A. E. Stallings: Triolet

This came recently in a mailing from Poetry Magazine.  I don’t have the inclination to kill more trees with more magazine subscriptions, but this poem did seem fanciful to me so I’m sharing it here.

Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

A.E. Stallings

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Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,

The booze and the neon and Saturday night,

The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?

Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons

And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes,

The booze and the neon and the Saturday night?

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I vote for more Saturday nights and lovers like spoons.  You?

Waltz With Bashir

I heard about this movie only because the same director’s new movie was reviewed but my library doesn’t have it.  So I checked out Waltz With Bashir.  I had no idea what it was about, but was hooked from second one.  I had to brush up on my Middle Eastern history as this is about the Israeli-Lebanon war of 1982.  Thank heavens for Wikipedia!  While the movie is political, what I thought was really important was how it portrayed the individual soldiers and their responses to the violence, centered on the Sabra and Shatila Massacre.  Following Wikipedia, I discovered how each movement of troops, each bombing or massacre or battle was justified as a response to some earlier violence.  This goes way beyond “an eye for an eye”.  A very powerful film, both cinamatography (it is composed of animation and real action) and story narrative are brilliant.

The Theory of Matter and Light

Not a lot of time for fun reading these days, but this I couldn’t resist.

The Theory of Light and Matter: Stories (Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction) The Theory of Light and Matter: Stories by Andrew Porter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Stunning.

Thank you CSMonitor book review!  I love the short story format and this collection blew me away.

Reviews–Kite Runner and Messenger of Truth

The Kite Runner The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s as good as everyone says.  I hated it to end, I wanted to keep reading. Gripping style, beautiful story…and doesn’t purport to explain or fix Afghanistan either.   Loved it.

It’s a must read.

For everyone.

And for fun…

Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel (Maisie Dobbs Novels) Messenger of Truth: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Either Winspear is getting better or I’m just getting used to her writing, but I found this book to be the most compelling Maisie Dobbs books to date. As always, interesting mystery, solid historical context, and deep development of character. I miss Maurice from earlier books, but enjoy that Maisie is growing up and out and no longer needs her mentor. The ominous rumblings from Germany and Hitler are also intriguing and I can’t help but hope the novels move toward WWII with continued development of Maisie’s character and abilities. I now recommend the Maisie Dobbs series.

The Islamist by Ed Husain–Book Review

The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Saw the author on “The Doha Debates” last year.  During the program he was very articulate and dedicated to combating extremism.

This book is Ed Husain’s story of his personal journey into and out of the Islamist movement in the UK.  As Husain depicts it, Islamism is the idea that the Islamic faith requires an Islamic political state–that political power and religion are one.  Husain’s family, from India/Bangladesh, practiced a Sufi Islam which focused on spiritual connection to God and to other humans and he sees this as a more “mainstream” Islam.  Living in Jordan, a moderate Islamic state, I’m not sure that his Sufi brand of Islam would necessarily be accepted–though most of the Muslims I know here do support secular governance.

The first few chapters, relating his time in the islamist movement, including Jamaati-e Islamia and Hizb tTahrir, were distanced, written almost dispassionately.  It is like he can’t even relate to the boy he once was.   This was frustrating for me, as I’d hoped the book would help me grasp the emotional and intellectual pull of such movements for the young people raised in the West.   However, as he related the incidents which brought him out of the movement, including the violence, hypocracy, and time spent, ironically, in Syria and Saudi Arabia, his passion in delivery grew.  By the end, he was writing eloquently and passionately against Islamism.

I learned quite a bit from the book:

1–Husain related how the Islamists gained power in Britain (and similarly in the US) until the British authorities believed them to be speaking for and representing the views of all Muslims.  This gave them legitimacy–whereas most of these groups were outlawed in the Middle East.

2–Husain argues that Islamists must be countered, fought, and challenged.  I realized that in all my studies of Arabic and Islamic culture, we never talk about the extremists: Islamists, Wahabis or others.  I had never heard of most of the groups Husain mentioned tho they are well-known here in Jordan and elsewhere (especially Hisb Tahrir which has many factions and is involved in violence in Palestine, Bagladesh, and I believe India among other places).  Husain implies, and I agree, that the refusal to talk about such groups in mainstream education means that we don’t understand the movement and can’t launch effective opposition to it.   Our courses should not ignore such groups–nor suggest that “all” Muslims belong to them.  Acknowledging and debating their merits would be much more effective.

3–Husain traveled to Saudi Arabia (where I have never been and have NO desire to go) where much of the desires of the Islamist movement are fulfilled and was appalled at what he saw there.  He strongly denounces the Wahabi form of Islam (a very repressive one) which funds a great deal of the Islamist movements and seeks converts around the globe.  Husain reported that it is a country where the more women are wrapped and hidden away (women must wear full-face veils and long, loose black robes in public, must only go out with close male relations, only recently gained the right to drive, etc.) the more Saudi men objectify them.  He said that his wife, dressed appropriately, was often leered at, insulted, and propositioned even while he accompanied her.  Others I know in Jordan who’ve lived in Saudi report conflicting stories–that on the compound everything is fine and there’s no reason to “go out”, that Saudi men are very respectful during the Hajj, etc.   I don’t know from personal experience, but from the public behaviors of Saudi men in Morocco and here, I can’t believe it is a place I would ever want to go.

4–Husain described all the ways the groups in which he participated manipulated the laws, freedoms, and rights of British citizens.  The police seem, from his telling, to be naive in their treatment of Islamist youth groups; universities and other moderates completely incapable of countering their methods.   We need to teach our youth how to think critically about what they see and experience around them, to look beyond what such people say and see clearly what they do, believe, and propagate.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the inside of the Islamist movement, particularly as an introduction for one mostly unfamiliar with the phenomenon.

FYI Ed Husain co-founder and co-director of The Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank devoted to combating Muslim (and I assume other forms of) extremism.

Creating a World Without Poverty, by Mohammad Yunus

Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus

My rating: 5/5 stars

Read this actually a few months ago, but was reminded of it from a tweet this morning.  The book is solid.  A good idea, well-described, in language a non-economist can understand.  Yunus is looking to bridge the innovation and efficiency of for-profit business with the social-improvement mission of the non-profit sector.  I say: It’s about freaking time!!

No, business models can’t solve everything (though you can expect Yunus to think so as a Nobel Winning Ecnomist and founder of the Grameen Bank), but Yunus conceives of a business model which can, in the right context, combine profitability with helping the poor, solving social problems, and changing the world for the better.   BTW, he is pulling all this off in more than a dozen companies in Bangladesh and beyond, so it’s not all pipe dreams.

I highly recommend this book!

Murder by Decree by Robert Weverka

Murder by Decree Murder by Decree by Robert Weverka

My rating: 2/5 stars

A few months ago, I started reading collections of Sherlock Holmes stories written by authors other than Arther Conan Doyle. Many are fun, but some are too formulaic–a bit too many “It’s elementary Watson”s and such. This, a novel adapted from some 1970s movie, is one of the latter. Watson is a bumbling idiot (and of course narrowly avoids being murdered), Holmes is sneering (and much too late to do any good), and the whole social order is in danger (only this time it’s the socialists instead of the anarchists). Plus, it adds nothing to the intrigues of the actual Jack the Ripper murders. Sigh, you’d think if they were going to combine one of history’s most fascinating unsolved crimes with one of fiction’s best detectives they would have actually made it interesting!

Well, it did pass 2 hours at least.