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Charles S. Fisher RSS Feed (Woodacre, CA USA)
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A Year of Watching Wildlife (General Reference Guide)
A Year of Watching Wildlife (General Reference Guide)
by David Lukas
Edition: Paperback
25 used & new from $8.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful, June 8, 2015
When I was given this book for my birthday, I thought, “My god,” has David Lucas (the author of this book even though it is credited to Lonely Planet) been to all these places. Though I haven’t been out with him for years, I remember him as a talented naturalist and good teacher. Here he takes on Lonely Planet’s’ mandate to help travelers, this time those interested in nature. It is a good book tempting nature tourists to times and places where creatures from great bustards to augrabie’s flat lizards can be seen. The photos in the book are very good, although they are not always labeled as to species. The book is also not PR for private touring companies. The web links after each section are to parks and governments.

This said, I have problems with Lonely Planet’s agenda. 40 or more years ago walking around southern Mexico, British Honduras and hitchhiking into Guatemala, I thought I might write a book a la Lenin with a title like, Tourism, Imperialism’s Final Insult. While on the road or in back of what seemed to be WWII Toyota pickup trucks, I realized that my pack, my boots and even my rain coat separated me so completely from the locals that there was almost no bridging the gap. And when I watched locals looking at Americans, Japanese, and French tourists, ugly a la the book of that name about Vietnam, I justified myself by thinking, “at least I slept on the ground and trudged back trails with Indians hauling freight to remote camps.” And I talked with them as human equals both of us speaking a foreign language. The most memorable comment from a Mestizo I heard was when he was looking at an American tourist with a large dog: “The dog eats much more than I do.” I never did write the book but I vaguely remember some one may have.

Now tourism is a giant worldwide business turning the indigenous people of Quintana Roo into maids and bus boys where I remember empty beaches and people farming their milpas or fishing. I just checked and the carbon footprint for world tourism is 5%. Bad or good, I am not sure but certainly most of my friends, even those who are ecotourists, don’t think about it at all or the political-economic impact of their travels. Now I might like to see manta rays in the Maldives or red crabs in Australia, things my neighbors sometimes do and yet, by driving 10 miles and wading in a bay they can chase bat rays or watch Velella also called sea raft, by-the-wind sailor or purple sail when they blow in by the thousands. As Thoreau said, it takes a lifetime to get to know two square miles. The insects in my neighborhood or the weeds of Boston are certainly as interesting as carnivorous plants in the Amazonian rain forest (and there are carnivorous plants to be found in the quaking bogs 15 miles west of Boston) but it is not as romantic as a boat ride up the Amazon.

Enough of my ranting. David Lucas’ book is certainly aesthetic and useful to those who wish to catch sight of the extraordinary in nature. Me, I would rather hear a few more nesting birds sing in my yard in this drought year when the dawn chorus has become ominously quiet.

Charlie Fisher


Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
by Eric Foner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.90
76 used & new from $13.82

5.0 out of 5 stars A historical challenge, June 5, 2015
Eric Foner is a historian’s historian. I assume a red-diaper baby, he has been an important part of the rewriting of American history showing how unexceptional America was in its treatment of black people. We all know about the Underground Railway, but its detailed history is as obscure as the failure of reconstruction was until Foner exposed the truth of economic, political and social re-enslavement. As was his book on reconstruction this is not a popular history and that is both its strength and weakness. I almost wanted a fire and brimstone history with all the failed escapes and heroic rescues. And it is not as if he doesn’t mention many of those but, because of the missing evidence a real historian doesn’t have to work with, what emerges is a history more focused on organizational aspects of the railway as it existed in New York city and connected stations in the northeast. The picture that can be captured is of a relatively few people who assisted most of the escapees for whom we have record. They and their organizations went trough the inevitable conflicts of ideology, the recolonizers in the early days actually attacking the people who wanted full citizenship here, and later railway operative's disagreements sometimes expressed in their respective newspapers. Yet those later participants were able to work with each other when it came to helping escapees.

Because of where the record’s lay we get an astounding picture of very few people doing a great deal for many runaways. The New York Lawyer, Sydney Howard Gay and his two black assistants, William H. Leonard, and Louis Napoleon, were surely great heroes. Gay dipped into his own pocket when necessary. Given the hostility of New York immigrants and natives to blacks and the draft riots, how they carried out their activities is, for me, still a mystery, but that they did so takes a kind of courage I have only witnessed in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War Movements. It is interesting how much the resources for helping escapees depended on a very few people. The penny-a-week drives of black supporters were inspiring but I assume came nowhere near meeting the needs.

Of course, I would have liked to know more about all the Quaker and Free State supporters who aided runaways. From William Freehling’s book on the ante-bellam south we know that, particularly, Ohio had many and I have not seen a history of those networks. Slavery leaked out of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. But then the more humble individuals who took part kept fewer records than more prominent people in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

It is interesting how legally and constitutionally correct were Southerners in their claims that abolitionists and their allies were the real disunionists. They openly disobeyed the spirit of the Constitution and laws before 1850, and continued to flout the Fugitive Slave act. States even passing laws that directly contradicted the act. It seems that both intransigent Northern officials, rioting crowds, and individuals prevented more slaves from being returned than officers of the law, owners and bounty hunters were able to return.

This is a good book for those of us who want to fill in the corners of American history we only know little of. I hope it does well commercially as the author deserves.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”


Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII
Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII
by Deborah Cadbury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.84
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skillfully done, May 27, 2015
Writing a book of this kind presents two great challenges. The first is the challenge not to turn the story into a kind of society page gossip book as Doris Goodwin did in A Team of Rivals, filled with fashion and the details of dinners, and the gossip of personal life much of which was irrelevant to the great events happening around the people involved. I call this chick literature a la chick movies. The author was very good at keeping perspective on what was important as it impacted the struggles of the time. Of course that required telling us much about the lives of the main characters. But not in such a way to manipulate sentiment which is a cardinal feature of chick movies. Nonetheless I was touched by both King George and Churchill’s personal feelings, although it is hard to be sympathetic to Churchill because he was such an extreme narcissist. The King keeping him out of Normandy without laying down the law was, I think, a cardinal mark of the growth of the kings personality and a sign of his inability to really confront people, particularly his brother, Windsor. This is a main theme of the book. The author claims that George the V’s gentleness in handling Windsor was one of the former’s great acts of compassion. But he did force Windsor and Wallis to leave Spain on pain of revealing his desertion from his military post in Paris, and we will never really know whether in refusing Windsor’s request to return to England and give Wallis the title HRH George did not hint or even use Windsor’s treason. If he really had balls he would have threatened Windsor with incarceration if Windsor didn’t lay low. And so he was troubled by Windsor for the rest of his reign. That Windsor acceded to being cuckolded fits well with the anecdotes I got from my mother and Alfred North Whitehead’s sister.

My mom was a student at the University of Manitoba when Windsor made his grand tour in the 1920s. One of her basketball teammates was chosen to be the Duke’s date for the evening. He was known as notorious lady’s man, but the report to teammates the next day was that he was so drunk that he was no threat. In the late sixties I was sitting one day in Bartel(yb)y’s Burger shop in Harvard Square, Cambridge Mass when the nattily dressed Harvard librarian sitting next to me invited Miss Whitehead to join us. The following is my memory but it does not fit the facts that I can locate on the web about Alfred or his one sister Shirley. Miss Whitehead came to keep her brother’s house when he was invited to teach at Harvard in 1924. I remember her saying that he was a bachelor (which he wasn’t: he had a wife and three sons. Alfred’s sister Shirley was born in 1859 which would have made her over a hundred at the time of the hamburgers.) Despite all these discrepancies here is what I heard. Miss Whitehead remembers walking with Russell around their estate when she was a girl. Russell DOM (dirty old man) would regale her with the hanky panky of the English elite (presumably Edward VII’s notorious affairs). She then went on to make fun of Wallace. She said that Wallace, in getting Windsor to reject his crown got what she deserved because Windsor, was impotent.

Of course, no evidence or even hint of this was presented in Cadbury’s book. But it would certainly make sense because of all the energy that Wallace put into acquiring baubles and her eventual public affair added to the fact that Windsor accompanied the cheating couple like a whipped dog.

But turning to the other literary challenge faced by the author. In a book about the public and semi-private affairs of the sons of George V from 1936 when the Duke of Windsor gives up his crown “for the woman I love” until after WWII, how much of the overwhelming history of the time can an author include without that history dominating the book and still make the importance of the actions of the principals sensible which they would not be without that history. In this the author does what I would call a respectable job. Of course it is an impossible chore and I would only take her to task here and there. The unbelievable loss of men and material that could be laid at Churchill’s feet is not really covered, especially Crete a horrible mistake in judgment, almost costing Egypt which was much much more important. Although it must be said she does go into the Cabinet crisis Churchill faced after all the British military defeats. So on the whole the author gave more than adequate background for the personal/political story she related. For that she really deserve plaudits.

Looking back on Windsor’s treachery, nay treason, it seems a grave error that both Churchill and King George covered it up. If the Monarchy can not stand the truth in a democracy then it doesn’t deserve to be there. As it was the Monarchy did contribute to Britain’s survival, even though Churchill deserved to lose the 1945v election because he would have resisted the Empire’s dissolution after the War. The times had changed and King George no longer could be the Emperor of India, Burma, etc. In the end the undeserved King earned his crown, though from excessive smoking and stress, he succeeded in bringing himself to an early grave, leaving his daughter whom he spent years of preparing (it would have been nice to have learned a little about this) fit for the job he never wanted.

Good book, even a good way of learning the outline of the British during WWII. Read it.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”


The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
by Christian Wolmar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.89
68 used & new from $5.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, May 21, 2015
For those of us who are fascinated by railroads this is an entertaining book. At 8 years old laying in my bed on a hot summer night on the South Side of Chicago listening to the trains the romance of steam could not have been greater. When the family met my father coming in on the New York Central at the LaSalle Street Station, the fear and thrill of the last blast of steam as the train came to a stop is embedded in my psyche. So I found the pictures in this book quite intriguing. I know that building railroads cost thousands of lives and made possible the real destruction of wild places, nonetheless I would love again to experience the clicking of the rails and the chugging of a steam engine. I must say I liked the pictures more than the text of the book. I know much of the history which the text could hardly touch upon. I wonder about diesel electric versus pure diesel. At age 13 in 1951 I traveled alone on the Great Northern steel Vista Dome to Seattle and in the early 60’s took the Burlington Zephyr back and forth from Chicago to graduate school in Berkeley. In the late 60’s and early 70’s taking the Canadian Nation and Canadian Pacific from Montréal to either Vancouver or almost Prince Rupert. Lightening at night across the plains of the Dakotas is a found memory. And the picture of the lines of Chinese high-speed trains intrigues me. As politically incorrect as it is, although I don’t want to travel any more, I would love to take the Qinghai-Tibet RR. Maybe some day! It would, of course, be better if it was to an autonomous Tibet with a residing Dalai Lama.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”


Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap, Black, Medium, 14 Inch-16 Inch
Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap, Black, Medium, 14 Inch-16 Inch
Price: $26.00
14 used & new from $24.94

3.0 out of 5 stars OK, May 19, 2015
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didn't help my problem.


Astro Pneumatic 1426 1/4-Inch Heavy-Duty Hand Riveter
Astro Pneumatic 1426 1/4-Inch Heavy-Duty Hand Riveter
Price: $29.99
35 used & new from $21.89

4.0 out of 5 stars good, May 19, 2015
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does the job, but has a hard time with confined spaces.


Indestructible You: Building a Self that Can't be Broken
Indestructible You: Building a Self that Can't be Broken
by Tim Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.30
43 used & new from $7.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge, May 15, 2015
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This book will rattle your bones. Based on applying Nietzsche’s idea of Will that one of the authors Shai Tubali develops in a previous book, The Journey to Inner Power, (which I reviewed on Amazon) both authors assert that by recognizing the inner power of Will, people can dispel their suffering effectively and permanently. This is a tall order of business.

Throughout the text the authors give exercises on how to do this. For memories of trauma, they say you must: let go of self-pity, identify your defeated will, regain your sense of presence, and make it meaningful. They ask troubled people to locate the life force within them and use that as a resource to overcome what is self-defeating including the inability to accept the reality of the moment. Among other things they address vengeance, aggression, seeing one's self as a victim, depression and the allusion of just doing what feels good. They claim their methods take people beyond what Buddhist meditation presently offers.

This book will challenge you. A read may change your life

Charlie Fisher author of Meditation in the Wild and Dismantling Discontent.


The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake: 1577-1580
The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake: 1577-1580
by R. Samuel Bawlf
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.45
77 used & new from $0.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Oh well!, May 8, 2015
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It was a fun read and I really wanted to believe the author’s theory. After all my Marin County neighbors are too stuck up about their county’s marvels, including Drakes Bay. I thought it would be a good come-uppance for them to find out one of their precious claims turns out to be false. I read the book years ago when it came out and was convinced. I have read a lot about Drake since. It has been so long since I read the book, that I don’t remember the details. One reviewer claims that Bawlf has many historical errors and comes up with nothing new. But I like his idea of the Elizabethan CIA hiding the true facts of Drake’s voyages. And if I got the right book, about Drake abandoning some of his men in Oregon, several making it all the way to Mexico. If we only had the notes of the Spanish Inquisition we might find out what their debriefing (maybe torturing) of them reveals about indigenous life in California before contact. Where Bawlf really seems to fail is in his anthropology. Drakes description fits the native’s of the Point Reyes peninsula and not Vancouver Island.

So I have to let go of my dream and suffer the indignity of losing a bit of my Canadian chauvinism. Oh, well! I gave it four stars for its entertainment, not its accuracy.
Charlie Fisher


Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America
by Jill Leovy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.71
50 used & new from $11.24

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Timely but flawed, April 28, 2015
With the occurrence of Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement this could not have been a more timely book. It will sell many copies and I supposed it deserves the success. I have been watching a lot of cop TV series on Amazon. The Closer, British Detective Series, Murdoch, and most recently NYPD Blues. The most common feature they all have is that male cops can’t express their feelings. And besides Helen Mirren’s wonderful appearance in Prime Suspect, starring women detectives have weird personalities or tolerate male cops’ rigid repression. This book reads like a TV detective series which gives it dramatic power but detracts from its intellectual claims. In fact reading the heroic lives of its heroes gets quite boring. I began to fear the beginning of new chapters which gave way more detail than I needed of the past of some new character.

The basic thesis of the book is that under-policing is a driving force of the criminal statistics of ghettos. Black lives don’t matter, so black on black crime goes unsolved or is solved with indifference to actual guilt or innocence. “They kill each other. It is their way of life. And anyway no one will testify because they are afraid.” The author claims that traditional justice was a matter of family, clan, mafia etc. This leaks into the era of state monopoly of law and violence. And when the state doesn’t act to protect people, clan/individual justice will prevail. I don’t know whether her historical assertion is correct. It seems much too simple. Whether or not cops enforced the law universally, the occurrence of crack created crime per se as does the war on drug. Supply and demand makes for illegality, whether it is guns or human trafficking. If every black kid could work at McDonalds many would still choose selling dope. You make more money and do work less. The rich kids selling in the dorms at Harvard probably have as much chance of getting caught as the ghetto seller if cops don’t really care about black on black crime.

The real dilemma of the book’s thesis is that the solution goes counter to what the many of the Black Lives Matter people are asking: cops out of the neighborhood and no harsh enforcement. It is interesting how little role blacks play in NYPD Blues. It isn’t until the third season that the heroes beat up a black guy to get information out of him and they are alerted not to do it in public (no Iphones then). The program portrays the beating as OK because it reveals the name of a cop shooter. Of course they beat whites too. It is equal opportunity abuse.

The police of Baltimore (30 or more percent black) are accused a killing a kid who stared at them and then ran. He was found to have knife. Of course, no one denies the police are out of control, some racist and all short of resources. But staring can be a crime in ghettos. “Are you looking at me white boy?” Some guy in the projects went to get his gun to kill me because I smiled at him. And running, is it from fear of being hurt or guilt? I say “yes” to every cop who stops or questions me. “What can I do for your officer?” It doesn’t pay not to be deferential because the balance of force is so unequal. I was surrounded by police cars in a suburban neighborhood. I had no idea what the policeman wanted. I answered his completely puzzling questions. They wanted to ascertain whether I was a car thief without letting me know what it was all about. I can imagine what would have happened had I bad mouthed them. It turned out my rear license plate had been stolen in Oakland.

Or the child policeman who stopped me in Ashland on a pretext because I was driving an old beat up van, like the Oklahoma bombers and I look like the Unabomber. He wanted to know if I had guns in the car. Then he asked about knifes and I answered him sarcastically: My hunting knife, my Swiss army knife my kitchen knife. At least I was intelligent enough not to say, my butter knife. He was too scared to search my van but gave me an undeserved ticket to cover his ass. I contested it but to no avail. I can understand the outrage of blacks constantly stopped and given tickets to raise revenue for strapped municipalities. But wise-assing cops is designed to increase their response. Does the police claim that everyone who is held down shouts “I can’t breathe,” have any basis? If the police became more meticulous as the author wants, so as to make black lives matter, would the communities respond positively or would they claim its was just more racism and they don’t want the police in their faces period. I know a cop of many years who up and resigned one day after riding through Harlem on duty and realizing how insane the whole setup was.

In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, the ghetto’s were left behind the black bourgeoisie that the Movement enabled to rise. And yet many impoverished Cuban’s, Hispanics, Koreans get their s*** together. Part of that rise came from government programs and part from exercising good old Protestant self-restraint. In Baltimore many blacks came out to clean up the damage from the rioting. Were they middle class? Were they angry? They wanted peace and didn’t want their other blacks to destroy the neighborhoods in which they lived. There are 15 million black men “missing” as the Tuesday Times demonstrated several weeks ago. Is Daniel Moynihan right is his justifiably discredited book from so many years ago. How do you break socially dysfunctional inheritance? Take the kids away and raise them in something like a kibbutz! The Chinese communists broke the debilitating culture of the past. India has much worse cultural/economic ghettos than the US. But there many people live more or less together and exercise discrimination out in the open. The West has not nearly enough communal will to tackle ghettoside. We can fight unnecessary wars with citizen mercenaries but we can’t pay for schools. The Tea Party is only a right wing of this. Good liberals do not sacrifice much of their overabundant prosperity to help out.

Thanks for writing the book even if I took to skimming over its sentimentalized parts.

Charlie Fisher


Guard Alaska® Bear Spray Holster
Guard Alaska® Bear Spray Holster
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4.0 out of 5 stars works, March 11, 2015
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