Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Inside Private Prisons

Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration
by Lauren-Brooke Eisen
Published: November 2017

First and foremost, Inside Private Prisons is an investigation of the benefits and downsides of privatizing the American prison system. But of course, everything is more complicated than it seems. A journey through the history of privatization goes on to explore our sordid past (and present) of prisoners as commodities, how activists use prison divestment as a tool, and the extent to which immigrant detention centers fit into the prison industrial complex. Overarching the span of the book, readers are encouraged to reflect on the nature of the carceral state: how did we get to this age of mass incarceration? How will our current political landscape shape the future?

3.5 out of 5 stars: This book was well-researched almost to a fault - just bursting at the seams with information. The overarching structure of the book sets a solid foundation for discussion, but I felt within each chapter the narrative tends to diverge wildly, leaving some anecdotes and facts a bit scattered and out of place. On the one hand, I want to casually recommend this to anyone with zero background knowledge of the United States prison system (like me!) because it such a strong collection of data and eye-opening realities*. But if I'm completely honest it was a bit of a struggle for me to get through, probably better suited as a required reading text in a college course.

* Did you know small prison towns get to headcount prisoners in the census? So even though prisoners can't vote, they brings more political weight to the region AND bring down the mean income level qualifying the town for federal aid. What a fun new way to gerrymander over-representation for rural america!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

History Earned: Saint Arnold reppin' Astros gear

Houston Astros 2017 World Series Champions!!!

Just felt like the world needed a Saint Arnold Brewing CompanyHouston Astros mashup and drawing it up was a perfect way to avoid cleaning my apartment! Recommended pairing:  Paul Wall's "World Series Grillz" on eternal repeat. Still riding that Game 7 high!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Home Fire

Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsie
Published: August 2017

A British-Pakistani retelling of Antigone that cuts deeply into one of the most divisive and charged political issues of our day: Muslim immigration in a time of ISIS. Various characters offer their perspective in unraveling the story - a devout Muslim studying sociology, a secular, hawkish political conservative, and a naive rebellious youth are but a few.

4.5 out of 5: The layering of personal narratives and insight was masterfully crafted and I really enjoyed the meta-story that arises from it. Just goes to show how easy it is to judge someone before you know their motives, their story. What's the old adage - "we judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions"?

As for the ending, **SPOILER ALERT** while there is definitely room for debate here, I do not think the ending was lazy or hyperbolic. It perfectly captures the intense theatrical downer that is greek tragedy (though I definitely wouldn't have caught the Antigone parallels on my own) but it also fits unsettling well into the chaos and violence of the ISIS narrative. This is exactly the sort of situation that terror organizations take advantage of.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A World of Three Zeros

A World of Three Zeros: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, and Zero Net Carbon Emissions
by Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus was actually the commencement speaker at my graduation ceremony and even though the whole day is a bit of an emotional blur, his speech (which I'm trying desperately to find somewhere online) stuck with me. It was the first I had ever heard of microfinance- his revolutionary movement creating entrepreneurial opportunities for the impoverished by offering small loans. In A World of Three Zeros, Yunus expands on his vision for the future - one in which economics is shaped by and reliant on social and environmental policies. He imagines a world with zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions and this book expands on the framework that will help get us there.

One main focus is on the concept of a "social business": the idea that businesses can exist in a realm between nonprofit and for-profit. These businesses serve the community by satisfying a present need and funnel all profits back into the business itself, allowing for expansions and improvements rather than lining the pockets of investors or executives. Social businesses rely on the principle that humans have both selfish and altruistic impulses: the self-propelled nature of this model encourages the distribution of wealth by offering employment, goods and services, and community engagement without relying on donations or charity.

4.5 out of 5 stars: This was a very interesting book to read and catch up on what Muhammad Yunus has been up to, especially since I haven't thought much about microcredit in the last decade. Yunus' passion for this mission is tangible. Though there were times where the book felt a bit like an advertisement for Grameen Bank, I don't feel that it detracts from the message since (by definition) he doesn't personally stand to gain from a more widespread adoption of this model. All in all, this book can be summed up by the age-old adage: "give a man a fish and he is fed for a day; teach a man to fish, give him a small loan to start up his own small company where he is able to hire others to work with him to sell fish to the poor at a price they can afford and you help bring a community out of poverty. Or something like that.

// I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Refugees

The Refugees 
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Published: February 2017

8 short stories that span the wide spectrum of Vietnamese-American immigrant experiences. From literal ghost stories of those haunted by the past, to a neighborhood rivalry between two mothers struggling to make a difference, each story peers into a broken family displaced by war.

4 out of 5 stars: Beautifully moving stories of hope, sorrow, and nostalgia. For me, the standouts were "Black-Eyed Women", "War Years" and "I'd Love You To Want Me." I enjoyed these so much, I may have to revisit The Sympathizer (which still sits right where I left it when I got distracted by who knows what and failed our burgeoning book club so miserably. I'm better now, guys, promise!)