Ruby Ramblings


Thursday Thirteen – March Reads

Thirteen Thursday

One of my favorite blogs is my monthly books read column. Here are all the books I read this month (which happens to be thirteen) in the order I read them. Here are my January Reads and February Reads.

1. Seeing Vietnam SEEING VIETNAM ENCOUNTERS OF THE ROAD AND HEART by Susan Brownmiller

2. High Tide in Tucson High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never by Barbara Kingsolver It’s good for me to read a book about my own country now and again (although several of the passages in this book are of Kingsovers’s travels). Fantastic collection of essays. Interview with the author.

3. Milarepa The Life of Milarepa Translated by Lobsang Lhalungpa For a book that is a translation of an ancient text, I couldn’t believe how it is so full of humor that is still relevant. This is a great introduction to the story of Milarepa, the classic folk hero of Tibet. He was able to reach enlightenment after one lifetime, even after killing thirty people in his village by completely dedicating himself to repenting his actions. (It’s like My Name is Earl in orange robes on the Tibetan plain. 😉 )

4. This is Paradise This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang
Kang grew up in North Korea where he and his family nearly starved to death. They believed the propaganda the NK was the most prosperous country on earth and thought if they left they would surely starve and be even worse off. Eventually his father, being tried for crimes against the state, decides they need to flee, where they discover the world is not as they’ve been told.

5. Future of Freedom The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (Revised Edition) by Fareed Zakaria I thought this was a great account of how not all democracies around the world work the same. He looks at the success of several, both in terms of political success, and in how their populace is thriving. He makes some pretty scathing remarks about the Arab world and how their wealth is based on selling resources and if they do not make moves to build infrastructure and society, when those resources are gone so will be their tenuous success.

6. The Man Who Loved China The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom by Simon Winchester Interview with the author.

7. Geo of Bliss The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner Besides the fact that I’m a fool for any book with Geography in the title, I loved this book. Full review here.

8. Fever Pitch Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby Okay, I didn’t actually read this book. I loved High Fidelity, and wanted to try another of Hornby’s, but I have no, and I mean no, interest in books about sports. Even though the back jacket said I would like it even if I wasn’t a sports fan. It’s not true.

9. Even After All This Time Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran by Aschinef Latifi

10. George Orwell Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
Probably the best book I read this month. A classic travel narrative following the footsteps of George Orwell’s time in Burma and how his travels affecting his writing. Larkin’s vivid descriptions of Burma really make this book.

11. Axis of Evil Literature from the “Axis of Evil”: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Other Enemy Nations Published by Words Without Borders

12. Widow of the South The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks
Hicks was working on restoring the old Carnton Plantation, a house that had been taken over by Confederate soldiers and made into a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. He got so wrapped up in the history that this book is the fictionalized account of what he learned about the house. It is a fantastic story about Carrie McGavock, the lady of the house, and a soldier she becomes partial to. One of the interesting things for me about this book is that I live in Nashville, and Franklin, the location of this plot, is very close to here. Interview with the author.

13. Big Boy Rules Big Boy Rules: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq by Steve Fainaru My review here.

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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.