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Obama’s Faith – The Prequel? A review of The Faith of Barack Obama


One measure of the usefulness of any book lies in its power to provoke a reader to mindfulness of alarming conditions in one’s community, one’s universe, or one’s own spirit. As I read and pondered Stephen Mansfield’s The Faith of Barack Obama, I became increasingly mindful of certain alarming paradoxes in American political life in 2008:

* How bizarre it is that personal character is usually kept off the table in political discourse while a candidate’s religion is now considered fair game. When a scandal occurs, as it so often does nowadays with Democrats, Republicans, and preachers, it is always a scandal of character, not of one’s stated religion.

* The central organizing principle that underlies the uses of religion and spirituality in American political life is bold hypocrisy and outright deceit. This has been true for decades, or perhaps as long as religion has been so used, but it seems especially clear today.

* Despite abundant evidence – not least in Obama’s presence itself – that we live in a post-homogeneous America, our politics are relentlessly constrained by homogenizing talking heads who are always willing to stoop low to achieve the populist posture of a “gotcha” moment in which they use association or innuendo to say, of Obama or anyone else, “See, he’s not like us!”

The aforementioned condition of rampant hypocrisy is not limited to one political party or one religious denomination. It is widespread. It is not my intention to cast stones here, but simply to state what should be obvious.

Religious self-presentation has become a routine element of political campaigns, often with no more rigor than might be involved in a candidate’s assertion, for instance, that she had “always been a Yankees fan.” No wonder, then, how often such calculations backfire with the drawing back of the curtains and the attendant protestations that we should “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

I recall a long period in my own adult life when I might have argued that Stephen Mansfield’s inquiry into the spiritual journey of Barack Obama, however elegant in its composition and thorough in its supporting research, was insignificant almost by definition. Like millions of others who were inspired by John F. Kennedy’s public persona, I grew up believing that religion should have no role in politics. Even if America’s mid-century notions of pluralism and tolerance operated within the boundaries of a seemingly homogeneous culture, they appealed both to our basic sense of decency and to our fuzzy notions of a living constitution that worked.

Those notions have come under relentless attack for decades, so that we are less likely to recoil reflexively from the very idea of a book such as Mansfield’s, as I and many others once did at titles such as Senator Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative or William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale.

I wonder if Mansfield’s book would have the same bookshelf appeal that it has today if it had been published under the title The Character of Barack Obama. That seems a bland alternative. But when I finished reading Mansfield’s book and put it down, what impressed me most was that I felt that I had just read a book of considerable rigor and thoughtfulness about Obama’s character and its origins, rather than anything so specific as a book about his religious faith.

I cannot fault Obama for fronting his “faith” as he has done, or Mansfield for writing about it. Without falling into a potentially dull recitation of second-hand news, Mansfield’s narrative manages to do justice to the extremely damaging – and, of course, deceitful — smear campaigns of guilt-by-innuendo and guilt-by-association that have tarred Obama as a Muslim extremist and, by selective use of the quotations of former Pastor Jeremiah Wright, as a bitter and unpatriotic black man. Under such stress, I don’t know if there is any other way for Obama to fight back, and I appreciate Mansfield’s chronicle.

But I admit that I will be somewhat more interested, if Obama is elected (as I hope that he will be), in an updated chronicle of the testing of his faith during his tenure as president. Whatever the ability of any campaigner to dance righteously across the religious dance floor of contemporary presidential politics, it is when a candidate becomes president that he (or, in the event of two very plausible circumstances, she) embarks upon a season of relentless preaching from America’s most powerful pulpit.

Should such a book become appropriate, I hope that Stephen Mansfield will write it.

Amazon reduces Kindle price $100, with a catch….

Now here’s the price break you’ve been waiting for!

You can save another $100 off that $359 Kindle, and still get it sent directly to you by Amazon.com with free 2-day shipping!

Just click here and you’ll find the following paragraph:

Get the Amazon Rewards Visa Card and Get $100 Off Kindle
Thanks to Chase, you get $100 off Kindle when you get the new Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card. Limited time only. Here’s how this works: 1) Apply online. Get a response in as little as 30 seconds. If you’re approved, we will instantly add the card to your Amazon.com account and you’ll get $30 back on your credit card statement after your purchase. 2) Add a Kindle to your cart. 3) Place your order using the Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card and enter this promo code: VISACARD to get the additional $70 savings at checkout. Additional restrictions apply.

And that’s not all — I hate to be a cheerleader for plastic in these hard times, but that Chase card will continue to provide you with cash back on all your Kindle (and other Amazon) purchases. Watch out, or Jeff will be sending you money!

Why Did Amazon Launch the Kindle, and Which is More Important, the Chicken or the Egg?

I’m having some fun today putting the finishing touches on the FAQ appendix for the book, and in the process I’ve finally gotten around to transcribing this remarkable brief exchange between Chris Anderson and Jeff Bezos at the 2008 Book Expo America. You can check my transcription and listen to the entire podcast here, but in my view it is this exchange which states most clearly that the primary importance of the Kindle for Amazon lies in four things: (1) it jumpstarts significant electronic book sales; (2) it positions the books in the Kindle store as the primary source of e-reader content; (3) it sets the bar higher than it had previously been set for form factor, feature set, and delivery mode for electronic books; and (4) it gives Amazon a seat at the head of the table in shaping this area of book commerce going forward.

Q. “In Asia, [there are] cell phone serials, cell phone comics, cell phone mangas, etc. I guess, first question, what have you learned from the mobile reading experience in Asia? Secondly, does that in itself put the Kindle in competition with the cell phone down the line as cell phones have better screens, etc.”

–Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail

A. “Maybe the hardware device, yes, but not necessarily the Kindle books. The Kindle books, maybe they should be available on every device. We created Kindle because we’ve been selling e-Books for 10 years, but we needed an electron microscope to find the sales. And so, three years ago we said, ‘Look, what we need to do is create a perfect, integrated, streamlined customer experience all the way through, so we’ll build the device, we’ll build the back-end servers, we’ll digitize the content ourselves if we need to. Whatever it takes, we’re going to build a great customer experience, to get that thing started. If we can get other devices to also be able to buy Kindle books, through other devices, that’s great.’”

–Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Kindle Chronicles, "Leveraging the Kindle" Webinar, and more….

Couple of cool Kindle-related web events to share with visitors to my web pages and my AmazonConnect blog.

First, Len Edgerly is breaking some new ground in information and entertainment for current and future Kindlers with a terrific weekly podcast called The Kindle Chronicles. I was honored to be Len’s guest on a recent podcast, and I recommend the “program” as a regular weekly diversion. Check it out — you can even listen to it on your Kindle!


One of my favorite Kindle bloggers and a very thoughtful publishing industry expert on all things Kindle, Joe Wikert, will be conducting a free one-hour Webinar (no glossary here, just put on your thinking cap and sound it out, or type it into your Kindle for a Wikipedia search) called “Leveraging the Kindle — How to maximize the Kindle’s benefits to your readers and your business” at 2 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, August 21. If you have any doubt about what Joe brings to the table, just check out the widget-links to two of his blogs on A Kindle Home Page and I am sure you will agree he is one of the more intelligent, articulate, and knowledgeable people covering this terrain of new technologies in reading and publishing. See you at the Webinar!

There are 2 things — where’s the more? It’s coming, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. So please check back here Monday for some new content about the coming alliance between the Amazon Kindle Store and Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch!

Update: it’s Monday morning…..

The Coming Kindle-iPod-iPhone Alliance, or Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Projecting a Kindle Future

After a decade of interesting but ultimately failed efforts by various electronics manufacturers to hit the sweet spot of potential for an electronic book reader, Amazon launched the Kindle reader in November 2007. Although the Kindle quickly attracted critics and naysayers who predicted failure for the device, they failed to understand either Amazon’s passionate commitment to the Kindle concept or how well the company is positioned to achieve dazzling success. Amazon’s relationships with readers, early adopters, authors, and publishers provide the company with tremendous advantages over any competitor that might consider bringing an e-book reader to market, and Amazon has not squandered its opportunity. The device sold out about five hours after launch, sold over 200,000 units in its first six months (based on figures released by its Taiwan-based display-screen manufacturer), and is unlikely to look back after it reaches the one-million mark in Kindle units in circulation sometime early in 2009.

Read this entire chapter for no charge now.

Copyright © 2008, Stephen Windwalker and Harvard Perspectives Press.

Using the Kindle as You Travel: Translation Tool, Travel Guide, and More

With everyone who can pedal a bicycle or afford a half-gallon of gas taking off for somewhere, I thought it might be a good time for a post highlighting some of the travel tips contained in my e-book How to Use the Amazon Kindle for Email & Over 100 Pages of Other Cool Tips (The Complete User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle):

Using the Kindle to Translate Foreign or Technical Words and Phrases

Much has been made of the fact that the Kindle, as of this writing, is not yet available outside the United States, and that some of its appealing features – all of those that depend on a wireless connection – are useless when a Kindle owner lives or is traveling outside the United States or, for that matter, in a Sprint wireless dead zone. However, there are a surprising number of ways in which a Kindle can come in handy when you are on the road, and here is another. This one is helpful if you are traveling in a land where you do not speak the native language.

Before your trip to France, for instance, buy a Kindle edition of a good French-English/English-French dictionary and, of course, download it to your Kindle. Then, all you have to do is click on the “SEARCH” key on the bottom row of your Kindle keyboard, type any word or phrase into the input field, and use the scroll-wheel to select “Go.” Presto, your Kindle will search its onboard content for the word or phrase. By selecting and clicking on an iteration of the word or phrase from your bilingual dictionary, you should be looking at the translation that you need in a few seconds. It won’t be lightning fast, but it should be serviceable.

By using the same principle and the appropriate reference material, of course, the Kindle can also be used to render professional and technical language and terms. As with any search function, your ability to make effective use of the Kindle’s translation powers is bound to improve with use and familiarity.

Using the Kindle as a Travel Guide

Whether you are exploring the wonders of your own city or state or traveling around the world, the Kindle can help you get more out of a travel guide than you ever thought possible. The first step, of course, is to purchase and download the travel guides and reference materials that you want for your trip before you leave.

Once this content is “on board” your Kindle, you can search and retrieve material from it, without any wireless or other connection, simply by using the Kindle’s powerful local search feature. Technology writer and blogger Mike Elgan wrote recently of using Kindle search to learn everything he needed to know in order to maximize his appreciation and understanding of ancient Greek ruins such as the Temple of Poseidon while en route to the sites.

Once you’ve got good reference material on your Kindle, all you have to do is click on the “SEARCH” key on the bottom row of your Kindle keyboard, type any word or phrase into the input field, and use the scroll-wheel to select “Go.” Presto, your Kindle will search its onboard content for the word or phrase. By selecting and clicking on a reference from your travel material, you can be reading up on any topic within in a moment or two.

Making the Most of Your Kindle Connections Overseas or in a Sprint Dead Zone

There are myriad reasons why you’ll want to take your Kindle on your next trip to a foreign land. Before you go, you’ll be able to download many of the books that you might otherwise have to lug with you. And while it is true that you probably won’t be able to do any more direct wireless downloading during your trip, that need not keep you from making other extensive uses of your Kindle.

To make the most of your Kindle overseas, bring your Kindle’s USB cable, your laptop, and – if you have one – a Blackberry or other smartphone. In each place where you hang your hat, you will want to find the best internet connection available – for these purposes, “best” means fast, accessible, and cheap or free. Just because a city that you are visiting has a Starbucks or some other well-known Internet café does not mean that’s your best source of Internet access. Blogger Mike Elgan has written of finding that Starbucks in Greece was charging $660 per month for Internet access, only to discover that “right next door is a better coffee joint where a month of Wi-Fi costs you zero.” If you are staying somewhere more than a day or two, a little research to find the “best” connection available should be well worth the time. To find Internet coverage while you are traveling inside or outside the U.S., www.jiwire.com is a helpful resource. To check on Kindle wireless coverage areas, just navigate to http://www.showmycoverage.com/IMPACT.jsp and enter zip codes or other information to see mapping of Sprint wireless coverage areas anywhere in the United States.

With a daily downloading blast to your computer followed by a USB transfer to your Kindle, you will easily be able to use your Kindle to keep up with books, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, blogs and other content and read them offline at your leisure during your trip. Just log in to your Amazon account and have your content sent to your computer via the Internet. If you need to receive documents, manuscripts, memoranda, or PDF files while you are abroad, just have them sent to your you@free.kindle.com email address and you can transfer them to your Kindle each morning with ease.

In a pinch, if you have a smartphone data plan like the AT&T Unlimited Domestic and International Data Plan, you might even be able to tether your laptop to a Blackberry or other device. The economics of such a solution are compelling; the only problem is that tethering appears to be outlawed under such a plan.

Checking Sprint Wireless Coverage for the Kindle

Just navigate to http://www.showmycoverage.com/IMPACT.jsp and enter zip codes or other information to see mapping of Sprint wireless coverage areas anywhere in the United States. To find Internet coverage while you are traveling inside or outside the U.S., www.jiwire.com is a helpful resource.

The Kindle and GPS – Intriguing but Frustrating

Okay, let’s not get carried away here. The idea that the Kindle comes with any built-in GPS functionality is such a cool notion that it is easy to overstate what you can do with it. My general warning is that if you are going to depend upon your Kindle’s GPS to help you navigate while mobile, there is a fair chance you will end up lost. The main reason for this is that the device relies on Google Maps for its GPS-like services, and Google Maps is not visually optimized for the Kindle. If you’ve ever switched to a larger font while reading content on the Kindle, there is a good chance that you will be frustrated trying to read street names on the Kindle’s representation of a Google street map. I’ve also found that Google Maps often does not “read” the address information that the Kindle transmits regarding its location, so that if, for instance, I am using the Alt-3 command to find a nearby restaurant, I have to delete the data that my Kindle has transmitted to Google Maps and replace it with a street address, zip code, or both.

That being said, these features represent some tentative baby steps in a pretty cool direction — not to mix metaphors. Once you are in the Kindle’s Web Browser, clicking on Alt-1 will provide a Google Maps representation of your current location. Alt-2 will help you find nearby gas stations, and Alt-3 nearby restaurants. I am anticipating more fun, and a better viewing experience, with Kindle 2.0 or 3.0.

Copyright © 2008, Stephen Windwalker and Harvard Perspectives Press.

Stephen Windwalker’s great new resource for indie authors, publishers, and readers

Beyond the Literary-Industrial Complex: How Authors and Publishers Are Using the Amazon Kindle and Other New Technologies to Unleash a 21st-Century Indie Movement of Readers & Writers (Paperback)

by Stephen Windwalker (Author)

List Price: $19.95 2 used & new available from $14.97
In Stock. Signed copies available.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

Product Description
Find out why you need a publisher … like a fish needs a bicycle. Here’s the book that is helping thousands of authors to unleash a 21st-century indie movement of writers and readers, by the #1 selling author in the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Elegantly combining mission and manual, Windwalker narrates the end of the old world of publishing due to the failure of major publishers to serve either readers or authors, issues a compelling call for change, and guides authors and independent publishers through the steps that will allow them to succeed and to connect with discerning readers, in the fast-changing publishing world made possible by new technologies such as Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace. Also includes: * A STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH TO PUBLISHING A KINDLE EDITION OF YOUR BOOK OR DOCUMENT * PUBLISHING YOUR FICTION ON THE KINDLE PLATFORM * PUBLISHING PERIODICALS FOR THE AMAZON KINDLE * START EARNING A LIVING TODAY WRITING ARTICLES FOR THE KINDLE

(Also available in a Kindle edition — click here for Kindle ordering info)

Also available in a slightly abridged handy “guidebook” version for Kindle owners, about 70% of the longer version, lean and stripped down to guide you through the essential steps:

The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Publishing and Marketing Books, Articles and Other Content for the Amazon Kindle (Creating Your Own Success Story with New Technologies) (Kindle Edition)

Kindle Price: $6.39 & includes wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet