Archive for the ‘Slice of Life – Non-Career Experience’ Category

Mama Koko

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunmen” by Lisa J. Shannon, published in 2015.

This ebook is the product of the author’s interview of two generations of a family from the Congo, starting in the 1970′s (the anecdotes’ time frames are rarely specified). The book documents the fates of many of its members– victims of the ongoing system of violence, perpetrated by a political group called the LRA, which had migrated from Uganda. Shannon starts with biographical information on the matriarch of the family, Mama Koko.

Mama Koko’s elders arranged her marriage for her when she was a baby: “…she was called out of class at the age of twelve. Her classmates and the nuns watched as the young beauty in her Catholic-school uniform arrived in the mission’s courtyard garden to find a strange old man waiting for her, introducing himself as her husband.” She was rebellious and rejected him. She put off a life of servitude for three years in order to finish the fifth grade; after which, the priest finally pressured her, under threat of death, to accept her fate.

The culture in the Congo is to ask “Who is your family?” the same way Americans ask “What do you do?” when meeting people. Their livelihoods were mostly agricultural– growing cotton, coffee, cassava, rice and peanuts. The core family of the story ran a plantation and a shop. The people also practiced polygamy. “Andre and his only brother Alexander were both sons of Game, who had four wives and forty-three children.”

The author suffered an attack of conscience, fantasizing about adopting a deprived child when she personally visited Congo. She saw for herself the life-threatening conditions under which the Congolese lived every day, even in geographic areas of relative calm. “I’d heard the snarky comments back home about white-savior complexes; I understood I was trampling too far into cultural sensitivities.”

Read this depressing ebook to learn the various ways people died (most of the time shot on the spot) at the hands of ruthless child-soldiers who themselves were tortured and drugged to make them kill villagers. One bright spot was that an American Peace Corps volunteer was able to provide a better life for one female in the family. They moved to the United States.

Mule

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

The Book of the Week is “Mule, My Dangerous Life as a Drug Smuggler Turned DEA Informant” by Chris Heifner, published in 2012.

This suspenseful ebook is a personal account of someone who drove truckfuls of marijuana across state lines for tens of thousands of dollars per trip. In a college class, the author happened to meet a guy who ran a large smuggling operation. In the late 1990′s, this illegal business was booming in Texas, partly because some members of the Mexican army were accomplices. One time, when Heifner drove a load to Mexico, he witnessed the crash of a prop plane. The military rushed over to remove its contraband cargo before attending to the injured pilot.

Drug smuggling is a heartless business in which no one completely trusts anyone. Initially, the fear of getting caught was hard to stomach for the author because the punishment was so harsh, but the lure of the vast quantity of easy money was addictive. Read the book to learn what transpired when he did get caught.

Bonus Post

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

This blogger skimmed the repetitive ebook, “Struck by Genius” by Jason Padgett and Maureen Seaberg, published in 2014.

This ebook tells the story of how Padgett, the victim of a mugging, suffered a traumatic brain injury, and not only lived to tell about it, but also experienced improved cerebral processes (along with some negative side effects) due to it.

Padgett developed the conditions of savantism and synesthesia. The former causes his vision to form geometric patterns in everything he sees; he also acquired a natural, conscious talent for mathematics and physics which he had not previously had. Synesthesia means he sees a specific color when he sees a specific number or letter.

Read the book to learn of the psychological problems that have plagued the author since he was violently struck on the head, and the two with which he still grapples; how he finally became sufficiently functional to learn more about his conditions, and to find and contact other people with the same symptoms.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

This blogger “clicked” through the ebook, “Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising” by Starhawk, published in 2002.

The ebook is the author’s description of what her activism is about. She explains that the way globalization is currently occurring is wrong because big corporations are favoring money over people. Greedy corporations (and governments) are destroying the earth and life on earth.

One specific way governments are allowing this, is through the World Trade Organization. The United States joined the Organization and signed the trade agreement called GATT. That agreement lets the Organization, whose member-countries’ representatives, appointed via cronyism, make laws whose disclosure is denied to the world. No hearings of their proceedings are permitted. The actions taken by this secret society affect workers and human rights worldwide and of course, the environment.

The negative consequences have included, for example, allowing poisons to permeate the world food supply, endangering species and keeping drug prices high, all to the benefit of global corporations. What is not a secret is that those companies have, in recent decades, increased their profitability by moving their production facilities to nations where they can get labor at minimal cost while avoiding pesky health, safety and environmental laws. The author argues that this has also resulted in significantly increased income inequality the world over.

Read the book to learn of additional ways greed and power hunger are wrecking the world, and the role the author has played, through planning and organizing protests, training protesters, protesting and writing in trying to prevent further harm; and of her various proposals for governance and allocating resources in ways that do the greatest good for the greatest number.

In a Rocket Made of Ice

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “In a Rocket Made of Ice, Among the Children of Wat Opot” by Gail Gutradt, published in 2013. This ebook is a personal account of a woman who volunteered to assist with caring for children at a precariously funded orphanage in Cambodia, Wat Opot, that specialized in HIV-positive residents.

The author stayed for about five months at a time in the first halves of 2003, 2004 and 2008. She wrote about Cambodian culture, in which there was discrimination not only against people with AIDS, but also against people with dark skin. Skin lighteners sold well because people did not want to be perceived as poor rice farmers. On the occasion when the children were given Barbie dolls and one dark-colored doll, they played with only the former.

Conditions were less than ideal:  “…heat, bad water, the risk of contracting malaria or rabies, of catching tuberculosis…” a more common illness than AIDS. Plus, limited technology and education, and groups of boys going on “wildings” in the streets. It was theorized that the AIDS epidemic came to Cambodia in the early 1990′s, when men of various stripes (husbands and truck drivers who visited prostitutes, UN soldiers who went on holiday in Thailand, and Vietnamese military families) spread the disease.

The orphanage’s truly dedicated American director, who had been a medic in the Vietnam War, heroically fed, housed, clothed and medicated all of the residents at Wat Opot. They included some sick adults, and tens of children, some of whom were HIV-positive, who had lost their parents to AIDS. There were many other non-profit groups that claimed to take care of orphaned children, but some had greedy owners who committed fraud or inadequately provided for their charges due to inexperience.

Read the book to learn of the author’s interactions with the children and their caretakers, an unpleasant episode with the World Food Programme, religious observances at Wat Opot, its neighbors, and how some of the children fared as they grew older, or after they left the community.

Bonus Post

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Law of the Jungle” by Paul M. Barrett, published in 2014.  This is the story of a decades-long court case involving oil contamination in the Amazonian rain forest of northeastern Ecuador, to which a number of cliches apply:

Pox on the houses of both the plaintiff and the defendant;

A man is known by the company he keeps; and

When you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.

Starting in 1993, the plaintiff, represented by a greedy, egotistical, loudmouthed, yet shrewd attorney– Steven Donziger– claimed that defendant, Texaco, and then successor Chevron oil company, had caused illness, deaths, and damage to the quality of life of thousands of farmers and tribesmen in Ecuador. The Amazonians were allegedly poisoned by the oil-contaminated streams where they fished, bathed and gathered drinking water. The oil company had established a presence in their villages since 1964, when it forged an agreement with the Ecuadorian government to drill on 3.5 million and later, 4 million acres in the Oriente region.

The author tells a suspenseful, controversial story that reveals valid arguments on both sides. There was evidence of serious disruption of villagers’ lives. This included cancer clusters and other health issues that plagued the Ecuadorians, pollution of the place where they lived, the unintended consequence of violent fighting for jobs and over income inequality between Indians and homesteaders, etc. directly attributable to the activities of, and inept cleanup of, oil that allowed spreading of toxic chemicals by, the petroleum companies. On the other hand, over the years, the economy of the country of Ecuador made great strides due to the companies’ building of, and heavy investment in, transportation infrastructure and the side effects of job creation and good political relations that would not have occurred but for the corporate presence in Ecuador.

According to the author, the plaintiff’s attorney went after “big oil” rather than “… a struggling national government responsible for letting down its people” because big oil had more sex appeal. It could also be that big oil had deeper pockets.

In sum, “The oil pollution suit was not unique. Ecuador’s judiciary had a well-earned reputation for corruption and chaos.”

Read the book to learn of the various sleazy tactics employed by both sides in the dispute, and to get a concise, eloquent summary of the whole story– read the “Conclusions” section of this ebook.

Bonus Post

Friday, June 27th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “In the Name of Profit” by multiple co-authors, originally published in 1972. This depressing set of anecdotes on corporate greed simply reminds the reader that there is nothing new under the sun.

One theme is that through the 1950′s and 1960′s, big manufacturers such as Goodrich and General Motors had constructive knowledge that the products they sold were defective. Purchasers had bad experiences, and were seriously injured or were killed by those products. The companies’ attorneys and their employees rationalized that “‘planned obsolescence” meant progress. “But the meaning is clear: ‘Go cheapen the product so we can make more money.” In the case of drug company Richardson-Merrell, the product wasn’t cheapened, but rather, serious side effects were downplayed or hushed up and the results of FDA pre-approval testing were fabricated. Unsurprisingly, the company and its subsidiaries hired top-dollar attorneys skilled at helping businesses weasel out of legal trouble.

Another topic covered was Napalm, whose evolution began at Guadalcanal during WWII. “The Napalm fire bomb was deliberately designed as an indiscriminate terror weapon for mass destruction and death among civilians.” When people in Vietnam were harmed, Dow Chemical’s legal defense was bolstered by the fact that it had received orders by the U.S. Government to make the controversial product.

This ebook also discussed stock manipulation and corporate takeover. SEC laws were shown to be very lax in the 1950′s and 1960′s, as one particular perpetrator did jail time for various securities violations, but after his release, went right back to his old tricks. One Herbert Korholz repeatedly gamed the system with acquisitions. President of the Susquehanna corporation, he was able to bribe directors and officers in taking over another company with a secret tender offer of a share price higher than what was to be offered to the general share-owning public. “Profit-making firms can cut their taxes magnificently by merging with big losers…” One Maurice Schy, an attorney, attempted to make the government aware of Korholz’s unethical, unlawful and disgusting behavior, by filing lawsuits through the years, to no avail. Government officials were mired in conflicts of interest (favorable to Korholz’s interest) and ruled against Schy every time except one; a ruling was pending as this book was being released in 1972. Schy had finally gotten a possible break only because there was another case brought by another party against Korholz’s companies’ illegal activities.

In sum, we human beings are a mixed bag of evolutionary traits; altruism and greed among them. On many occasions, greed wins out, and we never seem to learn from those past occasions.