Tag Archives: books

The Problem with textbooks

Few people outside of the field of education are aware of what has happened to the textbook industry. A small percentage of parents who take an active role in their children’s education have some idea, and perhaps some politicians who are involved  in education know a bit as well. While many in academia see the downward spiral of textbook quality, few are speaking out about it.

The trends in textbook publishing affect all levels of education, from preschool to postgraduate studies. Public and private schools, rich and poor, urban and rural, all draw from the same pool of textbooks. They have little choice in the matter; the textbook industry has gone through the same relentless wave of consolidation as almost every other industry over the past few decades.

The textbooks I am most familiar with are ESL (English as a second language) books since that is the subject I am currently teaching. However, I have looked closely at my students’ textbooks for their biology, physics, chemistry, history, and health classes, and I see the same design and content changes occurring everywhere.

First, the overall dumbing down of the texts is undeniable. One rarely encounters a word that requires  a dictionary to understand. In the secondary school texts, the lexical, grammatical, and syntactical level seems to be stuck at around the 6th grade. At the university level, it’s not much better.

Much of the content presented in modern textbooks is thinly disguised corporate propaganda. Textbook publishers are reluctant to divulge how much of textbook content is taken directly from corporate sources, but we can be sure it is substantial. Corporations are known to write entire and complete legislative bills which they hand to congress for approval.  Corporate lobbyists write speeches for politicians. Transnational corporations now control everything of value on the planet, so it follows that they are writing textbooks as well. Some of this corporate propaganda is subtle and woven into the content unobtrusively.  In some chapters, the propaganda is more blatant, such as when biology texts discuss GMOs. Monsanto definitely has its dirty hands in the education field.

Besides the obvious propaganda pushing GMOs , Darwinian evolution, quantum physics, and space exploration, there’s also the social engineering type of brainwashing. This includes the celebration of rampant consumerism, transgenderism, homosexuality, multiculturalism, hi-tech, celebrity culture, shopping, social media, and general superficiality. Parents who have not looked at an English textbook for 20 or 30 years would  be appalled at what they see. Nearly every page of the ESL text which I used for a recent course discussed one of those subjects. Consumerism and high-tech gadgets such as smartphones are especially popular topics for learning. The not-so-subtle message being taught to students, outside of the embedded grammar lesson, is this: The only meaning you can derive from life is through shopping, consumerism, acquisition, and the acceptance of a multicultural and inclusive world. The only pictures one sees on the pages are photos of models,  smiling and joyful in their sleek modern offices, making loads of money which they will spend in fancy restaurants and department stores.  Traditional families are absent. Pictures of rural life are nearly absent as well. The world is presented as one giant playground, basically. It’s filled with exciting and exotic cities which  you can visit on your next ‘holiday,’ and return home with giant shopping bags filled with the loot you collected overseas. Oh, the joys of being a yuppie! That, essentially, is the dream being sold. Everyone can be a rich yuppie, living in a high-rise in some ‘bustling’ metropolis.

Every page of modern textbooks must have a photo. On some pages, more than 50 percent of the total space is filled with photos. The people in the photos are utterly fake. Most of them are models. They looks about as real as a GMO tomato. They’re always smiling and laughing, of course. They’re always attractive. They always seem to be on holiday. They’re usually talking on their smartphones and striding confidently to their next high-powered business meeting.

Do these photos contribute anything to the lesson being taught? Do they enhance the subject matter or clarify important points? No, they do not, not in the least. They’re just filler. Publishers insert them because they claim that students will not look at a page filled only with text. Actually, the publishers are correct when they state this. I once gave my students a book to read. It had no pictures. They gasped audibly and complained loudly and bitterly to me. How could they possibly read a book with no pictures? It would be so boring….

We must ask, though, how our kids became so frightened and/or bored with a page of text. Television and computers deserve the bulk of the blame, but parents and educators have done too little to instill a love of reading to students. Education publishers help to create this problem, and then turn around and state that they are merely responding to market demand.

The hundreds or thousands of photos placed into a typical textbook today drives up the cost of the text enormously. The expensive and glossy paper on which the photos are placed is considerably more pricy that simple paper for text. Moreover, it’s not just lots of unnecessary, ugly, and fake photos that one sees on textbook pages. Graphic designers now play a role even more important than content writers. Every page must be a different color. Oh, yes. Pages must be multi-hued with flashy background themes. Black text on white background, white text on black background, green on black, blue on yellow-whatever. Every page must now resemble a website. Many pages are so repulsive to look at that I ignore them when working through a chapter. I don’t want my students to look at something so ugly and so manipulative.

Students coming up through the system today have no idea that textbooks used to be different. With their immaturity and lack of perspective, they naturally assume that things have always been this way. They are unaware that students used to read books with no pictures! And sometimes those books were hundreds of pages long, and filled with highly technical details.

In conclusion, I regard modern textbooks as abominations. They are filled to overflowing with shameless propaganda, touting GMOs and transhumanism, among other things. Their slick and glossy pages, designed by well-paid graphic designers, are all about style, not substance. Content has now receded into the background. Actual text now coves less than half of most pages and the lessons are presented in small doses so as not to stretch students’ minds too much.

 

 

Some thoughts on The Mandela Effect

The first exposure I had to the Mandela Effect was watching a video about The  Berenstein Bears. Various people were commenting that the books that they grew up reading were called The BerenSTEIN Bears, but now the books were titled The BerenSTAIN  Bears. It wasn’t just the new copies that were being printed either. Google searches revealed nothing except the A spelling, including the Wikipedia entry. I had never read these books as a kid; indeed, I had never even heard of them. So, I didn’t think too much about the issue.

However, it wasn’t long before I came across more videos being posted on YouTube about this phenomenon. Vloggers started posting videos about all sorts of things- books, movies, product names, celebrity names, the map of the world- that had suddenly and inexplicably changed. The Mandela Effect had quickly gone well beyond the Berenstein Bears. After watching a number of these videos, I did my own research, both online and on the street, to verify the veracity of the claims presented. What I quickly found was that the Mandela Effect is real, verifiable, mind-blowing, and frightening. If there is anything else happening on Earth at this moment that remotely compares to this, I’d like to know what it is.

What exactly is The Mandela Effect? It is a phenomenon whereby people notice numerous aspects of our physical reality that are different from their memory of those things. These things can be lines from a movie, a book title, the name of a shampoo, or the map of Asia. People have known something to be a certain way for their whole life, perhaps many decades, and then suddenly they wake up, look around them, and see it is different. This awareness is startling and unsettling.

There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples of the Mandela Effect that have been catalogued. Facebook groups and YouTube channels devoted exclusively to the cataloguing of effects have been established, as well as discussion groups. The following is a very brief list of some of the more obvious Mandela Effects.  New ones seem to appear almost daily now.

  1. The map of the world.

We humans are now, apparently, inhabiting a completely different planet from the one I grew up on. I say this as someone who has spent his entire life studying maps and atlases. I have a very good grasp of world geography. I know (knew) the shapes and sizes of the continents and countries and their relative placement. The maps that I now encounter when I open an atlas, a textbook, or google maps are nothing like the world as I remember it. South America has now shifted 2,000 miles to the east. Panama has become an East-West country instead of North-South country and the canal now cuts Northwest to Southeast. Cuba has doubled in size, moved a thousand miles to the west, and now practically touches the Yucatan. Florida has shrunk. Denmark now juts up between Norway and Sweden and is much, much further north than it was before. Spain has shifted westward. Italy now points  in a southeasterly direction, instead of southward. Sicily has moved northwestward about 500 km and now touches the tip of Italy.

Moving to Asia, Japan has moved westward and is now much closer to Korea and China. It is far less elongated than it used to be. Australia has moved at least 2,000 km northward to the point that it now almost touches Papua New Guinea and has become part of Asia. This is just a partial list of geographical Mandela Effects. Readers, feel free to investigate this for yourselves, especially if you had an interest in geography as a kid.

Before I move on to some other notable effects, it must be emphasized that this is not a matter of a mere handful of maps being changed, nor is it just the new maps. A search online of old maps, or even a glance into an old atlas printed 30, 40 or even 100 years ago, will show the same bizarre shifting of landmasses. In other words, it is reality itself that has shifted. I have gone into numerous libraries and bookstores since I began investigating the Mandela Effect and have verified this for myself.

2)  Lines from movies.

A) This list keeps growing all the time. Everyone over the age of 40 remembers the famous line from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” This has changed to become “Life WAS like a box of chocolates.” Again, this is not just evil google tinkering around with online versions of the movie. Your dusty old VCR copy will now have the updated version with “Was like a box of chocolates.”

B) The famous line from the film Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come,” has now become, “If you build it, HE will come.”

C) In the movie Jaws, Roy Scheider now says, “YOU’RE  going to need a bigger boat,” instead of “WE’RE  going to need a bigger boat.”

D) The evil queen in Snow White now says, “MAGIC mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?” instead of the famous incantation, “MIRROR, mirror, on the wall….”

E) From the 1984 movie Purple Rain, Prince now begins the film by gazing at at the audience and announcing, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here tonight to GET THROUGH this thing called life.” WTF? The line was, of course, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here tonight to CELEBRATE this thing called life.”

3) Book titles

A) The famous Anne Rice novel Interview with A Vampire has shifted to become Interview with THE Vampire. By now, hopefully you’ve noted that the new lines in movies and new book titles don’t sound quite right and are often nonsensical.

B) The Berenstein Bears have now become The Berenstain Bears.

C) Oscar Wilde’s famous novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey has now shifted in this reality to become The Picture of Dorian Grey. 

Let me take a short digression here to relate an experience I had six months ago when I traveled to Phnom Penh for a weekend. I had been doing a lot of online research about The Mandela Effect, but I wanted more physical evidence. To that end, I ventured into the biggest and best bookstore in the city to have a look around. I walked over to the fiction section and searched for Oscar Wilde. When I pulled the copy of The ‘Picture’ of Dorian Grey off the shelf, my hand was shaking and my heart was pounding in my chest. Here was the hard evidence and it was undeniable. I mean, c’mon! The ‘picture’ ? It doesn’t even make sense! The story revolves around the portrait, hence the title.

To continue with my research, I walked a couple of blocks to a used book store. The friendly owner informed me that he had a large selection of used children’s books. I found four old copies of the BerenSTAIN Bears. The owner was unfamiliar with the books, but when an elderly woman walked in, he introduced her to me and said, “She’s the one to ask about children’s books.”

Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hello, are you familiar with the Berenstein Bears books?”

Friendly woman (FW): “Well, I should be. I was a librarian for 40 years!”

Me: “Excellent! So, let me repeat the title, if I may. The books are properly called The BerenSTEIN  Bears, yes? ”

FW: “Yes, they are.”

Me: (Showing her the books that I was holding, with the alternative spelling) “Well then, what do you make of this?”

FW: “What….? Well…… I’ll be damed! (Laughing nervously)

Me: “How do you explain that?

FW: “Well, I guess I must have remembered incorrectly.”

At that point, I tried to impress upon her that it was not the fault of her memory that the title had changed. I suggested that something far more mysterious and creepy had happened and that she should investigate something called The Mandela Effect when she got home.

But here’s the rub when it comes to introducing people to this topic: It’s nearly impossible to discuss it without sounding like a loon to people who are unfamiliar with it. I’ve tried, tentatively, to broach the subject with a few of my close friends. What I try to do is find something they know well, whether it’s maps, movies, books or consumer products,and then point out anomalies. It they say, “Yeah, that doesn’t sound right,” or “Yeah, that’s not the way I remember it,” then I tell them they should do further research themselves.

4) Consumer products

There are now dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of Mandela changes with consumer products. The one that nailed it for me was  Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. I’ve been using Bragg’s products for 30 years. I have read their books. Their names are Paul and Patricia Bragg. Their smiling faces adorn all of their products. I also used the Liquid Amino Acids. So, I’m quite familiar with who they are and their company. And then, whammo! The Mandela Effect struck. The company is now called ‘Bragg.’  Every week when I go to the Western and health food market, I see ‘Bragg’ Apple Cider Vinegar and it never fails to send a shiver down my spine.

5) The human body

According to many Mandela Effect researchers, the human body itself has undergone a transformation in this new reality. The heart has now shifted to the center of the chest and the stomach has moved a number of centimeters to the left. All anatomy charts now show this new configuration.

The preceding list was meant to only be a brief introduction to the Mandela Effect. The list of effects is long and continues to grow. The big question is WHAT IS THE MANDELA EFFECT?  There are a number of theories floating about, all purely speculative at this point.

The first theory is that a certain percentage of humans now alive have relocated, somehow,  to this new ‘Earth’ from an old Earth that was destroyed in a cataclysm. Our residual memories from the old Earth are what is causing the so-called Mandela Effect. Perhaps the old Earth was destroyed in an event in 2012.

Another theory holds that we are now in a parallel dimension, an idea that was postulated and expounded on by Nikola Tesla himself. Readers who might wish to research this further can search on ‘Nikola Tesla’s theories on parallel dimensions.’

Yet another theory postulates that we live in a literal Matrix, very similar to the reality presented in the famous sci-fi cult films. Some kind of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can, and does, manipulate reality at its whim.

John Lamb Lash speculates that the Great Mother Sophia, written about in the Gnostic Gospels, and known also as Mother Gaia, is showing her sense of humor by tweaking reality and having a little bit of fun with homo sapiens.

I am neither dismissing nor leaning toward any of these theories at this point. I surmise that in the near future, more effects will manifest, more people will take note of them, and more theories will be put forth to explain it all. However this all shakes out in the end, one thing is clear: Reality is not what we thought it was and things will never, ever be the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The destruction of language

In December of 2014, I wrote an article about the destruction of language and grammar. Since that time, the trend has accelerated. Wherever we look- in newspapers, magazines, blogs, emails, textbooks, novels, and everyday conversation- we can observe the rapid disintegration of the ability to use the English language with any degree of facility, fluency, and grammatical correctness.

The English language is under attack from many directions. From the top, it is under assault from the ruling powers, commonly known as the NWO. Their agenda is clear: dumb down the masses by inverting and changing the meaning of words and muddle people’s brains by making a mishmash of all accepted grammatical rules. Since they control all of the media, their power and influence to carry out such an agenda is considerable. Hence, whenever you read a story from any large news organization,  it is quite easy to see the actual workings of this plan. The paragraph form has now almost completely disappeared from news articles, replaced by one and two sentence snippets. Any academic words above a third grade level have been excised, replaced with simple and easy-to-understand words and phrases which will require no one to consult a dictionary.

Academia has been thoroughly and definitively infiltrated and compromised by these same elites and interests. The written word, which formerly constituted 99 percent  of textbooks, now occupies, at best, only half of the course book. The  other 50 percent is now taken up with color photos, mostly of celebrities. What little text there is does nothing to challenge readers.

 

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English is also being worn away from below. English is, for better or worse, the lingua franca of our time. All over the world, English is being learned by native speakers of hundreds of different languages. The vast majority of these students attain only an advanced beginner or intermediate level of speaking and writing. Before they have mastered the use of all of the verb tenses, the paragraph, cohesion, and coherency, they are using what they know in the real world. These non-native speakers combine their limited grasp of grammar with the slang, colloquialisms, and texting / internet lingo they pick up from the media and friends.

Though the attacks from above and below would probably be sufficient to complete the annihilation of English, there are other powerful forces  that we must contend with: tech gadgets such as smartphones and social media. It would be impossible to overstate the damage that has been inflicted upon language and grammar from smartphones, Facebook, twitter, and texting.

Smartphones, tablets, and all touchscreen devices by their very nature discourage not only academic and literary writing but also any coherent thinking whatsoever. How can one construct a detailed and persuasive letter or essay by typing with their thumbs on a flat screen? It simply can’t be done. The technology itself ensures that.

Facebook provided the initial impetus for people to jettison grammar rules and proper punctuation when posting comments. Everyone began to throw up quick comments on their friends’ walls without bothering to check if it looked or sounded correct. Twitter was the final nail in the coffin. Just as touch screen technology actively discourages long, careful, and disciplined writing, Twitter forbids it. Since only a limited number of characters are allowed, subjects, prepositions, adverbs and more must be thrown by the wayside. Pronoun  subjects  have  suffered a death blow from Twitter. Nowadays, instead of “I was elated at the news of his marriage,” we have “Elated. Great news.”  This TwitterEnglish has now  insidiously permeated into many other forms of written language.  More and more, I notice that when my friends and family send me emails, they omit the subject from the majority of their sentences. Typically, the emails  read like this: “Went to the store yesterday. Saw an old friend. Came home late. Considering a vacation out West this year. Worried about my friend…” etc.

 

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Finally, we must also mention YouTube. If you want to see just how far down the destruction of language can go, simply spend a few minutes reading the comments of any popular YouTube video. Every time I think a nadir has been reached, the bottom falls out and it plunges down further still. Probably the most prevalent comment on YouTube is ‘U r an idiot. LOL.’  I’ve been wondering lately if all of the comments like that are from real flesh and blood readers and how many are produced by paid trolls at Langley, Virginia and computer programs. That may sound far-fetched, but it shouldn’t. The NWO wants to discourage, by all means possible, rational dialogue and real, honest discourse. Why wouldn’t they be active on YouTube, dropping millions of dopey and insulting comments, thereby dragging down the overall level of communication and discouraging people from talking to one another?

 

 

 

The decline and fall of conversation:The smartphone’s effect on our ability to meet, greet, and speak

People are quickly losing the ability to talk to one another. A residual  capacity still exists, but it is evaporating so fast that I may witness its extinction in my lifetime. The roots of this problem can be traced back as far as the invention of the telegraph more than 180 years ago but the advent of the smartphone has now vastly accelerated the decline of face to face speaking skills. Oratory, rhetoric, public speaking, and clarity of speech have likewise suffered greatly.

When I was growing up in the time before cellphones, I recall the numerous opportunities I had to meet and converse with strangers. Luckily, my parents never discouraged me from interacting with strangers unlike today’s parents who are told by well-meaning but misguided ‘authorities’ that they should inform their kids to ‘never talk to strangers.’

Indeed, the chances to meet new people, chat, make small talk, and possibly make a new friend or acquaintance  were endless. However, all of those situations where formerly we were encouraged or at least allowed to chat up a stranger are now gone, thanks to the smartphone.

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If you found yourself in an elevator with someone and you were both riding up to a high floor, you may not have had a lot of time, but perhaps it was just enough to offer a “It’s going to be a hot day, that’s for sure,” to the person standing next to you. And that may have led to a reply of “Oh, you got that right. And my air conditioner broke last night and I was miserable because my room was so hot.”  And then you could commiserate with this person. The next time you ran into him you might continue the conversation by asking about the air conditioner. See? It was so simple. Now, I notice that everyone, once they have boarded the elevator, immediately takes out their phone to text to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of standing next to a stranger for a few seconds.

The introduction of televisions into airplanes guaranteed that people would no longer speak to one another on long plane rides though they were a few hold-outs who stubbornly insisted on having conversations with the person sitting next to them. Nowadays, with everyone carrying a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, even those hold-outs have disappeared. Most people don’t even wait for take-off to get plugged into their cyber-world. They cast nary a glance at the person who they will be sitting mere inches from for the next 10 hours. You, the person sitting next to this new species of cyborg, are irrelevant; actually, you don’t even exist.

Buses, too, have now installed televisions and wi-fi, and predictably people now no longer talk there either. I recall riding the Greyhound Bus on long trips up and down the West Coast and making some wonderful friends in the pre-television and pre wi-fi days.

Coffeeshops, bars, and restaurants used to be places where one could meet a stranger and start up a conversation, especially if one of you was reading a book. A glance at the front cover of a book was always an easy introduction into a chat. “That book looks interesting. I’ve heard of that author but have never read anything by her. Is it good?” Your interest in the book, and literature in general, was usually sufficient to show that you were not a creep and could hold a reasonably decent intellectual conversation. These days, nobody brings books into cafes or restaurants. It’s all about the smartphone now and no one is going  to ask you what you are looking at on your phone. Furthermore, when people read books, although they were concentrating, they were still present in the here-and-now world. Not so with the smartphone. The iphone and its ilk draw people deep into a cyberworld, an alternate reality. People lose all awareness of the real world. They don’t know who is sitting in front of, next to, or behind them, and don’t care.

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Because of the addictive nature of the smartphone, people, especially the young, have an extremely difficult time putting it down for even a few minutes. Hence, even if you are able to punch through their psychic wall and begin a conversation, it will inevitably peter out in a short time. The phone being held tightly in the palm of the hand begs to be used. It is insistent. If the conversation lulls for any reason, the one holding the smartphone will start texting or browsing the web and the talk is done. Finished.

Look at people today waiting at a bus stop for the bus to arrive. Look at the poor, lonely souls waiting in the queue at the supermarket or at the bank. Are they talking? No. They are checking their facebook or instagram. Look at the friends and families sitting in cars at traffic lights. Talking to each other? No- all looking at their phones. I used to work at an office where everyone would take their lunch tray back to their desk to  eat while watching youtube. Nobody was interested in sitting at a table and eating with friends and engaging in that age-old ritual called ‘conversation.’

 

 

Dissecting more techno cheerleaders in the media. Case study: the iPad in classrooms

For writers, bloggers  and so-called journalists working in the media today, playing to the prejudices of their readers is part of their job. This is especially true for journalists and columnists who write about technology. When your readership consists of people who own a smartphone (or two), a tablet, and a laptop, reminding them that they are ‘cool,’  and ‘cutting edge’ will earn you a loyal following.

Let’s examine a recent article from the same glossy magazine which we looked at in my previous article. The author is a grade 2 homeroom teacher at a well-known international school in Ho Chi Minh City. The article is only six paragraphs long. The editors could have made it longer but chose to use one third of the page to post a color photo of a seven-year-old girl with a huge smile on her face holding an Ipad. We haven’t even gotten to the first sentence and already we know what direction the article is going to take. The upper right hand corner of the page has a professional photo of the author, an attractive woman in her 20s with perfect teeth who is smiling broadly. We, the readers, have been set up nicely to drink the  kool-aid which is being served.

The title of the article is “Techie Students- How tablets have enhanced learning.” The author wastes no time establishing her thesis which she posits clearly in the first sentence, stating…”using iPads in the classroom has been ideal for promoting new ways of learning.” Hmm,’promoting new ways of learning.’ That’s a big statement. She claims that the iPad is not just a tool which can be used in addition to books, but that it helps us learn in new ways.  If she means that all the lessons can now be given on the computer with bright flashing graphics, cartoon characters, and games, than I guess that qualifies.

The following sentence reads like an advertisement from Apple: “The iPad is a perfect digital tool for our young learners because it’s small, portable, visual, and hands-on..” Hey, this woman could be a sales rep. The author goes on to say that she avoids using it as a form of entertainment but rather as a way to empower her students to channel their interests and for ‘discovery, creation and collaborative learning.’ That’s wonderful, but can’t all of those things be done just as well without iPads or computers? Can’t you ‘discover’ things in books? Do you need a computer to create something beautiful and meaningful? All you need to create is a pencil and piece of paper. Or a canvas and paintbrushes. Or an instrument.

It gets worse. The author claims that ‘the tablets are excellent for developing research skills.’ No, they aren’t. Tablets do not develop research skills. I also work with ‘young learners’ and I can tell you that their research skills are generally very deficient, in spite of the fact that they spend hours per day on computers. Punching in a search term on google does not qualify as ‘research skills.’ Here’s how most students today do ‘research’ : They enter a term on google. They quickly choose either the first or second entry that appears on the screen, rarely even scrolling to the bottom of the page and practically never going beyond page one of search results. They don’t know how to distinguish between different sources and none of them understand that wikipedia is  fallible and biased.

Checking their Facebook in lecture hall:

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I’m only on the third paragraph but the writer’s insipid line of reasoning and her ‘rah-rah’ cheerleading for the the techno-school has left me somewhere between complete boredom and frustration. Check out this line: “Less cumbersome and more effective than dictionaries, we often use google translate or google images when coming across unknown words or concepts.” Is she kidding? A dictionary is ‘cumbersome?’ Actually, looking up words in dictionaries utilizes ancillary skills and often will lead students to other unfamiliar words as they are flipping through the pages. Punching in a word on google requires you to use far less of your brain  than looking it up in a dictionary, but this clueless teacher is so caught up in her flashing lights of her screens that she can’t see that. And Google Translate? If this teacher has really  used it, then she must know that the translations between languages are often horribly wrong. She’s teaching her students that google is God. She claims that she is ’empowering’ them, when what she is really doing is making them into little robotic consumers of digital garbage.

The author claims her grade 2 students are becoming ‘independent in their learning.’ Wow. I’ve read somewhere that Mozart was independent in his learning when he was seven years old, but that’s the only example I can think of. What does this woman think her students are going to do when teacher is not around? Do research on the causes of the French Revolution? No. They will play computer games or go into Facebook. Surely she knows that and we the readers know that, but she thinks her audience is so stupid that she can throw out this drivel and nobody will call her on it.

Who needs books?

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Techno teacher then tells us that she has her students make movies during class time using iMovie. The students even made a zombie movie! Yippee! After hyping iMovie, she then goes on to hype another app, this one called ‘Comic Life.’ You can guess where this is all leading.

This article is about as one-sided as you can get. It, and so many similar articles in the media, pitch the argument that ‘technology is great.’ Also, ‘technology enhances learning.’ And most of all, ‘technology empowers people.’

Since most parents today buy their young children smart phones and tablets by the time they are able to walk, the author is simply cozying up to them and telling them that they are doing the right thing. Furthermore, the school is staying at the cutting edge by ‘utilizing the latest technology in the classroom.’  Digital content and techno learning has not made us any smarter and never will. I suggest the author obtain a copy of “The Dumbest Generation” by  Mark Bauerlein and carefully read it before she writes any more articles.

 

 

Summer 2014 Reading List

In a previous post I gave a recommended non-fiction reading list. Now let’s look at some fiction to expand the mind, stretch the imagination and inspire the spirit.

 

41YjQvB-3bL1) China Boy 

This little known book by Chinese-American author Gus Lee is an autobiographical account of growing up in San Francisco. Lee was a skinny, weak, and insecure kid. By taking a number of classes at the local YMCA, most importantly some boxing classes, he overcame his fears and stepped out of childhood. I’ve always been a sucker for stories of young men and their mentors.  This tale is told in an straightforward, honest way that captures the reader immediately.

dharma2) The Dharma Bums

I first read The Dharma Bums when I was a senior in university. My best friends at the time were passing this book around. I was expecting a letdown after having reading On the Road the previous year, but instead I found Kerouac’s witty storytelling of his adventures with Gary Snyder to be a far superior work. The blending of exhilarating mountain climbing blended with just the right amount of Buddhist-inspired  philosophical musings told in Kerouac’s everyman language make this perhaps his best work. This is always  a fun book to go back to.

fifthsacred3) The Fifth Sacred Thing 

Starhawk’s first attempt at fiction is not the work of a polished writer. It is overly long and verbose and could have easily been cut by a hundred pages. Nevertheless, it is an inspired work and presents a much needed vision of a positive future, one free of the dysfunctionality of our present age where people actually work together and have re-learned how to live in harmony with mother earth.

FearAndLoathingLasVegasBook4) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson’s masterpiece,  is more akin to a visceral  experience than a simple exercise in reading. Many have told me that they felt changed afterward  and even felt ‘high” while reading it. That’s about the best praise a writer can achieve. Thompson would go on writing for 30 more years after the publication of Fear and Loathing in 1972 but never again soared to the artistic heights that he did with this work.

little tree5) The Education of Little Tree

Getting back to the young man/mentor theme mentioned earlier, The Education of Little Tree tells the story of a young orphan raised by his Cherokee grandfather in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. There are precious  few good novels by and about the native inhabitants of North America. This is one of them.

ishmael6) Ishmael , The Story of B

Author Daniel Quinn is a visionary. Unlike most visionaries who can only imagine a future of technology and machines, Quinn looks to the ancient past and envisions  humanity coming back to sanity and wholeness by remembering who we were before the agricultural revolution. Ishmael tells the story of mankind’s downfall through a talking ape who teaches his student through the Socratic method. The Story of B is a sequel of sorts, a continuation of the line of thought brought up in Ishmael, but more in-depth and philosophical. Quinn delves into the deepest roots of our current global predicament and sees it a crisis of mindset. Until that mindset changes, nothing will.

stranger7) Stranger in A Strange Land

Robert Heinlein’s classic is far more than simple science fiction. It is a work of philosophy and a treatise on the human condition. It is the tale of the ‘man from Mars’,  a Jesus type  figure who comes to redeem humanity. What would life be like if we really embraced and lived unconditional love?  Heinlein was a genius and this book’s message is timeless. Such was its original impact when published that a pagan church was founded and organized based upon the ideas contained within it.

19848) Nineteen Eighty-four

This is a book which I had read about for most of my adult life. It had always been on my ‘must read’ list but somehow I never got around to actually sitting down with it until a couple of years ago. Even with the dozens of articles I had read over the years discussing the book’s message, I was not fully prepared for its impact. I understood immediately the importance and genius of what I was reading, but the story is so unrelentingly dark and dystopic that it gave me nightmares. I’m glad I’ve read it, ( and I think everyone should) but I don’t care to relive the experience again.

monkeywrench9) The Monkey Wrench Gang

Edward Abbey moved easily between fiction and non-fiction. This was the fictional work which made him famous and started a movement of environmental direct action- Earth First! This book spoke to a generation of activists who wanted to do more to save the planet than just write letters and do an occasional sit-in. It’s also a really fun read.

Jitterbug_Perfume10) Jitterbug Perfume, Still Life with Woodpecker, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Another Roadside Attraction

These are my four favorite Tom Robbins novels. Robbins was deeply influenced by the teachings of the spiritual master and mystic Osho, and the Tantric message of living life to the fullest shines through in all of Robbins’ work. Funny, irreverent, witty, incisive, warm and adventurous, these novels are food for the soul.

mFHc5eSMMaNnS1abizhvaWA11) Erotic Interludes

Erotica is genre that few serious writers ever delve into. This is unfortunate, as the vacuum is filled with thousands of hacks who hone their ‘craft’ penning garbage for ‘Penthouse Forum.’ This book is actually a collection of short stories by amateur erotica writers, and editor Lonnie Barbach  includes a broad range of writing styles  so that no matter what your taste is, you will find something here to enjoy.  The quality of writing varies, but there are enough delightful gems here to make it a worthwhile purchase.

 

The death of literacy. Restaurant owners leading the charge to a dumbed down world

In many places in Asia, it is not necessary to be able to read when you wish to order food in a restaurant. The majority have menus which require dozens of pages as each page only has two or three items. The reason? Each entree and item must have an accompanying photo. Apparently, there are people out there who do not know what french fries look like. Or a bowl of soup. Or a coconut. Or a can of coke. Literally everything needs a photo. The menu pages have also become cardboard thick. Have we lost so much dexterity in our hands that we cannot turn the pages on regular size paper?

A new dim sum restaurant opened last week on my block. Out front, two six foot tall sandwich board signs are plastered with photos of the menu items. Inside, each wall is covered with enlarged photos of entrees and various dim sum items. Above the counter is yet another three by six foot backlit sign with food photos. You see all that before you even lay eyes on the menu itself, which of course has even more.

A chimpanzee would easily be able to walk in and place an order there. Some day soon, I’m going to do my best chimpanzee imitation and walk into one of these restaurants and not say a word. I will be hunched over and dragging my arms along the ground. I will make high pitched screeching noises and point excitedly at the picture that I like.  I will press my stubby fingers on the menu picture that I like and wait for my food to arrive.  No doubt this will work.

This past weekend I made my first trip to Kuala Lumpur.  My girlfriend and I sat down to eat in a fairly nice but not too expensive restaurant in a downtown shopping mall. The young, fresh-faced server, who was somewhere between late teens and early twenties,  came to take our order. He arrived not with a pen and order book,   but with an iPad computer. He asked for our orders and then proceeded to enter them into the iPad with his thumbs. I couldn’t see the screen but I feel confident that all he had to do was press the corresponding picture on the screen.

waiter

We have now come full circle. First, they made it unnecessary for customers to be literate. Now, even the servers need not be able to write. They can merely listen to the order and find the accompanying photo on the screen. Restaurant owners, like owners of many other businesses, are quick to respond to current trends and even quicker to cater to the lowest common denominator. My dear readers, do you see where all of this is heading? Right now, orders to the kitchen are spat out on a ticket which the chef has to read before he starts to prepare the item. Soon, large flat screens will be installed in restaurant kitchens and a light will flash with a photo of an entree whenever an order is placed.

1_123125_123051_2279756_2290043_110422_box_ipadwaitertn.jpg.CROP.original-original

I observed this young kid fumbling with his computer at our table while taking our order. Instead of being focused on us, the customers, he was focused on the screen which he was holding up to his nose. His face was bathed in that eerie computer screen glow. I’m sure the pencil -necked geek owner who thought of the idea of giving all servers an iPad thought he was being clever and efficient. All this cute technology however did not prevent the kid from bringing me the wrong order. Sigh….

60 Books to Blow your Mind

These are some of my all-time non-fiction favorites:

 

Chinese Tonic Herbs

herbsRon Teeguarden’s masterful summary of Chinese herbal therapy is an essential addition to your health library. Covering both major and minor tonic herbs in a clear and easily understandable style, Teeguarden allows his enthusiasm and love for Chinese herbs to shine through.

 

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do- The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in A Free Society

UnknownThis book had a profound influence on my political thinking when I was in my early 20s. The title of the book grabbed me immediately. I had never heard the term ‘consensual crime’ before and was intrigued. Peter McWilliams wrote a ‘Common Sense’ for our modern era. Stop imprisoning people for ‘crimes’ which have no victims!! Filled with hundreds of memorable quotations from philosophers  both ancient and modern, as well as everyday people, ‘Ain’t’ is a must-read for freedom lovers, anarchists, libertarians, and anyone interested in a truly free society.

 

Playing God in Yellowstone

9780156720366_p0_v1_s260x420Author Alston Chase takes the U.S. Park Service to task for ‘playing god’ in Yellowstone National Park and making matters far worse for the flora and fauna they were trying to ‘manage.’ I’m not a wildlife biologist nor have I ever even visited Yellowstone, but I found this book to be interesting reading from start to finish. The book shows the difficulty of managing complex ecosystems and how bureaucracies like the Park Service can go so far off course.

 

The New Media Monopoly

mediaWant to know where we get our ‘news’ from? This book will tell you. Updated regularly since its first publication, The Media Monopoly lays bare the tight grip that a few giant corporations have over the information which is consumed by the world’s masses.

 

 

Vidal

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire

The late Gore Vidal had a superb grasp of history and American history in particular. Analyzing the power brokers and trends in 20th century America, Vidal connects the dots  to show where all of this empire building must end: in catastrophe. This is a short, easily readable book, written in plain language and free of political haranguing and partisanship.

 

51NHVAPNVYL

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman is one of my favorite writers. His accessible and engaging writing style, combined with his historical knowledge and insight into today’s technological society made him one of America’s pre-eminent intellectuals. In this book, he theorizes that the Huxley-ian dystopia is far more likely than the Orwellian. I think he was wrong about that, but he makes convincing arguments here.

imagesVoices from the Edge

This is a compendium of interviews with ‘cutting edge’ thinkers, written in the early 90s. There is something here for everyone. The interviewees cover the whole spectrum, from Christianity to Paganism, to neo-tribalism and beyond. This is material to stretch the mind.

 

HeroThe Hero With a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell had spent a lifetime researching and writing about mythology, most of it in relative obscurity, until Bill Moyers interviewed him for a PBS special and suddenly, late in life, he became a household name. Though he wrote many books, ‘Hero’ is perhaps the most readable and covers mythology across millennia and continents. Campbell was able to see patterns and similarities like few before or since.

In the Absence of the Sacred

sacredJerry Mander had already made his mark when he published Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television,   but with this book he took his analysis of technology to a new level. Taking two big subjects- the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian nations- and combining them into book was no easy task but Mander pulls it off and shows the fundamental dichotomy between the Indian way of living and our technology-mad society.

people's historyA People’s History of the United States

A respected history professor, Howard Zinn,  finally told American history from the other side, the point of view of the victims: the Native Americans, the Africans, the poor working classes, the oppressed and the abused. This is a detailed , thoroughly researched text and a must-have for a serious student of American history.

trailTrail of Tears. The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation

The story of the Cherokee is a fascinating one. Like all the Indian nations, they succumbed to the European onslaught, and their eventual forced march to the Oklahoma territories is heart-wrenching. In their heyday, they were a large, proud and powerful  tribe and some of their members made a significant mark in colonial American society. Typical American history courses have neither the time nor the inclination to go into great detail about many of the Indian nations. The story of the Cherokee is well worth reading.

Bury_My_Heart_at_Wounded_Knee_coverBury my Heart at Wounded Knee

This book is not a pleasant read. I had to struggle to finish it. By the end of the second or third chapter,  I was already so appalled by what Dee Brown had written about the conquering of the West that I was ready to scream. Conquering territory is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, and the American military set out to clear the West for settlement with a mandate and determination.  That meant the destruction of the Indian tribes who lived there and the massacres which resulted were well documented. ‘Manifest Destiny’ brought with the barrel of a gun.

JohnNeihardt-BlackElkSpeakerBlack Elk Speaks

If you want to understand Native American spirituality, this is a good place to start. The vision that Black Elk received is a profound and moving one, full of poetry and vivid imagery. This is a timeless classic.

 

 

 

Abbey-Desert-SolitaireDesert Solitaire

Edward Abbey was one of America’s great writers of  the 20th century. Equally skilled at writing fiction and non-fiction, Abbey  preferred a life close to nature and chose the West as his home. He spent time working in the desert Southwest for the park service and in this book he offered  his reflections on nature, cowboys and Indians, American government, ecology and preservation, land management, anarchism and many other subjects. A gifted storyteller, Abbey was gruff, opinionated, practical and fiercely individualistic.

desertCadillac Desert

If you really want to understand the American West, I would recommend the previous two books and this one- Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner. It is long, dense,  and documents a seemingly endless web of dealings, studies, laws, contracts and back-room shenanigans. At bottom, it is the story of nature versus the hubris and arrogance of  the white man trying to impose his civilization on the Great American Desert. The settlement of the West meant the building of dams, and this book shows how it all went down.

malcolm xThe Autobiography of Malcolm X

Thank goodness Alex Haley sat down with Malcolm X to record his life story because not long afterward Malcolm was assassinated in New York at the age of 39. This is a story of redemption, documenting  Malcolm’s transformation from street hoodlum to a worldwide figure, renowned for his speeches and uncompromising attitude towards institutionalized racism. Regardless of what you think of  his politics, this is one of the most inspirational books you will ever read.

KingLet the Trumpet Sound. A Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

To understand American history in the second half of the 20th century, you must understand MLK and the impact he had. This biography covers his life in detail and covers the important aspects that are ignored or glossed over in history textbooks. Most Americans are unaware of what MLK was working on in 1968 and why he was so dangerous to the ruling elites.

DumbingDownTDumbing Us Down- The hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

John Taylor Gatto is an American treasure. He worked in the trenches in public education for over 20 years, so he writes from a background of experience. He’s not an academic preaching educational theories from the ivory tower, but a real teacher showing us what works, what doesn’t, and the real purpose behind ‘schooling’ in America.

Against_Civilization_coverAgainst Civilization

John Zerzan lives in the Northwest and writes thought-provoking books which delve into the deepest questions of human existence. He goes  back thousands of years into our past to see how we ended up here, in our present technocratic , globalist world and offers ideas  on where exactly we went off course. He takes unpopular stances, but backs them up with hard historical and scientific evidence.

chomskyUnderstand Power- The Indispensable Chomsky

As I’ve written in previous blogs, Chomsky serves as a left gatekeeper and hasn’t been relevant for young activists for many years. Nevertheless, his studies of American foreign power and global hegemony are worth reading and this book is a nice compilation of his thoughts on a wide range of subjects.

 

51IBnoX3HkL._SL500_AA300_Anarchy

The last time I checked, this book was out of print and copies on ebay were selling for well over $100.  Clifford Harper is a talented writer and even more talented wood block printer. The political art between the covers is worth the price of the book.  Anarchy is a compact, no-nonsense introduction to anarchism, focusing particularly on the last 300 years. If you are looking for a dry, academic, objective analysis of anarchism, look elsewhere. This is a book written by a committed anarchist who wears his passion on his sleeve.

the richHow the Rich are Destroying the Earth

In America, it’s considered bad form in academic and political circles to bash the rich, at least openly. In Europe, the academic milieu allows a bit more free range of thought, and Herve Kempf, a Frenchman, takes aim in this book at the enormous ecological footprint left by the super-rich, as they cruise the world in their yachts, lear jets and the like. Kempf argues that not only are the rich extravagant and wasteful, but also set a horrifying example for the lower classes , who aspire to climb the social and economic ladder.

truthAnd the Truth Shall Set you Free

David Icke has written many more books since this book was published in the late 1990s. They are all good and exhaustively researched. And the Truth shall set you free is a good place to start though. If you are new to conspiracy, the information can get overwhelming. I was handed this book by a friend in late 1997 while living in Hawaii. Initially, I rejected much of it, believing that it was impossible to keep such information secret from the public for so long. However, everything Icke predicted and talked about has come true, and today many writers, activists and researchers use his research and Icke delivers lectures to  audiences in the thousands  all over the world.

chaliceThe Chalice and The Blade

Today, patriarchy and male sky god religions are predominant around the world. It was not always thus. Riane Eisler documents how Europe was populated by matriarchal and matrilineal cultures for thousands of years before they were overrun by tribesmen who brought with them their new gods and way of life.  Are we now transitioning back to a more balanced way of life, with the ‘return of the goddess’?  Eisler’s argument is compelling.

The Alphabet Alphabet versus the Goddess

This is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Weaving together history, brain science and media studies, Leonard Shlain offers a provocative thesis about how those goddess-worshipping cultures died. The alphabet itself was the culprit. We’ve been dominated by our right hemispheres for thousands of years, but now, with the advent of television and computers, we are again rebalancing our brains. How will this turn out for humanity? Surprisingly, Shlain offers an optimistic view.

51GnMjdqKlLFood of the Gods

Terence Mckenna wrote a handful of books. One was incomprehensible (The Invisible Landscape), one was disorganized and new agey (The Archaic Revival), and another was sloppy and drug addled (True Hallucinations.) With Food of the Gods, Mckenna finally got it right. The book is an examination into the origins of humanity, particularly the origins of speech. McKenna’s hypothesis is that the mushroom was the trigger for the advent of consciousness and speech. Using a blend of science, imagination, and speculation, he gives his readers a provocative  theory.

indian giversIndian Givers

Jack Weatherford here takes on a fascinating study- how the flow of Native American foods, political theories, medicines, and crops to Europe and the far corners of the world in the centuries following Columbus changed the world. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on crops and cuisines. A follow up book to this one, Native Roots, goes more deeply into the subject matter.

 

airolaWorldwide Secrets for Staying Young

A couple of decades before the word ‘superfood’ was being widely used in nutritional circles, Paavo Airola was traveling the world and learning the secrets of healthy people, from Okinawa to Mexico to the Himalayas. This is a well-organized, easy to read health book on the foods which can bring you maximum health.

 

FitforlifecoverFit for Life

This is the first health book I ever read and I still consider it one of the best. Fit for Life gives an excellent introduction to the physiology of the human body, and gives a convincing argument for the benefit of a fruit and vegetable based diet. Building on the work of Norman Walker and others, this book is a great introduction to a vegan diet, written in an upbeat and inspirational  tone.

 

3f9bc060ada0069227ad9110-lThe Miracle of Mindfulness- A Manual on Meditation

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. A tireless worker for peace , he has written numerous books on Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness and toured the world. This little gem of a book contains some core teachings of Buddhism and wonderful, simple exercises on how to approach life with an attitude of mindfulness. I’m fortunate that I read this book when I was young, as his teachings have been invaluable to me over the years. Know someone who is a fanatical ‘mulit-tasker’ and can’t ever put down their phone? Give him this book.

zenThe Way of Zen

Alan Watts was one of the few Westerners who undertook a deep study of Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, and really got it. And we are better for it. Effortlessly taking the sometimes subtle and complex teaching of Zen and presenting it to an uninitiated Western audience, Watts gives his readers a thorough overview of Zen philosophy. Watts never lapses into overly obtuse or mystical language, and yet never talks down to his audience either. This book will stretch your mind in unexpected directions. A masterpiece.

 

does it matterDoes it Matter? Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality

In this book, Watts turns the subject of materialism inside out. Whereas most modern thinkers and philosophizers take the stance that Westerners are ‘too materialistic’, Watts argues that in many ways, we are not materialistic enough. He argues that people are so caught up in their heads with ideas of money, worry, getting ahead and so on that they are not truly appreciating the things of value in their lives. The chapter on money is worth is particularly enlightening.

60551The Book- On the Taboo Against Knowing Who you Are

In The Book Alan Watts shows us how our typical notion of what it is to be a human being is ridiculously limited and even absurd. Utilizing  simple, plain language and close-at-hand metaphors, he demonstrates with brilliant clarity that we need not look into religious texts to learn that we are immortal souls, but simply  look at life and ourselves with a fresh outlook  and clear thinking.

tales_of-plotkinTales of a Shaman’s Apprentice

Mark Plotkin met many shamans during his travels through the Amazon rainforest. Most of them shared freely the medicinal plant knowledge they had accumulated over a lifetime. If the words ‘Amazon’, ‘medicinal plants’ , ‘shamanism’, ‘adventure’, and ‘ethnobotany’ get your heart racing, then grab this book. As the Amazon, and the tribes who live in it,  slowly dies away, the knowledge contained there needs to be preserved.

the_road_back_to_nature_masanobu_fukuoka_180The Road Back to Nature

Masanobu Fukuoka  was rice farmer from Japan. He was  also a philosopher, a naturalist, and the founder of a simple and poetic style of farming called “No till.” Fukuoka believed that not only machines, but also human interference itself was mostly unnecessary when growing crops. He advocated a style and approach that allowed nature to do the ‘work’ of producing food. His influence was profound and far-reaching and many permaculture teachers today cite him as one of their earliest influences.

oshoAutobiography of A Spiritually Incorrect Mystic

Osho never sat down to write books. However, his thousands of informal talks and lectures have been organized by his students into books whose topics  span the entire spectrum of human experience. In this book, his recollections of his childhood are organized into a coherent narrative which gives a fascinating insight into the formative years and mind of one of history’s greatest thinkers.

yogiAutobiography of a Yogi

Paramahansa Yogananda’s life story is inspirational and entertaining.   I still chuckle when I think of the ‘Tiger Swami.’ He traveled throughout India in his youth and met many of the spiritual masters of his time. Recalling his meetings with them and the effect that their examples had on his development, Yogananda takes the reader into an exploration of human consciousness and our relationship with the divine source of the universe. While I was reading this book, some of Yogananda’s teachers visited me in my dreams.

 

Chronicles-of-Tao-Ming-Dao-Deng-9780062502193The Chronicles of Tao

This is a book I have re-read numerous times. There is always something new to learn, some little nugget or tidbit of wisdom that I missed on previous readings. As major religions go, Taoism is probably the least understood one in the world today. Most Westerners know nothing of it, except perhaps for the name of Lao Tzu. Most Asians know it only by its outer, superficial form, the religion ‘for the masses.’ The deepest levels of Taoism, studied by adepts in mountain monasteries, aim at the complete transformation of the human being himself, bringing him into alignment with the Tao and hence into immortality, through a complete and rigorous set of methods including meditation, herbalism, martial arts, diet, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi Ch’uan.

What makes this book so compelling is that some of Taoism’s greatest teachings are given to us through a story. The story follows a young student through his early years in the monastery, his time as a guerrilla soldier fighting the Japanese , his descent into a wandering fighter and urban hoodlum and finally his eventual trip to America. Through the protagonist’s eyes, we learn that the spiritual life is fraught with perils and obstacles and that, above all, perseverance and determination win out.

Carlos-Castaneda-The-Teachings-of-Don-JuanThe Teachings of Don Juan- A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

I read Don Juan when I was 18 and struggled to understand parts of it.  It was so far outside my paradigm and my background that I mostly just absorbed the feeling of it and got the sense that what Don Juan was imparting was important and profound, even if I didn’t totally get it.  This is a book you can come back to repeatedly. Castaneda wrote a number of sequels which continue Don Juan’s teachings.

sprial danceThe Spiral Dance- A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess

Starhawk has always been at the forefront of the revival of interest in ancient pagan religions. The publication of The Spiral Dance was both a reflection of that increased interest and an impetus to its furtherance.  It has become a classic. If you are new to paganism, wicca, and goddess-worship, this is a great book to start with.

Drawing-Down-the-Moon-Adler-Margot-9780143038191Drawing Down the Moon- Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and other Pagans in America

Margot Adler covers the full spectrum of paganism practiced in America today. Neither too broad nor too detailed, this book is a great introduction to the surprising and fascinating variety of disciplines practiced under the general rubric of ‘paganism.’

 

51rYzOQKo+LWheels of Life- A User’s Guide to the Chakra System

I always keep this book close by. Whenever I pick it up, my pulse quickens just a bit, as I know that I am going to learn something new, something profound, and something eminently useful. This is maybe the best book that I know which combines the esoteric and the practical. Learning the chakra system is not merely an academic or spiritual exercise, but a way to help you become a more whole, healthy, and happy human being. I also love the way this book feels in my hands. It’s the perfect size and shape and the cover is absolutely beautiful.

51MfVDOlEkL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz gives his readers four spiritual teachings from the ancient Toltecs. The four agreements can be applied immediately and to great effect in one’s life. More a self-help book than a collection of spiritual teachings, The Four Agreements is a unique blending of psychology and spirituality, presented in a concise and understandable form.

b5b113cde1cb0b028c68d9676d774a40Ritual – Power, Healing and Community

Malidoma Patrice Some is a writer from Burkina Faso, West Africa. Ritual is a beautifully written book on the power of ritual and the deep psychological wounds present in modern day Western societies whose people have lost touch with  the teachings of their ancestors.

 

illustrated-i-ching-r-l-wing-paperback-cover-artThe Illustrated I Ching

The I Ching is one of the oldest forms of divination and one of the oldest Chinese classic texts. Its origins date back to the 3rd millennia BCE. To fully grasp and master the I Ching would take a lifetime of study. Luckily, its basic structure and function are well within the grasp of the  student who is willing to spend some hours reading and practicing. The more one practices the I Ching, the more it reveals its almost infinite layers of complexity and meaning. The I Ching is a powerful ally to have in life where we are constantly faced with difficult choices.

41VMjFOuakL._SL500_AA300_Tantra- The Yoga of Sex

Don’t let the title fool you. This is not a sex manual, nor does it even address the issue of sex very much. It is a basic introduction to the philosophy of Tantra, which is the art and science of being fully alive. Filled with practical tips on how to adjust one’s surroundings, work, and relationships to heighten the experience of living, Tantra is a valuable tool to have in your life.

zen-in-the-martial-artsZen in the Martial Arts

Any student of the martial arts who wants to delve more deeply into the spiritual aspects of the martial way ought to read this book. Joe Hyams is a serious martial arts student and fine writer and he condenses valuable teachings from a wide variety of disciplines and teachers into this fun read.

the-republic1Plato’s Republic

When I finally sat down to read The Republic, I was a bit apprehensive.  I didn’t know how difficult Plato was going to be since my experience of him was so limited. Thus, I was shocked at how approachable and engaging this text really is. Presented in the form of a dialogue, The Republic can be enjoyed and appreciated by people of any age or educational background, if they have the willingness and open-mindedness to learn. What is justice? Read here and see if they were able to answer the question.

The-Nicomachean-Ethics-306294The Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle’s writing soars with clarity, insight, and rationality. This book delves deeply into ethics and the nature of friendship. Fortunately for me, I was forced to read this for a college ethics course; otherwise I probably would have never found it.

 

 

51ICwXYIwyL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_Serpent in the Sky- The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt

Having no background in either  Egyptian studies  or numerology, I struggled with this book initially. John Anthony West dives right in with his exploration of ancient Egypt and holds nothing back. This is an exciting, at times thrilling, book. There are undoubtedly easier books to read which delve into similar subject matter, but Serpent in the Sky rewards those who stick with it all the way through.

715N3MMHKCLFingerprints of the Gods

Graham Hancock has been a prolific writer over the last twenty years. His books explore the enduring mysteries of the ancient world, and offer provocative and alternative theories about everything from the Great Pyramid to the Nazca Lines. Existing and writing outside the staid boundaries of academia, Hancock goes where his studies and intuition take him and is unafraid to draw controversial conclusions. His books have reached a wide audience and he has done a number of documentaries for the BBC and other channels. Reading this book will undoubtedly whet your appetite for more: The Message of the Sphinx, The Mars Mystery, The Orion Mystery, and other books by Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert are excellent supplements to Fingerprints. 

12thThe 12th Planet

The origin of humanity  has always been a subject of heated debate. If you feel that both the old testament and Darwin’s theory of evolution are unsatisfactory, Zecharia Sitchin’s theory of where we come from is a refreshing new addition to the debate. Sitchin interpreted the ancient Sumerian clay tablets to piece together a coherent and believable narrative of our beginnings. He had a tremendous impact on other ‘alternative’ researchers and writers in the fields of archaeology, history, astronomy, religion, and comparative mythology. The 12th Planet is only Book One in what he called his Earth Chronicles. The narrative continues in many subsequent books. Essential reading for those who seek to answer the first question; Where do we come from?

saddestThe Saddest Pleasure- A Journey on Two Rivers

A friend gave me this book for a birthday gift. I politely said, ‘thank you’ even though I had never heard of it and was very skeptical that I would enjoy a long travel memoir written by an old man. However, The Saddest Pleasure turned out to be a compelling book. Moritz Thomsen was a great writer and his memoir of his travels through South America contains sharp observations of a keen mind. But what makes this book really great is Thomsen’s brutal honesty and his frank reflections of his own life- a life filled with few successes and many failures.

intothewildInto the Wild

Jon Krakauer’s book about a young man, fresh out of college, who ventures into the Alaskan wilderness in a Thoureau-esque exploration of the meaning of life is poignant and timely. I think Krakauer asks the right questions here about the whether Thoreau’s teachings still have relevance in the modern, urbanized world and I also like that he leaves it mostly to the readers to draw their own conclusions around this story.

bruceBruce Lee- the Biography

This biography of Bruce Lee, written by Robert Clouse, who directed ‘Enter the Dragon’, is well-written and focuses on Bruce’s last years. Along with Linda Lee’s biography of her late husband, it gives an excellent overview of  Bruce Lee’s short but complex and fascinating life. For more a more in-depth exploration of Bruce’s teachings, read The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. 

marleyCatch a Fire- the Life of Bob Marley

Whether you consider Bob Marley to be ‘just’ a great musician or a prophet, there’s no denying the impact this man had on Reggae, Jamaica, Rastafarianism, left wing politics, and his fans all over the world. As popular as he was during his lifetime, he seemingly grows even more popular with each passing year after his untimely death in 1981. This biography strikes a nice balance in covering all aspects of his life, from his impoverished boyhood in Kingston to his final years as worldwide Reggae ambassador and musical superstar.

Secrets of the Soil

soilThere are ways we can can fix much of the damage we have caused to Mother Earth over the last few millennia, and many of those methods deal with soil regeneration, worms, compost, mushrooms and mycelia. This beautiful book takes the reader on a fascinating  journey into the microscopic world of soil bacteria and shows how we can utilize our humble friends right under our feet to heal the planet.

 

The Secret Life of Plants

secret-life-of-plants-tompkins-400x400-imadhy4ks8egwejcPeter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, the authors of Secrets of the Soil, take a scientific look at some age-old questions: Are plants conscious? Do they have feelings? Do they feel pain? Do they respond to music, thoughts, and prayers?  Not just for botanists and plant lovers, this book is fascinating reading for everyone who wants to understand the interconnectivity of all life on Earth.

 

A Pattern Language- Towns, Building, Construction

Pattern LanguageA book like this, with such a boring cover, and even more boring name, will never reach a mass audience. It’s also quite thick and a bit intimidating looking. Unless you are in a construction trade, or have an interest in community or urban planning, you most likely will never come across this gem. It was only after I began studying permaculture that a friend put this book in my hands and I’m so thankful for it. Full of wisdom, warmth, imagination, creativity and insight, this book will appeal to anyone who wonders how we can design a better world, with buildings and architecture suited to our deepest needs. We need an architecture and style of building to promote peace and connectivity, not loneliness and alienation.

Atlantis – The Antediluvian World

atlantisPublished in 1882 by Ignatius Donnelly, this was the first real scholarly attempt to explore the myth of Atlantis and many still consider it the best all-around book on the lost continent.  Donnelly had a keen mind, was well-read in the classics,  and gathered facts and data from a wide range of disciplines to support his argument. If you could only give your friends one book on Atlantis, give them this one. Search online as there are still some fine old hardcopies available.

The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon

marriage-sun-moon-andrew-weil-paperback-cover-artAndrew Weil has written quite a few excellent book including one of the best drug reference books around, From Chocolate to Morphine. One of his lesser known books, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon looks at consciousness from a variety of perspectives, many of them unique. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the mind-altering aspects of foods such as mangos and chilies and the scientific brainwashing surrounding the viewing of total eclipses.

The Findhorn Garden

51GCM0E8XXL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I first heard about the Findhorn community from the wonderful movie My Dinner with Andre. When I came across this book with its fantastic photos and inspiring message of communion with nature, I snatched it up quickly. Over the years, it has continually inspired me and its message is as timely as ever. The community itself is still going strong.

 

Books: the path to freedom

As a teacher, I try to instill a love of books and reading to my students. It is an uphill battle. Although the majority of people in developed countries became literate over the recent centuries, reading as a hobby, habit and pastime never became widespread.  And that was in the days when there were few competing distractions. These days, in our high-tech society filled with computers, smart phones, televisions and cinemas, it is difficult, if not impossible, to convince an adolescent  that he should spend his free time curled up in a quiet room with a book. When my students have leisure time, the boys play computer games and the girls chat online.

TNY1594Somehow, we will need to find the time for books in this helter skelter world. If we do not, all is lost. Learning from a screen, despite the arguments of many in academia, will never be able to replace book learning. Reading a book in a quiet room is a unique experience and creates new neural pathways in the brain that leads to learning. Watching a Discovery Channel or National Geographic special, while entertaining and perhaps even educational, is a completely different experience and does activate the brain and cerebral cortex in the same way as reading a book does.

In Latin, the word ‘liber’ means ‘free.’ It also means ‘book.’ Think that’s a coincidence? In Spanish, a bookstore is a ‘libreria.’ In English, we go to the ‘library.’ (to read and become free). The Spanish word for book is ‘libro’, and the word for ‘free’ is ‘libre’. From liber, we get our word ‘liberty’, which is freedom from external or foreign rule.  The word ‘liberal’ also derives from liber. Liberal is defined as ‘in accord with concepts of maximal individual freedom possible…and ‘favorable to progress and reform.’

Here in Viet Nam, reading as a pastime is virtually unknown. That’s why I was so blown away when I came across an article a few days ago about reading.  Nguyen Hanh, aged seven  is a lover of books and is engaged in a project called the Book Box Project, started in Ho Chi Minh City in March. Project members, who are all young students, are placing small book boxes around the city in cafes and other popular public places. The boxes are filled with books and with a note asking people to ‘take a book, leave a book.’ The project is similar to another project called ‘Little Library’ which has spread to many countries.

Replying to a question about the possibility of theft, Phuong Thuy replied that it was fine, as the idea was to get people reading. “My personal feeling is that the lack of trust in people has been hindering us from doing good things. I believe in people and the goodness within them,.”

Another member, Nguyen Linh said, “What I feel is the eagerness of everyone who cares about Book Box. They contribute books, they leave beautiful messages on books. It’s all very encouraging.”

The project started with ten members and now has 100 volunteers. They want to take the project into remote villages. Thuy said, “My mother always told me to aim for things that make other people happy. You should always do something and aim for something. I’m following her advice.”

Perhaps from this seed of 100 young book lovers, something beautiful will bloom: a culture of learning and lifelong curiosity.

http://saigoneer.com/saigon-culture/1914-book-box-vietnam-encouraging-people-to-spread-and-share-the-written-word

http://littlefreelibrary.org/

Hunter S. Thompson’s ghost lives on

In front of me sits a first person article, published in a slick magazine geared toward wealthy expats, about a man who goes on a one day caffeine binge and chronicles his experiences.  I’ve just finished reading an article in well-designed online magazine for Asian expats in which the author writes about his journey through Kuala Lumpur. Writing in a ‘gonzo’ style, which, by the way, the magazine encourages, the author breathlessly relates his rather mundane experiences in a staccato writing style.  Last week, I came across a blogger who attempted to regale his reading audience with tales of late night shenanigans in the heart of Phnom Penh’s red light district.

What strikes me reading all of these articles, and many, many more like them, is the fact that Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy continues to live on, perhaps more strongly than ever.

Hunter S. Thompson, (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author who, during the 1960s and 1970s, invented a new style of journalism called ‘gonzo.’ Writing in the period of the New Left journalism, Thompson’s  unique and unprecedented writing style emphasized writing in the first person and beyond that, even actively involving himself  directly in the story which he was reporting on.

Although he wrote a number of books, and hundreds of articles, Thompson achieved most of his fame through two books from the late 60s and early 70s: Hell’s Angels: the Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. 

Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

Reading today’s young journalists and bloggers, it’s hard to remember that not so long ago, such first person writing was unheard of  in the journalistic establishment. In fact, nobody had ever really done it before Thompson. He changed everything. Especially after the publication and success of Fear and Loathing, the journalistic world in New York City took notice and suddenly every young wannabe-writer was trying to ape Thompson’s style.

Pick up a copy of Rolling Stone magazine from the late 70s and all through the 1980s, as well as Esquire, GQ and others, and you will see dozens of young writers who were influenced enormously by Thompson. There was only one small problem: none of them had his talent. While these young writers attempted to superficially graft Thompson’s style onto their stories, the effect was nowhere near what the true gonzo master achieved in his writings. Instead, readers were subjected to overly long, boring  and meandering interviews and articles in which the author desperately tried to show that he  was as important as the interviewee.

Here we are now in 2014 and the ghost of Thompson lives on. Many young writers especially feel that they are giving their story much more life by writing that they ‘blasted across the water’ when they took a simple hydrofoil trip across a calm, placid river with a bunch of overweight middle aged tourists. Or, they believe that they are writing something original when they tell us that they ‘stumbled bleary eyed across the chaotic road, dodging screaming taxi drivers and prostitutes, barely avoiding death by collision with a bus …..and so on.

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Hunter Thompson is one of my literary idols. When I was 19 years old, somebody slipped me a tattered copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and I took it to my room and didn’t come out until I finished it. It’s one of the few books that I’ve ever read which I finished in one sitting.  I laughed so hard that I cried. I remember the book falling out of my hand I was laughing so hard. After completing the book, I picked it up again the next week and re-read it cover to cover. In the intervening years, I’ve gone back to it dozens of  times. Few authors have given me more pleasure  than Thompson. However, I find it unfortunate that his legacy has bequeathed so many writers who feel that getting intoxicated and writing in a gruff first person account is, in and of itself, entertaining. They forget that for all his gonzo madness, Thompson was a first rate writer who had ideas and opinions on the most important topics of his day. He had something to say and his gonzo style was the vehicle he used to get his ideas across. That so many aspiring writers want to copy the style, without the necessary skill and substance behind it, is a poor way to honor the memory of one of America’s great journalists of the 20th century.