28 August 2010

75. The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening, 1720-1760: Religious Revival Rouses Americans' Sense of Individual Liberties - Monroe Stearns

I read this book because I wanted to try and get a feel for the place religion was playing in the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War and the writing of the Constitution. What was society like at that time? What were the norms and what were the views of the fringes? If I can understand that it makes it a lot easier to understand what the Constitution's intent was and therefore, if we are following that intent or have gone of on a tangent of manipulation of that Document.

This book told the stories of a number of itinerant preachers in the colonies at that time. They came from Pennsylvania, New England, Virginia, and others. It was not some localized hysterical event worthy of writing off as a one time thing. This "Great Awakening" happened over four decades with numerous players and participants.

"The free and personal religion strengthened the founders of American colonies to brave the perils of the sea and the wilderness in order to worship God as they chose. The spirit of that early religion, however, drained away as prosperity and ease of life came to the colonies. Rituals replaced the old sense of closeness of God to his people; preaching grew cold and stereotyped."

That was prior to the Great Awakening period.

"Then a new group of ministers began to stir the hearts of those impoverished, poorly educated, politically powerless Americans, restoring to them the comfort of a personal spiritual experience which gave them a new sense of dignity, worth, and above all, joy. This restoration of faith, the Great Awakening, aroused Americans to a recognition of an individual man's capacity to be a free person and to an understanding of how spiritual dictatorship can become political tyranny."

Who were these guys?
Theodorus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58)    I am a direct descendent! :-)
George Whitefield (1714-70)
Samuel Davies (1723-61)
Gilbert Tennet (1703-64)
James Davenport (1716-57)
Charles Chauncy (1705-87)

Some of these guys, notably Frelinghuysen, Edwards and Whitefield, were, in my opinion, pretty cool. I think some of the others went a step or two too far.

Yes, I do think the religious beliefs of the day had a lot to do with the wording and intent of the founding of our country.

25 August 2010

74. Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government - Max Barry

This was an outstanding novel written by an Aussie fellow with some attitude.

What happens when a Capitalist society no longer has the Government keeping it in check? In this story the author calls it Capitalizm. This book is written in a world where big corporations are more like governments themselves. International borders are defined by corporate mergers and alliances more than they are by the borders of today.

People are different in this world also. They take the name of the corporation for which they work as their surname. Hence Jennifer Government. Jennifer actually works for the government. Her daughter, Kate, is not named government. She is named Mattel. Why? Her school is sponsored by Mattel, of course.

There are characters named Hack Nike, John Nike, Buy Matsui, McDonalds, NRA, Burger King, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and every other company you could think of.

I found it very interesting how the NRA itself becomes a major player in the world as not so much a company, but as a security force. Kind of like BlackWater. The thing is that these guys have fighter jets, naval ships, and forces comparable to modern day military. They are able to get these things because they are allied with Boeing, Sikorsky, or other current government contractors.

The government still exists, but has serious limits to its powers. For instance, before Jennifer is able to investigate the murders of fourteen children as a publicity stunt by the Nike marketing department...she has to go to the victims families to raise the funds needed to do the investigation. There are no taxes and therefore no government funds to use for this purpose, or any other. Needless to say, this puts the ultra-rich corporations at a tremendous advantage.

The corporations have no fear of government at all. They eventually align into two groups of competitors trying to bring in customers. These two groups end up in a full out battle with missles and guns and all that stuff. They all get together in London with the government (President, etc) in London at Parliament. The groups make a declaration that government no longer exists and has no authority over them. Then the groups shoot down the government airplane as it flies back to Washington DC. There essentially is no government.

Well, eventually, after much action and manipulation, some of the corporations realize that anarchy is not what is best for the corporate environment and that they need some government. The world calms down and the story ends.

But, none of that is what the story is about really. It is about Jennifer, her daughter, the Nike Liaison (John) she is hunting down as a criminal, Billy NRA and his adventures, Hack Nike and Buy Matsui trying to work their way up the corporate ladder along with Violet, an unemployed entrepreneur, and Claire, a radical protestor, are sisters. All of them get caught up in a more than they bargained for.

And yes, Jennifer got a barcode tattoo under her left eye. Until the very last few pages I was wondering why and what it meant. It is kind of funny once you find out what it was for. :-)

Jennifer Government was a fascinating story that was fun to read. I liked it a lot. More Max Barry please. Syrup and Company are already on the list. Machine Man should be out soon.

FYI…Max Barry has also designed a website where you can run your own country. It is kind of interesting. I started goofing around with it about a week ago. It is called NationStates and is based on the research he did to write Jennifer Government. Check it out. I created “The Free land of Somnambulistic Peoples”. Max even had the United Nations write him a "cease and desist" letter because NationStates was able to accomplish more than they were. LOL

24 August 2010

73. Rules of the Red Rubber Ball

Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life's Work - Kevin Carroll

Blah blah blah motivational sports junk.

If you really want to be superman then don't let anyone or anything get in your way.

Just Do It!

Yeah yeah, sure. Whatever dude.

17 August 2010

72. Ecotopia

Ecotopia - Ernest Callenbach

This novel is about the creation of a better place. Northern California, Oregon and Washington secede from the United States, close the borders, and create an environmental utopia.

Twenty years later the first American is allowed to enter Ecotopia and report how it is going. The man who enters is a reporter and is sent there on a six week assignment. The culture and the whole way of life in Ecotopia is very different than in America.

The book is written as a series of reports sent back to his company and a series of diary entries about his person life while living in Ecotopia. At first there is a definate bias towards how weird the reporter sees the people and the differences between the two countries. As the book progresses this bias shifts.

Ecotopia is a very envoronmentally friendly place, but it is also steeped in the culture that was California, and probably the west coast, of the 1970s. Think the Berkeley mindset. Very liberal ideas and ways of thinking. Add in a strong environmentalist theme. I thought I knew where the author was going with this book long before that was confirmed.

I think some of the ideas were really good, though not scientifically plausable. Biodegradable plastic? Extruded plastic biodegradable homes? Harvesting the methane from your own cesspool to cool your refridgerator (you better poop a lot)? Almost all cars have been eliminated and people use publicly provided bicycles and magnetic trains. The nuclear family has been done away with and a communal/tribal existance is in effect. There are no guns or war and men release their agression in some sport-like war game. The people are all encouraged to show emotion and crowds gather to watch and essentially cheer for the participants of heated exchanges, all to help each other deal with percieved problems. There is only a 20 hour work week because production of anything at all is not very important.

I am sure you get the idea. I don't need to explain all the peace-love-dove that is obviously the influence for so much of this book.

What kept bothering me while reading it was the same thing over and over. When Ecotopia seceded from the United States, where were the problems? Where is the dissent? It never happened. The author wants us to believe that everything was so wonderful that all the residents of esentially a three state area were just happy as pigs in shit to change their entire way of life. I find that to be totally absurd.

The story was pretty cool. I guess as far as the utopia/dystopia novels go, this world wasn't all that bad. I have no idea how we would ever get there, but to just wake up one day and the world was like that? Well, why not?

It was entertaining, though I doubt that is why the book was written. I am sure it was an environmental political statement through fiction. Whatever. It was still pretty decent to just read it and know that the activism part of the writing wasn't feasable and therefore to be discounted. At least for the present day. Maybe some day. Who knows.

12 August 2010

71. Conservatives Without Conscience

Conservatives Without Conscience - John W Dean

This was a very interesting book that explained a lot about some of the problems I have had with conservatism. Mr. Dean explained the different forms of conservatism. I agree with his assesments and his examples of folks that fit each of the different types.

I am definately a traditional conservative and a fiscal conservative.

I am definately not a neo-conservative or an authoritarian conservative.

Social and cultural conservatism is a little harder to hash out. There are issues where I can call myself socially conservative, but I think overall I am far more libertarian in these areas than conservative. I am even leaning towards liberal in some social areas.

But, this book is not about me. It is about the people John Dean says are conservatives but have no conscience. They don't acti like conservatives. They serve their own interests. On that I will agree with him 100%.

This book showed me why, despite my calling myself conservative, I can't stand being associated with some others that call themselves by the same name. I don't like the guys on the following list. I don't like their politics. I don't like thier arrogance. I don't like their condescending ways. I never have, yet still felt they were on the same team I was on. They are not and I am glad this book showed me that.

Guys like Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Jack Abramoff, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney (though I liked him as Sec Def during the 1st gulf War), Alexander Haig, Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Pat Buchanan (thought I loved him on CNN's Crossfire) to name a few. I think these kind of conservatives are full of dookie.

These are the kinds of conservatives that will do anything and everything to further their cause. Not the conservative cause, but their own version of what that means. It hurts the country. It causes division and polarization.

So, for twenty years the right has been dominated by guys like these clowns. This is what people think conservatism is. I feel bad about that. Mr. Dean has a great point in this book when he talks about the motivations behind these types of people and how they just want power and control. They escalate problems in DC and then the left retaliates in kind. This goes back and forth until nobody is listening to the other side and there is absolutely no compromise on any issue.

That is not what the founders of our country had in mind nor what was required for them to agree on a new form of government. They were full of compromise and debated many things. They listened to each other and found ways to make things work and reach the goal. That rarely happens today.

I gained a new-found respect for one of my own Senators. Lindsey O. Graham. I agree with him on a lot of things and then he goes of and does something I find just totally out of charachter for the current definition of a conservative. I did not know why he would do this. Now I do. This man is working to better the country by listening and not being an arse on all matters. Now that I know why he is doing the things he is doing I understand his actions much better and have an even greater respect for his reasoning. The guys like John McCain and Colin Powell (One of the really good guys). I understand them better now. I may not agree with all the things these guys do, but I can understand why they are doing it. Well, except that Powell endorsement of Barack Obama.

I thought this book would be just another left wing rant against the right. I was wrong. I gained a respect for John Dean also. The book was very good and explained his thoughts and ideas in an excellent manner. One where I, the supposed side being attacked, did not feel attacked at all. Rather, it felt like some pieces of the puzzle that I knew were missing due to my own inability to look in the right places were found and handed to me. That allowed me to look at myself in a way I was not able to see before.

Thanks Mr. Dean. But, no, I will not vote for you.  :-)

10 August 2010

70. The Five Thousand Year Leap

The Five Thousand Year Leap: The 28 Great Ideas That Are Changing the World - W. Cleon Skousen

Published in 1981. This one could not possibly be any kind of attack on current government problems. Boy, was I wrong. This millenium has been very bad for our Constitution, but the last one was not all milk and honey either. This book does not attack anything. It simply explains how things were supposed to be done using references to writings and historical documents.

I loved this book. It is all about the founding of our country and the ideas and principles behind its design.

I found the book fascinating and it made me want to look further into some of its claims. I found them to be accurate when I did actually follow through on some that I really wondered about.

Part 1 of the book covers how the structure of our government was created. How it was not created out of thin air, but was a conglomeration of many ideas from the past.

Our law has similatities with Anglo-Saxon common law and with the people's law of Ancient Israel.

It covers how the first "constitution" (The Articles of Cenfederacy) were too close to anarchy. Everyone got back together at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to create the Constitution that we use today.

It covers how the founders combined ideas from people like Polybius, John Locke and Baron Charles de Montesquieu when creating the three branches of government and how they all interact with each other through checks and balances.

The author used an analogy that I found quite interesting. He was trying to show how our government is supposed to remain centrist. They used the symbol for America, the bald eagle, in the example. We all know we have left and right influences within politics. Lets say those are the real left and right wings of the eagle. Left and right together make the eagle fly. If one wing overpowers the other then the eagle will no longer be able to soar. Needless to say, I severely simplified this section of the book.

From there the author went into 28 sections that he called principles. These were the building blocks used by the founders to create the United States of America.
They included chapters called:
a. The Genius of Natural Law
b. The Role of Religion
c. The Role of the Creator
d. All Men Are Created Equal
e. Equal Rights, Not Equal Things
f.  Man's Unalienable Rights
g. Soveriegnty of the People
h. Advantages of a Republic
i. Protection Against Human Frailty
j. Property Rights Essential to Liberty
k. Majority Rule, Minority Rights
l. Government by Law, Not Men
m. Importance of an Educated Electorate
n. Avoiding the Burden of Debt

and many more. They were all quite interesting.

05 August 2010

69. The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky

The Story of My Life: An Afghan Girl on the Other Side of the Sky - Farah Ahmedi

This was an outstanding true life story of a girl born in Afghanistan who ends up in America as a refugee. She saw Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, during the communist rule after the Soviets left, through the warlord days, and when the Taliban came to power. She left Afghanistan and was in Pakistani refugee camps for years and eventually was accepted in an American program to help some refugees with relocation and assistance.

The story is very sad. The life for an Afghan girl was hard enough, but Farah had a problem. When she was eight years old she stepped on a land mine on her way to school. She lost one leg and the other ended up unable to bend at the knee after numerous surguries. After the accident she was evacuated to Germany for many years for surgery and rehabilitation. She was alone all of that time. No family was allowed to travel with her.

Eventually she was able to return to her home only to find it ravaged by war. Her home ended up being destroyed by rocket attacks. Her father and female siblings were all killed in the attack. She only had three brothers and her mother left. The three brothers had to flee to Pakistan shortly after. They would be forced to join the very army that killed her father and siblings if they did not flee. Not only that, but they were Hazara people and would have been treated very poorly. She and her mother never heard from the brothers again.

Later the two women went on a harrowing exodus to Pakistan themselves. The stories she related of that experience were quite disturbing.

Years passed in a horrible existance until one day, when she was thirteen, they were accepted in a program that relocated some refugees to America. There she found some good hearted people who treated her with kindness and took care of many of the needs these two women had.

The story she tells as she adapts to life as an American teen is very interesting.

These kinds of stories NEED to be told. People like Farah are examples to us all.

04 August 2010

68. The No Spin Zone

The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America - Bill O'Reilly

I listened to this audio book during a drive to Atlanta and back home earlier this week. It gave me something to listen to and think about.

The book was just OK. Maybe when it first came out it was more relevant, but it felt like I was just reopening old wounds and finding that there was no reason for doing that.

This book is essentially Bill O'Reilly writing about some interviews he has had on his television show. People came on. he argued with them. Now he wrote a book to continue those arguements. Whoop-de-doo.

The one thing I will give him credit for is that he would disagree with anyone despite their political leanings. He attacked Bush and the Clintons alike.

I like O'Reilly. He is an interesting guy. This book on the other hand is outdated and no longer relevant.