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Globalization and Its Discontents (Norton Paperback)
Globalization and Its Discontents (Norton Paperback)
by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.39
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than 10 years on... and the discontent only grows..., July 25, 2014
Prior to reading this book, my reading of Joseph Stiglitz was confined to a few "op-ed" pieces. He seemed to make a lot of sense, and so along with Paul Krugman, I felt they were excellent sources of information for explaining the world through an economist's prism. Stiglitz is a "Washington insider," who worked in the Clinton administration, and went on to head up the World Bank in 1997. The book ends in 2003, so the real economic meltdown of a generation (or three) is not covered. Still, I found his coverage and insights into events that now seem like ancient history, that is, the transition of Russia from communism to (mafia) capitalism, and the East Asian financial crisis of the late `90's to be fascinating.

Stiglitz does not like the IMF (The International Monetary Fund). And he provides convincing reasons. He depicts an organization guided by the blind ideology of the sanctity of the "markets." You know, everything will just be "peachy" if we let unfettered markets "do their thing,"... well, until everything blows up, and then it is time to run to the government for a bailout, as we saw in 2008. Like "parachute" journalists who race from one troubled global "hotspot" to another, the IMF provides "parachute" economists who stay in the best 5-star hotel in the capital for three weeks, and then believe they "know" the country, and proscribed the same old tired medicine. The author gives some meaty examples, like when Sweden donated some money to Ethiopia to build schools, but the IMF twisted their arm to place the money in "reserves" to enhance their balance sheet. Tellingly, Stiglitz does compare how IMF policies enacted from those hotels are similar to modern warfare, where killing is so much easier when the vehicle is a bomb dropped from 30,000 ft.

Hypocrisy by the IMF? Naturellement. Free trade is just "peachy" if it means a poor country lowers its trade barriers to Western imports; but lowering the West's agricultural barriers is out of the question. The IMF would demand that countries like Russia prop up their currency through massive loans from the IMF (free market?), and when the government devalued, after the "Big Boys" got their money out at very favorable rates, then the poor are saddled with the obligation to pay off the loan. And in terms of Russian history, surely a worst disaster than communism itself was the IMF sponsored "privatization plans" that left a few of Yeltsin's cronies multi-billionaires, and everyone else poorer than they were under communism. It is enough to give capitalism a bad name (and it has in such countries)! Another key point that the author makes concerns Adam Smith, who started the wonderful "invisible hand" of the marketplace business, but also clearly identified market failures. And Keynes, whose ideas helped set up the IMF would be aghast at the rigidity in the thinking of today.

Numerous times he is straightforward in his critique, such as:

"The billions of dollars in Cayman Islands and other such centers are not there because those islands provide better banking services that Wall Street, London or Frankfurt; they are there because the secrecy allows them to engage in tax evasion, money laundering, and other nefarious activities. Only after September 11 was it recognized that among those other nefarious activities was financing of terrorism."


"There is money to bail out banks but not to pay for improved education and health services, let alone to bail out workers who are thrown out of their jobs as a result of the IMF's macroeconomic mismanagement."

But at other times I felt he "pulled his punches," as an "insider" might. For example, he mentions how Larry Summers and Paul O'Neill were involved in giving disastrous advice (speaking of those "free markets" again, he tells the tale of how O'Neill was involved in setting up an aluminum cartel!) But others are missing, for example Jeffrey Sachs' role in the Russian privatization schemes, and even the "patron saint" himself, Milton Friedman, who sent his "Chicago boys" to take over so much, like the IMF. In that regard, I think Naomi Klein, in her excellent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism does a much better job. Billionaire Russians require a little "outrage", and Stiglitz simply does not do "outrage" like Klein can.

Another part of my frustration with the book was the failure of seemingly all economic books: there is the use of statistics, like, Moldavia's GDP shrank by two-thirds over 10 years, without addressing where the statistic comes from, and how reliable it is. Occasional the issue is address, when it comes to the IMF, with a bald-faced admission that some numbers are just flat made up. And the discussions about "growth" are equally troubling, when no effort is made to address the quality of the growth.

In terms of editing, it could be a lot tighter. Numerous redundancies, numerous inane reminders that farmers need to buy seeds, and tautologies like the following: "A real and effective banking system requires strong banking regulation."

Overall though, an important account from an insider, with many hard examples on how things can go awry when mindless fundamentalists are in charge. 4-stars.

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Price: $29.89
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 30% better..., July 23, 2014
... than what? When this Kona French press was offered to me for review, my son and I decided to collaborate on the review. Like me, he is also keen on a good cup of coffee, and has even keener taste buds. French Press have a reputation for making a tastier cup of coffee, over the drip filter system. Sure enough, we both felt the coffee was tastier, but is it possible to quantify how much tastier. His answers: 30% better. And to us that is a significant enough improvement to switch systems. (And for those of a certain age, it helps soothe the blood pressure to drink one really good cup of coffee rather than two of the lesser sort.) Quality over quantity.

We both liked the design: functional and stylish. It has a solid durable "feel." It washes out easily, with no grounds left in the screen. It pushed down smoothly, yet has a good seal, so it must be made to rather fine tolerances. The decorative external framework for the glass cylinder makes it less likely that one could accidentally burn oneself.

It comes with a measuring spoon, and some straightforward instructions for the "first-timers." One can have an excellent cup of coffee in four minutes. Perfect. 5-stars.

The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos (New York Review Books Classics)
The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos (New York Review Books Classics)
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.23
76 used & new from $13.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and satisfying... to the end of the line, and beyond, July 21, 2014
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In 1934, Patrick Leigh Fermor, then 18 years of age, set off to walk from Holland to Constantinople, traversing a Europe that would be largely devastated and irrevocably changed within a few short years. I recently read the first two volumes of this Trilogy, A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (New York Review Books Classics) and Between the Woods and the Water: On Foot to Constantinople: From The Middle Danube to the Iron Gates (New York Review Books Classics). Obviously enthralled, I had to finish the story, and it was another excellent read. As with the other two volumes, he is writing this many decades after his originally hike, and so he has imposed more than a half century of erudition upon his youthful memories. At first glance, it may not seem to "work," but it certainly did for me. This volume is somewhat different than the first two, in that it was not finished when he died. It ends, literally in mid-sentence, and he has not quite reached Constantinople. Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper have skillfully edited the work. They noted that he had written virtually nothing about the end point of his hike. Afterwards, he decided to tour the monasteries on the Mount Athos peninsula, in northern Greece. That account is some 80 pages of this book, and is produced as he wrote it in his diaries of the time. Thus, the reader can contrast the two styles, one a more straightforward youthful account, the other the decades of erudition layered on the original trip. He celebrated his 20th birthday in the St. Panteleimon monastery, in February, 1935, having obtained far more of an education that most people do in a lifetime.

Volume 3 commences at the Iron Gates on the Danube (the rocky narrows of the river), and soon Fermor is in Bulgaria, and his travels there constitute most of the book. He traverses the country, more or less, three times, north to south, and back, and back again. Like the other volumes, he weaves arcane (certainly to me) historical information with the chance encounters of the road. I knew very little about Bulgaria, on the losing side in two world wars, and a "loser" in terms of territory to its neighbors. Bulgaria was also an integral part of the Ottoman Empire for almost half a millennium, finally "liberated" by the Russians, towards the end of the 1800's. Fermor emphasizes in numerous ways what is "received wisdom" in Western Europe: the ethnic hatreds in the Balkans run deep.

Even though only 18, he is the "perfect English gentleman," in that he never "kisses and tells." So radically different from today. Of the various women along the way, the most enticing seemed to be Nadejda, who is half Greek, living in Plovdiv, on the Maritza River, in southern Bulgaria. Quite liberated; no doubt the fact that both parents are dead is a factor. She fashions herself to be a student at the Sorbonne. I just read The Odyssey for the first time, so was more than a little impressed that they would both reference this work, together, at 18. Talk about being on the same wavelength. She would be the goddess on Calypso, and retain Odysseus in Plovdiv. But like Homer's hero, Fermor decides to "move on." I think I might have lingered a while longer.

The author crosses the Danube again, entering Romania, for three weeks of the good life in Bucharest. He describes the strong French influence permeating the elites. The third traverse is along the Black Sea coast, and there are vivid depictions of Bulgarian dancing, as well as the Sarakatsani, the only completely nomadic tribe in the Balkans. He would later describe these people in much greater detail in his book, Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece (New York Review Books Classics). The author has such a keen eye for the natural world, in which he often slept. Rich and lively depictions, as autumn deepen into winter. And somehow he weaved in his family's Anglo-Indian history via letters. In a less skilled writer, it would have been a mishmash. With Fermor, it flowed smoothly.

In deep winter he visited 20 some Christian Orthodox monasteries on the Mount Athos peninsula. He travels by foot between almost all of them, which is the operative means of transportation there. The monks are hospitable to travelers, and are impressed with the smattering of languages he has acquired. The food, he relates, was less than inspiring. Was he a "seeker"? Like with the women he meets along the road, he never really says, though one insight was provided during his brief stay in the small village of Daphni. One resident inferred that all the religion on the peninsula was just so much bunkum. Fermor demurred.

Fermor went on to live for many years in Greece, and wrote a number of books on the country, one of which was mentioned above. I'm sure I'll be reading them in the future. For volume three of the long walk, successfully completed, 5-stars, plus.

The Virgin and the Gipsy
The Virgin and the Gipsy
by D. H. Lawrence
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.26
140 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Her will was lost in him..., July 18, 2014
D.H. Lawrence's remains are here in New Mexico, on his former ranch that the University of New Mexico refuses to maintain. The most likely story is that his ashes were "vitrified," that is, place in a large glass slab by his wife, Frieda, to whom this book is dedicated. UNM's position is that "no one reads Lawrence anymore" and besides, we have to have enough money to pay our (losing) football coach more than a million bucks a year. Ah, priorities. Admittedly the reviews on this book at Amazon are not numerous, and we can only "revive" him one read at a time. I recently re-read The Rainbow: Cambridge Lawrence Edition (Penguin Classics), and realized how much I had missed the first time around. And before I tackle the lengthy Sons and Lovers (Wordsworth Classics) (Wadsworth Collection), thought a concise novella might be in order.

And I was not disappointed. Other reviewers have said that this novella is a "distillation" of themes expressed in his longer works, and I believe that is essential true. There is the dreary boredom of provincial English village life compounded by an unhappy and dysfunctional family that transcends three generations. The "Queen Bee" as it were, is "Granny" or "Mater," ugly and obese, who lords (ladies?) it over the other two generations. Her two immediate children are the somewhat non-believing rector and the very unhappy Cissie, who, from time immemorial, has been the "dutiful" daughter who has had to sacrifice her own happiness, and aspirations in life, in order to take care of her parents. The rector has two daughters, Lucille and Yvette, 20 and 19, who have part of their mother's genes in them (her mother had abandoned the rector and her two young children, to take off with a lover). The two daughters dream of escape from the boredom and unhappiness of home life, as so many others have, also from time immemorial. Like Picasso, who could draw an entire picture with 13 or so lines, Lawrence deftly draws his own scathing portrait of this family situation with a few well-chosen sentences.

Enter the Gipsy. Tall, dark, exotic. The strong Ying and Yang elements are at play. Borrow a little from Greek drama, and have a "prophesy" from a fortune told. The Gipsy is more than just a "hunk," though, as Lawrence provides some background that demonstrates some character, which might be useful in the end. It is inevitable, right? Well, Lawrence pulls a brilliant "seduction interruptus," and prolongs the action, as it were. And when I am in the climatic phase of the book, I go, wait a minute... I've been here before. Certainly not in these particulars, but I have seen the movie!! The Virgin And The Gypsy [DVD] [1975]. Almost forty years ago, and I had forgotten it, but it is hard to forget completely such a dramatic ending. I dare say that normally women initiate (or are initiated) into the art of love-making in far less traumatic circumstances.

This work would be an excellent introduction to Lawrence, for those who have yet to read him. 5-stars.

UPDATE: I'd like to think that the administration at UNM's ears were burning, but they apparently have re-opened the Lawrence ranch BEFORE I posted this review. Currently, it is open on a limited basis, three days a week, commencing with the beginning of July, through October.

Sherpani Soleil Ultralight Tote Bag, Black, One Size
Sherpani Soleil Ultralight Tote Bag, Black, One Size

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Versatile and strong..., July 16, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
When I was offered this tote bag through the Vine program, I knew it would be the perfect bag for my daughter, who likes to carry around a few hundred "indispensable things" with her. Accordingly, she assisted me in this review, and I find her insights essential.

The bag has two comfortable, yet sturdy, hand grips (that are not removable) to make this into a handbag. There is a wide shoulder strap that can be tucked into a pocket or removed altogether from the metal rings. Her favorite feature is the straps on the back of the bag, making it into a backpack! The straps are lightly padded and adjustable. They can also be removed at the bottom so the straps can be tucked into a large, flat pocket on the back of the bag. She loves the fact that the bag is cute enough to be a purse, but when you are concerned about your back and posture, you can easily make it into a backpack

The pockets on the bag are a separate subject unto themselves, and she thought there could never be enough pockets. If a purse/backpack doesn't have enough pockets, everything tends to jumble together in a big mess in the center pocket making it impossible to find anything. Not so with this bag. Here is a list of all the pockets:

-One large front pocket with another smaller pocket on top of it that zips.

-Two deep side pockets, one on either side--think: perfect for thermoses!

-One huge back pocket that buttons with one center magnetic button and another large back pocket on top of the huge pocket.

So, on the outside alone, there are SIX pockets!

Then on the inside there are

-Two more shallow side pockets (think water bottle size) on either side of the inside

-One large pocket that spans the width of the back of the purse/backpack

-And across from that another pocket, same width, that has been sewn into three main sections:

--one that is meant for pens (two such pockets of that size)

--another that looks like it could be for a cell phone

--and another that is slightly wider than the cell phone pocket

Finally the large pocket that is the inside itself has a zipper so you don't need to worry about anything falling out.

Finally, the black color is stylish, and adaptable for many situations.

I tested the sturdiness, and suspect that she will have many, many years of use from it. 5-stars.

The Odyssey
The Odyssey
by Barry B. Powell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.19
57 used & new from $14.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly accessible..., July 14, 2014
This review is from: The Odyssey (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This was one of those "school assignment" books that I was glad was never assigned to me, though I was "required" to read portions of The Iliad (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition), "way back when." Fragments of this story permeate our culture, from expressions like "rosy-fingered dawn," to metaphors like "sirens" calling us to our doom. A car company has named one of its models after this book, and one would assume hopes that the potential customer only associates it with long journeys, and forgets all the unpleasantness that the hero, Odysseus, experienced. One of the central themes is a recurrent one: soldiers coming home from wars are often not well-received by the stay-at-home folks, and, to recall another metaphor, although no hippie spat on Odysseus when he went through the San Francisco airport (for some rather obvious reasons) much other ill-fortune did befall him.

When this book was offered to me by the Vine program, I decided it was decades overdue for me to place all those free-floating allusions into the proper context, by actually reading the story. Barry B. Powell, who is now retired in nearby Santa Fe, "knew his story well," having taught the Classics at the University of Wisconsin for over three decades. In his introduction he addresses the question of whether another translation of this work is really needed. And I think it answers it well and appropriately. Dactylic hexameter? Well, I hadn't heard of it either, but this is the complex meter that Homer composed in. Replicate that in English? Powell seems to have provided an English version that gives the reader a sense of rhythm, while at the same time eschewing both the archaically rigid and the cool-with-it-hip. The Golden Mean, a suitable format for reading the classics. Powell also provides a couple other essential "pluses" to his version of the Odyssey. There are some excellent maps of the region, to different scales, including one of the home of Odyssey, so the action can be more readily traced. And there are 50 or so full page black and white photos of the ancient depictions of this story, primarily on pottery and in sculpture. There is even a picture of Heinrich Schliemann's wife, wearing the "Jewels of Troy." He was the original excavator who located the site of this ancient city, thereby confirming at least part of the truth to the story.

The 30-page introduction should be worth the price of the book alone. In general, I knew that the Trojan War occurred around the 12th century BC, and that Homer's composed his work four centuries later. Powell informed me that the intervening four centuries were a kind of "dark age" for the Greeks, and the 12th century BC was held by those in the 8th century BC as a type of "heroic past." The most astonishing idea that Powell posits is that the Greek alphabet was formulated especially to transcribe Homer's two classic works. Writing itself, other than that for "bookkeeping purposes" did not exist prior to Homer's works, which is why writing itself is never mention in his tales. Powell brings out the contrasting nature of archetypical wives when husbands are away at war. Penelope faithfully awaited the return of Odysseus, whereas Klytaimnestra, and her lover killed Agamemnon when he returned.

The story itself commences with another archetype, the faithful and dutiful son, Telemachos. And right from the beginning there are the "suitors" of Penelope, in, Odysseus's house, eating and drinking his wealth - a classical form of war profiteers, and they are seeking her "hand", and probably a bit more. The "gods" will take human forms, and be arbitrary and capricious in playing favorites among the humans. As in most Greek dramas, prophecies play a significant role, and the character's "fate" often fulfills the "plans" of the gods. In his travels, Odysseus visits Phoenicia, Calypso, and many other locales, as well as the "underworld" and he meets some of those who died at Troy. The climatic portion of Homer's story is when Odysseus finally returns home, assesses the situation in disguise, with the suitors, and renders justice the old fashioned way, sans court proceedings.

Homer is as far back as Western literature goes. It is the "fountainhead" of Western culture and civilization, involving those who lived around our "mother sea," the Mediterranean. Conforming to the dictates of "dactylic hexameter," Homer would refer to the Med as the "wine-dark seas." It would be a pleasure to go "home" and swim in them again. The Odyssey is one more inspiration, and for Powell's efforts in making it accessible to us all, 5-stars.

Passage to Vietnam: Through the Eyes of Seventy Photographers
Passage to Vietnam: Through the Eyes of Seventy Photographers
by Rick Smolan
Edition: Hardcover
95 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Game Changer..., July 11, 2014
Rick Smolan is famous for his “Day in the Life of...” photography books in which he seeks to capture the essence of a country or an American state via the photographer’s “eye.” His books are often dubbed “coffee table” books, and hopefully in the best sense – since you want to pick them up for time to time, to revisit pictorial favorites, and / or to spot something that you missed the first time. This work was perhaps his most ambitious project ever. It is the work of 70 photographers. From start to finish, it took four months – surly of some 16 hour days. The logistics must have been mindboggling. On the last page he gave some insight into what was involved. He used state-of-the-art computer software for the scheduling and handling of the photographs. He even produced a CD ROM (which I possess) in conjunction with the book. For 1994, it was very “cutting edge,” and I love the name of his publishing company, which aptly captures the spirit of this and no doubt other projects: “Against All Odds.”

After almost two decades of relative isolation, following the end of the American War in Vietnam, the United States lifted it economic embargo against the country in January, 1994. I was in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) when it was announced. Smolan realized this was one of those once in a lifetime projects, and quickly mobilized. He needed money, obviously, to “front-end” this, and arranged corporate sponsorship, credit for which is prominent at the beginning of the book. He says nothing about the arrangements he made with the Vietnamese in order to let 70 photographers roam their country (the first wave of Western visitors started around 1990; most of them in the 90-94 era were subjected to “minders” and “permits” to control their movements). It appeared that the photographers travelled unrestricted. Seventy photographers was a massive amount of “firepower,” but was critical to capturing the soul of a country in a very short period of time, before it would be overwhelmed by economic development and globalization. For perspective, consider: In January, 1995, in Sapa, in the far north, I slept in the only hotel in the village, for $15 a night, in a bed damp with the fog and mist (the famous “krachin.”) In 1990, there was a 5-star hotel in the village, with tennis courts. Smolan’s photographers captured the country that was much like it was in the 1960’s, or even the 1930’s.

The photographs are superb – no “snapshot” clunkers. And the editorial selection is likewise excellent. Overwhelmingly, it is focused on the daily life of the Vietnamese. It is difficult to select particular ones for recognitions; nonetheless, a few compelling ones are: p. 178-79, the concentration of the players in a women’s soccer game, being played in the rain; the work involved in collecting salt, p. 78-79, and the spindly crosswalks reach in the Mekong Delta, p.22-23. A couple scenes of transition: Russian women riding around in rickshaws (they would be largely gone in a couple years), and a young “wheeler-dealer,” cell phone in hand, leaning on his spiffy gold 1930 Citreon. There is a map in the back that indicates where all the pictures were taken, and if there was one area that was “short-changed,” it was the Central Highlands, which were of particular interest to me. Nonetheless, the sole picture which was published from there was a “keeper,”- a Montagnard house, the ones on stilts, in the krachin. The legacy of the wars that the Vietnamese have fought was suitably represented, including the continued damage caused by Agent Orange.

And now, if you are not happy with the tennis courts at Sapa, you can stay at a $750 a night boutique hotel in Nha Trang, with, one would assume, all the amenities. Smolan’s project captured the country, just as the “game” was changing. 5-stars, plus.

Menschen des Sowjetlandes. Werke sowjetischer Maler der 60er bis 80er Jahre
Menschen des Sowjetlandes. Werke sowjetischer Maler der 60er bis 80er Jahre
by Wladimir Lenjaschin
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars People of the Soviet Lands..., July 9, 2014
This is a collection of some 150 paintings from the Soviet Union, when it was so named, from the 1960's to the 1980's. It is anomalous in a number of ways. First of all, it is entirely in German, and was published "only" 40 years after what the Soviets called "The Great Patriot War" against Germany, that is, World War II to most of the rest of us, ended. It is a war in which the Soviet Union sustained 20 million killed, so one must wonder why the only language was German. A second seemingly anomalous point is that the only five words of English in the book: "Printed and bound in Finland." It was like an open admission that, even though it had "superpower" status at the time, it lacked the facilities to print such a high quality, glossy, picture book within their country. And a third anomalous point is that I purchased this book for around $3, new, on Arbat Street in Moscow, in 1990, thanks to wonderful state subsidies., which gloriously distorted purportedly "free market" prices. Even at the time, it had to be a $50 value. I don't read German, alas, so the 15 or so page introduction was "lost" on me, but the reproduction of the paintings remain.

And so, what of the pictures. Overall, I like them, even though numerous are kitschy "socialist realism." A few, "over the top," so. The "heroic" workers, delighting in their labors. Pastoral scenes, including those of the workers bringing in the crops. And naturally there is the "heroic" party leadership, striving forward, but maintaining a touch with the "common man" (kissing the babies, figuratively, as their counterparts in the West do literally.) Overall, most people are happy, or, at least reflective, and the only sorrow comes from the call of war. The first plate sets one of the themes. It is Comrade Lenin himself, smartly suited, boldly striving forward, leading the men. Anomalies? Yes, the title to this painting: "Des Fuhrer des Proletariants." The second painting shows a determined worker picking up the red flag, from a worker who had obviously been gunned down in a demonstration.

What's missing? Two things struck me. Only Lenin is depicted boldly, in terms of leadership. Stalin, Khrushchev are omitted. As is snow! This is Russia, after all, and at most, 3-5% of the paintings have snow. Other paintings show the influence of Western painters, and I was particularly struck by ones that reminded me of Winslow Homer, painted by Tkatschow, on page 140, which are kids at the seashore. Others showed the influence of the Impressionists, and one seems to be a take-off on Christ being taken down from the Cross; in the particular case it was two partisans who were being taken down after being hanged by the Nazi. As the painting on the cover proclaims, it is not all nostalgia. Several are of Cosmonauts. Perhaps the most bizarre was the two page spread, page 131-132, of 14 Cosmonauts, all in either heroic or grinning poses, in form fitting space suits, which included one enhancing a tight posterior. Lawdy.

It is the sort of book that I enjoy browsing through from time to time, with much still available to find, and consider. Overall, 4-stars.

Conversorum: 200 Conversation Topics to Twitch Those Curious Minds
Conversorum: 200 Conversation Topics to Twitch Those Curious Minds
by Larivel Dravidayahn
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectually stimulating..., July 7, 2014
Larivel Dravidayahn has produced what he calls is a "coffee-table" book, and swears that he will never go the e-book route with it. And that's OK, though I think he is needless cutting himself out of a growing market. But, as he says: "...this author wishes to express his desire for the readership of this book to be ideally those splendid individuals who shun unnecessary digitalization, preferring to hold and caress the beloved paper book rather than those ghastly unromantic digital mediums." So be it.

And it is an excellent book, well-produced, and worthy of a page caress or two. At one level it is highly provocative; at another, he has simply formulated questions concerning topics that many thoughtful members of society, clearly a serious minority, have considered. And there are almost certainly questions that even thoughtful members of society have never considered. He has arranged these in eight chapters, (A to H), in rising difficulty in terms of complexity. He lays out the background to the query, has a section of facts and examples, and gives for and against arguments. He also utilizes numerous pictures, mostly drawn from old movies, to provide some humorous "conceptualization."

Query A-17 "drew me in," as the expression has it, and struck the nerve of recent experience. I had to deal with a couple of computer "viruses," one on my home computer, one on my website, and it did strike me that the persons responsible were quite possibly the people I was paying to remove them, which is essentially what Dravidayahn posits. Another one that resonated was B-4. If the drug companies could market a permanent cure for a disease, would they, given the "steady revenue stream" available to them by providing a medication that must be consumed daily? Or, one that does get slight play in the media now, B-6: A proposed modification to the second amendment of the US Constitution: "Being necessary to the peaceful harmony of a free state, the right of the people to be free from gun-wielding maniacs, shall not be infringed." Throughout the book he provides an amalgam of the tongue-in-cheek and in-your-face style. In classifying humans, under the category "Layabouts" he has "Poets, Artists, Writers, Socialites and Housewives." "Undistinguished professionals" are "Defense Lawyers, Politicians, Evangelists, Estate Agents and Bankers."

I was startled by F7, and that link between the Vietnam War and the long fought rebellion by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. I would ponder why the North Vietnamese military leadership would spend so much effort and lives trying to disrupt American supply lines in remote places, whereas if they hit the "head of the snake," as they did during the Tet offensive of 1968, getting inside the American Embassy compound, it would be so much more beneficial to their war aims. And Dravidayahn argues much the same, with even graphics of the "Hierarchy of Authority and the "Assassination Strategy," in Sri Lanka. For another question, he posits that the UN should have the authority to assassinate corrupt leaders (ah, where do we stop, with that one?). He also raises a query about overpopulation, and what would be the legitimate methods for dealing with it. Another personal favorite concern: H-13, "When the cost-cutting incentives (such as cheap labo(u)r) from `outsourcing' inevitably erode away, will Western corporations ever be in a position to be able to reverse and reinstate their business/knowledge/skills locally?

The above are a few favorite examples. The queries are across a broad range of human endeavor, and are indexed as follows: Business and Money, Career and Education, Conspiracy Theories, Crime and Deceit, Environment and Nature, Film and Entertainment, Government and Leadership, History, Law and Order, Left Field, Modern Technology, People and Places, Religion and Beliefs, Science and Medicine, Sports and Culture, The Supernatural, and War and Peace.

An excellent thought-provoking book that could provide the grist for many a dinner-time, or even backpacking, conversation. 5-stars.

River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny
River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny
by Jeffrey Tayler
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.46
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Lena..., July 4, 2014
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Thanks to a fellow Amazon reviewer, I was introduced to the works of Jeffrey Tayler, first reading his excellent account of a journey across the Sahel portion of Africa, through some of the world's poorest countries. Today a prudent person - yes, even Jeffrey Tayler - would not undertake that journey, due to the dangers involved from religious fundamentalists who are willing to see a "soft target" in the personage of a lone, foreign, inquisitive traveler. That account is suitably titled Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel. I checked Tayler's other works, and knew this would be the next. I was immediately reminded of Eric Sevareid, the TV news commentator's account of his canoe trip from Minneapolis to York Factory, Hudson Bay, in part, down "God's River," during the Great Depression, which is entitled Canoeing with the Cree. Severeid had just graduated from high school, 18 at the time; Tayler was (hopefully) at mid-life, 43.

The Lena River is in Siberia, with its headwaters near Lake Baikal, and it flows north, to the Arctic Ocean. Tayler travelled almost all of it, some 2,400 miles, from Ust Kut to Tiksi on the Laptev Sea, a portion of the Arctic Ocean. Naturally his journey was in the summer, or what passes for it in the Arctic region, and on occasions it was hot, with temperatures above 90 F. Though contacts, Tayler made arrangements for Vadim to be his guide. Vadim is the Russian equivalent of a "troubled-Vietnam-War-veteran," with his "Vietnam" being, of course, Afghanistan. He has turned his back on the so-called civilized world, and seeks solace in the natural world, the more rugged and isolated, the better. He, too, was very cynical when it came to the military's efforts to give him "medals." There are frictions between the two, as would be expected on such a journey, but somehow I thought Tayler underestimated how very lucky he was to have Vadim as his guide.

Certainly for me, and I suspect most of us, the Lena River, and its course through the newly-named "Republic of Sakha" is an enormous "blank spot" on my mental geographic map. Tayler did a superlative job of filling in the blanks, starting with an appropriate epigram from Leo Tolstoy: "The Cossacks created Russia." They were the ones who helped fulfill the role of providing a Russian version of "Manifest Destiny" by initially settling these remote and harsh regions, subduing the indigenous people. Subsequently, Siberia was a place of exile, as well as forced labor, and all sorts of people washed up on the banks of the Lena, from Polish nobility, to German residents of the Soviet Union, who accepted the invitation of Catherine the Great to those Russians who "crossed" Stalin, not a small number.

Along Tayler's trip, whenever they stopped near a village, Vadim seemed to be content to stay with the boat, and enjoy the solitude. Tayler would explore the village, sometimes utilizing advanced contacts. His experiences overall were flat dreary or worse. Alcoholism dominated the entire river, with few exceptions, leading to a declining population. "Nothing to do" for the youths, except to find "refuge" in the bottle. Despite America's own bad experience, it was enough to make you re-think Prohibition. Some villages had been completely abandoned. Tayler has an "eye" for the ethnographic, noting how the Russians, and other European exiles, like the Germans interacted with the Yakuts, who themselves had pushed out of the way earlier inhabitants, like the Evenk. Tayler finds a maddening fatalism among the people along the river. Clearly, the "magic of the market place" did not bring a better world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and he encounters a fair amount of nostalgia for that earlier era. In one summation, Tayler says: "The very faith the Soviets had tried to extirpate had induced in him a docility that had him praying for his tormentors souls. I sat back, frustrated, beyond pity." In contrast, very occasionally, he experiences "pride," and he italicizes it, for example in the Evenk village of Sikhyakh, high above the Arctic Circle.

Tayler claims that shaman religious practices originated in the "pillars" north of Yakutsk. And there are many other interesting nuggets of information that he provides from this blank spot on the map. One that would keep me away: of the natural annoyances, he places the infamous arctic mosquitoes in third place (!) behind the midges and the horseflies.

Tayler is married to a Russian, and is fluent in the language, which provides much additional insight. His account is richly informative, and very well-written. Most likely, I'll see what he has to say about the Congo. For this account, 5-stars, plus.

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