Monthly Archives: June 2013

Book Review: Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman

Gruber

Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman, by Ruth Gruber is is a reprint of Gruber’s 1931 (published in 1935) doctoral dissertation with an extremely interesting introduction. Gruber was born in 1911 in Brooklyn, New York. She entered New York University at fifteen and earned a post graduate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She won a second fellowship to the University of Cologne, Germany. She earned her PhD in 1931 and was, at the time, the youngest person to earn a PhD. Gruber’s time in Germany was also marked with the rise of Hitler and the growth of antisemitism. As an American Jew, she was she witness to Nazi rallies and upon her return to New York she told of the dangers of Nazism. She served as a foreign correspondent to the Herald Tribune, visited the Soviet Union and experienced an unprecedented visit to the Soviet Arctic. In 1944 she went on a secret mission to Europe to bring one thousand Jewish refugees to the United States. She has written nineteen books and on her ninety-ninth birthday, Ahead of Time premiered in New York City. The movie covered her life from 1911 to 1947. Virginia Woolf was written in 2004; a quick bit of math put her at 93 at the time of writing. At present time Gruber is still alive at 101.

I wanted to read this book to learn about, someone I think is one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. Instead, I learned more about another great writer and humanitarian: Ruth Gruber. Gruber’s life in nothing short of amazing. She had a stellar academic career and amazing life. She was extremely brave in going to and staying in Germany; she was American and Jewish, both hated in the new Germany. At an American Embassy sponsored event in Berchesgaden, she was insulted by the German host’s advances and antisemitism; she left much to the dismay of the American diplomats. Despite the racism in Germany, Gruber did earn her PhD from a board of German professors.

Gruber’s writing on Virginia Woolf is a scholarly dissertation, and I will admit that even after reading all Virginia Woolfs books, including her diaries and letters, I found myself over my head more than a few times. That is to be expected, Gruber’s intended audience wasn’t university trained political scientists like myself. There is a wealth of information in both the dissertation and introduction, which centers on Gruber’s year in Germany and her meeting with Virginia Woolf. Gruber makes two important revelations about Virginia Woolf. The first, many (or most) suspected that Virginia Woolf was as Gruber says “catty” which would probably be much more severe in today vernacular. She was warm and friendly in person and in her letters, but her diary revealed something altogether different. Gruber was recorded in Woolf’s diary as “some German woman” even though letter were exchanged to United States and not Germany. Gruber also found in Virginia Woolf’s diary that the meeting was going to be a “a pure have yer” – supposedly Cockney slang for a task that is forced one but needs to be done. People outside of Woolf’s circle of friends, although treated polite in person were treated with contempt in her diaries. (This is also true of her first impressions of Vita Sackville-West.*) Gruber’s second revelation is the distinct polarity in Woolf’s work. This parallels Woolfs probable and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The character Orlando was physically bipolar while other references are between light and dark, shape and ambiguity, and between the characters in The Waves.

Gruber spends much of her dissertation on the growth of Woolf as a woman writer. Woolf must battle the critics and her influences and become her own writer. Gruber first sees Woolf as an early twentieth century feminist.

“For Virginia Woolf,” I said, “Woman is the creator and man is the destroyer. Many of her women are heroic and her men are often weak, with no heart, no mind.”

Virginia Woolf was able to rebel, but avoid being labeled a fanatic. Her criticism is not bitter and at times humerous. Gruber tracks and documents Woolf’s development and growth into becoming her own writer: a woman writer in a world dominated by men. Although the dissertation may be above the average readers expectations, it is a valuable reference, Gruber’s story of meeting Woolf, the exchange of letters, and her time in Germany is alone worth the read. Virginia Woolf is an outstanding read that will give any Virginia Woolf admirer much more than what is expected.

*my observation, not the authors

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Book Review: Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors

Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors by Jenny Baranick. She is an English professor teaching composition, critical thinking, and remedial English.

Long ago, I remember sitting in an English Literature class and asking, “Why do I have to do that? It makes no sense to me.” The professor (the only one to give me a “C” on my college transcripts) said “When you finish graduate school you can use semicolons how ever you want.” Several years later, my masters degree freshly framed and hanging on my wall, I did something I been waiting a long time to do: I gave my Chicago Manual of Style to a friend and said “I have my graduate degree; I can use semi colons however I want; Woohooo!” That is pretty much a true story and for the record I miss my Chicago Manual of Style. When I saw Missed Periods on the list of books for review, I thought I might take a look and see how badly I have strayed.

Ms Heskett* was my high school English teacher. I will remember her as well as I remember my drill instructors in boot camp. Baranick, however, is no drill instructor. She teaches with current cultural references like Facebook, Johnny Depp, quite a bit of Ben Aflick. Also there are tips, like if spellcheck can’t figure out what you are trying to spell, type it in to Google search. Google has an amazing knack for figuring out what words you are after from a jumble of letters.

Spelling and punctuation are all covered along with those tricky words like, all right and alright (spellchecker liked this non-word), alot and a lot, effect and affect, and every day and everyday. Baranick uses humor and not lame English teacher jokes. She gets your attention, holds it, and brings the point home. She keeps it simple and straight forward.

There is also a section on email etiquette, and reminder that emails are letters and should be written as such. Also your email address for professional (and college) communications should be professional like “first and last name”@email.com not fallingdowndrunk@email.com. On the subject of professionalism, resumes are also covered. Baranick also busts some long held grammar myths too.

Baranick loves grammar and her job. It shows in her book. It is not dry and boring and filled with sentence diagramming drills; it is fun. I enjoyed reading it and I am sure her students have benefited from dedication. I even enjoyed the quizzes at the end of each chapter. Missed Periods is the teaspoon of sugar for the medicine of grammar. I recommend this book to students in high school through college, people wanting to brush-up on grammar without pain, and people with graduate degrees who might want to use a semicolon properly. I am keeping this book; I need it.

* I made peace with her after I graduated and was serving in the Marines. No hard feelings for failing me a semester.

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Book Review: Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes

Vegan Pizza: 50 Cheesy, Crispy, Healthy Recipes by Julie Hasson is the latest in her series of cookbooks which includeVegan Diner. Hasson has been in the food industry for the past twenty years. She has been a personal chef for celebrities, contributed to Bon AppetitCookng LightVegitarian Times, and VegNews. She as also appeared on the Cooking Channel, local television and Martha Stewart Living Radio. She currently runs Julie’s Original (gluten free baking mixes) and the Native Bowl. 

Two points on this reviewer. As a long time strict vegetarian, I jumped at the chance to review and try some of the recipes in this book. I prefer the term strict vegetarian over vegan and look at the big picture of things. Petroleum, oil, road expansions, and cars do a great deal of harm to the environment which is the reason I don’t drive a car. But ask a vegan if they drive and you are more than likely to get a “Yeah, of course. I need to get around.” When asked if they know the damage that does you will usually get the less than idealistic response of “that’s unavoidable”. In short, I am at odds with the word “vegan” as a meaningful term. Secondly, I have never reviewed a cookbook before, but why not start with something I know. 

The book has everything a good standalone cookbook should have: 

Pantry, explaining all the ingredients that you may not be familiar with like spelt, quinoa, and agave syrup. 

Equipment, all the pots, pans, thermometers, and anything else you need. 

Tips and Tricks, including what you need to know about diary free cheese. 

Resources, at the back of the book, lists sources for equipment like food processors and blenders. 

There is also contact and web page information for specialty ingredients as well as the metric conversions. 

The main section of the book contain recipes for a variety of pizza doughs from traditional, to gluten free to corn meal. The recipes are clearly written and all the ingredients are readily available from you average supermarket. The “meat” recipes are also clear and easy to follow, although, depending on where you live, you may need to find a store other than you average supermarket for Textured Vegetable Protein. 

The sauce section gives you everything from the traditional tomato based sauces as well as a some “cheese” sauces that are cashew based. All the ingredients are readily available, but again depending on where you live, you may need a specialty store for nutritional yeast. The cheese is store bought. Daiya is a brand I am familiar with and very good. If you are “vegan” check the labels of the brands. Several brands use casein, milk protein, in their inaccurately labeled “dairy free” cheese. 

Hasson supplies the reader with several traditional pizzas made vegan and a section called Farmer’s Market Pizzas. The latter contains interesting combinations like Pineapple and Jalapeno, Sweet potato and Kale, and Wild Mushroom and Potato Pizza. Not Your Usual Suspects has Cheeseburger Pizza (with pickles), a Cowboy Pizza (with Broccoli?!?), and Peanut Barbecue Pizza (think Thai). Also included are Global Flavors like Eggplant Parmesan, Taco, and Bibimbap (Korean sweet and spicy) and sweet pizzas like berry pie and coconut caramel.

Vegan Pizza is well written, clear, and imaginative. Unlike several vegan cookbooks I have read, the ingredients are readily available. This book would make many weeks of different pizzas and fuel ideas for many more. An excellent cookbook, even for omnivores.

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Book Review: Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943

Dam Busters: The True Story of the Inventors and Airmen Who Led the Devastating Raid to Smash the German Dams in 1943 by James Holland is the story of one of the more interesting innovations of World War II and the brave men who carried out the mission. James Holland was born in Salisbury in 1970 and educated at Durham University. He is the author of Fortress MaltaItaly’s SorrowThe Battle of Britain and The Sergeant Jack Tanner series of historical fiction.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help thinking, “Where have I read this before?”: long distance bombing mission, nearly impossible target, near seat of the pants navigation, and British fliers. Then I remember reading Vulcan 607 (the 1982 bombing mission of the Falkland Islands) and the parallels are remarkable. I am beginning to think these types of missions just might be a RAF tradition. This story takes place in World War II and involves the newly formed 617th Squadron. 

Britain is looking for a way to bring the war to an early close. Germany is stalled in Russian and the tide is beginning to turn. In Germany, the population is suffering from seemingly endless bombings from the British and American bombers. They are beginning to doubt Hitler and his leadership but something needs to be done to give the German people the final push and break their spirit and their will to continue the fight. Factories have been bombed, oil reserves have been bombed, coal mines have been bombed, the last source of power is “white coal.” White coal was water power: hydroelectric dams. Holland takes time in the book to give a brief history of German hydroelectric and dam building. Barnes Wallis, Assistant Chief Designer at Vickers-Armstrong,has and idea how to bring and early end to the war by attacking the dams. 

“The commander-in-Chief of the RAF’s bomber force could not have been clearer. No matter what was being discussed in the corridors of the Air Ministry and the MAP, there would be no such operation taking place if he had anything to do with it. His machines – and his bomber boys – were too valuable to be wasted on mad schemes cooked up by half-baked scientists.”

Holland takes time to introduce the major players the story and relate some information of their personal lives. Many people have seen the movie and most recall only Wallis, Gibson (wing commander), and his dog. The lives and history of the other pilots and crews are discussed in some detail. Wallis’ battle to bring his bomb into the war is a major part of the book. Like most great ideas, it takes a serious effort to bring the bomb from the design stage to put on planes flying over Germany. 

Dam Busters is a very worthwhile read. Holland writes an excellent history and documents his as well as the introduction players from higher ups in the government and military to all the pilots and crew members of the nineteen planes. Recommended to anyone interested in World War II, the RAF, and secret war time missions.

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Book Review: The Willow Tree

The Willow Tree by Hubert Selby Jr. is another novel in about the life outside of society that few people really experience. Selby was born in New York in 1928. A high school dropout who joined the Merchant Marines and came down with tuberculosis. Experimental surgery saved his life but also got hooked on pain killers and heroin. Bed ridden for the next ten years, he developed his own writing style. 

The Willow Tree, like most of Selby’s work, is deep, deep underground life. Life is bleak and then it gets bleaker and never stops its downward spiral. Hope, doesn’t exist in the inner city: Drugs violence, racial hatred, and the realization that that is all there is. His work reflects the darkness he experienced his whole life. The rare instances where there is beauty,“Then starting the descent through the cool refreshing air, feeling an exquisite ecstasy as she floated free of the flames & ugliness…” come at a great price. 

Selby developed his own writing style. At the first look, you might think that there is a error in the ebook format or on the press. Paragraphs end, sometimes randomly, sometimes in mid sentence. The next paragraph starts without a tab indention or maybe three tab indention or right on the right margin. Conversations are written as they are spoken and spelled in the same manner. Quotation marks and even a references as to whose turn it is speaking are nonexistent. “Didn’t” was typed as “didn/t” because the the “/” key was easier to reach. Periodically, he typed words in all capital letters too. All this might seem a bit annoying to the reader, but it all seems to fall in place and work well. His style seems to add to the story. 

Selby sets the tone of the book in the opening sentence: “Bobby lay in bed listening to the rats scratching and squealing in the wall a few inches behind his head, the rats sounding as if they were ready to gnaw through his skull and chew on his eyeballs from the inside.” Bobby, just a kid, is looking forward to summer, getting a job, earning some money, and spending it with Maria. Classic Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story comes into play. Bobby is black and Maria is Puerto Rician and although they are in love others see a problem. Bobby and Maria are attacked by a group of young Puerto Ricians. Bobby barely crawls away and Maria ends up with a face full of lye. Maria ends up at the hospital and even there she is view by some of the staff as either a prostitute or a drug user, that working people will have to pay for her care. Bobby, is saved by an old man name Moishie. Bobby filled with hate and learns from the old man with a numbered tattoo on his wrist about hate and life…and the story begins. 

Selby combines an unique literary style, a coherent Burroughs maybe, and a gritty, tough, New York City story. As dark as his writing can be it is also compelling and hard to put down. The characters are mature and at times it is hard to believe they are in their early teens. The Willow Tree is a powerful and moving book that is sure to stay with you for a long time. Unfortunately, the world lost Selby almost ten years ago and no one has been able to step up and take his place.

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Book Review: Ten Billion

Ten Billion by Stephen Emmott is based on the author’s lecture run at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Emmott leads the Microsoft Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge and is a professor of Computational Science at Oxford University.

There is a children’s book entitled “There Was An Old Woman” about a woman who swallowed fly and from there swallowed a spider to catch the fly and goes on to a bird to catch the spider to cat, dog, goat, cow, and a horse (she’s dead- of course!). We, humanity, are forcing the earth to swallow thing after thing to try and fix the problem’s we are causing.

Human’s emerged as a species 200,000 years ago. 10,000 years ago there were a million people on earth. In 1800, population reached 1 billion. By 1960, human population reached 3 billion. 5 billion in 1980 and today there are 7 billion people. By 2050, the the population will reach 9 billion. And 10 Billion by the end of the century, that is with restraint. If we grow at the current rate, by the end of this century there will be 22 billion people on the planet. Population, people, not flies or spiders will be the death of the planet as we know it.

We have recognizable damaged on the planet now and with the rise of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and there demands for a Western lifestyle of meat, cars, technology will put a huge burden on the planet. Emmott is not worried that we will run out of oil to fuel this growth; he is worried that we will continue to use it at an accelerated pace and the damage that will do.

In 1960, there were 100 million cars in the world. By 1980, there were 300 million cars on the road. This year we will produce the 1 billionth car and over the next 40 years we will produce another 2.5 billion cars. The price of cars extends beyond the price tag; there are roads, pollution and pollution related diseases, environmental damage from oil production, transportation costs of parts, raising of animals for leather, and the list goes on.

Food and water will see increased demand. The Green Revolution, the author says, is a myth. There was nothing green about it. Petroleum based fertilizers and irrigation allowed increased production. As petroleum becomes scarce and water becomes scarce, food will become scarce. To increase food production new crop lands will be needed. This will come at the expense remaining forests and protected lands. Climate change will move crop lands. Climate change is not weather: because it snows one day in March in Dallas, Texas does mean global warming is wrong.

Emmott paints a picture of earth reminiscent of Isaac Asminov’s story 2430 AD. It is is a scary picture and it will be here in our children’s life time, if not ours. We are not trying to change the path we are on, most are happy to speed down the road to oblivion. Even those who try aren’t really doing much. I don’t drive a car. I bicycle everywhere I can; I take the train if I need to go farther. I am a vegetarian who shops local. My technology consists of a laptop, a phone and a Nook (no TV, stereo, X-box…). But even all that won’t be enough in the future. Emmott is much more blunt about it, let’s just say, the old woman is starting to swallow the horse.

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Book Review: Unthinkable: Iran, the bomb, and American Strategy

Unthinkable: Iran, the bomb, and American Strategy by Kenneth Pollack is an investigation into the American and Iranian relationship and possible plans of action. Kenneth Pollack earned a BA from Yale and a PhD from MIT. From 1988 through 1995 he was an analyst on Iraqi and Iranian military issues for the CIA. In 1999, he rejoined the National Security Council and has served as a professor at the National Defense University. Outside of the government Pollack work for the Brookings Institution and the Council of Foreign Relations. 

In the field of International Relations there are two camps: The Liberal Theory and the Realist Theory. The Liberal camp believes in cooperation among nations and if there is a problem there should be a group effort (international institutions) to solve it: Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, Roosevelt’s United Nations, even both Bush’s Iraq invasions involved coalitions of like thinking nations. The idea of working as group and improving ties helps keep peace by developing common ground and interests. Ideas of interlinked trade (and democracy) creates dependencies among nations ensuring peace and stability. The European Union and NAFTA are examples. The Realists believe the individual states are the main players in the international arena. States should act in their own interests and to ensure their own security. Relations between states is determined by their relative power. Economic, political, and military strength are the determinates of power. Self-interest and power drive the Realist Theory. Kissenger and Reagan are examples American Realists. Reagan’s unilateral attacks on Iranian oil platforms in the the Persian Gulf (1987) or the mining of Nicaraguan harbors (1984) are examples of the Realist Theory in action. 

Kenneth Pollack is a Realist and that is fairly rare in American writing. Most writing today is from the Liberal Theory. Leverett and Flynt’s Going to Tehran is an excellent excellent of Liberal Theory and Iran. Pollack book is a counter balance and presents an American-centric view of Iran rather than an international view. The differences can be readily seen in the writing. Pallack quotes Hooman Majd (The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and The Ministry of Guidance Invites You Not to Stay ) in his book. Majd writing about the Green Revolution in Iran spoke of the restraint of the Iranian government and stated the government figure of under 100 deaths in the riots. The government concentrated on mass arrests and then released most explaining that the people were caught up in a frenzy much like an angry football mob and that did not constitute treason. The Greens agreed with with the less than 100 death toll. In Tunisia, for example 338 died. Egypt 846. Yemen 2,000. Bahrain 120. Libya 30,000. Syria is approaching 100,000. Majd saw this as restraint and the only way the Iranian regime could keep power. Pollack writes “They arrested all of the opposition leaders and with thousands more; they beat up hundreds, if not thousands, and killed perhaps as many as a hundred for good measure – often at random to drive home to the revolutionaries that anyone involved with the Greens might pay the ultimate price.*” Both authors present the same facts, but their tone is very different. 

Pollack writes very well and with his experience I would have assumed that he was more than a few years older than I am, rather than three years younger. I could not help being taken back to the Cold War Era when I read his description of what you need to know to be an expert on Iran. Two phrases are all you need: “I don’t know” and “it depends”. Shades of the former Soviet Union. The similarities are are remarkable. Unthinkableis filled with relative information and an excellent example of the Realist Theory in action. It is a very worthwhile read for any wanting to understand the inner workings of foreign policy and Iran. Pollack is a refreshing change to the usual opinions of Iranian foreign affairs. He presents a wealth information and carefully backs his opinions and findings with plenty of source material. I recommend this book for anyone looking into current American foreign policy or Iran in the world. Dr. Pollack is indeed an expert in his field.

The reviewer holds a MA in International Relations with a concentration in US Security Policy from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, TX. He is a supporter of the Liberal Theory.

*The quote is from the uncorrected galley of the book. It is being used to show the author’s tone rather than to verify specific factual information.

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