Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty by Peter Singer

Peter Singer believes we can end world poverty. This can be accomplished if those of us in the affluent countries donate a portion of our income to the poorest of the poor. Singer’s focus is primarily on those in the upper income brackets, but everyone, no matter your economic class, will find this book compelling. A website for the book is here.

Singer refutes many of the reasons that people will not give. One concept is the notion of “Fair Share.” For example, if I know others are not going to donate their money to help the poor, why should I? He also constructs several hypothetical situations that are quite interesting and thought-provoking. Singer can be seen discussing one of these hypothetical situations on the Amazon page for the book (just scroll down a bit to the video).

Singer is also calling on us to rethink our consumer culture and where we place value. Early on he tells the reader that if he or she is drinking bottled water then the reader has extra income that could be put to better use. Of course, he views the bottled water as far from a necessity, which is a point I agree with, although I am guilty of similar purchases (for me – it’s coffee).

Those who find the bottled water example too harsh should know that most of his criticism is on items that are considerably more extravagant, such as incredibly expensive watches, yachts, etc. In reality, many of us in the U.S. cannot afford these items, but the point is that many can. Still, it has made me think about what I spend money on and how much of my income is really spent on things I don’t need. This is not a first for me to reflect on this, but Singer forced me to consider it more deeply.

Highly recommended!

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sorcerer's Apprentice:Tales and Conjurations by Charles Johnson

I found this collection of stories randomly at a used book sale at a cafe. It was a real find!

Johnson opens his stories in such a matter-of-fact way that I had to read on. In "Menagerie, A Child's Fable," he begins, "Among watchdogs in Seattle, Berkeley was known generally as one of the best" (p. 43). "China" begins, "Evelyn's problems with her husband, Rudolph, began one evening in early March..." (p. 63). "Popper's Disease" starts out, "I visit my patients frequently, particularly those on farms like Anna Montgomery" (p. 127).

What are the stories about? Race is an issue, but they are all so different thematically. For example, "China" focuses on a late middle-aged husband's discovery and then pure devotion to martial arts and meditation, to the dismay and fear of his wife. It is incredibly well done. "Menagerie, A Child's Fable" examines the animals in a pet store who are left unattended when the owner fails to return. The conversations amongst the animals are comic and tragic, mirroring those of humanity.

Some of the stories left me a bit perplexed, particularly "Popper's Disease" and even the final one, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." A second reading may help to decipher more.

What a great discovery this was!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays of June Jordan

June Jordan was an amazing poet, essayist, activist, and teacher. She was the recipient of a Special United States Congressional Recognition for "outstanding contributions to literature, the civil rights movement, and in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community." How great is that?

This volume is primarily a collection of political essays, but it also includes a short and beautiful piece on T'ang poetry titled "A Far Stretch Well Worth the Effort." Writings in the first section are new and most recent. At least three appear to be unpublished before their inclusion here. This includes one of the most powerful and brilliantly written (although they are all well written) essays titled "Hunting for Jews?" where Jordan interweaves an arrest of an Aryan Nation member for murder with her experience of showing solidarity by attending a Jewish religious service in Berkeley. She concludes this essay with "I'm saying, 'Are you hunting for Jews? You're looking for me!'" (p. 31). This final statement gets to the essence of Jordan; she was committed to justice and freedom for all people and was able to identify with victims of persecution across religious, racial, or any other lines.

It would be difficult to point out other important essays here, because the reality is that each one is important. If you have never heard of June Jordan, I recommend reading this book or any of her writings today. You can hear her voice reading one of her poems here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19038