Ruby Ramblings

Teaser Tuesday
March 31, 2009, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Books, Travel | Tags: , , ,

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page.
You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given. Please avoid spoilers!

My Two Teasers:
Burma“‘The randomness inherent in this system means you can never be sure what the consequences of your actions may be.’ Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.” Pg. 188

Finding George Orwell in Burma, by Emma Larkin

Leave a comment at to let everyone see your teaser.

Big Boys and Evil Literature
March 29, 2009, 6:01 pm
Filed under: Books, economics, Peace, War | Tags: , , , ,

Big Boy Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru

I’ve been listening to the audio version in my car. Usually I avoid books that look like this because they are glorified versions of weapons technology, hero worship, and killing “the other.” This cover was slightly deceiving, and luckily, I had heard a book review on NPR before I saw the cover.

Fainaru has spent a lot of time in Iraq as a embedded journalist were he became interested in the “parallel army” that arose around the US military. When there weren’t enough US soldiers to cover missions, private contract armies arose including the now famous Blackwater, and Fainaru follows two lesser known companies (that contract to Halliburton); Crescent and Triple Canopy.

These contract armies have no rules, no official equipment, very little training, and make enormous paychecks. As opposed to many of the soldiers who make a small enough paycheck on combat pay that they are eligible for welfare benefits, the contract “soldiers” are pulling in $7,000 a month. Fainaru decides, under great controversy, to call these contract workers mercenaries. Hired guns. The problem is that ultimately, since they are contract workers, the US government is paying these bills. Enlisted soldiers stand by insulted while the “mercs” rake it in.

These mercs are the same young men who make up the US army. But they aren’t protected in the same ways. The contract mercenary that Fainaru follows throughout the beginning of the book swore that he would never get captured, and even had a death pact with his fellow mercenaries. John Cote, pronounced Co-Tay, was captured, skinned alive, and beheaded not too long after these series of interviews. He had done two tours of duty in the real US military in Iraq and Afghanistan and decided he couldn’t go back to “civilian life”. He traded his twenties, and eventually his life, for the money and adventure of working in a contract security company.

Because of the lack of rules and military control over the contract mercenaries, there is a lot of confusion over who governs them. When this question was posed to George Bush, Bush laughed and said, “That’s a great question, I’m going to have to ask Rumsfeld about that.” To which Rumsfeld replied that he didn’t know, and thought the President was responsible for that. Which means there was no one there to bring accountability when a merc went crazy and shot up a cab filled with civilians. There is no screening process, several of the mercenaries are self-proclaimed alcoholics and people who “just want to kill.” The residents of Alice’s Restaurant are welcome here.

Likewise, there is no one there when a convoy of mercenaries is driving around with no armor and no back-up support.

At the same time I’ve been reading Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations released by Words Without Borders.

This is a collection of stories from states considered enemies of the US government. It starts with the official Axis of Evil, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Countries that have little to nothing to do with each other, but which had been lumped into the same category by the Bush administration. The editors of this book note that they are in objection to the use of terms like Axis of Evil, and declare that they are also against the US notion of being against free trade of literature and culture with countries it doesn’t agree with. Many of the authors in this book are living in exile, being the subject of that kind of discrimination in their own countries.

The opening story, The Vice Principal in my opinion, is the best. It is an Iranian story of a boy who takes liberties with a writing assignment, and feels the wrath of a teacher who doesn’t agree with his opinion.

In the section of stories by North Korean authors, it is very apparent that there are tight restrictions on what people are allowed to write about, and I would even say that in the first story presented, A Tale of Music it appears that some of the original work was taken out and propaganda about “our dear leader” put in it’s place.

Other countries included are Syria, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Cuba stands out, in that it is a culture that is much more open about sexuality than most of the others included. With it being the last group of stories included, the open sex and discussion of a character’s girlfriend’s period almost comes as a shock.

These two books were very interesting to read together. The mixing of US force policy and the point of view of the countries our policy is forced upon.

Thursday Thirteen
March 26, 2009, 12:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I can’t believe it’s Thursday again already.

Things Jim has said to me, that if I didn’t know he was joking, would be grounds for a break-up. He’s a funny one.

1. When I commented that my ass was starting to resemble a shelf, “That’s great! You need someplace to put all these damn books.”

2. Don’t tell me what to do Devil Woman.

3. When the bad cat rips the toilet paper roll to shreds, “He’s yours devil woman.”

4. I like my new status as devil woman. I saw a bumper sticker once that said, “Be the kind of woman that when you get up in the morning, the devil thinks, ‘Oh shit, she’s up.'” 5. Which is usually what Jim thinks when I get up because I get up a lot earlier than him and can only wait so long before I start poking him and demanding that we do something productive with the day.

6. Maybe there aren’t 13 things on this list, especially since Jim is a physical humor kind of guy. 7. The devil cats woke me up at 6 this morning, so I’m obsessing.

8. We just did a survey job together in Northern Kentucky. At alternating times we both wanted to quit, especially while working in the rain, but luckily not at the same time, or we might have just driven off in the truck, thinking that it would be our last CRM job anyway. 9. This may not be true now that the dollar has tanked so bad, or initial offer in S. Korea is worth half of what we thought it would be. 10. Even though I’ve taught English in two different Asian countries, and Jim’s never taught or been out of the US, he was offered a higher rate of pay then me. I told him he just always has to pay for dinner. 11. Since we heard from a couple people that they often base your pay on how attractive they find you, Jim said he must be $200 a month more attractive than me. 12. Which is really funny because Jim is really insecure about his appearance, even though I think he’s adorable. Which brings me to ….

13. “Jim, do you know where the broom is?” to which he replied without even blinking, “Why do you need to go somewhere?”

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Passing of Orphan Mother Mrs. Haregewoin Teferra

One of the best books I read all of last year was:
There Is No Me Without You: One Woman’s Odyssey to Rescue Her Country’s Children

Heregewoin Teferra was a woman living in Ethiopia, like most people, living her own life and not too concerned with what was going on outside of her immediate friends and family. That is until her husband had a sudden heart attack, and her oldest daughter died of seemingly no cause (although years of emotional abuse from her husband probably had a lot to do with it.)

When she became a recluse and had withdrawn from her social life, a local priest came to her needing help taking care of a couple of teenage orphans. This first attempt at taking in orphans was not her most successful, but after several years, her house turned from a stopover for an orphan or two, to a major house complex, including its own medical facility and school, for dozens of abandoned children, many of them HIV positive.

Fellow blogger Real Mama recently informed me that Mrs. Teferra has passed away, leaving 59 orphans with no care.

WorldWide Orphans Foundation is taking donations and trying to find these children, again most of them HIV positive, new homes. If you choose to donate, make you sure you check the box indicating the money is for the Heregewoin orphanage.

Pictures from Melissa Greene’s wesite:
Bossy one

Thursday Thirteen
March 19, 2009, 4:09 pm
Filed under: Travel

I haven’t done one of these in a long time. Thursday Thirteen is a blog group that posts, every Thursday, 13 interesting, mundane, profound, or pointless things; just for the sake of doing it.

Things I Hope to Learn in South Korea.

1. How to make a good Asian Noodle Soup. Noodle Soup
2. I hope to spend much time hanging around temples, learning better meditation skills, and immersing myself in Buddhist culture.
S. Korea Temple

3. How to speak a little of the language. Korean Although, when I was in Nepal, there were some Christian Korean missionaries trying to convert teachers at my school, and I literally thought at first that I was hearing dogs barking. It turned out to be two ministers speaking to each other.
4. How to be a better teacher.
5. How not to get lost in the world’s 11th largest city, Seoul.

6. Find out if I like kimchi. Kimchi

7. How to get to other places and get paid such as Mongolia, Bhutan, and Cambodia.
8. Do some research on time periods when Buddhist culture was oppressed by various forces in Korea.
10. Get to travel around the country, although it looks like we’ll have very little vacation time.
11. Finally meet, in person, my bookcrossing friends who have been living and teaching in S. Korea.

12. Learn some local music, maybe even take up a traditional instrument. S. Korean Instrument

13. Temples, Temples, and more Temples.
(My thanks to the owners of all the images I just used off of google image search.)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others’ comments. It’s easy, and fun!

Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

View More Thursday Thirteen Participants

Geography of Happiness
March 18, 2009, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Books, Peace, Travel | Tags: , ,


Twelve Publishing is a Canadian publishing company that has dedicated itself to publishing one book a month. The twelve best books it receives every year.

I’m currently reading one of their choices, which has turned out to be superb.
Geo of bliss The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner.

The NPR correspondent goes around the world, travelling to the places considered the happiest to discover their collective secrets. We often relate our happiness to our geography, and he seeks to find out if this has any truth to it. “With our words, we subconsciously conflate geography and happiness. We speak of searching for happiness, of finding contentment, as if these were locations in an atlas, actual places that we could visit if only we had the proper map and the right navigational skills. Anyone who has taken a vacation to, say, some Caribbean island and had flash through their mind the uninvited thought, ‘I could be happy here’ knows what I mean.”

He travels to the Netherlands where happiness is being researched scientifically, to Switzerland where shear boredom and cleanliness seems to be the answer to the world’s purported happiest people, to Bhutan where happiness is a government goal and mandate. In Qatar he finds folks who think money can buy anything, including happiness, to Iceland – the happiness of failure, and in Thailand where happiness is just plain not thinking about it. In Moldova he finds the concept that happiness is always somewhere else, and in the US where it is in the place you consider home.

I laughed outloud three times while reading just the opening page. Weiner’s descriptions are so good, I was brought back to the places I’ve been, and felt a huge sense of desire for the places I haven’t seen yet. Except for Moldova. Moldova is the one place he visited that isn’t happy. They are described as the unhappiest people in the world. Their reasoning is that they don’t have enough money. But as Weiner viewed in Bhutan, money isn’t as important as a strong sense of culture and belonging. 90% of Bhutanese that have a chance to study in the US or Britain return to their home country, even though there is virtually no economy there. (To which an American tourist commented, “well, why would they do that.”) The real reason Weiner encounters for unhappiness is a lack of trust and true friendships, two qualities that are belittled as weakness in Moldova.

Overall, I just found this to be an intensely enjoyable book.

NPR Review of Geography of Bliss

NPR story on the Happiness Index

Driving in the Smoky Mts.
March 13, 2009, 3:06 pm
Filed under: Nashville, Travel




Rethinking How we Make “Things”
March 12, 2009, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Books, Peace | Tags: ,

William McDonough describes a brilliant world in which a positive outlook on the environment and devolopment is a reality.

CradleCradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things

(Un)American (Un) Insurance
March 11, 2009, 11:44 pm
Filed under: economics, Peace | Tags: , , ,

When the US government holds a summit on an idea, you would think that the country that holds itself as the gatekeeper of free speech would allow all ideas to be on the menu. Not so with Obama’s summit on national health care, where single payer health care was declared a no-no before the invitations were even sent out. Dr. Quentin Young, MLK’s former personal physician, a public friend of Obama’s, and a proponent of single payer health was overtly un-invited.

The problems with the current state of health care in America are not really worth hashing here. Everyone has a story, most people I know are uninsured, and just as many have stories of being denied coverage for something they needed done.

The real problem with private health insurance is that the health insurance companies are not doing their jobs. We pay them, they are supposed to pay our health bills, they come up with ridiculous excuses for why they can’t pay, line their pockets, and then raise rates again. Forcing people to buy private health insurance, which is considered the “compromise” to progressive health care, will do nothing but give more money to an already greedy industry. It won’t lower rates by much, and more importantly, it won’t increase the quality of service the private companies are providing.

The arguments against single payer are weak and heavily funded. Our current existing single payer plan, medicare, only took a year to implement after it was made law. If people want private insurance, that will be their choice, but the rest of the country needs a choice too.

Really, if we removed health insurance from being the responsibility of the employer, everyone could have coverage regardless of being self-employed, un-employed, or like myself, employed by companies who are small enough to refuse to pay health insurance. Employers would have more money to keep jobs in the US. One of the main complaints major employers have about keeping factories and offices in the US is that the health insurance makes an employee much more expensive than one in another country.

It’s time for our ELECTED officials, who work for US to stop pandering to the insurance companies. Their fear of the insurance companies is a disgusting show of weakness and lack of innovation in a time when positive, drastic action is needed. If we can spend billions a year to kill people in other countries, I’m sure we could find some money for American health care.

Single Payer Action
– an action website for people interested in single payer health care. They have links to the few news reports being done on single payer since the issue has been completely blacklisted from major media.

If you feel strongly about this issue you can find your Congress people and write to them here. It has been proven that if single payer was brought to congress, the citizen support would be overwhelming – currently hovering around 60%, but congress refuses to bring it to the table – harass them :
House of Reps

February Reads

Vanishing America

Vanishing America: In Pursuit of Our Elusive Landscapes by James Conaway.
He takes us on a road trip across America looking at some of the landscapes that are becoming history. From the coast of Maine, to the prohibitively expensive Nantucket Island, to the deserted desert of Wyoming, he takes us on a personal narrative of these areas.

The writing is a little subdued, it’s not exactly a romping travel narrative, but an important look at the way America is changing for the worse.

White Apples
White Apples by Jonathan Carroll. An alternate look at what the concept of God is based on all life being fragments of a mosaic that are slowly being drawn back together until we recreate the whole. It was a really interesting and fast book.
Looking through you I’m Looking Through You: Growing Up Haunted: A Memoir by Jennifer Flynn Boylan. This author’s first book She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, is one of my favorite books of all time. With a clarity and compassion that is rarely seen regarding transgendered people, she describes the transformation she undertakes in having a sex change as an adult with a family and already established career. In I’m Looking Through You she goes back to her childhood and describes her family life growing up in what she (at the time he), perceives to be a very haunted house. The book is as much about feeling like a ghost in your own skin as it is about the ghosts that haunt the house.
Brief history of the dead The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. I had no interest in this book, and it ended up being my favorite one of the month. A really fast paced account of the last remaining person on earth living in Antartica after a biological weapon is released in all coco-cola factories. The counter-plot being that all people live on a separate plane invisible to the living world until the last person that remembers them dies. As the world’s population dies, the people on this plane disappear too.

Bookseller The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. I was really, really looking forward to this book, but I ended up not liking it much at all. I’ve been the author’s shoes of being really uncomfortable staying in a person’s house in a foreign country, and although I agree with a lot of her observations, her tone took on an antagonistic air as opposed to the journalist objector I was expecting. There is a really great interview with the author himself on NPR: Afghan bookseller disputes book about himself.

Voice of Hope The Voice of Hope: Updated and Revised Edition by Alan Clements and Aung San Suu Kyi. An amazing read.

Nonviolence Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky. As in all his book, Kurlansky packs a ton of information in a very small space. Although the historical information gets a little dry in places, the overall point of this book is not to be missed. Even if you just read the introduction while strolling around a bookstore, it will affect your perspective.

Autobiography of a face Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. I really think this should required reading for middle or early high school. It recounts Lucy’s childhood battle with cancer, the disfigurement it left on her face, and the cruelty she encountered from peers.

Quote from the author: “I spent five years of my life being treated for caner, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else. It was the pain from that, from feeling ugly, that I always viewed as the great tragedy of my life. The fact that I had cancer seemed minor in comparison.”

All Elevations Unknown All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo by Sam Lightner. This is what a travel narrative should be. Part adventure story as Lightner, three friends, and a cumbersome camera crew climb a rarely climbed peak in very inner Borneo.

The flip side to this story is a biographical account of a general sent in with a small crew during WWII with no prior contact with the locals (known to collect the heads of their enemies), and stop the Japanese. Not having any idea if they will survive or be in any way successful, they jump from a plane at the base of this mountain and try to make it known that they, too, are enemies of the Japanese. Fantastic.

OrphansWhen We Were Orphans: A Novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. Another highly unusual narrative taking place before the break out of WWII in China as the Nanking area invaded by the Japanese. Christopher is a detective whose parents were kidnapped in China when he was a child. He returns as an adult to solve their abduction, and the answer is most unexpected. Ishiguro is known for giving just enough information to intrigue, but never really answers all the questions.

Future of Peace The Future of Peace: On the Front Lines with the World’s Great Peacemakers by Scott Hunt. A combination of an amazing series of interviews and the travel experiences encountered getting the interviews. He talks with The Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jane Goodall, Maha Ghosananda (peacemaker in Cambodia), Tich Quang Do (Vietnam), Oscar Arias (Central America), and looks at the poetry and refugee camps in Isreal and Palestine.

I almost forgot this one….
chopsticks Fried Eggs with Chopsticks: One Woman’s Hilarious Adventure into a Country and a Culture Not Her Own