Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


Besides just learning, reading’s good for you!

April 7, 2009


So says The Telegraph. Psychologists’ research suggests that reading is perhaps the most effective way to reduce stress quickly.


Q&A: Dambisa Moyo on aid damaging Africa

April 7, 2009

Two weeks ago, I posted on an article in The Wall Street Journal about the crippling effects of aid to Africa. I came across an interview of the author of that column, Dambisa Moyo, who just released a book on the subject: Dead Aid:Why Aid is not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa.

Here’s Moyo in an exchange on celebrity aid:

Guernica: In your book, you discuss the different eras of aid. The money started flowing in the post-war years to keep African countries friendly to the U.S. You go on to describe the 2000s as the decade of “Glamour Aid,” and you’re critical of Bono and Bob Geldoff, in particular. Do you feel these celebrities who are beating the drum for increased aid—and in doing so, drawing attention to themselves as well as the cause—are acting out of paternalism and perhaps egoism rather than true altruism?

Dambisa Moyo: First of all, I talk very little about the celebrities [in Dead Aid]. To focus on them is to miss the point. There are three things I want to say about celebrities and “Glamour Aid.” First, I don’t think they’re right. I may have been more sympathetic if they were pushing an agenda for more trade or more foreign direct investment, but the fact that they’re pushing for an additional fifty billion dollars [in aid] illustrates to me that they don’t understand economics and perhaps do not add value to the debate. It certainly worries me that they’re getting more airtime than they should. The second point is that in the aid model, you disenfranchise Africans because the governments are not held accountable. The fact that there was a vacuum big enough for these celebrities to step in and speak, ostensibly, on behalf of the African continent is worrying. Africans stand in the hot African sun to elect their leaders, not celebrities.

Here’s the whole interview in Guernica.


Thoughts and El Salvador

March 19, 2009


Voters looks for their names in the voters register in Panchimalco, 18 kms south from San Salvador. Mauro Arias

Voters looks for their names in the voters register in Panchimalco, 18 kms south from San Salvador. Mauro Arias

Most of the week’s news centered around the charlatans at insurance giant AIG, but what many may have missed is El Salvador’s presidential election and Marico Funes’ victory last Sunday. Funes’ party, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, has successfully put an end to over two decades of right-wing rule.

While some are wary of Funes’ election, thinking he may take after Hugo Chavez, Funes has gone to great lengths to assure his critics that’s not the case. Throughout the campaign, he modeled himself as a new leftist, taking the conciliatory path of Barack Obama, suggesting he was willing to work with the opposition.

El Salvador’s 12-year long civil war ended in 1992, after 75,000 people had been killed. It was once a country that compelled Joan Didion to write “Terror is the given of the place.”

Roughly a decade ago, nobel laureate Wole Soyinka wrote The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness. It’s a superb meditation on how countries come to terms with authoritarian regimes and the legacies of violence, paranoia, and rage they leave behind. Soyinka explores at length what governments attempt at the threshold of reconciliation. What he finds isn’t startling, but nevertheless sublime. There’s no uniform approach. Each country adapts to the peculiarities of the defunct regime.

Two countries he surveys are post-aparthied South Africa and Germany after reunification. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is well-known. In what was once East Germany, the government opened the Stasi files to the public, allowing citizens to see who had informed on them, whether it was an endearing neighbor, the postman or one’s spouse.

It appears that El Salvador’s attempt at candor and national repair came only in half measures. In 1992, as part of the peace agreements between the FMNL and the ruling regime, the parties established a truth commission.  A year after the civil war, the commission—composed solely of foreigners—released its report. Amnesty provisions weren’t addressed at its inception, and the effort was hampered by obstruction from the United States and President Alfredo Cristiana. Cristiana subsequently recommended amnesty for military officials named as human rights violators; an amnesty, as these things go, that wasn’t his to give.

I know little of what has transpired in El Salvador since then, nor how far the national conversation has progressed. So it’s difficult to judge where on this journey the nation finds itself. And half measures—inadequate as they may be—are better than none at all.

Soyinka believes a wounded nation must confront its past, and neglecting this indelibly cripples the body politic. Reestablishing trust is essential for the prospect of real progress. Considering last week’s events, one hopes El Salvador is on such a path.


On the perils of eating husky liver

February 17, 2009

siberian-huskyI’m slowly making my way through The Aztec Treasure House by Evan S. Connell. The book, published in 2001, is a compilation of historical essays; not topics we obsess on so much, but tales of endearing and dark, enduring folly.

Here we read of journeys in search of the mythical Prester John, of the Innocents Crusade, when children marched toward death or enslavement to rid Jerusalem of the Moslems, of Arctic explorations gone awry, of Spanish and Incans who died for gold, of a king’s hubris and the ship that sank in his service.

Here’s the passage on husky livers:

Mertz and Mawson looked forward to eating the livers of the dogs, not because they were good —in fact they were slimy and stank of fish—but because it seemed to them that the liver must be nourishing. This part of the animal was saturated with a substance  which would be isolated eight years later by  laboratory technicians and named vitamin A. Twenty years after that discovery the effects of an overdose would be catalogued: nausea, vertigo, loss of hair, cramps, skin fissures, extreme fatigue, dysentery, delirium, and convulsions, often ending in death. … Four ounces of a husky’s liver is enough to be considered poisonous. Mawson and Mertz, who ate six livers, swallowed about thirty toxic doses apiece on the assumption it was good for them.

Connell’s wry humor and off-hand insights infuse these pieces with the mark of a keen and irreverent mind. For more on Connell, this Salon piece explores his sanguinary obsessions.