A Rainbow, A Promise, The Audicity of Hope

Posted in Book Reports on August 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We enjoyed a brief but very nice double rainbow on the way in to the office this morning. Some people were walking down the road toward us, so they couldn’t see it. When I stopped to take a photograph they thought, at first, that I was shooting them. When I pointed into the sky and said, “Promis!”  they all knew what it was and turned around for a look:

Double Rainbow

The Tok Pisin word for rainbow is promis  (pro-meess) from the English work promise. The reason being, of course, that in the Old Testament, after God drowned everybody except Noah and his followers, God promised not to do it again. Well, he actually hedged and said that he wouldn’t use water  to do it again. Then he invented the rainbow and stuck it up in the sky to remind everybody that he’d promised not to drown them again. Cute, eh?

However, that’s not what this post is all about. I’m was just wasting your valuable time.

This post is about, in my stupefyingly wacky opinion, how Americans think. More precisely, it’s about how we might encapsulate modern American thought in a way that anybody who can read can figure out a lot about us without going to too much trouble.

I’m going to lose a lot you here, especially some my American comrades of the rosy hue (the Red State inhabitants, not Communists). Nevertheless, I’m going to forge ahead into uncharted territory by suggesting that anybody who is wondering what it means to be an American and wants to get it in one easy-to-understand dose could do worse than to read Barack Obama’s (he wasn’t President when he wrote it) book, The Audacity of Hope.  There, I’ve said it.

Here’s a photo of a framed woven thingie that Eunie made decades ago before we became cynical expatriates:

Barack Obama - The Audacity of Hope

Upon it lies the book which has taken me over two months to read. I’m not usually such a slow reader. The reason that it took so long is that, on almost every page, there was some statement, concept, ideal or funny remark that I had to stop and think about for fifteen or twenty minutes. All that thinking really adds up.

It would be ridiculous for a goon like me to review the book for you. Therefore, I’ll just ramble on a bit about it.

There was little that I did not like, insofar as the politics go. That is, of course, because my left leg is shorter than my right one due to a broken femur. However, I did very much like the manner in which Obama presents the points and counter points. In my opinion, he seems always to strive to present a balanced view, sometimes at the expense of weakening his own position.

No one can argue that Obama is not an excellent writer. I found the book very enjoyable. His sense of humour comes through, along with a rather surprising humility which seems not to be feigned. We have to remember, of course, that no one in this day and age could be elected President of the U. S. of A. unless he has presented the world with a New York Times  best seller.

The reason that I’m writing about the book is that many of my readers are not Americans – a large portion, in fact. Though probably half of my American readers will disagree with me, I’ll say it anyway. If you’re wondering what makes Americans tick, socially, politically, morally, religiously, in family life, etc. then read this book.

If you’re less than enchanted by political views to the left of Rush Limbaugh, give it a shot anyway. You’ll find it a fun read. You can enjoy the good bits and still have plenty to gripe about.

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A Good Buddy Gets Hitched

Posted in Book Reports, Mixed Nuts on April 20th, 2009 by MadDog
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Frequent readers will know our buddy Mike Wolfe. Mike works for World Vision, a faith-based NGO. He’s a water and sanitation technical adviser in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Mike is one of those strangely deranged people that, for no explicable reason, wander around the world doing things that seem to need to be done. He doesn’t get paid much for it and sometimes the conditions are less than the Paradise that he experienced while living in Madang. For an example of what Mike is all about, have a read of Jesus Wants You to Build a Toilet.

Mike maintains an absolutely stunning blog called Wanderlust. The photography is impeccable (and moving in a way that makes me green with envy) and the prose is emotionally charged without being overly sentimental. If you haven’t been there, take the trip — and I do mean it’s a trip, man.  UPDATE:  Whoops!  That blog belongs to Tristan, another dive buddy. I always get Tris and Mike mixed up. Call it creeping senility. Sorry, Tris, for giving your blog away to Mike. See the comment below by Tris. I think that he was very restrained.

Well, young Mike has up and got himself hitched. And, from what I gather, his bride, Lisa McKay is quite a catch.  Here’s her LinkedIn summary:

Australian forensic psychologist specialising in stress and trauma issues related to humanitarian relief and development work. Directs the Headington Institute‘s training and education program which involves national and international travel to deliver training workshops and consultation services, as well as writing training and education materials for humanitarian workers and mental health professionals.

Hmmm . . . a very busy young lady, I’d say.  Here’s the flower-strewn path shot from their wedding:

Rose petals and all
And a little smooch:
A smooch with the bride
Plus the obligatory walk on the beach:
The obligatory beach scene
A classy couple.

Lisa has other talents. She is an author. Her first book was published in 2007  —My Hands Came Away Red:

My Hands Came Away Red by Lisa McKay
Mike gave me an autographed copy of Lisa’s book recently. My excuse for not reading it yet is lame. I have three magazine articles to finish before I leave in a little over a week and I’m feeling slothful, always a bad omen. I’m going to take it with me to keep me amused as I work my way half way around the world to Canada.

I’m not usually a reader of “Christian Literature.”  I know that there are excellent authors out there, but most of what I have read gives me the creepy feeling that the writer is desperately trying to sell me something that I’ve already bought. Either that or I’m being constantly reassured that what I believe is okay to believe. Hey, I choose to believe it. I’m not forced to believe it. I don’t need to be reassured that it’s okay or that I’m not some kind of weirdo for being a believer.

I’m anxious to see if Lisa can give me a good buzz without putting me off. From the reviews that I’ve read, I think that she’ll get the job done.

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The Ghost Mountain Boys

Posted in Book Reports on August 11th, 2008 by MadDog
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War stories usually don’t interest me much. I can take them or leave them.

In the case of The Ghost Mountain Boys, I felt compelled to read the book as it was given to me by long-time (thirty-some years) friends and financial backers David and Lucy Springer of Brownsburg, Indiana. 

The Ghost Mountain Boys

David is a retired trucker turned farmer and a masterful and informed conversationalist. I always enjoy the time we can find to visit with them.

The Ghost Mountain Boys distinguishes itself from most WWII war tales (especially those written by American authors) in a few respects.

First, it pays little attention to the grand plans of Generals and their often guesswork strategies and focuses more on the struggles of small units and individuals. This makes the book much more readable. It gets you quite literally inside the sweaty, fear-stinking uniform of the grunt.

Another ‘different take’ is that the author is consistently unmerciful towards General Douglas MacArthur and most of his sycophant staff. I’d guess most Australians would enjoy this book.

A third aspect that I enjoyed is that The Ghost Mountain Boys does not glorify the American effort. It clearly respects history in portraying the American armed forces role in the battle for New Guinea as it was – one force of several.

Finally, The Ghost Mountain Boys devotes most of its pages to highly personal interviews, letters, and military communications from both sides of the battle front. Some of the personal communications of the Japanese shed a new light on the true magnitude of the terror and suffering endured by the combatants on both sides.

James Campbell’s style is down-to-earth, gritty, and personal to the extreme. I kept thinking of the Vietnam battle scene from Forest Gump.

In 2006 he mounted an expedition to New Guinea and traced the route of The Ghost Mountain Boys. That’s some serious research.

My conclusion: Highly Recommended reading, especially for anybody with an interest in PNG history.

I’d be happy to loan the book to anyone who will promise to return it. Don’t expect me to remember.

Book Report #3 – Casino Royal – Comparing Ian Fleming’s Spy to The Spy of Hollywood

Posted in Book Reports, Humor on April 18th, 2008 by MadDog
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My ever thoughtful son sent to me for Christmas a very retro-covered copy of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel (1953), Casino Royal.

The “Bond gun”? - Walther PPK

My first reading of the Bond series was in 1965, when I was in Advanced Infantry Training at some sleepy Army Fort in North Carolina. Vietnam was bleeding. I was safe from the draft because I had wisely joined the National Guard. (Yes, as if you care, I freely admit that I was a draft dodger. I could probably never be President. Or could I . . . ?)

I worked in an office with two other enlisted men and a lethally bored Second Lieutenant. One of the other guys was an extremely perturbed Austrian citizen who had, by stupendous effort and patience, obtained residency in the USA and was thus – to his everlasting bewilderment – eligible for the draft. He was probably the least lucky person I’ve ever met.

Our single task was to determine the devastation to Army equipment and personnel in case the Ruskies lobbed one in on us that particular day. The calculations took about a half-hour. That left ample time for reading and snoozing. I also learned to touch-type – just about the only useful skill I acquired in the Army.

There I go – getting off-point again. Anyway, I was amused to re-read Casino Royal after 43 years. I had firmly in mind, from watching countless Bond movies, a certain persona that, while unquestionally capable of cold-blooded murder of bad guys, was nevertheless admirable from a certain twisted and depraved viewpoint. (i. e. blind patriotism)

Forget all that. Fleming’s Bond is about the most despicable character you can imagine. Only the bad guys are worse. There is nothing admirable about him. He is a misogynist of the first order. He experiences women as annoying nuisances fit only for his temporary amusement. Even as he seduces, he is icily planning the kiss-off. He is also, contrary to the movie portrayals, often inept and falls far short of the manly fortress of strength, integrity, and courage of the movie mockery.

I could go on and on, but one has only so much time at work to read this drivel.

I’ll bring the book back to Madang. If you want to borrow it, let me know. If you’re a Bond movie fan, you’re in for a surprise.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: The pistol is a Walther PPK – I won’t get into the details. Most people who care think of this as “The James Bond Gun.” Surprisingly (to me, at least), it makes no appearance in Casino Royal. My son tells me that it appeared in a later volume (five years later in Dr. No). When I get to Canada, my son and I are going to do a little research and collaborate on a few posts revealing “The Guns of James Bond.” It will be fun for us, if not for you.

I should mention that the PPK has a sentimental appeal to me aside from the Bond thing. For years, when I was doing business in an unsavory atmosphere (not saying where or why), I carried a PPK very similar to the one in the photo tucked into a ‘snuggie’ holster between my belt and my bum. Happily, I never shot anybody, including myself.

Thanks to the very nice, but otherwise scary folks at Don’s Guns in Indianapolis for allowing me to take the photo in a WARNING – NO CAMERAS area. You may speculate for a moment concerning the reason cameras might not be welcome in a place where the motto has been for years, “I don’t want to make any money. I just love to sell guns.”

TO THE OWNERS AND EMPLOYEES OF DON’S GUNS: I mean absolutely no disrespect by any comment in this post. I am a writer of humor and a professional fool. Practically everything is funny to me. If it weren’t, I’d probably blow my own brains out. You treated me with a bemused kindness that went far beyond your duty to the public to supply the necessary tools to allow them to exercise their rights under the Constitution of the United States of America. God bless the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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Book Report #2 – Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

Posted in Book Reports, Dangerous on March 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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When the earth quivers and bounces we take notice. You know that strange half-panic, half-amused state in which you’re waiting…waiting to see how bad it’s going to get? Body tensed for flight, senses finely tuned. I know that when I’m sitting in my lounge watching my furniture being randomly rearranged, I don’t expend a lot of effort wondering about the science of it. I’m only looking to see how far the coffee table in front of me moves so that I can decide if I’m going to flee from the house.

But later – after it’s over. Have you ever wondered exactly what causes all that commotion? When the earth rocks and rolls, it’s of no small interest to me what causes it – not that I can do much about it. Oh, by the way, like many Madang residents, I can look out my front door and clearly see one of the most potentially dangerous volcanoes on the planet: Kar Kar Island. And it’s close enough to erase my existence if it’s of a mind to do so.

Krakatoa and A Crack in the Edge of the World

These two books, Krakatoa (primarily about the 1883 eruption which was the most powerful in recorded history) and A Crack in the Edge of the World (mainly about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake) will answer all your questions and show you a good time while doing so. Never more will you yawn knowingly and say something like, “Ah yes, those subduction zones. They should do something about them.” Terms like tectonic plates and strike-slip faults will no longer be irritating when some know-it-all throws them out for the enlightenment of ordinary dullards like us.

Simon Winchester has given us a couple of books that will both entertain greatly and solve the puzzle of why earthquakes and volcanoes happen at all. More interesting is why they happen so very much more often in certain places. They are, in short, a sound read in seismology and geology for the layperson. The science is delivered in clear and simple terms and is always tied to the events and the stories of people somehow connected to them.

Thanks to my friend and fellow diver, Michael Wolfe, for lending them to me.

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Book Report #1 – A History of the World in Six Glasses

Posted in Book Reports on February 15th, 2008 by MadDog
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Remember book reports from school?  Did you hate doing them as much as I did?

Why is it that now that I’m more or less (ahem) mature, that book reports seem like a fun idea?  Anyway, as a part of my relentless campaing to bore you silly, I’m starting a series of book reports.  Unlike my teachers of yore, you can rest assured that I actually did read the book from cover to cover.

Today’s treasure is A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage.

The History of the World in Six Glasses - Tom Standage

Rather that boring you with a synopsis, if you are interested, you can get one at the author’s site.

Although the entire book is fascinating – a gem of amusement on every page – I liked best the chapter on the “Victorian Internet.”  The similarities to today’s world are striking. Tom Standage has a gift for poking through the stale and crusty surface of the obvious to find the gooey natural goodness of the obscure.

This book was a Christmas gift from my son.  Thanks, Hans. You know your old man well.

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