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14 Nov, 2017

Beyond the Messy Truth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Beyond the Messy Truth Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together by Van Jones
on October 10th 2017
Length: 7:16
Genres: Nonfiction, Political Science
Published by Books on Tape
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster

Van Jones burst into the American consciousness during the 2016 presidential campaign with an unscripted, truth-telling style and an already established history of bridge-building across party lines. His election night commentary became a viral sensation. A longtime progressive activist with deep roots in the conservative South, Jones has made it his mission to challenge voters and viewers to stand in one another's shoes and disagree constructively.
Now, in Beyond the Messy Truth, Jones offers a blueprint for transforming our collective anxiety into meaningful change. Tough on Donald Trump but showing respect and empathy for his supporters, Jones takes aim at the failures of both parties before and after Trump's victory. He urges both sides to abandon the politics of accusation and focus on real solutions. Calling us to a deeper patriotism, he shows us how to get down to the vital business of solving, together, some of our toughest problems.
"The entire national conversation today can be reduced to a simple statement--'I'm right, and you're wrong, '" Jones has said. But the truth is messier; both sides have flaws. Both parties have strayed from their highest principles and let down their core constituencies. Rejecting today's political tribalism, Jones issues a stirring call for a new "bipartisanship from below." Recognizing that tough challenges require the best wisdom from both liberals and conservatives, he points us toward practical answers to problems that affect us all regardless of region or ideology: rural and inner-city poverty, unemployment, addiction, unfair incarceration, and the devastating effects of the pollution-based economy on both coal country and our urban centers.
In explaining how he arrived at his views, Jones shares behind-the-scenes memories from his decades spent marching and protesting on behalf of working people, inspiring stories of ordinary citizens who became champions of their communities, and little-known examples of cooperation that have risen from the fog of partisan conflict. In his quest for positive solutions, Van Jones encourages us to set fire to our old ways of thinking about politics and come together where the pain is greatest.

Goodreads

I could identify with Van Jones.  He is a liberal who grew up in a conservative area.  He can understand where people on both sides of the political divide are coming from.  He tries to offer insights to both sides in this book.

He points out that many people in this situation end up moving away from rural conservative areas which makes the isolation from people with differing viewpoints get worse and worse.  He talks about the problems of trying to go home and convert your friends and relatives to your point of view.

He also gives real life examples of how he has worked with bipartisan groups on issues like green energy and prison reform.  He specifically talks about working with Newt Gingrich.  He was a fan of how he built a huge conservative movement (but not of his politics).  He had read all of his books when he found himself working with him on CNN.  They have some interesting joint projects. 

I thought that the chapter on Prince was amazing.  Prince attempted to donate to one of his projects anonymously.  He refused the money because he didn’t take donations that he couldn’t trace.  Eventually Prince introduced himself and they started working together.  He uses examples from Prince’s philanthropy to show how people can be creative and make a difference in the world.  As he says, Prince’s thinking wasn’t “red or blue.  He was Purple.” 

It is rare to have a book that discusses all these serious issues be ultimately hopeful but this one manages. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
02 Jun, 2016

Just Mercy

/ posted in: Reading Just Mercy Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
on October 21st 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Political Science
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Alabama

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.  Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Goodreads

Just Mercy had been on my radar for a while but I didn’t decide to pick it up until it was the first pick for the social justice book club hosted by Entomology of a Bookworm.  I listened to the audiobook.  It was narrated by the author and he did a good job of telling his story.

The story begins with the author setting up a branch of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.  The goal is to help people on death row have legal representation.

The case of Walter McMillan is used to explain to the readers how our justice system can go horribly wrong.

Walter McMillan was convicted of a murder even though he was far away from the murder scene with a large group of people, the person who accused him couldn’t identify him in a room, and the truck he was supposedly driving had its transmission rebuilt that day at the time of the murder.

Other cases are discussed throughout the book.  Another focus of the author’s is the plight of children who were tried as adults and received life sentences without the possibility of parole.  One of the people featured had been kept in solitary confinement for decades.  He was caught in a loop of self harming because he was isolated and every time he self harmed he had more time added in solitary.

Sometimes helping someone is making sure seemingly logical things are done like housing young children away from the adult prison population so they aren’t raped.

The author also does a good job of explaining how entire communities are involved in cases of wrongful convictions.  He talks a lot with the family and friends of the accused but I would have also been interested to see how finding out that the person in jail for a family member’s murder was innocent affected the victim’s family.  There was just one brief interaction about this.


Aside from any discussion of the ethics of capital punishment there is one thing that I just don’t understand.  How is it possible to mess up lethal injection as horribly as seems to be happening?  I guess I have an unusual perspective on this because euthanasia is an important part of my job.  It is easy to do without causing pain and suffering.  Why can’t people figure it out?  I guess a large part of the problem is that doctors aren’t allowed to be involved.  Changing that would probably solve the issue instead of letting untrained personnel do it.  But still, books and articles are published in the veterinary literature all the time.  Do some study.  Get it right if you are going to do it.  /rant

 

06 Oct, 2015

A Dystopian Novel that is all too probable – Ink

/ posted in: Reading A Dystopian Novel that is all too probable – Ink Ink by Sabrina Vourvoulias
on 2012-06
Pages: 230
Genres: Civil Rights, Fiction, Occult & Supernatural, Political Science, Social Science
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

What happens when rhetoric about immigrants escalates to an institutionalized population control system? The near-future, dark speculative novel INK opens as a biometric tattoo is approved for use to mark temporary workers, permanent residents and citizens with recent immigration history - collectively known as inks. Set in a fictional city and small, rural town in the U.S. during a 10-year span, the novel is told in four voices: a journalist; an ink who works in a local population control office; an artist strongly tied to a specific piece of land; and a teenager whose mother runs an inkatorium (a sanitarium-internment center opened in response to public health concerns about inks). The main characters grapple with ever-changing definitions of power, home and community; relationships that expand and complicate their lives; personal magicks they don't fully understand; and perceptions of "otherness" based on ethnicity, language, class and inclusion. In this world, the protagonists' magicks serve and fail, as do all other systems - government, gang, religious organization - until only two things alone stand: love and memory.

Goodreads

Oh. My. God.  Just go get this book and read it.

What is scary about this book is that the dystopian scenario is so possible.  It starts with anyone whose family has recently immigrated to the United States being required to have a tattoo.  Black tattoo for temporary workers, green for permanent residents, and blue for citizens.  Get that?  Blue for citizens. It doesn’t matter if your family has been here for a while.  Brown skinned people are still subject to legal restrictions.  Over time the restrictions get more severe.  People won’t rent to Inks (people with the tattoos).  Then there are towns they can’t live in and jobs they can’t have.  Vigilantes catch them and dump them outside U.S. borders.  Next come the rumors of Inks having contagious diseases so they have GPS chips put in them if they go to the hospital so they can be tracked.  Far fetched?  I don’t think so.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Saturday offered up a creative solution to the problem of illegal immigration: track immigrants the same way FedEx tracks packages…

…”We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in
and then when your time is up—whether it’s 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, 12 months, however long your visa is—then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘Excuse me, it’s time to go,'” Christie said.

Talking Points Memo on August 29, 2015

From there they start being rounded up.

Ink tells the story of this world from the perspectives of several people.

  • Mari survived an attack on her village in Guatemala as an infant.  Her American father brought her to the U.S.  She has a blue tattoo.
  • Finn is a white American journalist who is covering the Ink story and gets involved in the resistance when he meets Mari.
  • Meche is a wealthy Cuban American chemist with a blue tattoo who is using her family money to support the resistance and her knowledge to develop instaskin, a covering for the tattoos.
  • Del is a white painter who becomes friends with some Inks on his day job.  He is Finn’s brother-in-law and gets recruited to the resistance because he has a truck to smuggle people.
  • Abby is a white teenage hacker whose mother runs an inkatorium.  She volunteers there for community service hours and knows enough about the procedures to be able to help Mari and Meche escape.  People she meets during the escape draw her deeper into the resistance movement.

The story also embraces magical realism.  People in Mari’s village are twinned with a spirit animal.  Hers is a Jaguar who is able to fight the battle on a spiritual level.  Del has earth magic and is able to enchant his land so no one living on it can be found which makes it an ideal refuge for Inks.


This book is haunting.  I stayed up late to finish it and then dreams inspired by it all night.  I almost never give out 5 star reviews.  To get one the book has to be one that is going to stick in my mind and influence the way I think.  This book earned the 5 stars.

At the end of the book Mari visits the village where she was born.  She tries to find out more about her family who were killed there.  She was sheltered by the village priest who was killed later in the raid.  She goes to see a library at a nearby church.  The priest there talks to her about the aftermath of the Ink program in the United States.

“You could have had it removed, ” he continues, but gently, the way I’ve heard Father Tom address the kids he’s catechizing.  “My understanding is that most people welcomed the new administration’s removal program as a way of getting past the misguided policies the tattoo represented, and the bitter history it marked.”

“But that’s the point, Father,” I say, taking care to close the album without damaging the brittle pages.  “I know inks weren’t the first to endure this sort of thing, nor likely the last.  But years from now, when somebody points to my photo in a dusty album in a library like this one, I want him or her to be able to say ‘I don’t remember the face or the name, but here’s the story of the tattoo'”

“It won’t be enough,” he says sadly.

“No. But it’s a start.”

 

About Sabrina Vourvoulias

“I was born in Bangkok, Thailand — the daughter of a Mexican-Guatemalan artist and an American businessman. I grew up in Guatemala, and moved to the United States when I was 15. I studied filmmaking and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., which — it has to be said — suited me for none (and every one) of the occupations I’ve plied since. ” from her website

23 Feb, 2015

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

/ posted in: Current EventsFeminismReading Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson
on 2001
Pages: 460
Genres: 20th Century, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, United States, Women's Studies
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The first comprehensive history of the role of women in the civil rights movement, Freedom's Daughters fills a startling gap in both the literature of civil rights and of women's history. Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and other well-known leaders of the civil rights movement have admitted that women often had the ideas for which men took credit. In this groundbreaking book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the movement's success and who refused to give up the fight.

Goodreads

I found this book because I wanted to find out more about Diane Nash, who was featured in the movie Selma.

The book starts with Ida B. Wells who was a journalist in the 1800s reporting on lynching.

After the Civil War, black women were able to apply their educations in jobs such as teaching more readily than black men were allowed.  These educated women organized social services and groups to fight against injustice.  The backlash came swiftly.  Black pastors accused them of being too powerful and taking on roles that should be filled by men.  The sexism grew.

“Once male slaves were freed, they sought to claim what they saw as those rights of ownership, particularly control over black women to which white men had previously laid claim.” pg 44

It was women who kept pressing for more rights during the early 1900s. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt were featured among others.

A recurring theme is that women would start a project and then when it was getting successful, men would come in and take over.

“News coverage, which the leaders sought, was, as Murray pointed out, a matter of men reporting on men.  Stories on the movement often read like accounts of sports contests or wars, keeping score of who was up and who was down, who won an dwho lost.  Conflict was always emphasized, whether between civil rights organizations or between local white aurthorities and activitis.  The behind-the-scenes activity that women specialized in – organizing, building consensus, sustaining a  sense of community – did not make good television, nor did it lend itself to dramatic newspaper or magazine headlines. page 235

During the 1960s black and white women worked together in most of the major campaigns. Opposition to Civil Rights was often because of fears of black men sleeping with white women. For this reason, white women were often kept in the office and not allowed to go out into the field with black men. They started to chafe under the restrictions of their “women’s work.” Black women often did not see their point about sexism because they didn’t have the same prohibitions. This led to splits in organizations and several of the white women who had been very involved in the Civil Rights movement started working with feminist organizations. This disconnect between black and white women over sexism can still be seen in discussions today around race and feminism.

I learned about women that I didn’t know anything about previously, including Diane Nash. She was incredible!

This book was a good compliment to the Rosa Parks biography I read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in women’s history that they may not have heard before.

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