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Hande Z (Singapore)
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The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
by Barton Swaim
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.10

4.0 out of 5 stars He made me say it, 27 Aug. 2015
Who would need someone else to write speeches for them? The answer is probably people with power but no time. Who would want to write speeches for others? That would probably be bright and articulate people who need a job. Barton Swaim’s book illuminates the psyche of the two – the speaker and the speechwriter. It is illuminating in the general sense as a study of speakers and speechwriters generally, and it is also illuminating of the author personally, as a speechwriter to the speaker whose speeches he wrote.

Although he did not name his boss, the world knows that Barton Swaim was a speechwriter for Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina whose claim to fame is proportionately due to his tragic-comic adultery, his incoherence when speaking on his own without a speechwriter, and the fact that in spite of the first two, he is still the Congressional representative for South Carolina.

Kurt Vonnegut once told his writing class that only a nut would want to be the president of the United States – ‘but he gave me a job’ (as a speechwriter for $1,800). Somewhere in the relationship between a speaker and his speechwriter, honesty and sincerity are given makeovers, from the mild to the extreme. A speaker like Sanford probably does not understand the drift, let alone the nuances, that his speechwriter has etched out for him. A speechwriter, on the other hand, carves ideals and promises for his principal knowing that they are not going to happen.

Swaim knows this for he writes: “It’s impossible to attain much success in politics if you’re the sort of person who can’t abide by disingenuousness. This isn’t to say that politics is full of lies and liars; it has no more liars than other fields do. Actually one hears very few proper lies in politics. Using vague, slippery, or just meaningless language is not the same as lying: it’s not intended to deceive so much as to preserve options, buy time, distance oneself from others, or just to sound like you’re saying something instead of nothing.’

Oh dear, Mr Swaim, using ‘vague, slippery, or just meaningless language’ with intent to avoid the truth and thus misleading the listener is no better than lying (what Swaim refers to as ‘proper lies’). In the combined act the speaker and the speechwriter are pretending to be somebody he is not, and pretending to say something from his conscience when he is not. Remember Vonnegut? ‘He has this advice: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful about what we pretend to be.’ Are the Swaims of the literary world listening?


Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets
Capitalism: Money, Morals and Markets
by John Plender
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A capital book, 24 Aug. 2015
This is an immensely entertaining and illuminating book about the history of capitalism, how it is reflected from the mirror of morals, and its future. Plender tells his tale by citing literary works and history. He begins with the moral warning against avarice from a plethora of ancient voices. The great Christian Paul might turn in his bed in Heaven should he see how his diatribe against wealth – the love of money is the root of all evil – has been twisted. The slightly less famous GB Shaw protested that it is ‘the lack of money’ that is the root of all evil.

Plender strives to find the ethical basis for capitalism, but at every turn he finds questions that are hard to answer. He searches for the seed of capitalism, beginning with the animal spirit of the entrepreneur, using, among other works, the ‘Fable of the Bees’ by Nicholas Barbon to illustrate the point that capitalists needed to be ‘both vicious and economically creative’.

He examines the role of bankers and why appearances are important to them – they are, after all, Plender suggests, masters of the con job. Here, he refers to the story of the Tellson Bank in Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ to illustrate how banks create the impression of probity. When it comes to industrial shrinkage and financial excess he has no lack of material. From Dickens again, he found ‘Hard Times’, and from Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ and Gibbons’s ‘The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, lessons to the fall of the Lehman Brothers. The shrinkage of industrialisation is not, in Plender’s view, a necessary catastrophe because he thinks that it may be that it is just a case of the world going through an economic balance, with industrialisation giving way to services. But that is what brought about the excesses of the banking services which he discusses further in his later chapters about the sophists, economists, and other silky-tongued drivers of the financial services.

Plender does not expect us to be disappointed with a book about capitalism without talking about gold. His chapter, ‘Gold: the 6,000 year Bubble’ is fascinating with his references to Richard Wagner’s ‘The Ring of Biebelung’ and Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’. He studies Warren Buffet’s (negative) views about gold, and endorses them although he believes it is still a good bet to hold on to some gold as a hedge against inflation.

Plender concludes that with all its warts, there is a future for capitalism because history has vindicated capitalism for having ‘lifted millions from poverty all across the world’.


Economics After Capitalism: A Guide to the Ruins and a Road to the Future
Economics After Capitalism: A Guide to the Ruins and a Road to the Future
by Derek Wall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing beyond, 21 Aug. 2015
Derek Wall is a supporter of the Green Party of England and Wales. He is thus naturally inclined to think that the world's economic woes spring from capitalism and its modern off-spring, the even more evil globalisation. His book, 'Economics after Capitalism' is not a book that contains the rantings of an anti-capitalist. It is measured and deserves deep and serious consideration. He is very lucid and explicit about the flaws of capitalism. He explains how capitalist and its rich elite destroy the resources of the world and impoverishing the poor (nations and individuals alike) while enriching themselves.

The big and powerful nations are all capitalists. They employ the three powerful institution -- the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and The World Trade Organisation -- to retain control of wealth and power. Although he presents some alternatives, the various forms of anti-capitalists from Marx to Nerig, including the proponents of the commons, Wall is short of any real solution. He sees and understands the problem but is unable to find an answer in economics or politics. Perhaps the answer is not in either.


The Curious Baristas Guide to Coffee
The Curious Baristas Guide to Coffee
by Tristan Stephenson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.79

4.0 out of 5 stars The brew code, 20 Aug. 2015
This is a heavy (weight wise) book for the aspiring or amateur barista. The history and process of coffee making are well-written and the chapter on roasting is fascinating (especially the section on roasting coffee at home). Ever wondered where 'espresso' got its name? It was the answer to long-suffering coffee lovers' dream of a good cup of coffee quickly brewed instead of the alternative soot served from re-heating bulk brewed coffee.

The strength and primary function of this book lie in the step-by step guide in the various methods of brewing coffee , such as using the French press, syphon, and aeropress. There is also a section on how to make coffee based drinks and desserts - butter coffee, cascara, affogato, and many others.

If you are interested in how to brew coffee this is the book for you. If you are more interested in talking coffee then you might want to read Ruth Brown's 'Coffee Nerd'. They serve slightly different purposes and will get along well on your self - like coffee and milk - Brown's book is small and light.


The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible
The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible
by A. N. Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.49

4.0 out of 5 stars In the beginning was the imagination, 19 Aug. 2015
Without the Bible the Christian religion will not be as we know it today although that is not to say that we know all about the Christian religion. That is because the religion is as fractured as it is diverse. Being all things to all men comes at the price of impenetrability. The Bible is a book that requires the reader to decide whether to read it literally or to read it metaphorically, grasping the words as symbolism of whatever the imagination takes them. Christians of the latter school will assert that theirs is not the mere imagination the rest of us understand it to be but it is the imagination inspired by the spirit of their Jesus. This review will say nothing of these two ways of reading the Bible. This is a review of A N Wilson’s way.
A N Wilson was a Christian who turned militant atheist, writing anti- religious tracts (such as ‘Against Religion’) but he tells us in ‘The Book of the People’ (‘BOP’) by the time his atheist books appeared in print he was already harbouring doubts about atheism. He eventually re-converted to Christianity and now hops to show us (Christians and non-Christians alike) how to read the Bible.

What is clear is that he accepts the position that Jesus as depicted in the Bible cannot be proven. The historical Jesus is a myth, a stand shared by many Biblical scholars and Christians but rejected by others. BOP goes further. It is clearly against a literal reading of the Bible and accepts that all of it is narratives, not by witnesses of the events. It is a book of narratives of people claiming to be witnesses.

Wilson admires writers such as Thomas Brodie for their blend of ‘scholarship, intellectual inquiry, and an imaginative, even poetic “take” upon the world’. The trouble with admirers of such blends is that they often do not see how imagination acts as a cover for the blanks in scholarship.

Wilson resorts to many sources including the Apocrypha and Revelation to construct his methodology. Having proposed that the Bible has little historical or evidential truth, he reads between the lines of the text and imagines the minds of the narrators who the writers of the Biblical books claim to be recording. Without proof and evidence, Wilson is left with little else but imagination. Psychologically, seekers are desperate to find. They also loathe failing. Thus, egged on by ‘Seek and ye shall find’, they find.

Perhaps he was stimulated by his friend’s comment that the Bible is the best book for atheists for the thrust and conclusion he brings to his way of understanding the Bible is that ‘Christ did not come into the world to found a religion, but to make “religion” superfluous’ for there will be no Jews against Christians, no Buddhists against Hindus, and no Shiite against Sunni.

The BOP is not an orthodox approach to Bible reading, but it is a fascinating book even though it is likely to be criticised by Christians and atheists. Of course, if Wilson is right, this book will have made him at least a minor prophet.


Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided Democracy
Law and the Gay Rights Story: The Long Search for Equal Justice in a Divided Democracy
by Walter Frank
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.50

4.0 out of 5 stars History continues, 13 Aug. 2015
This is a well written and comprehensive historical account of the gay movement in America. The landmarks are the major court decisions beginning with the 1958 (unwritten) Supreme Court decision overruling the US Postal Service's attempt to suppress a magazine ('One') that was intended for a homosexual audience, to US v Windsor (the case striking out the 'Defense of Marriage Act'). The impressive and fascinating history stopped just before the US Supreme Court's biggest ruling in this area in Obergefell v Hodges. So although this is an excellent book on the history of the gay movement in America, one might wait for the second edition or a reprint that will include the Obergefell (pronounced oh-ber-ger-fel) decision.

The account by Walter Frank also analyses and comments on the function of the family court and how gay issues are and ought to be handled. The debate over gay rights is one that has always been passionate and heated. In this regard, in the chapter 'The Debate Over Gay Rights', Frank not only sets out the issues but also how the debate ought to set out ‘its public reasons' for the stand that each side takes. There is also an illuminating chapter on the onset of the AIDS, how it was perceived as a problem of sin, the resulting neglect and how it turned from 1988. He tells of the long battles between supporters and opponents of the movement, and of Obama's support, a support that began, then floundered, and re-emerged but he reserves the details of Obama's personal support for another story.

Frank asserts that the overriding goal of the gay rights movement is for gay persons to enjoy the same freedom and joy that everyone else enjoys, but he acknowledges that it 'will take more than political victories, however, to achieve this goal, for no amount of political success can protect a young child from the inner stress that comes from being different'.


Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions)
Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions)
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get Ready, 12 Aug. 2015
The two popular translations of ‘Crime and Punishment’ before the 1993 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, were by Constance Garnett and David McDuff. The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation became my favourite – until Oliver Ready’s translation came along. Not knowing a word of Russian, I declare my favourite only by the enjoyment I derived from reading the book in English.
Many things may indeed be lost in translation, and many others get misrepresented but we may not know. The result of reading only the English versions is that one’s choice is largely subjective. Compared to the Garnett version, the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation seems very modern – until Ready’s came along. Little things like changing ‘had not’ to ‘hadn’t’ renders Ready’s version not only a little more modern but also more informal. That is not to say that the atmosphere of old Russia is lost. Ready uses ‘fibs’ for ‘lies’ (Pevear/Volokhonsky) in one passage.
Ultimately, the reader has to decide for himself which style he enjoys more. Here is a comparison from one of my favourite passages (there are many) from the book. I set out first the Pevear/Volokhonsky version then the Ready version:
“What do you think?” Razmumikhin shouted, raising his voice even more. “You think it’s because they’re lying? Nonsense! I like it when people lie! Lying is man’s only privilege over all other organisms. If you lie- you get to the truth! Lying is what makes me a man. Not one truth has ever been reached without lying fourteen times or so, maybe a hundred and fourteen, and that’s honourable in its way; well, but we can’t even lie with our minds! Lie to me, but in your own way, and I’ll kiss you for it. Lying in one’s own way is almost better than telling the truth in someone else’s way; in the first case you’re a man, and in the second – no better than a bird. The truth won’t go away, but life can be nailed shut; there are examples. (Pevear/Volokhonsky)
‘Now what are you thinking?’ cried Razumikhin, raising even more. ‘That it’s their lies I can’t stand? Nonsense! I like it when people lie. Telling lies is humanity’s sole privilege over other organism. Keep fibbing and you’ll end up with the truth! I’m only human because I lie. No truth’s ever been discovered without fourteen fibs along the way, if not one hundred and fourteen, and there’s honour in that. But our lies aren’t even our own! Lie to me by all means, but make sure it’s your own, and then I’ll kiss you. After all, lies of your own are almost better than someone else’s truth: in the first case you’re human; in the second you’re just a bird! The truth won’t run away, but life just might – wouldn’t be the first time.
Ready’s version has a table of chronological events and a fresh, inspiring introduction that will help the first-time reader understand and appreciate the context of ‘Crime and Punishment’


Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will
Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will
by Alfred R. Mele
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's a free world after all., 10 Aug. 2015
'Why Science hasn't disproved free will' assumes that free will has been proved. It has not. There are some free-thinking philosophers who argue, philosophically that free will exist, but only Christians believe without proof that free will exists. This book was sponsored by the Templeton Foundation which is known for supporting scientists and philosophers who write against science and philosophy so one might wish to balance the reading diet with 'The Free Will Delusion' by James B Miles. It is always good to read contradictory views before making up one's mind.


The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
by Daniel A. Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The merits of Democracy, 28 July 2015
Bell begins his study of the Chinese political model of government by examining the flaws of the Western democratic model. The three flaws he identified concern, ironically, the tyrannical face of democracy – the tyranny of the majority (oppressing the minority), the tyranny of the minority (rich capitalists exploiting the poor), and the tyranny of the voter (over residents with no voting power).

He then examines the success of a hybrid capitalist-socialist model from a small country – Singapore. Here he quotes the former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as to the dangers of allowing the uninformed to vote. China, immensely larger than Singapore has turned, not only to Confucianism, but also to Singapore to see how it can develop a model of government that is primarily Asian.

Underneath the fascinating analysis of Western-style democracy and Asian autocracy is a curious mind probing for the answer to the problems of government. Bell makes a compelling case that orthodox democracy has too many flaws to be ideal, but what is the alternative? The China model is unlikely to have fans in the Western world, so is it possible to find a suitable hybrid that is universally palatable?


Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (28-May-2015) Paperback
Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World by Ian Bremmer (28-May-2015) Paperback
by Ian Bremmer
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Do we have to choose?, 18 July 2015
What is this book really about? Where America is and where it might be heading are the complex issues that Bremmer tries to discuss. He also thinks that he has captured the three paths from which the next President can choose to lead America to, but where to? Bremmer's made it clear that he wants to see a strong America leading and the rest of the (weaker) world following willingly and with admiration. He does not want to see an America, strong in military strength but weak in good sense, charging to yet another catastrophic military venture.

But Bremmer has not been entirely lucid or consistent with what he wants to tell the reader. On the one hand, he wants the reader to read and think about what this book has to say and elect the right president next year, but at the same time, he is firmly of the view that the president must obey Congress. So what sort of president does Bremmer really want? His inconsistent and vague positions have led to reviewers misunderstanding him. Does Bremmer really believe that an 'Independent America' is one that 'should primarily worry about itself' as a five-star review appears to have understood him? Similarly, one review that gave this book a solitary star might have read too much into Bremmer's analysis in dismissing other alternatives (described as 'Moneyball America' and Indispensable America').

I think that Bremmer understands that the world has changed and sees the danger of an extremist America, but unfortunately, he has pitched his book at the local voter and thus his ideas are lacking in coherence, consistency, and depth. The result is that it confuses the voter and draws disdain from the intellectual. In either case, the reader might benefit with a closer reading. If the reader has the patience, the book is worth reading.


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