Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Book Review: Made in China

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: economics, business, China
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley


The story starts when Julie Keith opens a box of cheap Halloween decorations in the fall of 2012. Inside is a handwritten note in broken English. It is an S.O.S. note from a prisoner in a Chinese labor camp where they made the decorations. From there, the book's author begins to trace the fate of that prisoner. 

The prisoner is Sun Yi, an activist arrested for practicing meditations forbidden by the government; he was a member of Falun Gong, which eventually became a forbidden movement in China. The book's author spent three years at least tracing Sun Yi and learning the story we get in the book. Along the way, we learn about Chinese labor camps, which are basically gulags, that produce many of the cheap products Americans love to buy in the U.S. These are products you can find in major retailers including Walmart, Target, and other well known corporations. If you wonder why products made in China are so cheap it's because many are made in labor camp factories by unpaid exploited workers kept in inhuman conditions. American companies are glad to do business with these Chinese companies, often turning a blind eye to the exploitation. American consumers mostly care to get their stuff as cheap as possible; these consumers are mostly ignorant or indifferent to the horrifying human cost in many of the products they buy. 

The book is arranged into 19 chapters with a prologue and epilogue. The narrative alternates between Sun Yi's life story and the story of China's politics and policies including some history as well. Sun Yi's experience is quite horrifying and gruesome at times. The story is also a bit of a thriller as we wonder whether Sun Yi will be able to survive and escape. Along the way, we learn about the feeble efforts of the United States to stem the flow of labor camp products, efforts often thwarted by indifference, lobbying, and weak enforcement of what little laws are available. 

The story draws readers in, and the pace keeps going to the end. This is a book that has potential to make many who read it aware of the situation. In the author's epilogue, they offer some solutions, but given American addiction to cheap products and their unwillingness to pay what things really cost, not to mention the overall bad economy, I doubt any change is possible. The book presents an important story, but I am not sure many will bother to listen. 

The book includes a good set of notes to document its sources. It also has a bibliography that may be of interest for readers who may want to learn more. 

This is a moving book that draws you in. It tugs at the heart at times. I will add it may not be for some sensitive readers, but I think as many people as possible need to read it, more so if it makes them uncomfortable. This is a good selection for public and academic libraries. 

4 out of 5 stars. 

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. 


Sun Yi's letter's journey: 

"The letter had slipped past armed guards at a Chinese gulag, elude managers at all stages of the supply chain, and traveled more than five thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean before landing on Julie's forest-green rug" (16).

And that was not the first S.O.S. letter; there had been others before found in products from places like Walmart and Saks Fifth Avenue. The news media had reported on such letters before. 

The author spent three years on this story, a dark story: 

"Over the course of three years, I immersed myself in Sun's story and the accounts of other labor camp survivors. As I speak with the wholesalers who serve as middlemen between labor camps and big international retailers, the people who audit Chinese factories for multinational corporations, and the sales managers at the factories who respond to U.S. consumer demands, it became clear this was more than a story about Chinese human rights.

There is a darker side to China's rags-to-riches transformation-- and our own pleasure in the cheap products that we consume daily" (32). 

Some consumers are willing to change their habits:

"Whether it's supporting companies that have reduced their carbon footprint, or ones that appear to have ethical factory conditions, we are seeing a new willingness among consumers to select, or reject, brands for the express purpose of making a positive impact in the world" (34). 

The keyword above is "appear" when it comes to being ethical. What little auditing of these factories there is turns out to be toothless, and often on China's terms. As for those consumers, the catch is these are mostly privileged consumers. Most poor consumers can't afford to be too selective to worry about the ethics of who makes their cheap goods. 

"And consumers around the world are allowing the Chinese government to profit from this forced labor by buying products made at these camps" (49). 

Speaking of those audits:

"The issue is, not all audits are created equal. The price of an audit often limits its thoroughness. A standard audit, which costs a couple hundred dollars, usually means a cursory inspection that might check the cleanliness of the factory, the quality of merchandise, and efficacy of the equipment. It is unlikely to detect something structural like a building's stability-- and incapable of finding something as complex as a secret subcontract to a labor camp" (94). 

 Plus often certain data just goes missing:  

"It is striking that in the era of big data, when corporations can store our emails, photos, and web searches for eternity in the cloud, data centers, and blockchains, they do not retain their factories' production records" (96). 

It is not that striking. It is a "playbook" kind of move. You cannot prosecute what there is no evidence for. Plus as the author later writes: 

"From the beginning, audits were created to protect corporations rather than workers" (97). 

In this day and age consumers are not ignorant when it comes to how cheap goods are made: 

"At this point in the information age, most consumers are aware to some degree there is a profound hidden suffering behind the abundance of cheap products. Stories about sweatshops and child labor have been extensively covered in books, documentaries, and lifestyle magazines, and on late-night talk shows. But it has not stopped us from shopping brands that likely use this type of labor" (104). 

Awareness does not mean said consumers read those books, articles, and tune in to those documentaries, less so in the age of getting the news from social media. In addition, it does not help that in many places like Bumfuck, USA the only games in town are Walmart and/or Dollar General; they are local monopolies. You can try to be virtuous all you want but certain goods have to be bought. To the poor, that virtue is not even on the radar. 

In the end, as I stated earlier, no real change will happen: 

"And still, after all of this-- the congressional hearings, exposés in national and international papers, and sacrifices of dissidents to make the horrors of forced labor known to the public-- the world at large remains oblivious of China's gulags" (223). 


And finally, a few boos from the bibliography I am adding to my TBR list (record links to WorldCat): 

Friday, November 25, 2022

Book Review: Pearls Gets Sacrificed

Stephan Pastis, Pearls Gets Sacrificed: a Pearls Before Swine Treasury. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 9781449458294.
Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor
Format: large trade paperback
Source: Berea branch, Madison County (KY) Public Library 

This 2015 treasury of Pearls Before Swine has a bit over 240 pages of strips. The strips are mostly in black and white, but the volume also includes larger Sunday strips in color. 
The humor overall is good, but it can be a bit inconsistent. When it is good, it is really good and funny. When it is not, it can fall a bit flat. There are times when the author stretches a joke a bit too far. One example of stretching the joke too far was the series about Zebra's bad vacation on a small isolated island. The author stretched that way more than he should have. In addition, the author is known for doing puns, and again, some are good, some are not. 

Having said that, the majority of the comics are good. I do enjoy the contrast between innocent Pig, cynical Rat, and wise Goat. Some of my favorites in this collection include: Humpty Dumpty suing for damages after his fall, Rat pointing out about political bribery (whoops, corporate campaign contributions), Goat at the bookstore (which could also apply to libraries), Pig's doctor appointment (oh so true), and on Anthony Bourdain as a hero. 

Overall, I really like this volume. I enjoy the humor that goes swiftly from silly to cynical and back to silly. It does feature some good observations about life as well. This is a good selection for libraries with comics and graphic novel collections. 

4 out of 5 stars. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Thanksgiving Post 2022

Welcome to my Thanksgiving Day post for 2022. The Better Half and I will be at home for the Turkey Day having a nontraditional meal, and our daughter will be off to have Friendsgiving with friends, so it will be a nice quiet time for us too. If you are traveling for the holiday, please stay safe and have a good time. If you are staying home, I hope you all have a good and safe time. 

I decided to once again put together a small set of links, with a bit of my commentary, to give you something to read and maybe be amused during this time of year. 

Before I go further, a small side note. The last time I did a Thanksgiving Day post was in 2018. It was before the pandemic hit, but things were already tense in 2018 (I can't imagine why). Back then I wrote a bit of advice for folks getting together over the turkey dinner, and I think that advice is very applicable this year, so feel free to check the 2018 post out. The post also has some additional trivia bits that you may still appreciate this year.

And now, without further ado, here we go. 

Some holidays advice to get along better

  • Here is some good simple advice, via The Grio: learn to say NO this month. I would add that this is applicable also to Christmas and the rest of the holidays where you may be getting together with family and/or friends and/or other people. The bottom line is to set your boundaries, make them clear to everybody, and enforce them. Someone tests you? Walk out if you are visiting, kick them out if you are hosting. Set ground rules for your celebration and stick to them. As they write, NO-vember is “a time to start saying ‘no’ to people, places & things that drain your energy.”This is about protecting yourself and protecting others when some bad situation breaks out or an asshole decides to disrupt the harmony. So learn to say NO and enforce it. 
  • On the other hand, this is a time of year you also find stupid advice. I'd say to ignore this article via Big Think suggesting you do a little counterfactual thinking as part of your gratitude. In plain English that means things may be bad, but think that they could be worse. I say fuck that shit. We have been through hell in the last few years ranging from the regime of the Pendejo in Chief to the pandemic that is still going on. I do not think anyone out there or me should have to think gee, how much worse can it get given that we have already hit the worst, and it is not over yet. Having said that, I would say as I often say do what you can with what you have. Be grateful for what you have, for the small things, for family (whatever form family takes for you), and the things that are really important in life. In the end, no matter how bad the Hard Times get, just remember those things that really matter to you and those close to you.

The economy of Thanksgiving

  • Farm Bureau, which tracks every year how much the traditional Thanksgiving dinner costs, reports that the cost has gone up 20%.  For folks who may be a bit more visual, the nice people at Farm Bureau even created a graph to summarize things. 



  • The costs of travel during this holiday are also up according to CNN. Whether you are traveling by air or land, costs are going to be more this year. Plane tickets are more expensive. Gas for your vehicle is more expensive. This does make me glad we stay home for the holidays; in addition to less hassles it also means less costs for us.  


 Thanksgiving Food

Turkey meal photo from the National Turkey Federation (via Farm Bureau).

Naturally, the highlight for most Americans that celebrate Thanksgiving Day is the food, especially the turkey. As I mentioned, we do a nontraditional meal in our house. That is pretty much dependent on what we feel like having on a particular year. This year it's going to be beef enchiladas, seven layer bean dip, chips and tortillas to go with the dip. The Better Half makes her favorite taffy apple salad (I admit I am not a fan, so she makes a small batch she enjoys, but others who have tried it swear by it). We'll also have a nice cheese and cold meats tray to snack on throughout the day. The one bow to tradition we make is we make two pies: a pumpkin pie and a chocolate chip cookie pie. We'll probably also have a cocktail or two. 

Apparently, we are not the only ones who might not want a traditional Thanksgiving meal, so let's see what some other folks are doing: 

  • A chef for Salon suggests ditching the turkey for these alternatives. However, the chef does not really ditch the turkey since they suggest things like turkey tamales, turkey mole, and a turkey breast schnitzel. So what they really mean is to ditch the full bird, but keep the turkey meat. It's not exactly ditching the turkey. We in our house actually DO ditch the turkey in favor of other things. That article headline was a little misleading to put it mildly. 
  • This other author, also writing for Salon, claims that what you really want is a Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pizza. While I am all for pizza for Thanksgiving, putting pumpkin on it is not my ideal, but what say you folks? Feel free to check the article and the recipe, and if you decide to make it, please comment and let me know how it turned out. 
  • The Grio does offer 7 turkey alternatives that are actually alternatives to turkey. One of the suggestion is the classic ham. Many households often have the ham and the turkey. Maybe this year you just highlight the ham and skip the turkey. If you like pumpkins, you can try making stuffed pumpkins. Check out their other ideas. 

 And finally, a special edition of...

Great Debates of Our Time


This year's debate topic: cranberry sauce. Make it yourself or get the canned stuff? In the opening round, this writer for Salon is passionate and proposes that people should not fuck with tradition. They want their canned stuff.  

Personally, I do not really understand the American tradition of cranberry sauce (or jelly but hush). I get you are supposed to put it on the turkey, but most people do not, so often the sauce ends up ignore on the dinner table, often left in the shape of the can. 

So what say you folks? Homemade, pre-made, or the usual canned (usually Ocean Spray brand). Again, feel free to comment. 

If you made it this far thank you for stopping by and reading. Again, I hope everyone who celebrates has a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday. If you do not celebrate it, I hope you do have a happy and safe day. Peace.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Deck Review: Deviant Moon Tarot

Patrick Valenza, Deviant Moon Tarot. Stamford, CT: U.S. Games Systems, 2009.  (Link to publisher.)

Genre: Tarot deck
Subgenre: surrealism, art, lunar
Format: 78-card deck with little white book
Source: I own this one
I first used this deck in July 2022 for the July Deck Bond Challenge. This deck kit includes the 78-card deck, a little white book (LWB), and a poster showing the Lunatic Spread, a card spread for this deck. 

Nine of Cups
The LWB features acknowledgements and dedications, "The Creation of the Deviant Moon Tarot" (a brief artist statement about creating the deck), and card meanings for the Major and Minor Arcanas. It also includes the instructions for the Lunatic Spread, and it has a few blank pages at the end for writing notes. The "Creation" statement briefly describes how the deck was made, art influences, and symbolism. The card meaning entries include a small paragraph of text describing the card and symbols, one to three sentences. The entries also include a few keywords for upright and reversed meanings. The LWB is not much in terms of substance, but it is better than nothing. I'd suggest reading it at least once just for the author's insights, but for advanced Tarotistas that may be an optional step. For beginners, the LWB provides the minimal basics. 

The cards are beautiful in a dark fantasy and surrealist style. The figures have the distinctive moon-face style. The art draws from graveyard art and ancient Greek art according to the author. It's an original and unique art that is not always easy to describe, but as soon as you see it you know it's that author's art. Within this unique and dream-like art, the cards do fall mostly within the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) style, so if you read in that style you should be able to read with this deck. The cards are colorful and expressive, so they can work for the intuitive readers as well. 

Queen of Wands
I would classify this as a dark deck. I'd say it can work for things like dream work, shadow work, and when you want a deck that goes in a unique direction. In terms of using it to read for others, I would do so selectively; nice as it is the deck is it is not for everyone. 

Overall, I really like this deck. I like its unique quality and dreamy art. The cards measure about 5 inches by 2 3/4 inches, making them a bit on the longer side. They have a very light gloss finish that feels like it's barely there; this makes the cards easy to slide and shuffle. The card stock feels good, not too thick. The size could make the deck a bit hard to shuffle for some folks. However, the long cards are reminiscent of some antique card decks. The Major Arcana are identified by Roman numeral and name. Court cards are identified by name. The remaining Minor Arcana only have a Roman numeral, so  you need to look at the art to identify the cards; suit elements in the cards are pretty clear. The cards are all fully illustrated. 
The deck I have is the older edition with borders. I am considering getting the borderless edition down the road, but for now, this one is just fine. Note also the author has published a full coffee table style art book on the deck (available separately). That one is a bit more pricey, but I do hope to get it down the road too. If I do, I will review it here.

4 out of 5 stars. 

Note: photos are mine from my copy of the deck.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Book Review: Hoodoo For Everyone

Sherry Shone, Hoodoo For Everyone: Modern Approaches to Magic, Conjure, Rootwork, and Liberation. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2022. ISBN: 9781623177089.
Genre: nonfiction, pagan
Subgenre: hoodoo, magic
Format: trade paperback
Source: Galley from publisher. If memory serves me right I got it from an online books event, probably Library Journal Day of Dialogue.

I picked this up to learn more about a topic I knew little about. Now that I have read it, I feel I got a good learning experience. I also feel that if I wanted and put in the work I could start my own hoodoo practice. The author makes the topic accessible and easy to understand. 

The book is arranged in six chapters and some extras: 

  • Chapter 1: Hoodoo Origins.
  • Chapter 2: Fundamentals of Hoodoo Practice.
  • Chapter 3: Ethical Hoodoo.
  • Chapter 4: Worthy Hoodoo Fighters. 
  • Chapter 5: Putting It All Together.
  • Chapter 6: Cleansing. 
  • Appendix. This includes the author's own suggestions on how to use places, people, and events from the book. It also has a question and answer section, some rituals, spells, and a list of Bible verses to use with various topics. Some blank pages for writing your own notes are also provided. 
  • Bibliography. This includes various references, many for history and context. 
  • Suggested Reading. This is in addition to the bibliography. These are books the author has on her personal shelf and/or gave her inspiration to write this book. If hoodoo interests you, then consider reading some of the works on this suggested reading list. 

This is a very good book for any reader interested in the topic. The author presents the topic in a direct, simple, and honest way that makes it clear for readers. Where some other authors may get too esoteric or dense, this author makes hoodoo accessible and easy to understand. The learning process is incremental. The authors starts with the basics, and you gradually work your way up. If you are wondering when you get to write spells and do some things, that happens in Chapter 5. As the author emphasizes, you need to do your basic work and learning so you can be the best hoodoo worker you can be. Studying and researching topics such as ancestors, guides, sacred text, and others are part of the process. The author encourages readers to do the work and trust the process. 

The author's clear and nurturing tone is a strength of the book. The text often reads as if she was sitting with you teaching, offering advice, and reminding you to wash your hands. There is much work to be done if you wish to become a hoodoo worker, and the author provides the information and tools. You bring in your intention, faith, direction, and willingness to do your part and work. 

I will admit I had a concern or two about using the Bible as a spell book. I may be a happy heathen now, but that was not always the case. So, on the one hand, I've read the Bible quite a bit and know what is in it. On the other hand, because I know what is in it I am not too keen on the idea of revisiting it. For this the author talks about reclaiming our power from oppressive religious institutions and their chains. Another options may be adopting other texts as your sacred text. This is something for me to reflect on. I do appreciate the book giving me stuff to think about further. 

Overall, this is an excellent book on the topic, and it works well as an introductory text for those wanting to follow this path. It may help some readers decide if this is a good path for them or not. This is a book I would recommend, and I would add it to my personal library. I could see myself giving hoodoo a go; that is how good this book is. 

I recommend the book for both public and academic libraries, especially if they already have good pagan and esoterica collections. Given also its inclusive approach, this is one I could buy for our library. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes: 

Author's belief of hoodoo and what it is: 

"It is for those that require swift urgency when you can go to no one else. When your mortgage is late, when an illness isn't going away, when your spouse or partner is leaving, when you are being evicted, when your community is being shot at, when your lives are at stake. This is what hoodoo is for--- it's not pretty. It isn't meant to be. So you will not read what you normally hear about hoodoo in this book. I will give you my own experience in hoodoo as told by my story and the stories of the updated hoodoo people, places, and objects. This is not the hoodoo you may have read about or saw on social media. This is hoodoo that I have created for those who have been hurt, abandoned, misunderstood, or cast aside because we are not traditional or conforming. These are updated hoodoo foundations" (2). 


On using the Bible in hoodoo work. I found the idea intriguing and it has potential for some of us who often find the Bible to be weaponized: 

"I used the Bible to perform rituals and incantations, and I customize the text, rewriting it to match my needs (changing pronouns and phrases without diluting the message) and eliminating parts of the Bible I no longer want to see or pass along in my own rituals" (7). 


On a side note, I possibly need to find this author's previous book: The Hoodoo Guide to the Bible.  The book may be out of print as it is not easy to find outside of the Big A. WorldCat does not even have a record of it. 

How hoodoo can be for everyone: 

"Hoodoo can be practiced by anyone of different races if and only if they are respectful and honor those that lived the truth that demanded the hoodoo tradition (to provide deliverance where there is adversity)" (31, emphasis in original). 

In hoodoo, need to understand the Black experience: 

"As a hoodoo practitioner, the expectation is not for you to become Black but to understand the Black experience if Spirit is asking you to do this work. From there, the hope is that you understand this experience will make you even more powerful and grateful of your own, which is equally as profound" (40). 

The author suggests as part of a hoodoo practice to "research and learn some folklore and myths of your ancestry" (56). For me, for starters, I can revisit Ricardo Alegria's Cuentos Folkloricos de Puerto Rico. I do have a personal copy of that book. 


Hoodoo is inclusive and can be inclusive: 

"I do hope, you understand above all things that hoodoo can be and is inclusive. It is inclusive because it includes any of those that seek its wisdom. Your culture or racial background does not matter. Your determination and thirst for knowledge does" (57). 


On the need for healing: 

"There is no greater need for healing than the healing we need in this world from prejudicial practices and hatred toward each other, and folklore practitioners, in my own belief, are the deliverers of this message. 

Where there is social injustice, we as hoodoo workers fill the void" (95). 


On reading the Bible as a spell book:

"I challenge you as you read the Bible to view it as a spell book and use it as you would a scientific or other reference book. Doing this objectively will help you take the emotion and the dysfunctional (to many) understanding from the words, and you can remove the guilt, pain, and anger, leaving you with what the true message is" (99).

By the way, the section on ethics in the book is very good too, including important questions to ask as you shape your craft.