The Secret World of Oil
Oil is the backbone of our modern world, an industry of hundreds of billions of dollars. And, where there is that kind of money, there is corruption. Lots of it. The Secret World of Oil chronicles the types of players in this worldwide game, through brief portraits of some of the main ones. There are ‘fixers’, those who put the right people in touch with each other to get deals made; ‘gatekeepers’, who, with the proper payoff, will open doors to access new territories; traders and lobbyists. Of course there are the filthily rich dictators, impoverishing their countries while taking a personal cut of the oil companies’ money. And all sorts of hangers-on who, because of their political connections, are courted by the oil industry for favors and good press. Excellent investigative journalism and clear, cogent writing expose the sordid backroom dealings and entanglements. The adage ‘it’s not what you know, but who‘, has never been more true. And the costs to ordinary citizens and taxpayers are huge. This book is an essential read – entertaining, enlightening, and infuriating.
Why China Will Never Rule the World: Travels in the Two Chinas
Here’s a travelogue by Troy Parfitt, a man who sets out to explore the twenty-two provinces of China, but discovers he doesn’t really like the places he visits. He abandons the venture after seventeen and returns to Taiwan, where he has lived and worked for some ten years. This sets up a most curious dissonance. Mostly, he’s written a road book as he travels among the mainland Chinese, spending only a day here and another day there, digging out nuggets of information about the places and their history, capturing moments of interaction, and offering insights. This makes the book impressionist in spirit (i.e., it’s not journalistic realism, nor is it genuinely autobiographical).
Why China Will Never Rule the World is highly editorialized. When you gather so much experience in such a short period of time, and the publisher imposes a physical constraint on how much will appear in print, you distill the mass into a heady spirit, the essence you hope will be intoxicating to your readers. The title says it all and, if it speaks to you, you will find the book enlightening and entertaining. Put simply, here’s a literate and intelligent human being, capable of wit and possessed of a good eye for description. Better still, the prose style is engaging. Yet this is what I imagine Marvin, the Paranoid Android might have written in The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Not that either this author, or the original Marvin, is actually paranoid. Marvin’s just consistently downbeat and, depending on your point of view; that’s the strength or weakness of Why China Will Never Rule the World.
So if you want snapshots of potential tourist destinations for those interested in Chinese history, a river cruise to the Three Gorges Dam, or of life in Beijing (which he claims to like), interspersed with explanations of why Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai were villains, why both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong lost the civil war, and why Mao lost the peace, this is the book for you. As a postscript, Nanjing is the cleanest city and both the Terracotta Army and the Tsingtao Brewery are worth a visit.
This leaves the final third of the book in Taiwan. The contrast in tone is quite dramatic as we come to understand why he prefers residence on the island. Except, after mature reflection, he decides he’s had enough of the Chinese on both sides of the Straits and returns to Canada. This is writing as therapy, exorcising ghosts of the past and looking forward to life in the “old country.”
Havoc, Thy Name Is Twenty-First Century!
Havoc, Thy Name Is Twenty-First Century posits that our civilization doesn’t have a problem . . . our civilization is the problem, and nothing less than a new global system is required to turn the tide. Disaster looms in our future, one sparked by an overreaching economy, poor resource management, and incompetence bordering on criminal idiocy when it comes to the planet, our population, and the global ecosystem we all inhabit.
There are plenty of books out these days that detail, lament, or otherwise herald the approaching twin catastrophes of climate change and overpopulation, some focusing on societal or governmental issues, others on science and refuting pseudoscience, and still others on the role religion plays in how we approach global crises like this. But Havoc stands out in this ever-growing field by combining economics, thermodynamics, and philosophy to explain how we reached this tipping point and what it will take to pull us back from the brink.
The author doesn’t waste any time getting started, launching straight into the scientific side of things by defining “the sphere”—the thermodynamic ecosystem we’ll be discussing—both physically and mathematically, then processing the forces at work within the sphere. We’re introduced to the GLOPPE—the global population plus its economy—and how these two concepts (the GLOPPE and the sphere) are affected by the overall economic and collective social construct that defines our civilization at this time. This construct is the global system, and Havoc defines our current global system, GS2, as a result of World War II, and characterizes it as a runaway capitalist mindset complete with deluded belief in limitless growth potential.
It’s easy to drown in all this data; Pogany clearly believes that even casual readers will process what he has to say, and he never takes a break to allow people to catch up. As soon as you’ve processed the math, he hits you with philosophy. Still processing that? He’s already moved on to history.
Although Pogany’s narrative progresses quickly and throws a LOT of new terminology at the reader, the fundamental message is clear: most people could not care less about the unsustainable resource demands their actual level of living generates, whereas we need to realize that we both impact the world and are part of the world. Although the core message is bleak, Havoc‘s end game is all about shifting to a new global system, GS3, formed by twin pillars of understanding and belief.
The author has a monumental task here, trying to cover economical, scientific, social, and philosophical bases for how to restructure our entire society in order to save the world and ourselves. And although he does an impressive job communicating while running all those bases, the sheer wealth of information threatens to overwhelm readers.
But perhaps that’s the point. It must be overwhelming to consider this, because we have overwhelmed already. We’ve overwhelmed the world, and the power we hold is overwhelming. Havoc is both cautionary tale and reminder that we can do incredible, impossible things. But only if we want to.
Although I think Havoc might be too big a first step for undecided readers or newcomers to the topic, it nonetheless remains a valuable, thoughtful resource toward understanding the long road ahead.
Hope into Practice, Jewish women choosing justice despite our fears
To reach a place to be able to put hope into practice, to choose justice, despite fear, the author begins this book with a look at why many a Jewish woman, told she doesn’t look Jewish, would act as if it is a compliment. This leads into the first chapter, which asks how things got so hard. The author, to her credit, leaves no topic untouchable, exploring anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, politics, Israel, Palestine, and more, where it relates to being a Jewish woman today in America. She explores issues such as reactions of family, neighbors and friends, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, Jewish and non-Jewish, and how all play into the unconscious mind causing a fluctuation between feelings of being either a victim or privileged. The author discusses each with intelligence and compassion, providing quotes from others to illustrate her points and sharing a vignette of activist work. After including an action-orientated reader’s guide, a section of notes and index, the author places her acknowledgments at the end.
“Although I quote from a plethora of activists, scholars, journalists, and friends, this work in its entirety reflects no one’s perspective other than my own. That said, there is no way I could have transformed my Ph.D. dissertation into this book without the extraordinary help, generosity, and support of my community.”
This reviewer found the book to be one of hope as it shared the many sides of being a Jewish woman, looking for ways to remedy the many injustices of the past by going forward to create justice for everyone. Readers, whether Jewish or not, will rethink the stereotypes that limit us all. This quote from Anne Frank personifies hope. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
The author has begun this improvement.
College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons
In this book, author Christopher Zoukis, a leading expert in correctional education, lays out a convincing case for providing post-secondary education for our incarcerated population. The statistics are well-known: a huge per-capita prison population in the nation, many prisoners serving sentences on nonviolent drug and immigration violations, the financial and human costs of a huge prison population, and the high rate of recidivism, all of which drain our society of valuable human and monetary resources. Zoukis builds a strong argument of why and how we should address the problem of our overcrowded prisons through college and vocational training behind bars. The author addresses the background and history of prison education in the United States, while also recognizing the validity of the opposing side of the argument, that offenders deserve to be punished, rather than rewarded through valuable education resources. This broad perspective gives credence to Zoukis’s argument that depriving prisoners of educational resources is counter-productive for both the individual and society as a whole.
This is an amazing work in many ways. Its author is, himself, incarcerated, but this book goes beyond the personal argument for prison education, so much so that I was unaware of the author’s background until reading his biography. His perspective is based on research in advancing the case for prison education, that providing for the education of prisoners is important for not only humanitarian, but also financial reasons. The financial and human cost of a large incarcerated prison population with a high degree of recidivism is much larger than educating and returning the population to the larger society. As an addendum, the reviewer, having taught this population, finds it is invariably made up of motivated students who deserve a second chance and return to society, for the sake of the individual as well as the society as a whole.
The Beltway Beast
According to a Gallup poll in October 2013, only 26% believe that two major parties adequately represent Americans, and 60% of Americans think a third party is needed. This book is designed to be a platform for the 74% of Americans who are yearning for an option outside of the two-party monopoly.
And so, Munir Moon succinctly states the purpose for his excellent, thoughtful book. There is a bit of a trend recently in books that look to re-invent the clearly flawed political systems in the Western democracies. (You may disagree with that statement, or at least the latter part of it, but do keep reading.) As I write this review, the number one best-seller in the UK is Russell Brand’s Revolution. Brand calls for a boycott of all established institutions, including a refusal to cast votes in elections contested among elite parties. So in many ways, both Moon and Brand are coming from the same place while heading in only slightly different directions.
Let’s get back to that flawed political system. Writing before the 2014 mid-term elections, Moon notes the following:
– Women represent 51% of the population but made up only 20% of the Senate and 18% of the House in 2013.
– African-Americans comprise 15% of the population, but there was only one black elected US senator in 2013, and only five African-Americans have been elected to the US Senate since this country was founded.
– There were only three Latino senators in 2013, all of them men.
– Sixty-seven percent of senators are millionaires.
– The average age of a senator is sixty-two years, while the median age in America is only thirty-seven.
– Seven of the top ten counties with the nation’s highest household incomes are located in the Washington Beltway.
I’d call that flawed. How about you? Furthermore, Moon brings this to our attention:
“Then there is the issue of overseas military bases that we maintain at a cost of about $102 billion annually, or about $1 trillion over 10 years. Germany alone has 227 US bases, which may have been justified during the Cold War, but why now?”
I cannot over-stress the quality of Moon’s research. To cite just one example, he takes apart Obamacare for being what it is: a giant transfer of capital from the public sector (that would be the American taxpayer) to the already wealthy insurance companies. Moon instead advocates for an idea called the Smart Patient Credit, which would empower consumers by giving them all price options and rewarding them for making the most economical choice. To be frank, I am still an advocate for the Single Payer system, however Moon must be applauded for at the very least provoking discussion.
This book needs to be not just read, not just shared, but acted upon immediately. The Beltway Beast is vital in these times.