On ‘Collusion’ by Luke Harding

Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump WinCollusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win by Luke Harding

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ho.Ly. Shit.

I am certainly no fan of the 45th president’s administration. Their policies, let alone their continual vitriol and mockery of basic decency and decorum, leave much to be desired. That said, I’d like the office of the president to remain in tact and unscathed or untarnished beyond repair. I want my own country to succeed even if an administration I have very little respect for is at the helm.

But,… if even a fraction of this book is true, 45 and this entire moment in history will make Nixon and his cronies look like saints. It will make Watergate seem like spilled milk rather than a betrayal of the highest order by those with a Constitutional duty to uphold the rule of law and act in the best interest of their country with honour and integrity.

Luke Harding, already a respected investigative journalist and a hero of mine given his work with Edward Snowden, weaves together and unpacks an incredibly complicated tale of how the current occupant of the White House in DC represents the ultimate long-game played out by the KGB and now FSB and Putin. Taking Christopher Steele’s dossier apart bit-by-salicous-bit and carefully examining each layer as though it were a slowly rotting onion, leading inevitably to the demise of the US and the Western alliance as Putin’s ultimate revenge on the collapse of the Soviet empire, this piece of journalism reads like a spy novel. Unfortunately, it’s not reporting fiction, but actual events and describing real people. It’s hard to imagine the pieces, each one of them, being refuted at this point. And, to be honest, I’d like to think that some of it is proven untrue, if only because the truth is simply too chilling and awful.

If anything, this book and it’s portrayal of collusion by the now most powerful person on the planet who may merely play the role of the Kremlin’s puppet, along with members of his cabinet, senior staff and more than a few other Congressional and DC insiders, make clear that Mueller’s investigation must be protected. Whatever the outcome. And, at all costs. Should nothing come of it, then fine. So be it. But, there are too many convenient coincidences. Too many odd overlaps. Too many moments which might be explained away as innocent yet appear anything but. And, if true, those individuals must face the punishments — judiciously and publicly — they deserve.

I’m too young to really remember Nixon’s resignation or the death spiral of his administration. But, I’m wide awake and all-too-aware for the current shit show, and can only wonder how long it will take us to recover. Whatever rabbit holes this all leads us down, we can only hope that we come out of it better equipped to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.

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On ‘Running Is My Therapy’

Running Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live HappierRunning Is My Therapy: Relieve Stress and Anxiety, Fight Depression, Ditch Bad Habits, and Live Happier by Scott Douglas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The last month has been enormously stressful and emotional. Highs and lows abound, and many a run has been completed as I quietly (or not) choked back tears. After each of those runs, however, I felt better, either less stressed or if not less emotional at least less immediately in need of a good long cry.

In Running Is My Therapy, Scott Douglas confirms much of what I already knew to be true about running. At least what running means and does for me. Running, these past few years, has certainly helped me stave off the pits of despair and keep that little black dog at bay, both those periods induced by life’s curve balls and trials, but also my own life-long battle with depression. Yet, I am not a life-long runner–it’s only within the last four or five years and certainly the last year when I’ve become a consistent runner. Running truly IS my therapy. In many respects, lacing up and hitting the trails helps me employ various tools I learned from cognitive behavioural therapy years ago.

Backed by a plethora of references and research documenting the benefits to running, this is an incredibly insightful read. But, for me, the most important message was relatively simple, although often repeated. That isn’t a complaint. Running when we least want to is often when need to the most and when we gain the most benefit. Indeed. I’ve experienced this myself several times during this past month.

In the midst of life’s turmoil at the moment, I had to take about 10 days off–unfortuante timing related to an appointment for fresh ink. As my skin healed, I really, really, really wanted and needed to run during those 10 days. My husband and I try to walk every evening in addition to my regular running schedule. But, running is when I truly empty my head. And, too much noise was accumulating during that 10-day break. My first run back was long and labourious, and at times the urge to quit was strong. I kept telling myself to just go a bit further. Make it through the next interval. Focus on X rather than Y. Still, after those 12 plodding kilometres, I felt better and better able to simply cope with what comes next.

Now, I understand that a) I’m not alone in this mental reset benefit from running and b) the science behind it. My rational brain appreciates that immensely, particularly the latter.

Obviously, for the darkest times and those facing the darkest of thoughts and deepest pits of despair, seeking professional help is best if not altogether necessary. And, I’ll keep this in mind should I sink into a particularly black period in future. For now, I’ll continue my planned runs, forgive myself when I don’t quite achieve what I intended and use the mental and physical strength running provides me to push onward through life’s bittersweet lemons.

One step at a time.

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On ‘The Fire Next Time’

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, and just about anything else written by James Baldwin, remains relevant. It’s spooky and altogether tragic that pieces written in the 1960s reflect the current realities lived by black communities and individuals in the US today.

Eloquent. Honest. Brutally clear and well-reasoned throughout, The Fire Next Time, much like all of his works, should be required reading for us all. They also serve as a stark reminder of the as yet unfulfilled promises of the Civil Rights era.

We will never move beyond the divisions we face now if we do not honestly and openly sit down and listen to one another and attempt to understand what it means to grow up black in the US.

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On ‘The Corpse Exhibition…’

The Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of IraqThe Corpse Exhibition and Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m honestly not entirely sure what I think about most of these short stories.

This was a compelling read, primarily because it provides a glimpse into a world I most likely will never fully understand or comprehend. War-torn Iraq both before and after the 2003 invasion by the US remains utterly incomprehensible for its violence and chaos. And, these stories paint rather vivid pictures of the realities lived by Iraqis against it all.

War is hell, and the hell lived by Iraqis is rather beautifully captured in this collection. It is not an easy read, but it is compelling.

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Surrealistic pillow, v2.0

My dreams in Helsinki are never as vivid or as surreal as those when we’re on holiday. But, every once in a while, my subconscious plays a little joke on me as I slumber. This morning, my subconscious decided to remind that I evidently really love gin and need to read some Hemingway again soon. Or, simply, Cuba is on my mind.

Just before waking, I dreamt that I was at some rather random gathering involving sail boats and Christmas trees, neither of which are at all common in my waking world. Amidst the festivities, some of us sat at a rather plain table whilst several of my fellow real-life gin-loving friends waxed poetic and sang the praises of one gin or another.

As a bottle of one of those gins was passed around, I poured myself a rather generous glass. No ice. No tonic. No garnish. Just gin. [NB: As much as I do enjoy a lovely and refreshing gin and tonic on a warm summer afternoon, I’d never ever consider just pouring a full glass! ]

After pouring, I look up and across the table from me sat Papa Hemingway, without his captain’s hat or pipe, but most definitely his snow-white beard and paunch.

Looking on and seemingly otherwise rather bored, what was his reaction to my long pour?

‘Is that all for you, sister, or are you sharing?’

I woke myself up chuckling.

Dream a dream, and make yourself wonder what the hell goes on in that head of yours when you aren’t distracted by all the bloody noise.

Papa Hemingway

On ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Grief affects each of us in unexpected ways. Each death of someone we love leaves marks we rarely anticipate or understand fully until time passes and healing begins leaving scars where wounds once festered.

This incredibly personal book details not just one woman’s grief following the unexpected death of her father, but her journey through that grief through the careful development of a bond with and training of a goshawk. Knowing nothing of falconry, it’s a fascinating read. But, more so, it’s an intimate and brutally honest narrative, both recounting her own misery and despair at losing her father and describing her failings related to her bird. (And, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)

Replace her goshawk with whatever pet who you’ve owned or bonded with during a particularly difficult period in your own life, and it’s completely understandable how Ms Macdonald begins to assume the personality of her goshawk. She lives, breathes and sees the world through Mabel’s eyes completely distancing herself from the world beyond. It’s an escape from the reality that left her heartbroken. And, utterly relatable.

This is a beautiful read, if rather forlorn and bereft at times. Yet, given her eventual emergence from the very deepest depths of heartache, it’s also full of hope. She emerges from the darkness and dark times. And, all of us can use a little reminder of what is possible these days.

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On ‘Embracing the Infidel’

Embracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey WestEmbracing the Infidel: Stories of Muslim Migrants on the Journey West by Behzad Yaghmaian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s rather fitting that I finished this book on 20 June 2018, World Refugee Day. And, it’s rather fitting that I read this book, now as the furor over migrants to my own country reaches a fever pitch.

In Embracing the Infidel, Behzad Yaghmaian allows us to walk in the shoes of those very much unlike ourselves. At least very much unlike myself. I do not have to be an asylum seeker or refugee to understand the desperation involved in fleeing one’s home, legally or clandestinely.

But, this rather heartbreaking book allows us to understand not just the reasons individuals risk their lives and their children’s to cross imaginary lines. It allows us to understand just how difficult it is to do so legally and safely, if not altogether impossible those conditions for migrating are for some.

Most of the individual life histories presented here focus on those fleeing various forms of violence—both mental and physical, state-sponsored and familial in origin. And, even when they attempt to follow laws, both local and international, the migrants described herein face additional forms of abuse and violence in the countries to which they seek peace and freedom.

Himself an immigrant, Yaghmaian compassionately and intimately allows each of those he meets on his two-year journey across Europe to shape their own narratives. From their reasons for leaving their homes to their progress (or inability to progress) across various lines drawn on maps by powerful men to the few who have reached ‘the West and what once promised a quiet life in peace, each of these individuals’ stories are important. They are crucial to understanding the migrant ‘crisis’ that dominates headlines and political discussions. They offer a narrative missed by those declaring their support or outrage at various policies.

Despite being published more than ten years ago, we’re still plagued by many of the same issues and the same inertia when it comes to finding solutions to conflicts or granting legal status to those in seemingly hopeless situations. No answers are provided here; but, that’s not the purpose of this book. If anything, this book provides a lesson in empathy, one we could all use a bit more of to my mind.

It’s worthwhile to understand that so many around the globe are currently living as refugees. 68 500 000 million of them in fact. Each of them deserves a chance to be heard. Each of them is important.

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