Saturday, January 31, 2009

Return to the Roost

After about a month away during which I enjoyed the blissfulness of relative quietude, the Harpies in the apartment below have returned and with all their customary cackling and squawkwing and carrying on so at the strangest hours. It's the most curious thing. You won't hear a peep until three or four in the morning when you are suddenly awakened by a bout of loud and obnoxious squawking, almost as though they have joyfully returned from a successful night of hunting with hapless victim clutched in their bloody talons. They have this habit of carrying on long and involved conversations from opposite ends of the apartment, presumably one is in the kitchen heating up a skillet and the other is down the hall somewhere field-dressing the prey. Presumably during their time away they've learned to cook since they're not setting off the smoke detector nearly as often as they did prior to the hiatus. But in all fairness, they don't carry on so every single night, though it happens frequently enough for them to earn the label of "annoying."

Speaking her mind...

Never heard much about Senator Claire McCaskill until I saw this video yesterday. Suddenly she's one of my favorite politicians....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Afternoon

I am most creative and productive on dreary and rainy days. As today fit into that category, I rushed home early from work filled with An Holy Zeal to hammer away on the thesis write up and immediately fell asleep. Rain pattering against the window and ancient steam radiators hissing away overruled writing in lieu of a nap, with which the cats were in hearty agreement. Upon waking an hour or so later, I grabbed a jacket and Don Quixote (the book, not the man) and, not yet fully awake from the nap, staggered over to Starbucks for a coffee and a bit of reading. It was an ideal afternoon for such a venture. Positioned at my favorite table by the window, I divided my attention between the book, the coffee, and the comings and goings along Colley Avenue: people passing by half hidden by umbrellas, the muted light of street lamps reflecting on the sidewalk and parked cars, and the gentle rain falling, dripping off the lonely patio tables and pooling on the brick floor below. And in thus manner was the afternoon spent, until at last the coffee was gone and queue of patrons hopeful for tables necessitated gathering up the book and scurrying across the street to home through the gathering darkness and lingering rain.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Project

A forthcoming reading project will be a study of socialism, beginning with theory then moving on to historical applications. Why would I do this? you might ask. Much of my reading over the last couple of months has dealt with the history of Latin America, specifically the human impact of U.S. backed wars of terror against purported leftist insurgents nancing around Central America in the 1970s and 80s. If you have never read about this period of history, I suggest you make a cursory exploration of this overlooked part of history, which is one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century. It will be an eye-opener for you much as it has been for me. The time and effort and monetary resources the U.S. poured into stopping the leftward drift in this part of the world makes me curious as to what about socialism was so fearful and terrible that we turned a blind eye to egregious and broad scale human right abuses, if not supporting such violations outright. By this I mean to get at the theoretical foundations, not the typical propaganda dutifully regurgitated pertaining to the threat of leftist idealism. What do we really know about socialism beyond what we are told by its ideological opponents? What is it that makes capitalists fall into paroxysms of anger and threat at its mention? It is as wretched of a social order as we are told? These are the questions I seek to answer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The List 2008

In 2008 I read a total of 17 books comprising 4,988 pages (for an average number of 13.62 pages read per day). This is a miserable failure. The goal at the start of the year was a minimum of 20 books with unspoken aspirations of 30. Between getting bogged down in a couple books and encountering an assortment of distractions (combined with a lapse in the discipline customary with such endeavors) the year slipped away before the reading goal was achieved. However, it must duly be noted that the last five books (29% of the annual total) in the list below (comprising 1,440 pages, or nearly 29% percent of the annual page count) were all read in the month of December, a time when both discipline and focus were high. So at any rate, The List of books read this year is presented below in a Title (Author) number of pages format.

1. The Discovery of the Igorots (William Henry Scott) 332p.
2. Jerusalem Delivered (Tarquato Tasso) 413 p.
3. The Diary and Life of William Byrd II (Kenneth Lockridge) 166p.
4. Histories of the Dividing Line Expedition (William Byrd II) 320p.
5. The Last Lecture (Randy Pausch) 206p.
6. Guns, Germs, and Steel (Jared Diamond) 464 p.
7. Beowulf (Author unknown) 105p.
8. Travels Through America (Jonathan Carver) 228p.
9. Utopia (Sir Thomas More) 150p.
10. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) 167p.
11. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde) 229p.
12. Che: A Revolutionary Life (Jon Lee Anderson) 768p.
13. Hegemony or Survival (Noam Chomsky) 255p.
14. Hugo! The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Perpetual Revolution (Bart Jones) 487p.
15. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor (Paul Farmer) 256p.
16. The Bolivian Diary (Ernesto “Che” Guevara) 276p.
17. Profit Over People (Noam Chomsky) 166p.

Which book of 2008 was my favorite? While they all had their varying degrees of merit, the best when considered in terms of totality was unquestionably Pathologies of Power. If there was ever a book that bring about a true conscious-raising as to the structural violence that constitutes the underlying causes of poverty and illness, of which we’re all culpable, this is it. The book will make you angry; the book will enlighten you; the book presents a masterful, broadly applicable theoretical framework into which many of the world’s injustices can be logically subsumed. I do not recall ever marking up a book as much as I did this one with notes scribbled in the margins, key phrases underlined, and important pages dog-eared. What’s more, the bibliography is among the best I’ve ever encountered and serves as a great resource for further inquiry into structural violence, the savaging effects of neoliberal economic policies on the developing world, economic and social rights, and, of all things, liberation theology. Much ink and many pages of the personal journal have since been devoted to the oft quoted phrase “preferential option for the poor.”

My favorite author of 2009? Chomsky. If you have never read Chomsky, I strongly suggest you do. He’s a powerful and insightful writer and even if you don’t necessarily agree with him, his arguments will make you think. Hegemony or Survival was the better of the two Chomsky books read this year, much of which dovetails nicely with the arguments put forth by Farmer in Pathologies of Power regarding economic and social violence, though Farmer takes it a step further in his application to sickness and health. I foresee reading much more of Chomsky this year.

On to 2009. The goal will be a minimum of 30 books. I've already knocked out two: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck and Chomsky's Failed States and am well into my third: Beatriz Manz's Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Hope, and Terror.