Book Review: Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta


AuthorAgnieszka Paletta
TitleDoing Germany
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
Summary/Review:

This is a book I idly picked up from a Kindle sale, because I enjoyed travelling to Germany.  What a surprise that the author declares early on that she never had any interest in visiting German.  As a Polish-Canadian, moving back and forth between the two nations, Paletta’s real love is Italy.  She only ends up in Germany after meeting the man she calls M in a Cracow nightclub, falling in love, and deciding to move into his Munich apartment for three months.  That three months turns to years as the couple are engaged, married, do a lot of house shopping, and have a child.  Along the way, Paletta records the cultural adjustments of living in Germany.  Her stories are episodic, a bit gossipy in tone, and she seems unusually wed to traditional gender stereotypes.  I could offer criticisms, but forget that.  Everyone thinks that they can write a book about their travels and life abroad, but few do, so good for her.  And Agnieszka seems like a fun person who’d I’d like to hang out with, perhaps to go dancing.  So it’s a breezy travel/memoir/life adventure story, and I’ll leave at that.

Favorite Passages:

“I can also relate to keeping one’s roots and traditions alive and not changing your culture just because you’ve changed borders. Canada is great that way – it promotes multiculturalism. Germany is more like the US: once you cross the border, you’re expected to drop everything and mould yourself into a citizen of your new homeland.”

“Unlike on that typical bike, you don’t sit leaning forward; you sit up like a lady, much like in a chair. Therefore, you don’t crane your neck to look up; your head is as God meant it to be – straight on. It makes cycling dignified and comfortable.”

“M tells me it’s impolite to stare and talk to strangers here. You don’t ask how their day is going, how they are feeling. Basically, you don’t intrude because it’s none of your business. So like, they’re not trying to be rude or cold, but polite. They say good morning or God bless you but not how are you – that’s a private matter and none of their business.” (Note from Liam: this is probably why I like Germany.  They follow the same rules as Bostonians).

Recommended books: My ‘Dam Life by Sean Condon
Rating: **1/2

“Zombie” bill angers public school parents


It’s really brazen how the representative of a tony, mostly-white suburb has done an end run around compromise and democracy to force this bill through the house. I really can’t imagine that the citizens of Wellesley see it in their best interests to underfund public schools in urban areas. More likely, Peisch is not representing the interests of her constituents but those of hedge fund managers like DFER and billionaires like Bill Gates and the Waltons. If only more elected leaders were as brave and honest as Sonia Chang-Diaz.

Parent Imperfect

zombie bill The Parent Imperfect took the time this past Wednesday to write that no deal had been reached on the bill to lift the cap on charter schools in our state. Normally, the failure of a bill to get a positive recommendation from the relevant committee would be the kiss of death, at least for the current session. But this is not just any bill. As many feared, the failure to gain the support of the Joint Education Committee created only a minor annoyance for the drive to create open season on charter school expansion in Massachusetts.

Little did I know that the people in the Massachusetts Legislature who feel that lifting the charter cap is the critical next step in educational reform in Massachusetts wouldn’t even wait 24 hours to resurrect the idea. Before Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz could even communicate with her constituents about what had happened, her illustrious Joint…

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Book Review: The Information by James Gleick


AuthorJames Gleick
TitleThe Information
Publication Info: New York : Books on Tape, 2011
Summary/Review:

The Information is a sweeping historical / scientific / technological account of information across time and disciplines.  From talking drums, language, DNA, telegraphs, and bytes to  Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and John Archibald Wheeler.  It’s all very fascinating although it gets more complex for a lay reader (that is, me) to understand as it goes along.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead: All Out War (vol. 20) by Robert Kirkman


Author: Robert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead: All Out War (vol. 20)
Publication Info: Image Comics (2014)
Summary/Review:

It’s called All Out War, part 1, so there’s no expectation that this would be all about war and that the war will not end.  Still, I’m reading at this point just to tread water until the Negan story is completed and they move on to something else.  Hopefully, at that point the story will show something interesting about continuing survival rather than contrived violence.  On the other hand, maybe they’ll just keep going with All Out War, part 3!

Rating: **

Book Review: “Guns” by Stephen King


Author: Stephen King
Title: “Guns”
Publication Info: Philtrum Press (2013)
Summary/Review:

I downloaded this long essay for the Kindle app on my phone.  Author Stephen King ruminates about the gun debate in the United States from the predictable media response to a mass shooting, violence in American culture, and explaining his reasons for pulling his book Rage from publication.  While admitting to being a gun owner himself, King proposes that further regulation of firearms is necessary in the United States.  And he believes that the NRA, conservatives, and others opposed to gun control need to be involved in creating these restrictions.  King’s arguments for firearms regulation are sound, but there’s nothing that hasn’t already been put forward.  Similarly, while he addresses the necessity of pro- and anti-gun control factions working together, I doubt that his words will convince anyone to change their views.

Favorite Passages:

My book did not break Cox, Pierce, Carneal, or Loukaitis, or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.

Superhero movies and comic books teach a lesson that runs directly counter to the culture-of-violence idea: guns are for bad guys too cowardly to fight like men.

The assertion that Americans love violence and bathe in it daily is a self-serving lie promulgated by fundamentalist religious types and America’s propaganda-savvy gun-pimps. It’s believed by people who don’t read novels, play video games, or go to many movies. People actually in touch with the culture understand that what Americans really want (besides knowing all about Princess Kate’s pregnancy) is The Lion King on Broadway, a foul-talking stuffed toy named Ted at the movies, Two and a Half Men on TV, Words with Friends on their iPads, and Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles. To claim that America’s “culture of violence” is responsible for school shootings is tantamount to cigarette company executives declaring that environmental pollution is the chief cause of lung cancer.

Ididn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment, and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do. Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people until the powerful pro-gun forces in this country decide to do a similar turnaround. They must accept responsibility, recognizing that responsibility is not the same as culpability. They need to say, “We support these measures not because the law demands we support them, but because it’s the sensible thing.”

Recommended books: Hell’s Abyss, Heaven’s Grace: War and Christian Spirituality by Lawrence Hart
Rating: **1/2

Song of the Week: “Proxy (Original Mix)” by Martin Garrix


My groove this week is “Proxy” by Dutch DJ/Producer Martin Garrix.  I first heard this on the most recent Tiesto’s Club Life Podcast.  This certainly makes me want to dance, or maybe just strut.  Actually, with baseball season starting this week, I think this will be my walk-up music.

What’s making you move this week?  Let me know in the comments!

Beer Review: Slumbrew My Better Half


Beer: My Better Half
Brewer: Somerville Brewing Company
Source: 22 oz bottle
Rating: *** (7.9 of 10)
Comments: A golden amber with very little carbonation, this caramel-scented beer has the unique flavor combination of sweet orange cream with a chocolate aftertaste.  The head is thin and the lacing is erratic, but this brew is yummy.

 

Beer Reviews: Cambridge Brewing Company Sgt. Pepper


Beer: Sgt. Pepper
BrewerCambridge Brewing Company
Source: 22 oz, bottle
Rating: **** (8.1 of 10)
Comments:  Spicy and unique, this beer pours out golden with effervescence and a thin head.  The scent is spicy & yeasty and the flavor is a peppercorn spice balanced with a caramel malt.  I found it went well with a vegetable soup and quesadillas.

 

Beer Review: Portsmouth Brewery Schwarzbier with Samoas


Beer: Schwarzbier (with Samoas)
BrewerPortsmouth Brewery
Source: Draft
Rating: ***(7.5 of 10)
Comments: So I’ve been abstaining from beer for Lent, and thus I’ve been posting reviews of beers that I took notes about last year but never got around to writing up.  I had to make an exception last week when I traveled to Portsmouth, NH on business, to pay a visit to the Portsmouth Brewery.  They had two cask-conditioned beers available that amusingly had been brewed with Girl Scout cookies.  I had a taste test of the Thin Mint beer, which was too sweet, but got a full pint of the schwarzbier with Samoas.  The beer is black with a thick head, and the Samoa-influence is subtle but you can definitely smell and taste chocolate and cocoanut.  This was a fun twist on a German standard.

Book Review: Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler


Author:Bruce Feiler
TitleWhere God Was Born
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2005)
ISBN: 9780060888572
Summary/Review:

Feiler’s book is a unique combination of travelogue, history, theology, and personal growth.  Feiler documents his journeys to Israel, Iraq, and Iran to visit the sites of places mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures.  There’s a lot of interesting discussion of the Israelites and the connection to land, but how the religion was born only once they were taken from the land.  There are also hints that the Babylonian captivity was not as bad as depicted in the bible.  Feiler also has an interesting take on David, the flawed hero, who spent many years as a bandit and even collaborated with the enemies of Israel. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the book is when he worships with a Jewish community in Iran who have a surprising amount of religious freedom, something Feiler traces back to the Persian king Cyrus who liberated the Israelites from captivity.  He also traces Zoroastrian influences to the Abrahamic religions to this period.  In the end, Feiler finds in the Bible a blueprint for religious tolerance and understanding that could be followed today.
Rating: ***1/2