Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad

A well written , though a truly disturbing book. You'd think the lead protagonist who want's Afghanistan to be great again and who 'heroically braved persecution' to bring books to his people, is such a despicable character that it is difficult to like this book. The book however is not only about Sultan , it's also about his wife (ves) , sisters , sons. Its also about the plight of the women, and it is that more than anything else which is will make you wonder , what is it about men that they torture women so - makes one ashamed sometimes. Sam harris in a debate once said That the people for whom Islam causes the most problems is muslim women, (and its not like other religions, countries treat women better) , but it is probably true that women are treated worst in Islamic fundamentalist regimes. I wonder why they dont rebel. And its worse that even with the taliban kicked out of afghanistan, the women are still treated as objects and possessions. Maybe one day they wont be, i just hope it happens in my lifetime.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Michael Moore is a big fat stupid white man : David Hardy , Jason Clarke

The second right wing book (though the book says dont dismiss it as right wing propaganda) that i've read and atleast its far better written than Coulter's. It seems to be a collection of articles and is therefore a bit repititive in places. It's aim is to prove that michael moore is a hippocrite (probably), lies and misleads folks (maybe) and edits(probably) and doctors the footage(maybe) for his movies.
a lot of the examples provided though seem to be Michael says this, this other person who was present says this, we believe the other person. Or The watch in Charlton heston's house showed 26 inutes elapsed but Michael only hs 6 minutes shown in Bowling for columbine, what was he doing in the not shown footage etc etc. A few are probably true where Michael has been caught (if the evidence provided in the book is true) but that doesnt really come as a surprise.
All in all though this book is pointless.
a. If you are a michael moore fan, this book will probably come across as an attempt to discredit Moore , and you arent going to buy their side of the story.
b. If you are a right wing person, you already know that Michael Moore lies so this book wont tel you anything new.
c. if you are a reasonable person who bother's more about the core issue's that Moore tackles namely
1. Does America have a gun problem (yes)
2. Did G W Bush and co. lie to the public to take them to war (probably yes). And did they have motives other than WMD's and democracy for Iraq(yes)
3. Is Health Care in the USA screwed up (yes)
Then this book doesn't address these issues. Solely that Michael lies and cheats and misleads and rants.
A good balance to moore's work , but not useful in any way

Crooked Little Vein : Warren Ellis

Warren Ellis writes some good comics. Mostly disturbing and horrific but good comics all the same. Sadly it doesnt translate into novel form. There are places where you can recognize the ellis touches, the bits of humor, the disgusting bits, the weird , the outrageous but all in all this book doesnt really go into any detail of its main plot.
A down and out detective is a 'shit magnet' and is hired to trace the alternate consititution of the USA and undertakes a journey through the darkest underbelly of the America and face myriad acts of depravity , some of which are mainstream in the Internet. Though Ellis does have some important points he could have elaborated on to make this book a lot deeper, he settles for cheap shocks and thrills and the end impression is of a shallow book.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them : Al Franken

Its quite interesting comparing this book (exposing the lies told by right wing pundits and republicans) to the one by Ann Coulter. Both have agendas. Both try to expose lies by the other side. Both are probably manipulating data to suit their interpretations. But one books funny and sound a lot more plausible and true and one is just a shrieking hysterical woman ranting at her favorite targets (knowing fully well that she makes her money this way). I guess the above shows that Im fairly liberal in my outlook. But keeping aside the truth of whats written, Al Franken has a much better sense of humor than Ann Coulter and presents his *facts* much better. It was quite satisfying to read him denouncing Ms Ann Coulter. (Hilarious to read his 'She's single and a good christian and he is so happy that she is saving herself for the right guy')
The book begins very well with him providing evidence of catching Ms Coulter, Bill O' Lielly , G W Bush and Dick Cheney in various lies, but halfway through the book he stops that and starts becoming more preachy or pushing his views on us, However there is still a lot of good things to be found in this book . Operation Chickenhawk is hilarious.
But this book also represents whats wrong with the american media in general. Everyone has an agenda and everyone is trying to manipulate you , the reader. No one really wants to presents facts, No one really wants you to judge for yourself (though you will find numerous examples of text that state these are the facts, you choose) and everyone makes money out of it. Which is the bottom line.
Read this book though , if only to find the Ann Coulter and the bullying Bill O' Lielly get theirs.

Fever Pitch : Nick Hornby

A book about Nick's lifelong fascination for Arsenal and a slight diversion for his Cambridge team. Aptly illustrating the British fans fascination for *his* team , the obsessions and the pettiness. It would have helped if I knew which matches hornby is referring to but the account ends at the point that I had just about started watching football. There are flashes of Hornby's humor, but this book has probably little value for someone who isn't an English premier league fan.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Godless - Ann Coulter

This is the first book that Im writing something about even before i've finished reading it.
To put it quite bluntly , it is painful reading this book. Have you ever read the comments section in Rediff ? Or the comments say in slashdot on a controversial topic (or anything involving microsoft). Well the quality of this book is lower than the lowest rated slashdot comments and the rants and abuse are on par with it. I mean honestly , this is what the book comes across as - A lot of poorly written rants , interspersed with insults. The insults are what Ms Coulter believes are the humor part of the book which will only be funny , i guess , if you truly hate the people she is insulting.
I'm probably more liberal , than I am conservative but I call myself neither so I guess this book was not for me.
Right so where to begin. according to Ms coulter , the republicans have all enacted successful policies, the democrats have screwed up everything, and where they havent its because they inherited the good work of the republicans and where the republicans screwed up is because of democratic policies previously enacted(e.g. 9/11 happened because Bill Clinton didnt act on the evidence he had). Umm ok. I guess coming from India , Im more likely to believe that all politicians uniformly screw up what they can and their successes can be attributed to law of averages. That very few(ok none) of them have the people's welfare in mind
Then Ms Coulter who evidently is a good devout christian advocates the death penalty to major crimes (actually anyone who doesnt agree with her). Ok. if questioned about this her answer usually runs something like "Ah but you godless liberals, you'll support abortion. You dont mind killing a hamless innocent baby but you want to protect a multiple murderer rapist!!you $#%$#^%$^%$" Actually no I dont support the death penalty and I dont support abortion either. But i guess Ms coulter is from the Bush school of your either with us or against us.
Then there's a chapter that is so rich in irony. Ms coulter goes after the people the democrats put up to state their case who cant be touched or criticized. e.g. The widows of the people who died in 9/11. The widows / mothers of soldiers who have died in the war. She then proceeds to accuse these women of all sorts of things(like they did it for the publicity, they did it for the money, they took so much pleasure grieving for their husbands deaths) while repeating that nobody is allowed to criticise them. Leading to the obvious inference Ann Coulter = nobody.
And onwards to teachers who according to her are above criticism and nobody is allowed to criticise them or public schools either. So nobody i.e. Ms Coulter, than proceeds to do exactly that criticise public schools, bring out statistics to number of children abused by school teachers v/s number of children abused by priests. Im not sure what she wanted to prove there.
And this is where I have reached and I had to stop because it is truly painful reading this book. Its not even like its well written. I can normally read with viewpoints i disagree with , but this? this is just a hysterical woman ranting. There are very few facts (yes yes I know there are endnotes - Read Al Franken on this), there is lots of opinion, and there is very little by way of solution (or atleast feasible ones).
The sad bit is , these books are bestsellers. And again I cant get over how poorly written this book is. I mean do people buy books just because they agree with someones views and arent really concerned with how good the book is?
Ms coulter evidently knows how to appeal to her audience. Take the school topic for example. Assuming that American kids don't get a good education in a public school, whose fault is it?
The school and the education policies - definitely. The teachers - definitely. The parents - definitely. The American society itself which doesnt put much of an emphasis on education , but more of an emphasis on making it big getting rich - somewhat. The heroes that are worshipped here - Rich billionaires , Rich empty headed blondes, talented actors, talented sportsmen but note the lack of educated folks(you have to be really really rich). All of this ? undoubtedly these and a lot more factors. But Ms coulter knows her audience. The parents and society members who wont take any responsibility - Its easier blaming the public schools is it not?
Abortion / Stem Cell research arent easy topics. The answers are not black and white. In the end all people have are their beliefs. People like Ms Coulter however dont believe that , only their way is right (pun intended) , they are certain everyone else is wrong. To quote Scott Adams - only an idiot can be certain about anything.
I had to balance this by immediately reading Al franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them where he does a far more effective job of demolishing Ann Coulter than I could ever do. And he's funny too. Yep insults sure are funny when you dont like the person they are made against.
One hilarious youtube video (Ann Coulter says Bill Clinton is Gay - this is satire I think) explains why Bill Clinton told Ann he was gay. it seems he needed an explanation as to why he wasnt hitting on her. too funny!
To conclude , shamelessly plagiarising another youtube quote from a law student graduating from university of michigan , referring to ann coulter
"had I known just how lucrative being a bitter and hateful circus freak with a law degree could be , I .. God is my witness I would have come to law school 10 years ago"
Oh and the 4 chapters of evolution. Ms Coulter attacks evolution and brings up fact after fact that evolution cant explain. Even assuming she is accurate, umm thats how science works no theory is perfect and we must always try to improve it. She repeats her contradictory statement that Darwin made that shows that evolution can never be disapproved and how theories that cant be disapproved aren't science and then proceeds to write four chapters trying to disprove evolution. Which is it Ms Coulter? She evidently is of the school of thought that believes that attacking Evolution proves that Intelligent design or Creationism must be correct(a false dichotomy). She repeats Ad Nauseaum how the eye is a piece of wonderful design (it is) and how evolution cant explain it. And I with my minus seven thick glasses think, heck God couldnt you have made a better design? I mean you dont see these people crib about the dual nature of light (waves and particles) and say they want it taught in school's as only a theory and want equal time with the theory of intelligent design of light which was created by a God who said 'Let there be light!' do they?
This book is too shallow and has been written with a set audience in mind. If you believe in truth , fairness, balance, objectivity , theres nothing here for you. If you hate extremist liberals or if you hate extremist right winger's then yes this book's for you.

The Miracle Detective - Randall Sullivan

I took this book from the library because it claimed that both believers and non believers will like this book. That its an objective book. And for the most part, it is. But the title is misleading , it should be The Miracle observer. The story is enthralling and for a curious non believer , it's quite difficult to explain away (assuming ofcourse the phenomena are accurately and honestly described).
The book deals with apparitions of Mother Mary in Medjugorje where Mother Mary makes a series of appearances to six children. A fascinating tale of how the people, the priests, the church react. And in some places , the author loses his objectivity, as he gets involved with the incidents.
The politics within the various factions in christianity are also referred to. As well as the fact that its not just the skeptics who would question the apparitions but also the devout (why would Mother mary show herself in the mountains and not in church?). The church ofcourse cannot say the apparitions are authentic (as it would lose credibility if proved false later) nor can it outright say the apparitions are false.
Reading this book , it was curious that all the people who didnt believe and then saw something that made them change their mind were all christians as some point or the other. Or to put it another way if I saw an apparition Im not likely to directly go for Mother Mary, but all the seers here seem to know it without the apparition telling them that it is so. And while some of the *facts* are such that science has no explanation, its curious that all the tests conducted are things like measuring brain waves or pricking the seers with pins. I would have thought that an easy test would be to ask questions which the seers wouldnt know the answers to, or is not common knowledge (i.e. things that you wont get to see in the bible) e.g. ask the apparition to speak in aramaic or ask questions based on the era christ lived in that is not common knowledge. It's easier to ask questions like which religion is right and get answers of the form there are no differences before God. Having said that , there is no evidence that would make a skeptic believe and there is no evidence that would make the believer disbelieve. Some incidents are red flags though. There is the story of Mother mary telling the seer's secrets , some of which pertain to *bad things* that will happen. And supposedly some bad thing didnt because enough people prayed. Full proof predictions is it not? I can do that. There shall be a great war unless you heed my words! and later if there is - see i told you so and if there isnt - thank god some of youll heeded my words and averted this!
Nonetheless the book is an interesting read.