two kids but little Mandy is born with a heart defect so they must travel (backwards/forwards?) into the late 1970s so that Mandy can have surgery

So, in Book 8 Brianna and Roger’s son, Jem, gets kidnapped and Roger and Brianna think his kidnapper has taken back to the 1700s so off Roger goes to the 1700s
*At this point the reader knows that Jem is still in 1980 but Brianna and the kids are separated from Roger by two centuries and this is WHERE I DON"T NEED SLEEP FOR WORK, I NEED ANSWERS!!!
*Roger ends up going back too early and ends up in Scotland in 1739. He meets Jamie’s father, uncle and sister before tragic things befell the Fraser clan. He knows what’s going to happen to them but he can’t do anything about it or warn them because it will change the future and how Jamie and Claire meet….


This series had been on my to-read list for years- multiple people had recommended it to me but I never found the time to tackle the series until the books were turned into a TV show for the Starz network two years ago. I watched the first episode and was hooked; I checked out the first book in the series (Outlander) was hooked on that as well. Along with all the time traveling that keeps me up at night, is some buried treasure (seriously), the American Revolution (the battle scenes can get tedious if you’re not a fan of military science and strategy), some Scottish/American culture and a bit of romance. The books are HUGE (they are each approximately 800 pages)- they will make you laugh and cry. Keep the tissues handy as well as Google Translate for the French, Gaelic, and Latin phrases that are sprinkled throughout.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Last Girlfriend on Earth




Title: The Last Girlfriend on Earth
Author: Simon Rich
Genres: Short stories, humor, books on TV


I checked out this book after watching an episode of ManSeeking Woman. It’s a show where modern dating rules, anxieties,  and conundrums are mixed with the absurd. For example, in the episode I watched, one of the main characters dates Santa Claus. This is not seen as ridiculous because everyone believes in Santa Claus, he is a real person but it is scandalous- Santa is married, after all. Other short stories were about a man who is engaged to Mother Teresa, a Jewish man whose ex-girlfriend is dating Adolf Hitler, and the title story about a man who is dating the last woman alive on Earth. 
                                                          

 I normally don’t read short stories because a lot of short stories leave a lot to be desired in my opinion or they end on a cliffhanger. The short stories in The Last Girlfriend on Earth are mostly satisfying, snarky, and funny. There were a few that left me with a Huh? feeling but I enjoyed most of the stories within the book. I will be adding Simon Rich's other works to my "to-be-read" pile. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Title: Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
Editor: James Lowder
Genre: non-fiction, literary criticism, Game of Thrones, fantasy

I've been addicted to Games of Thrones ever since Jamie pushed Bran out the window in Episode 1; that's when I knew this was a show that wasn't going to follow the rules. I started reading the books and soon found out that Martin doesn't follow the rules of writing either. His characters aren't strictly good or evil, the good guy (or gal) doesn't survive every encounter, and children or harmed or killed...

While I'm waiting for Game of Thrones to return on July 16, I discovered this book to help tide me over until the winds of winter come howling onto my TV screen (see what I did there?). Beyond the Wall is a literary, mostly non-stuffy critique on some of the recurring themes on the show and in the books: power, gender roles, violence, magic, identity, etc.

Gary Westfahl in "Back to the Egg" explores why fantasy authors write prequels or side stories to supplement their already grandiose epics. This is something that GRRM fans have a love/hate relationship with. We want more writing from GRRM but the writing that is being released is not the writing we want (Hint: It's called The Winds of Winter. How many more years will you keep us waiting, George?).

In "Art Imitates War" (one of my favorite chapters), Myke Cole praises GRRM for his authentic portrayal of PTSD within the world of Westeros: "He got an essential and often missed aspect of PTSD exactly right: sometimes traumatic experiences profoundly damage a character, but sometimes they enfranchise and strengthen the sufferer" (74). Case in point? Arya Stark and Theon Greyjoy. They both experience massive trauma due to events surrounding them; Arya uses her trauma to survive and to channel her rage into assassin skills. Theon succumbs mentally to his trauma and becomes a shell of a human being.

Susan Vaught examines the moral ambiguity in the show and series. Much like our world, Westeros is not completely black or white but full of murky and questionable gray areas. Behaviors that are abhorrent, sinful and taboo in our world are mildly scandalous in Westeros (incest). Succumbing to personal desires instead of behaving in a manner that benefits the group or community is one of the top sins in Westeros (Robb Stark learned this the hard way).

"A Different Kind of Other" examines the role of "outsider" status in Westeros. While most books and TV shows present freaks/outsiders as morally upright and virtuous, or as a poor male seeking to restore himself to a position of power, Martin give his "outsider" characters more depth. Bran is a typical rambunctious boy until he becomes disabled; Samwell Tarly is overweight and non-violent to the despair of his father; Brienne trains as a knight even though she is a woman (she is also an ugly woman which is offensive to some of the male characters in the series). "They're disappointments, even freaks, to their families and cultures" (159). Unfortunately, not all outsiders are kind in this world (Varys, Tyrion). "Outcasts pay keen attention to rules, precisely so they can manipulate them in order to give themselves a fighting chance. They also keep an eye on other outsiders as they can often be valuable allies" (162).

The only chapter that I didn't enjoy in this book was about book collecting and book collecting statistics. It was boring to me and seemed out of place with the rest of the semi-academic chapters.

Winter is Coming

Friday, February 17, 2017

How Harry Cast His Spell

Image result for how harry cast his spell

Title: How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J.K. Rowling's Bestselling Books
Author: John Granger
Genre: non-fiction, Christian non-fiction

I checked this out at the academic library where I work. I was intrigued that an author that was publishing a pro-Harry book would be published by an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers. Unless you have been living under a rock the past decade or so, you have heard about the concerns and controversy of Harry Potter by some adults, mostly because of the witch and wizard characters. Granger wrote this book mostly for them. When these concerned adults fixated on the witches, wizards, and (fake) spells (if they bothered to read the books in the first place), they missed the Christian symbolism in the books. If you're thinking, "What Christian symbolism?",  than you need to read this book too!

So what are the Christian symbols used in the Harry Potter series? Here are a few examples (I can't tell you all of them, you have to read the book for yourself!):
* the "mascot" of Gryffindor house is a red lion. A lion has been used as a symbol of God in the Bible and throughout English literature (i.e. The Chronicles of Narnia) (pages 19, 106-107).
* the phoenix was a symbol of Christ during the Middle Ages- hence the nickname of "The Resurrection Bird. "The phoenix here, of course, portrays not only the Resurrection of Christ but also the Christian belief that he has intervened for humanity and taken the curse of death upon himself" (102).
*One person, two natures symbolism (concept comes from the Bible) (Chapter 5)

Rowling also uses alchemical symbolism throughout the series to chronicle Harry's journey from boy to man, non-believer of magic to wizard. While we view alchemy today as a pseudoscience where medieval scientists labored in vain to turn objects into gold, in the world of literature, alchemy "can simply be defined as the transformation of something common into something special" (50). So alchemical "writing techniques" are used to highlight the conflict/journey/resolution of a character and they are used to edify the personal life and beliefs of the reader (page 31).

Other positive aspects of the HP series that Granger critiques are the Hero's Journey formula used within each book (Chapter 3), the emphasis on choice and free will (page 86), the dangers of prejudice (Chapter 6), the parallels of Harry's life to King Arthur (page 86), and the spiritual themes of each book (Chapters 11-17).

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blog Spotlight



Instead of reviewing a book today, I want to spotlight two blogs that belong to friends/coworkers of mine.
  Charley Bears Does Life is an adorable blog written by Charley (with help from his mom). Charley is new to the blogosphere and will chronicle his life with his fur-sister Sky and his human parents. I look forward to reading about his doggie delights and adventures!

Photo courtesy of Charley and his mom

http://cneildavenport.com/ is owned by C. Neil Davenport, an aspiring writer, photographer, actor, and film maker who wants to change the world through the art of film. I look forward to reading (and watching) Neil's journey too.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, suit
Photo courtesy of C. Neil Davenport


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Image result for the 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace

Title: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace
Author(s): Gary Chapman and Paul White
Genre: non-fiction, leadership, management, work relationships, personality, work issues

This book was recommended reading in one of the librarian Facebook groups I belong to. I decided to read it since I enter a mid-level management position back in July and I co-supervise a staff of 11 who have myriad personalities, ages, and cultural backgrounds. Gary Chapman is most famous for his series of books about The Five Love Languages (a book I make sure to gift to newly married couples). The Five Love Languages are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Tangible Gifts. The Love Languages series has focused on love languages between spouses and between parents and children; it was interesting to see how these languages are used and viewed in a workplace setting. As in his other Languages books, Chapman is concise in his writing style and real- world examples are used to drive home the points made in this book.