The Book of the Week is “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, published in 2009.
This ebook is the inspiring autobiography of a boy born in 1988 in Kasungu, Malawi. He grew up on a farm where corn, tobacco and pumpkins were grown and livestock was raised. The people there believe in witchcraft, but his father believed God protected his family from it because they were Presbyterian. Nevertheless, he wrote, “Sadly, our country’s constitution doesn’t have a clause that protects us from witchcraft.” He recounted incidents in the single-digit 2000’s in which people were put on trial for witchcraft and when deemed guilty, heavily fined.
In the mid 1990’s, entertainment in the “trading center” near Kasungu consisted of “… a thatch hut with wooden benches, a small television, and a VCR” on which to watch movies. The author and his friends played a game they called “USA versus Vietnam.”
The Malawians celebrate their independence from Great Britain on July 6. Throughout his childhood, the author was a fan of the MTL Wanderers, aka the Nomads, a professional soccer club– the enemy team of the Big Bullets, in the Malawi Super League. He listened to the games on Radio One on a battery-operated radio. There was only one other radio station, Radio Two. Both were run by the government. The author wrote, “Only 2% of Malawians have electricity, and this is a huge problem.”
Read the book to learn of the extreme hardships Kamkwamba and his family faced with respect to famine and his education, and learn of his ingenuity, resourcefulness, persistence and industriousness in doing a project that was eventually noticed by people halfway around the world.
The Book of the Week is “The Waxman Report” by Henry Waxman with Joshua Green, published in 2009. This is a political memoir that discusses the major issues the U.S. Congress faced during the four decades of Waxman’s career.
The author, a liberal Democrat, was first elected a Representative in the fall of 1974. He talks about the steps required for making laws with regard to containing an epidemic, such as AIDS in the 1980’s: generate publicity, raise funds for studies on the subject, and, further along the learning curve– implement measures on prevention and treatment. Waxman remarks that involvement of celebrities generated publicity for not just AIDS issues, but also for getting the big pharmaceutical companies to research and manufacture drugs to treat ailments whose sufferers are too few in number for profitability. Waxman participated in helping pass a Congressional bill that contained a creative compromise for both the medical business and patients.
The author dealt with a slew of other political issues to which the aforementioned steps can be applied, too. However, he wrote that the government must be careful not to grant too many allowances to the entities it is regulating in order to pass legislation, because once a bill becomes law, those allowances will not be lessened.
Another point Waxman makes is that politicians sometimes need to partner with their ideological enemies if they want to pass a law. This is where “pork barrel” legislation can be advantageous for both sides. If the opponent’s district is horribly polluted and in danger of being fined, for instance, he might want to help draft an amendment to an anti-pollution law, as was the case with the 1977 Clean Air Act in the early 1980’s.
Read the book to learn the details of how Waxman paints Republicans as evil– their deregulation of various industries has harmed Americans’ health and financial well-being. Nevertheless, the author is optimistic because American politics, although a dirty business, is cyclical. Government and the people work together to adapt to the changing times.
The Book of the Week is “A Sea In Flames, The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout” by Carl Safina, published in 2011. This is a description of the disaster that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico starting in late April 2010.
British Petroleum (BP)– the oil company– was the major party responsible for killing eleven workers and causing ongoing long-term emotional trauma and major financial hardships for thousands of people. BP’s poor safety record, and favoring money over human beings made it more of a scapegoat than the other parties involved– Halliburton, Transocean and other subcontractors that were providing equipment and services for deep exploratory drilling.
The accident’s aftermath was a cluster screw-up. Both plugging the oil leak and cleaning up the oil were uncharted territory, literally and figuratively. Previously, greedy politicians had been loath to regulate the oil industry because they needed the industry’s campaign contributions to win elections.
A month after the disaster, President Obama prohibited deep sea drilling for six more months. Even so, in June 2010, a federal judge nixed such legislation for economic reasons. It was clear that the government continued to woo the oil companies, at the expense of the victims. That judge cared more about the nation’s fiscal health than about people’s health and the environment.
The victims include not just humans, but civilization as a whole. This blogger contends that it does not matter that the victims are voters. They are easily psychologically manipulated. The oil mess has incalculable, ambiguous biological and environmental consequences. However, hard economic numbers win elections because money is more important to voters, too. Voters will readily believe a storm of economic misinformation, including the incorrect notion that clean fuels cost more than fossil fuels. Electoral mudslinging that asserts that the opposing candidate allowed serious health problems and scary ecological goings-on to occur, to which oil contamination might or might be attributable, do not win elections.
This is just one more depressing piece of writing that reminds us that we are all destroying our earth.
The Book of the Week is “Fateful Harvest” by Duff Wilson, published in 2002. Here is yet another book that describes one of the countless ways humans are destroying the earth and themselves.
Wilson, a journalist, revealed an environmental problem (and by natural extension, health hazard) perpetrated by large corporations on people in a small town in Washington State. It is unknown how many people elsewhere are affected, since it is extremely difficult to prove proximate cause when it comes to cancer in people who have had unmeasured exposure to countless carcinogens throughout their lives. The story was reminiscent of the book and movie “A Civil Action.” However, in Quincy, Washington, there has yet to be a class action suit.
In recent decades, companies have found a way to save millions of dollars disposing of toxic wastes they generate. In the 1990’s, they paid $50-$100 a ton to have fertilizer companies use those wastes in fertilizer, which was then sold to farmers. They would have paid $200 or $300 a ton to dump the wastes in a landfill instead. The fertilizer companies take advantage of a loophole in the law, which regulates “wastes,” not “products.” Fertilizer is a “product” even when it contains fly ash, contaminated phosphoric acid, beryllium, cadmium, chromium and other toxins from automakers, zinc smelters, copper recycling plants and steel mills.
Food becomes contaminated when grown in contaminated fertilizer. The farmers grow the potatoes, corn and beans, etc., sold to food processing plants that make and sell French fries and other edible products.
Read the book to learn how this serious environmental threat was discovered, and the various reasons why outspoken farmers, a horse breeder and the mayor, among other adversely affected Quincy residents, could not acquire sufficient power and influence to close the loophole in the law.