Thursday, September 20, 2018

Dancing Bears

Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Held Captive to Old Ways of Life in Newly Free SocietiesDancing Bears: True Stories of People Held Captive to Old Ways of Life in Newly Free Societies by Witold Szabłowski
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There was along tradition among Eastern European Gypsies to earn money by showing a dancing bear. When Bulgaria joined EU they had to stop it. Bears are bought out from owners and transferred to a nature park. Bringing them to freedom is a long, difficult and painful process. Actually it is a failure. All freed bears have to be castrated as they are unable to teach their kids how to live in wilderness.
First part of the book tells stories of bear keepers and of Four Paws representative responsible for negotiations with bear owners.
Great story beautifully told.
The second part tries to find analogy between process of releasing bears to "freedom" and difficulties of people of countries which abolished Communism to adjust to free market economy and politics.
In my opinion author fails in this part of the book.
The idea was great. First part of the book is divided into chapters describing various stages of bears transfer: Love, Freedom, Negotiations, History, etc.
The second part is divided into chapter with same names, each chapter describing a case from a different country.
As I said, the idea was great, but I cannot find any relation between the chapter title and the story it contains.
Another point is, that cases described it the book do not prove authors thesis. In my opinion people interviewed by the author manage very well. They demonstrate unusual inventiveness, energy and initiative to earn money in the new system. They just grumble from time to time about some nonsense - e.g. a collective farm in Poland closed, people earn money performing in Hobbit's Village, many food products are imported from Germany.
The last chapter looks like a misunderstanding - crisis in Greece. It had nothing to do with Communism, Greeks lived in full freedom, they just wasted money with a silent approval of European banks.
For me, as a person who spent most of his life in Communist Poland, the book was just a return to memories from the better part of my life. Readers with no such background will not get even this satisfaction.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Danger Music

Danger MusicDanger Music by Eddie Ayres
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Danger Music - I understand it as a music accompanying danger and I think this role it plays in the book.
There are two dangers - life in Afghanistan in years 2014 - 2o15 and author's own battle with her/his own sexuality. Both surrounded by music.
Emma Ayres is a musician (viola, cello), was a very popular music presenter in ABC Classic and music teacher in Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM).
Teaching music in Afghanistan is the core of the book.
Well, the best I can say about it is - it is extremely honest, and as for me - very, very depressing. Kaleidoscope of students' names and stories and none of them ends well.
Afghan war lasts already over 3 times longer than a 2nd World War and, at least in 2015, the general situation in the country was worse than before.
Cost of the war goes into trillions of dollars. Author of the book mentions, that USA alone spent 100 billion dollars for help to Afghanistan - outcome - NIL - all money stolen, mismanaged, wasted.
Someone would think that the school of music, generously supported by many international organisations, would be a beacon of light and hope.
It is not. Firstly students, specifically female, must fight all the time with their families. There is not a one case mentioned of parents supporting music study of their child. Quite opposite, some children do their musical studies secretly, some are constantly punished for their passion (by extra load of work at home), all are aware, that any minute their family may stop their education. It applies specifically to girls, for whose parents the highest priority is marriage.
Secondly, the students are not much different than the surrounding world. Gossip, cheating, bullying, sexual molesting. All this happens in the school and in most cases goes on unpunished.
The only "positive" stories are those about students, who managed to go overseas to study. I put positive in quotes because at the end none of them returned to Afghanistan.
Creator of the school, Dr Sarmast, expected, that the graduates will take positions of music teachers in the school and after few years there will be no need to employ teachers from overseas. Nothing like this happened.
I have to admit that before reading half of the book I felt very tired and depressed. I knew, that nothing good will happen and continued reading only from loyalty and sympathy to the author.
The other danger - man's soul in wrong body.
This subject is quite alien to me, but I appreciated Eddie's honesty in presenting his very personal suffering and fight. I wish him all success.

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

The happiest refugee

The Happiest Refugee: A MemoirThe Happiest Refugee: A Memoir by Anh Do
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A story of settling down in Australia of a Vietnamese family.
On one hand, a story typical for thousands of Vietnamese families - extremely risky boat travel, refugee camp, very hard work to reach some level of stability in the foreign country.
On the other hand, it is not quite typical family.
Extremely entrepreneurial father, very talented children.
Anh Do spends over 2 hours a day on return travel to a good private school, on some occasions works till 3 am helping his mother with her sewing work, cannot afford all required school manuals and still ends school as a top student and is accepted to study Law at Sydney University.
He does not like his studies, again undertakes numerous jobs to repair family budget, plays rugby and at the end of studies if offered a good job by a renown company. And he rejects this offer.
As for the book. On one hand it is an exciting story. Story about hard work and great family love and mutual sacrifice. On the other hand... in my opinion it is not very well written book. It looks like the author tries to sell too much and included into the book too many irrelevant or just poorly written details.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

The crying place

The Crying PlaceThe Crying Place by Lia Hills
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My rating relates mostly to the art of writing. The subject and the story were not too much to my liking.
The Preface tells what the book is about - grief. Grief in Aboriginal culture.
Interestingly the subject of the only other book by Lia Hills - The Beginner's Guide to Living - is also grief.
Young, but no too young, man learns that his closest friend committed suicide. He is overtaken by grief and guilt - could he do something to save his friend?
Overtaken to such an extent, that instead of going for funeral, he undertakes a long journey to visit place where his friend spent last months of his life, to meet a person who apparently was important for his friend in that time.
It is a long journey, from pulsating with life Sydney to a remote desert somewhere on the border of Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia.
In quite a number of Goodreads reviews I found a complaint, that the journey is too long, nothing happens, boring.
I agree, to some extent. I also got an impression, that the author, having traveled all this long way ( and I know it from my own experience), tries to "sell" each detail of it. After some 80 pages I felt tired - been there, saw it, come to the point. But it did not discourage me from further reading - simply the book is too beautifully written to be skipped. I just changed my reading method. The book consists of over 80 short chapters. I read just few of them each day and just enough to give me inspiration to think, dream, enjoy. And I was not disappointed.
Desert - it plays a very significant role in the story. And plays it very well. Not only Australian desert, but also Sahara where the main character and his friend experienced adventurous and thought-provoking few months.
Eventually he reaches his destination - an Aboriginal settlement in the middle of nowhere and the trouble starts - for the main character and for me as a reader.
On one hand I appreciate insight into Aboriginal life, way of thinking and traditions. On the other hand I cannot find any connecting point with current day civilization. The same conclusion I reached reading Peter Carey's - A long way from home.
It is a very saddening conclusion for me.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Price of a plastic shopping bag

In June this year our two main supermarkets, Woolworths and Coles, tried to limit usage of plastic bags. They stopped giving them for free.
After few weeks, Coles abandoned the action - our customers are not ready for it - was the message. So plastic bags are again delivered for free.

The Almighty Free Market nodded approvingly - Coles is the winner, Woolworths sales fell significantly - read HERE.

I could propose few ways to penalize shops and customers for using plastic bags, but each of them would mean intervention or a regulation of FREE MARKET, and that would be a sin against the main foundation of our great free world.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Beginner's Guide to Living

The Beginner's Guide to LivingThe Beginner's Guide to Living by Lia Hills
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After first dozen pages I was charmed. What a deep and touching insight into soul of adolescent boy who just lost his mother in a car accident.
Next pages cooled me down.
Grief. A very difficult time, very individualised, making the grieving person difficult for people around.
I had some taste of it in J. Barnes' book - The levels of life. Last part of it is a relation of author's grief after loss of his wife. A very significant part of it was a feeling of anger or at least disappointment towards all surrounding people.
And it was Julian Barnes, mature and extremely cultured person.
So what about a 17 y.o. boy?
Terrible! I got really fed up with it.
The author makes lots of effort to confront the main character with various thoughts and ideas about life and death - ancient Greek philosophers, European thinkers of XIX and XX century, Buddhists, sufis etc.
Thoughts and ideas? Rather one-liners.
As it is was not enough there is also introduction to sex and drugs. And more.
As for me too much of it.
One aspect totally ignored is Christian religion. Allain de Botton in his book - Religion for the Atheists - admits that religion offers tried ways to deal with guilt, sorrow, grief.
Parents of the main character, Will, baptised their son in Roman Catholic church. There is mention of another Catholic baptism. But all of this is absolutely superficial. Looks like some absurd ceremony to have opportunity to post some photos in Facebook.
And this impression prevailed - person living very superficial life tries to find some quick solution to the real problem.
One thing puzzled me - I found the book in the Teenagers section of the library. Definitely the title justifies such classification, but I find this title strongly misguiding.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Working as a mule

Sometime ago I landed in a bit shitty hospital...


The reason for my stay was to connect an extra lead to my pacemaker.
I had a pacemaker installed few years ago and I believe it saved/prolonged my life.
In last 2 years there was a noticeable degradation in my heart's capacity and my cardiologist suggested connecting another lead to my pacemaker to activate more thoroughly my heart's muscles.

It was a bit surprise for me that my old, but not so old, pacemaker has been replaced by a new one. I asked what happened to the old one? Apparently there is a rule that this type of devices must not be recycled so it has been returned to manufacturer to make a best possible use of it.

While in hospital I watched TV, ABC 7:30 report, and there was a report which made my heart pacing faster.
They reported, that hospitals or companies running them receive kickbacks from manufacturers, up to 50% of cost of the device.
That means, that the hospital buys a device for say $25,000, installs it and sends a bill to the insurance company, which pays the price. Than, some time later, the hospital receives $12,000 back.
It explains why private insurance premiums are rising so fast.

Transcript of the 7:30 Report - HERE.

What puzzled me is that on one hand - few companies mentioned in the report responded with statement, that they just selected pacemaker from the official listing. On the other hand some doctors said that there should be more transparency in pacemaker choice, that patients should be more involved.
I do not see it as the main issue. I trust my doctor and do not feel qualified to verify technical details of his/her decision. In my opinion whole issue is about money circulation. If the hospital received any money from the manufacturer then it should be returned to the party which paid the bill - private health insurance, Medicare, patient.

For the time being I feel as a mule - an ignorant carrier used to channel money between some secret players.