COMMITTED: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir – by DAN MATHEWS

This joy ride of a book was delivered to me through my local library as I was really looking forward to a good animal rights activism book. Recently, I saw HBO’s look at PETA’s president Ingrid Newkirk which I found deeply interesting from an activist’s point of view. I still think PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)is way more engaging than any other animal rights group on the planet! Everybody seems… well… too mainstream and too compromising. You can’t compromise with lives! I like action. So reading Dan Mathew’s personal account of his life as Vice-President of PETA, as a Gay man and just simply a guy was soooo refreshing and fun at the same time.

I couldn’t help but relate to Dan tremendously not because he is Gay but because a lot of his struggles hit home. His childhood particularly felt very much like mine as I was usually bullied by others (for being « weird ». I still wonder what was « weird » about me!). I guess Dan and I share a lot in common. He almost feels like the friend I wish I had in High School (Unlike him, I didn’t even have one – Pathetic!), We share a lot in common. I went through a phase of sexual identity crisis (it’s not over yet) and found myself migrating through the pain of others. And just like him, I embraced the animal rights cause and went from being a meat eater to Vegetarian and finally Vegan.

Dan Mathew’s story is very inspiring and I understand how he was able to make it to the top of PETA’s fight for animals alongside Ingrid Newkirk. I read his book in a just a few days (I’m usually slower) and loved each pages. It’s a lot of fun to find out how he got Calvin Klein to go fur-free, or how he got the likes of Nina Hagen, Chrissie Hynde (of The Pretenders) and Pamela Anderson to really even more around PETA’s cause. He also makes a good case for Veganism without trying to preach for anybody not there yet.

So, yes it is a good read. It’s entertaining and the man certainly has bravado. But more than that, it made me want to join a few naked protests!

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10/29/2013 update about this post: I am amazed at how much my own position on PETA and their sexist campaigns has changed. I didn’t have an understanding about patriarchal sexist thinking and still didn’t understand feminism either, even thought I thought I identify as one. It took reading The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams to radically make me see the light. Also, since, I have learned about how PETA kills healthy companion animals. I also don’t think they are even « radical » any more. But at the time of writing, PETA was about the only frame of reference. Other than that, I still think that this book is a good read on various levels and it gives us a good look inside PETA’s thinking.

LADY OF CONQUEST By Teresa Medeiros

I don’t know if Teresa Medeiros has many books like this one, but if it is the case I want to find them all. I had a little difficulty to plunge into the story’s historical context of old Ireland but once I was into it, it was a page turner. If Conn of the Hundred Battles is sexy, Gelina O’ Monaghan is ruthless and brave. These two would make « Dynasty » look like the Hillbillies. I had such a great time following their passion/battles that I simply could not put the book down.

What attracted me to this story was that it really was filled with twists and turns. Boy, every two pages, these two either fight or have passionate sex. There is also more than meet the eyes and Conn’s or Gelina’s personal background has surprises in store. I do think that Gelina is fit for a king and she really finds a match in Conn. One minute, he can be a horrible person to her and the next, he’s worshipping her. This was well written and I could buy it.

Also, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the author tried (and succeeded) in making secondary characters important as well. Everyone’s favorite would be Nimbus, the Court Jester, who bonds with Gelina right away. They become fast friends and he is the one who really knows what’s happening between these two fighters. He is also funny and wise and I got really attached to this character all along. Some of the other secondary characters are also notable like Gelina’s awful brother.
Overhall, this is quite a thrilling novel. Part romance, part adventure, part fantasy, part myths. I loved it.

ARMED MADHOUSE – by GREG PALAST

From Baghdad to New Orleans – Sordid Secrets & Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild (With new chapter! The Scheme to Swipe 2008)

If you don’t know who Greg Palast is yet, maybe it’s time you read one of his books. Greg Palast is the man who blew the whistle on the voter purge in Florida in 2000 and reported it on BBC TV since the US Corporate media would not touch it.

In this updated version of his bestseller, not only does he go into details about the obviously stolen elections of 2000 and 2004, he also issues a big warning about the 2008 election and how the GOP is going to try to steal it again. If you want to know the tactics, Greg Palast gives you an impressive list of facts on the 2000 and 2004 fraudulent election tactics against minority voters and he talks extensively about the « class wars » on the American people used by the rich class to disenfranchise the poor voters.This book is downright scary but we all know now that it is true. It reads like a Mickey Spilane thriller where the detective shows you his clues and facts on the bad guys in the White House and the ones who helped them get there.

He also talks about Katrina and how the Bush administration shamelessly refused help from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and the privatization of FEMA. He shows how low this administration will go to continue its class war against the poor.

But Greg Palast also offers ways to fight back and that is the reason that, after so many questions from readers, he added a new chapter to his book. This book will enrage you, amuse you (funny at times) and if it doesn’t awaken the activist in you, nothing will. Highly recommended!


MARITAL PRIVILEGE by Ann Voss Peterson

I kind of missed reading some romances recently being into politics. So I picked up this book through a Bookcrossing search at Velocity Cafe in Santa Monica (not to advertise, but…) and started reading to kill time.
This is sooooo not a favorite romance of mine. The story is interesting enough to keep you going but it bears on the boring once in a while. There are however a few moments when it gets gripping.

Alec and Laura Martin are happily married and expecting a baby boy until the Russian mafia led by Alec’s dad decides they want revenge on him. Alec turns out to be a Federal protected witness whose real name is Nikolai Stanislov and who turned his father in for murder 10 years before. Laura feels betrayed by Alec/Nika because he has never told her the truth about himself. Now, the story in itself isn’t a bad start and you would expect lots of action. And there is some. First Alec tries to save people in his wife’s restaurant after his father’s gang killed all the employees, then he saves Laura from his father’s thugs (who also want her for the baby she is expecting) and then he flees with her to escape the mafia and tries to contact old acquaintances to find help.

So there is some action in there. However, the plot lacks passion. The relationship between Alec and Laura is slightly boring and the lack of passion between them (except for the sole steamy inevitable sex scene) doesn’t help the story. I have read other stories of the « intrigue » series that really kept you turning pages like crazy. This one isn’t one of them. Read it for the time it kills, that’s about it. I was disappointed.

GIVING – How Each of Us Can Change The World – By BILL CLINTON

Former President Bill Clinton has certainly been in the news lately thanks to the presidential campaign of his wife Hillary. However, he has been very busy himself as this book denotes. I picked it up out of curiosity and with some excitement at what the man could say about making a difference.

I was a little disappointed. Granted, he gives a LOT of examples on how we can make a difference in this world but it did feel like a shopping list of charities. On the other hand, I did find a few organizations I didn’t know existed (like Kiva.org which I highly recommend as well). So it seems that Mr. Clinton is going crazy with generous work.
Now, one wonders why this recent need to help the world through his Foundation. I read the book with interest for the work being done. He talks about big givers like Bill & Melinda Gates but also much more modest individuals (on a smaller scale). This book seems more like a sponsorship for Mr. Clinton’s corporate buddies.

Are these corporate people all feeling guilty for impoverishing the world in the first place? And this is where I have a PROBLEM with this book. Nowhere does it talk about the effects of NAFTA, CAFTA, etc… and how these « generous » rich people and Mr. Clinton (WHO SIGNED NAFTA!) helped making the world a worse place before deciding to « redeem » themselves. This book bothered me in the sense that it felt somehow hypocrite. On the one hand, it talks about people who may  have exploited workers all over the world (sweatshops, prison workers), and on the other hand it wants to make the case for corporate generosity. Why not doing the opposite? Start by being a CORPORATELY RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS in the first place, for the environment and your employees!

This book is interesting but, because of all the above, it really bothered me and somehow angered me also! I wish Mr. Clinton (like his wife with the Iraq war) would recognize his mistakes (about Nafta) and admit them. Until then, I am not buying it!

 

© Copyright Jan 2008 – All Rights Reserved.

SCREWED – The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About it – THOM HARTMANN

I had barely finished « What Would Jefferson do? » that  I hurried to buy « Screwed » as I kept hearing it on Thom Hartmann’s radio program. And then I heard he was also coming to Santa Monica, CA with his upcoming book « Cracking the Code » (which I will review in a little bit).
Not only his this book (so far) my favovite but it also contains a foreword by Mark Crispin Miller and an afterword by Greg Palast!!! Talk about endorsement.
So here is Thom Hartmann again defending the Middle Class of America and doing it with bravado. His knowledge of our democracy (as brilliantly demonstrated in What Would Jefferson do?) is here put into demonstration in each of the chapters of this book. My favorite chapter concerns Thomas Paine against the Freeloaders. Paine was such a wonderful progressive character who needs to be REALLY rescued from obscurity. Also, it contains one of my favorite « to the point » paragraphs of the book: « Most Americans [] don’t realize that a middle class is created and maintained by direct intervention in the marketplace by a democratic government, including laws protecting labor, defining minimum wage, and taxing great wealth. Without these progressive laws, America would revert to what it looked like during the Robber Baron Era – the average worker earning the equivalent of around $10,000 a year in today’s dollars and a wealthy elite so rich and powerful that every branch of government was under its direct and indirect control ».

The scary part is that this is where WE ARE again!. And the author proves it.
The other big chapter of the book is the one about Healthcare in America and is reminiscent of what Michael Moore has showed in his movie Sicko as well. The United States is STILL the only western industrialized nation without Universal Healthcare and it ranks so low in its healthcare quality that some third world country seem to actually do better.

I loved this book and I wish I had the space to talk about it more. Also, I tremendously enjoyed seeing and talking to Mr. Hartmann when he came at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica, CA on November 29, 2007. He is a wonderful speaker (and his radio show is testament to that) and his knowledge of current politics, psychology and the crisis facing this country is impressive. I recommend this book and his author’s radio show for anybody interesting in the state of country.

The Assault on Reason by AL GORE

By the time I had finished this book, Al Gore not only did Live Earth but also got the NOBEL price. Wow! the man surely gets recognition. And it’s no wonder. His last book « The Assault on Reason » is a nice attack on our current administration as well as a reminder that a lot of things are wrong in this country.

I was mostly taken by the chapter on the power of television and its manipulative side. Gore explains things in a very interesting way and backs it with scientific studies. I was happy to note that, finally, somebody takes a stand against this powerful media’s distorting effect. The point Al Gore is making is that television has changed millions of people into passive sheeps who have lost any critical reasoning and will accept any kind of propaganda they are being served. The fact that this nation has become so apathetic to what the Bush administration is doing should be a clue. The fact that they are still Americans who want to connect Saddam Hussein with Osama Bin Laden because they been fed this false information for the last few years, should be another clue.

Another interesting point of the book is his discussion on the « check and balance » of our constitution and trying to understand why this administration is getting away with it. Of course, we have seen above the brainwashing of television on the general population. Next, we have a growing tendency towards theocracy and the loss of separation between church and state the way the Founders wanted it. Gore argues that this administration has blurred the line between the two. And he is right. Never in the history of this country have we seen such a threat of growing Christian right extremism on our nation’s policies. Add that to the powers of multinational corporations, and you have fascism (that is my own personal conclusion). Al Gore quotes John Adams: « The United States is not a Christian nation any more that it is a Jewish or Mohammedan Nation. » He notes that our media is made up of « propagandists pretending to be journalists.[…] call it the Limbaugh-Hannity-Drudge axis. » And he also shows how this extremism filled media and its appointed politicians manage to sink in into people’s private lives (he recalls the Terri Schiavo case and others).

But I think the most powerful statement of the book is that this country is turning into a fascist state (fascism = politics + big corporations) and Mr. Gore does a great job at deconstructing every aspect.

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STOP GLOBAL WARMING – THE SOLUTION IS YOU! An Activist's Guide – By Laurie DAVID

Laurie David has produced the now two most famous Global Warming Documentaries « Too Hot Not To Handle » for HBO and the Oscar Winner « An Inconvenient Truth » with Al Gore. She is on the Board of the Natural Resources Defense Council and has been an activist for several years. I guess you can say that she is qualified to talk about Global Warming in this book.

This is what I call a beginner’s guide. Or Global Warming for Dummies. Laurie walks you through and explain everything from when she came from on the subject, what it is and how to change that. This little book (only 70 pages) is an easy read but it gives you all the BASICS to understand the most important issue of our time. I was very happy about its user friendly aspect. Plus the book is filled with quotes from famous activist (actors & politicians included) and is an URGENT call to each of us to do something to change our habits in our daily lives. She proves also that it is NOT difficult to make a difference and it doesn’t require living in a hut!

So if you want to tackle the Global Warming issue but are not sure where to start, this book is for you. However, if you been an activist for some time (like me), you won’t learn anything new. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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© Copyright May 2007. All Rights Reserved.

THE COMPLETE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO WICCA AND WITCHCRAFT – Third Edition By Denise Zimmermann and Katherin

I loved how this book made it easy for me to understand and get excited about Wicca. No trick or treat there, just plain recipes for spell success. This is a fun but respectful book about the old religion. I found it refreshing that a « mainstream » book about such a badly known religion gave it a profound meaning. I found everything I needed in there: An explanation of the Sabats, Esbats, potions, spells, rituals, and the why of all these. This is a perfect beginner’s book whether you want to practice as a solitary or if you are planning to join a coven later on. Also, if you are looking to know how to create your book of shadow and to write in Theban magic writing, there is a good explanation on the how to do it. I also liked the rituals and spells that are offered by the author.

However, if you are looking for something a little more advanced, this book is not for you. You might want to look up my other review on this page of the book « Solitary Wicca for Life » as it is more thorough and dwells much deeper into each Wicca traditions and their rituals.

I do recommend this guide to anyone interested in getting a better understand of what Wicca is and for those interested in starting a practice.

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CHARIOTS OF THE GODS by Erich Von Daniken – Memories of the Future – Unsolved Mysteries of the Past

This is the book that started the Ancient Astronauts theory in the 1970’s. If you have never read any book on the subject, I highly recommend that you start with the father of all, this one. It is also illustrated with tons of pictures that show real strange stuff!

Have you ever wondered if an alien species could have intervened in mankind’s past? If you think it is a ridiculous idea, think again. Erich Von Daniken dissects Earth’s mysterious past by trying to understand many unexplained monuments and facts and their incomprehensible meaning in the light of our time. How were the Pyramids built or the statues of Easter Island? How were the maps of Piri Reis ever thought off to show the Earth just like modern astronauts see it from space, centuries before Galileo. The Pyramids, claims the author, could never have been built the way conventional archeologists would like us to believe. It would have taken workers several generations. A lot of ancient texts from varied cultures tell us about ancient Gods (or « Giants ») in flying machines. And there is plenty more.

Erich Von Daniken has wrote a classic that is still absolutely relevant today as formal archeology has not shed more light on the various mysteries of our shared history. Tremendously good and engaging.

 

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© Copyright January 2006. All Rights Reserved.