Monday, November 23, 2009

Good books and old friends

Some books are like old friends. I love getting together with them, settling down with a cup of tea, or just settling down and getting into them. These books make me smile, warm my heart and leave me satisfied and anticipating the next time we can get together.

I have two books to recommend this winter Holiday season that are like old friends. I know because that’s what readers say about them. They are The Old Man and the Monkey and Grandfather and the Raven. Read about them below, then pick up a copy or two from Abbott ePublishing at The Old Man and the Monkey is listed on their “Fiction” page. If you own a Kindle, the books are Kindle-ready and downloadable to your machine.

The Old Man and the Monkey and Grandfather and the Raven covers

Here’s what readers are saying about these two warm-hearted books:

The Old Man and the Monkey:

"I was immediately drawn to it. Wow! Nothing short of monkey magic.” –Thom Rutledge, author, Nashville

"Makes you look within to find the best that you can be. I love this story. It gets better every time I read it.” –Jean S., Seattle

“Reflects the rare values of unconditional friendship; love, trust, respect, loyalty and dependability.” –Stella T., Rotterdam

Makes you “feel you’re with” the old man and the monkey.”  –Aneeta S., Kuala Lumpur

Wakens you “to the wonder of life and death and friendship.” –Wendy M., Quebec

Grandfather and the Raven:

“A delightful collection of life fables that warms you all the way down, leaving you looking forward to another reading in the future.” –Jean S., Seattle

“Full of wisdom and simply a pleasure to read! A book that rejuvenated me.” –Meam W., Karachi

“Suffused with a gentle knowingness and humour, accompanied by a sharp disapproval of unprovoked violence.” –Tim Roux, author, Belgium

“Like that piece of chocolate that you have with your afternoon cup of coffee... short, sweet, and leaving you wanting another piece.” –Shawn C., author, Sapporo

The raven “speaks in a mysterious voice, which some people can understand, and others hear only as a noise. These stories are fun, and would be fun to read to a child sitting in a loving lap.” –Wendy M., Quebec

Be sure to pick up your copy at You’ll find The Old Man and the Monkey listed on their “fiction” page. Then settle down with a cup of hot chocolate, tea or coffee, pick up the books or turn on your Kindle and enjoy a wonderful experience. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Holidays and happy reading,

Jorge (“Toasty”) Tostada

(Who’s that George Polley fellow? It’s me, writing under my author name, the one my parents gave me when I was born.)


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obama’s Bow

The headline in this morning’s Yahoo! News reads “Outrage in Washington over Obama’s Japan Bow”. I said “What?” Seems the conservative pundits in DC have their knickers in a knot because President Obama bowed to Emperor Akihito when he met the Emperor and his wife.

“Oh, God! What shame!” Bah! I am disgusted with this kind of arrogance. “Ugly Americans” are alive and well and kicking, and are as blind as they ever were about how the rest of the world views them.

In case you’re wondering who “ugly Americans” are or what the term means, it means the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens and corporations abroad and at home.

It means acting as though it’s proper to walk into anyone’s house or country and do what you want without apologizing for the inconvenience, discourtesy or disrespect.

It means telling others what is good for them instead of asking because you don’t consider them important (and you consider them too “stupid” to understand how important you are, though they recognize how self-important and arrogant you are).

So William Kristol, Bill Bennett and others are having hissy fits. "We don't defer to emperors. We don't defer to kings or emperors. The president of the United States -- this coupled with so many apologies from the United States…” Some said Obama’s bow was particularly grating after he publicly bowed to Saudi Arabia’s Kind Abdullah at the G20 meeting in April. Quelle horreur!

These people say the president “has hastened America's decline as a world superpower by being too apologetic and too deferential in his dealings with other world leaders.”

Oh, really. What they’re missing besides good sense and good manners is this: The best way to shore up US power in a region increasingly dominated by rising giant China is to show respect for the people you want to improve your relationship with. In countries where bowing is a sign of respect, this means bowing where it is most appropriate. And bowing to Emperor Akihito is very appropriate and important to the Japanese people.

But if you’re an Ugly American, you don’t see it, because you think walking in and telling people people what you’re going to do is the way to win friends and influence people. Self important, arrogant behavior is “ugly”, and it just does not go over well. Showing respect does.

Here’s an example. I spent a few months in Mexico City in 1973-74 when President Nixon was involved in the Watergate scandal (his people had sent burglars to break into someone’s office) that eventually forced his resignation. The Mexican people greeted the affair with high hilarity. Here was good old self-righteous Uncle Sam caught with his hand in someone else’s till. “Ho-ho-ho!” A restaurant in the Zona Rosa featured a special dessert made of minted  peaches. It was delicious. The restaurateur called it “Impeach mint.” Still makes me laugh out loud!

How does President Obama go over in Japan? His face, his words and his books are everywhere. Kids use his speeches as part of their English language study. His bow to Emperor Akihito was played over and over again on the news. (I know because I watched it.) It was a gesture of respect and kindness, a huge step forward in repairing damages done, especially over the previous eight years by an administration that had no time to genuflect to anyone, including their own country’s citizens.

Former President Bush? He threw out the first ball at Japan’s recent baseball championship game, he’s popular with former Prime Minister Koizumi, and without trying he does a pretty darn good imitation of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. (“What, me worry?”) Neuman .

Mad Magazine, Alfred E. Neuman

All for this post,


Sapporo, Japan

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guest Blogger Meam Wye, “Shining History - Medieval Islamic Civilization”

Meam Wye is one of my favorite bloggers. Her blog, “Shining History – Medieval Islamic Civilization” http://www.shininghistory.comis one I heartily recommend to anyone interested in discovering the rich history of Islamic civilization, especially in the areas of engineering, medicine, science, aviation, cosmetology, education and the creation of hospitals. All of these fields owe a tremendous debt to the pioneering work of the people she writes about. I would hazard a guess that most people in the West know nothing at all about these people and the contributions they made. What we hear about is a tiring litany of negative reportage and comments about Islam and Islamic civilization.

Meam Wye’s guest column today is a response to some of that. A reprint of a comment by someone known as “burymore”, and her reply, appears below. First, the comment by “burymore”:

    “If muslims would come to realize that the fundamentalist extremes of their culture are holding them back, then they might have a scientist or inventor of note that lived more recently than three hundred years ago.

    There is not an invention or scientific breakthrough of any importance to come from the muslim world in centuries.... seeing this list of great minds from a thousand years ago only points that out more.

    Quit marginalizing half your population. (Quit treating women like garbage) and quit putting the spiritual leaders in charge of the governments, and maybe Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and all the rest can actually progress a little as nations.”

Next, Meam Wye’s reply:

“I fully agree with the second paragraph of your comment -more than a couple of centuries that any significant contribution has been made. This raises two important questions:

1. What were the factors behind the rise of this glorious civilization?

2. Why this civilization declined?

These are thought-provoking questions, the answers to which require an in depth study of history, religion and a detailed analysis of socio-political situations in various eras to reach at some meaningful conclusion.

I am unable to understand your term 'fundamentalist extremes of their [Muslim] culture'. Different countries, with predominant Muslim population, have different cultures -food/dresses/language/ arts/literature/architecture/wedding festivals etc. Being Muslims, as guided by Islam, they however do share common elements as well. For example, the greeting ‘Assalaam-O-Alaikum'  (meaning: Peace be upon you)  taught by Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him) is the same across different Muslim countries/continents. So is true for many other traditions including the way Muslims clean themselves, what they don't consider lawful to eat, the manner in which Ramadan and Eid are observed/celebrated, the preference of opening fast with dates (although other menu items vary greatly across different regions), the ability to at least read, if not comprehend, Arabic (the language of Quran) by almost every educated Muslim, irrespective of the mother tongue and so on.  I and for that matter any unbiased person cannot see any elements of ''fundamentalist extremes of their [Muslim] culture' in this.

If you are referring to the barbaric customs, like honor killings etc. then these barbaric/beyond humanity acts have absolutely no link/place in Islam. In fact, Islam very strictly prohibits the killing of innocent people and violation of human (and other living creatures) rights.

Beyond humanity/barbaric acts that are carried out in the name of culture/religion, are unfortunately part of many 'non-Muslim' countries/societies as well. For example, in India, considered to be the largest democracy of the world, there is a custom called 'sati' among Hindus in which the widow of the deceased husband is burned ALIVE along with his husband's dead body! The last 'reported' case of Sati (though outlawed) is dated, not a century back, it's October 11, 2008. Quite shocking. Have you ever heard of 'Bridal Burning'? According to a recent official report, 6000 women, each year, are murdered by putting gasoline and fire on them in India. Reason:  these women do not fulfill the demands of dowry by their husband [Hindus traditionally consider dowry as a 'groom-price' - money/valuables that the man is entitled to for taking the woman in marriage]. Several examples of these and other kinds of horrifying acts can be found in many other under-developed/developing countries and uncivilized cultures. However, the media never labels them as 'Fundamentalist Hindu/Christian/any other religion Culture'.

Your third point 'Quit Treating women like Garbage': This blogger is a woman and an engineer (with a Masters degree). Had I been treated like garbage, I would have been in a garbage dump or inside a landfill and not online now. Whatever I have achieved (and I've got a resume in which there is plenty in the 'Honors' section to boast of), perhaps would not have been possible without the great and continuous support and love of two MEN - initially from my late father and later from my husband. And I am not the only example. There are numerous other Muslim women across various countries and societies, making positive contributions in life while being treated respectfully like a fellow human being, both by their respective societies and their families.

Like many other countries of the world, violation of women's right  are unfortunately part of, to varying degrees, of many Muslim countries as well.........again nothing to do with Islam and something that is, beyond any kind of doubt, truly deplorable. Violation of any living being's (human beings, animals and plants) rights is equally and highly deplorable.

Do you know that the oldest continuously-operating degree-granting university in the world, as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, was founded by a Muslim woman Fatima in 859 CE - 9th century. Oxford University did not allow women as late as 1878! This is just one small example. There are numerous other great examples, starting with the women during the life of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon him). This in itself is a topic for a whole book.

Islam gave women the rights that are now taken for granted but was unthinkable of in the 7th century. Many of these fundamental human rights were not given by the west to women as late as 19th century!  Islam gave women:  the right of being human (with rewards of good deeds equal to men), the right of earning, the right of  inheritance, the right of owning property (married/unmarried/divorced/ widowed), the right to get divorce, the right to choose her husband, the right to say no for marriage proposal without giving any reason, the right to get custody of children after divorce, the right to be provided for and cared by father/spouse/brothers, the right to get education, the right to teach others [including men], the right to pass religious judgments, the right to argue, disagree and advise men on any matter - political, religious or personal at any place - home, mosque or public, the right to re-marry after divorce or husband's death, the right not to spend their own earnings on their family if they don't want to (unlike men, women have a choice here :) ), the right that no woman is held  responsible or faces gender discrimination on account of the mistake committed by both Adam  and Eve (not Eve alone), the advantage of being considered as 'Blessing of Allah' if you are lucky to be a female child and  many more. 

Whatever and wherever violation of human rights - women, men, senior citizens, children or animals -  it is unfortunately a common practice among many countries - more common in developing/under developed countries. Had these violations of basic human rights not been there, these countries would have also been progressing.

Regarding the 'spiritual leadership', I again fail to understand your usage of this term. There are two points. First, in the countries you mentioned, the leadership either is monarchy (Saudi Arabia), dictator-ship/occupied (Iraq) or democracy/presidential (Iran, Syria & Egypt). Nothing spiritual as you put it. Secondly and more important: the problem is with the Leadership - spiritual or non-spiritual. The nuclear  bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were done on the orders of Harry S. Truman - the 33rd president of United states ............ Was he a spiritual Muslim leader? The crime considered to be the biggest in the history of this world against one race - Was  Hitler a spiritual Muslim leader? The recent economic turmoil in USA?   George Bush was the last US president for eight consecutive years............Was he a spiritual leader?  The two Opium wars in the nineteenth century on China - courtesy British and French empires.......Were Queen Victoria or Napoleon Bonaparte spiritual leaders? This list can be easily extended without much research. The problem lies with the leadership. The world is expecting a lot from President Obama - Let's be hopeful :)

Although, you have not mentioned Afghanistan but I think that many readers might be thinking about the 'spiritual leadership' of Taliban. A country, that has been almost completely destroyed by three decades of war and carpet bombings -  more than one million civilians were killed, more than three million were wounded and five million became refugee by the end of first decade of war only! It is a country where babies who were born thirty years ago, on arriving in this beautiful world, did not hear some sweet melodious sounds of nature or the soothing voice of their parents as their first sounds;  they heard the horrifying sounds of dropping bombs and the never ending gun shots. When these babies started crawling, they came across dead bodies of their parents, saw blood while trying to swallow food, witnessed broken limbs and chopped arms of their siblings (if some miracle saved them from getting blind), interacted with paralyzed and shocked people, sighted the frightening faces and bodies of people with chemical burn injuries, played outside their destroyed homes with bombs disguised as toys (booby traps) and had destructed natural surroundings for their pleasure with nothing worth while to eat, what to speak of getting education! Living this life for three consecutive decades, they never even got a chance to live a life that even wild animals/beasts are blessed with - peace in the beautiful nature. Now after growing up, if they behave in an uncivilized manner, does the solution lies in continuing to kill them like cockroaches, by the so-called civilized world, or in reaching out to them and teaching them with love and compassion? A question that is not difficult to answer.

I thank you for your feedback and for sharing your views, 'burymore'. It would have been better had you chosen not to be anonymous by making your blogger profile private. Understanding each other is the first essential step towards making this beautiful world a livable place for everyone. I strongly feel that the need of the hour is to be less judgmental and a little responsible in reaching conclusions and forming strong opinions.

Thank you.

N.B. For any comments, please use the original post so that all related comments are on one page.”

Meam Wye

Thank you, Meam, for being the guest blogger for today’s post.

Jorge (“Toasty”) Tostada

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A wonderful story for young adults of any age

Review of “Habibi”, by Naomi Shihab Nye. Mass Market Paperback. Simon Pulse, 1997.

Naomi Shihab Nye brings her poet's voice to this touching story about 14 year old Liyana Abboud and her family as they move from St. Louis, Missouri to Palestine, where her father, a physician, was born and raised. The move isn't an easy one, for more reasons than one. The family arrives to find conditions more tense than they had expected, with growing violence and a growing Israeli military presence in the West Bank. The story is also filled with some memorable characters, one of the most memorable being Sitti, Liyana's 81 year old grandmother, who is the “glue” that holds her large family together, a veritable font of energy and wisdom.

It isn't easy being an American teenager in Israel, especially when you're half-Arab and half-American and female. The rules are very different (and Liyana tests them, as any self-respecting teenager will), you don't understand the language, dad (“Poppy”) has to do all the translating, you don't “fit” anywhere, and the tensions between your father's people (and hence your own) and the powers that be in Israel grow daily. To complicate matters, a friendship develops between (and warms) between Liyana and a Jewish teenager named Omer (she mishears his name as “Omar”). It is a time of hardening positions and escalating violence. “Did people who committed acts of violence think their victims and their victims' relatives would just forget? Didn't people see? How violence went on and on like a terrible wheel? Could you stand in front of a wheel and make it stop? ... It was better ... if you were able to let the violence stop when it got to you. But many people couldn't do that.” When a Jewish deputy mayor of Jerusalem proposes that two thousand Arab homes in east Jerusalem be torn down to make room for fifty thousand houses for Jews, and nothing is said “about pain or attachment or sorrow or honor”, what happens? When someone knocks on your door, walks in and kicks you and your family out without so much as a by-your-leave, and you lose everything, what's the logical consequence? These are the issues that Liyana, her family, and every other human being in that part of the world (and in many others) had and have to deal with every day of their lives.

As grandma Sitti says to Omer “You will need to be brave. There are hard days coming. There are hard words waiting in people's mouths to be spoken. There are walls. You can't break them. Just find doors in them. See?”

Ms. Nye does a wonderful job of painting in the details of her story in vivid color, images and anecdote.

This may be a book for young adults. In my view, it is a book that everyone should read.

All for now,

Jorge Luis Tostada (“Toasty”)