30 December 2010

101. Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors - Jane Lindskold

I will write about this in the coming days. It is holiday time.

Actually, I have decided not to blog all that much. It was just OK. A science fiction book where a woman named Smokey lives on the planet Arizona, makes her living as a whore and has psionic abilities which let her read minds when in physical contact with a subject. What better way to be in physical contact than to be a whore?

I don't think I will go into it much further. It isn't worth it and I have to prep for 2011 and review 2010.

24 December 2010

100. Fairtax: The Truth, Answering the Critics

Fairtax: The Truth; Answering the Critics - Neal Boortz and Congressman John Linder

This is an excellent idea that would solve many of our problems. it is long overdue.

Why is it so hard? Implementation is a MAJOR change and makes people nervous.

Well, we can do it voluntarily now or we can do it in reaction to our economic failure in the future.

Want to know more? Check out http://www.fairtax.org/site/PageServer

It will let you know what the Fairtax is and answer many questions. The books go into more depth and and explain much more of the concepts and scenarios that are likely.

I loved it. I am 100% behind the idea. I will be asking all elected representatives to get behind it themselves.

22 December 2010

99. First Blood

First Blood - David Morrell

This book shocked me. It was nothing like the movie. Well, other than having a character named Rambo being the person of interest during a police manhunt in a small town.

Before I cover the book I will relate my memory of the movie. It was a long time ago, so I may have forgotten some. The thing is, there is no way I got it as wrong as I would have to for this book to be what that movie was.

In the movie I remember Rambo being a good guy who was hassled by some overzealous sheriffs deputies in a small town. They didn't like him passing through the town and arrested him. While in the jail they abused him. That is supposed to be where the "first blood" was drawn. Then he escapes and the cops chase him. I remember policemen dying, but never because Rambo killed them. It was always something stupid the cops did that caused their own deaths. Eventually Troutman shows up and brings Rambo in. Everything turns out just peachy, Rambo is a hero. The corrupt and overbearing cops get their just desserts. All is well in the world. I recall this movie being one of those action adventure films.

The book on the other hand was nothing like that. Rambo is just a psycho ex-green beret who can't leave the war behind who goes on a rampage killing so many policemen that the National Guard and state police conduct a massive manhunt. THIS Rambo is not a hero. He is nuts. He likes killing. He convinces himself he is self-righteous, but he even argues with himself about his being full of shit and lying to himself to convince himself he is correct.

What sets him off in the first place? He is a drifter. He is dirty and unshaven. He is approached by the Sheriff (Teasle) who is not mean, but is not going to allow Rambo to be in his town causing problems like other drifters had in the past. He gives Rambo a ride through town and drops him off at the far side to continue his journey. Fair enough I think. Rambo decides he "won't be pushed" any more and heads right back to town. Again, Teasle picks him up and makes it very clear that he should continue on his way. Teasle lets Rambo eat in the diner and then gives him a ride out of town again. Once more, Rambo walks right back into town defying the Sheriff. Needless to say that defiance gets him in trouble. Teasle confronts him with questions. Rambo will not give a name, has no ID, is a wise-ass in every way he can be. Teasel then arrests him.

When they get to the jail Rambo realizes he did not think it through. He sees the cell and it brings back memories of being a POW and the cages he was imprisoned within. Does he explain any of this to the sheriff? Does he give his name? No, he starts planning his escape. He is told to shower before donning his prison clothes. He is then told that per policy he must have his hair cut. Everyone arrested gets a haircut. Even to this point the police have done nothing wrong at all. The only person being a jerk is Rambo.

When they attempt to cut his hair he takes a knife and slashes a deputy across his midsection. The man's internal organs fall out on the floor. Another deputy is brutally assaulted and Rambo escapes. From there the hunt is on to catch a crazy man who is now a cop-killer.

A group of police go into the mountains after him. He picks them off one by one. Shooting some. Slashing throats. Killing 17 or 18 all together. Eventually he works his way past the search lines and back into town. He blows up gas stations. He burns the court house. He blows up the police station with dynamite. All the while justifying his actions within his own head.

The book is not about being sympathetic to the plight of an American war hero being unjustly persecuted by a demonized police force. The book is about the actions of a man returning from Vietnam with such deep changes to his psyche that he never really left the war. The lines of morality have been obscured within him. The war is all he knows.

The end is totally different. In this story Rambo is killed by Troutman and Teasle dies also.

The story is totally different and I loved it. This was much better than the movie. Read it. I just hope I didn't give too much away in this post. Sorry if I ruined it for you.

I wish they would make a movie more in line with the story as the author has written this book. It could be a great statement of the psychological effects of war on some soldiers.

12 December 2010

98. Hey Nostradamus!

Hey Nostradamus! - Douglas Coupland

This was an outstanding novel that captured me right from the start. It is written as four seperate first person narratives. Each of these people have been affected by a fictional Columbine type shooting at a High School in Vancouver.

This is a book about the victims...not the killers.

The first narrative is given by Cheryl in 1988. Cheryl is giving this narrative after she has been murdered in the shooting.

The second narrative is from Jason in 1999. Jason was Cheryl's boyfriend/husband at the time of the shooting. Needless to say, the events of that day tremendously affect the rest of his life and the decisions he makes. Jason writes his narrative as a series of letters to his twin nephews/sons.

The third narrative is by Heather in 2002. Heather is Jason's girlfriend and the first person since Cheryl that he has had any real relationship with at all. She is writing as journal entries following jason's disappearance. She has some interesting moments with a character that is an admitted fake psychic.

The last one is the shortest and is by Reg, Jason's father. He wraps up a lot while wishing he had treated people differently all his life.

The characters are the real story here. Yes, the school shooting was a big event that caused many problems for years, but the real story started long before that shooting. The massacre was a catalyst that may have sparked some change, but the snowball was already rolling down the hill.

Some things I found fascinating:
Cheryl would not have pre-marital sex so the 17 year old flew to Vegas and got married jsut so they could have sex.

When Jason's brother Kent died in a car accident his wife, Barb, called Jason because she wanted to have Kent's baby. The police were still at the accident scene. Jason was to impregnate Barb and then they would raise the child like it was Kents. Jason would not have sex unless they were married...so once again a vegas chapel trip occured. Barb had twins. Jason never told anyone they were actually his children except in his letters to the kids.

This was a very good book that I recommend to all.

97. Survivor

Survivor - J. F. Gonzalez

This psychological horror novel is extremely disturbing to read. It felt like i was driving by a horrible car accident that just occured, seeing dismembered bodies in the street, and finding it impossible to look away. The book really did feel like that.

The story is about a couple, Brad and Lisa, who are taking a vacation. That vacation is cut short and Lisa is kidnapped by a group of men who make snuff films.

These are some seriously twisted and demented deviates. The writing tied my stomach on knots. Gonzalez did a very good job with that.

What I found very interesting is that this was a horror novel, but it did not feel like any other horror novel I have read. It also felt like a crime or mystery novel. Yes, there are horrible beasties for the hero and heroine to fight, but it was much more than that.

This book took the reader into the minds of the abusers and the abused. That could be extremely revolting in a few cases. It explained motivations for the actions of characters and how events in their pasts had helped form the people they were presently.

I also found it interesting how the actions of the characters had repercussions. The biggest one being Lisa's decision to try and save her own life by baiting the bad guys with a homeless girl and her infant. The guys take the bait. Lisa escapes. The girl and the baby are horribly mutilated. That whole scene will haunt me for a few more nights. The interesting thing is how throughout the rest of the book that one decision changes the course of everyones lives, forever. It can not and will not ever be normal again. Especially for Lisa.

I also found the charachter of Tim/Caleb interesting. He is the guy who kidnapped Lisa. He has spent his entire life doing dispicable things within an underground extreme porn industry. Despite his serving Lisa up as the star of the next snuff film, he is doing it solely for money and harbors no ill will towards her. He is strange in that way. It really is just business and he is totally desensitized by it all...but that changes. Animal (Jeff) mutilates Mandy (Alicia's infant daughter) and Alicia (the girl Lisa set up) for a film, well, Tim is disgusted. Animal crossed a line and from that point on Tim is planning his disappearance and how he will take down the entire industry. He thinks it will only continue to spiral into more and more deviant practices including cannibalism. He is not wrong.

I found this to be a very well written book that was much better than I expected. I thought I was getting into a quick little horror book that would fit into the same old mold as so many other hack and slash type stories. I was wrong. This writer actually has some talent. His characters have multiple dimensions. The plot twists and turns and creates suspense. There is more going on than it seems on the surface, and yet, I found it impossible to predict where it was going.

I recommend it to horror fans, but only those that can put up with being absolutely disgusted by the worst in humanity. It can be hard to read due to some subject matter, but it is a good read.

10 December 2010

96. Don of the Dead

Don of the Dead - Casey Daniels

OK, so, like,  this young woman, Pepper Martin, works as a tour guide at a creepy old cemetery in Cleveland. One day she falls and smacks her head at the mauseleum of the Don of a Mafia family. He was killed about thirty years earlier. After the head trauma event she is now able to see and hear the ghost of this Don, Augustine "Gus" Scarpetti. He tells her he needs her to find out who killed him. She decides to investigate and gets herself into lots of trouble. He was the Don...and the family still exists...and they don't like people investigating...but she can't tell them that Gus wants her to do it because she will look insane...and she can't stop because Gus won't go away...and it is just ridiculous.

This is total chic literature. Who in their right mind would care that the mafia goon frisking them at the door is not wearing the proper color shoes with his suit? Who would look at the way a person decorates thier office and make judgements about their character? Who cares about what color highlights someone has or what perfume they are wearing? Totally chic!

I will not be reading any more of the Pepper Martin Mystery series. I don't care if she is going to solve more decades old crimes for folks who can't seem to move on from the world. Whatever!

I finished it just to say I did it.

04 December 2010

95. True Grit

True Grit - Charles Portis

This was an outstanding book with some fascinating characters.

Mattie is a 14 year old girl who's father is killed in Fort Smith, Arkansas and the killer flees into the frontier lands that would later become Oklahoma. She hires a US Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, to hunt the killer down and bring him to justice. A Texas Ranger also gets involved in the hunt because he has been chasing the same man for the murder of a Texas State Senator.

The character or Mattie was awesome. She was a spunky strong-willed girl who would do whatever it takes to get what she needs. She is a shrewd bargainer and haggler. That would all pay off for her later in life as she becomes a well-to-do bank owner.

I chose to read this book now because the remake of the old John Wayne movie based on this book is coming out soon. I want to see that movie. I remember liking the John Wayne version very much. I loved his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. I wanted to read this book before seeing the new movie because I have a feeling they are going to ruin it. The movie trailers look very violent and dark to me. I am hoping they didn't do the typical Hollywood action adventure tricks to this story.

One thing I am expecting concerns Mattie. Nowhere in this book is there any sexual content. The closest it comes is when she meets LeBoeuf. He says to her something like "I would steal a kiss, but you are very young, and sick, and kind of ugly also." So, there is no sex...but I am willing to bet that somewhere in the new movie one of the bad guys will have have tendencies towards pedophelia and rape. he will be stopped, of course, but I expect something along those lines...and it is not in the book at all.

I recommend this one. I was pleasantly surprized. I will be keeping it on the shelf.

There were a few things that struck me as I was reading that I wish to post here, and then there are some old words that I had to look up.

The first is something that Mattie said while watching prisoners being taken to jail by some Marshals: "You must pay for everything in this world one way or another. There is nothing free except the Grace of God. You can not earn that or deserve it."

And then there was this one where Rooster was telling Mattie how he decided to accept that the North won the Civil War... "I've swallowed the puppy." I have no idea what that means.


SANGUINARY AMBUSCADE: An attack from a concealed position with much bloodshed.

PETTIFOGGING: Bickering or quibbling over unimportant matters. To carry on a shifty law business.

PROBITY: Integrity and uprightness, honesty.

FETTLE: A state or condition of being.

BEEVES: beef

DEPREDATIONS: The act of preying upon or plundering, robbery, ravage

02 December 2010

94. Last Night at the Lobster

Last Night at the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan

This was a pretty short book (146 pages) that I have been looking at on the shelf for a while and thinking I should knock it out. Then I read something else. I wanted to read it becasue it was written by an author from New England who co-authored "Faithful" with Stephen King.

I finally just picked it up and started reading. I loved it. What confuses me is that I have no idea why I loved it. Nothing happened in the book.

Manny is the manager of a Red Lobster that is being closed the following day. This is the last shift. He and his kitchen and floor staff go through the motions of operating a restaurant three days before Christmas in a snow storm knowing that it is the last time they will work together.

I kept waiting for the drama. I kept waiting for something to happen that saves the restaurant. I kept waiting for Manny to save his relationship with the waitress he is in love with despite having a pregnant girlfriend. I kept waiting for a million things to happen...and it didn't.

This book was just like real life. There was no flash or huge movie drama. It was normal...and I loved the whole thing. Weird, huh.

I learned two new words:

LOGY: Informal, dull or sluggish, as from overeating.

ABUELITA: Spanish word for Grandma, granny, grandmother. The strange thing about this word is that I had never heard it before...but in this book it was used 12 times, and "lita" was used a half dozen more.

93. A Patriot's Handbook: Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love

A Patriot's Handbook: Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love - Caroline Kennedy

This is an awesome idea for an audiobook. It is a collection of Caroline Kennedy's favorite patriotic poems, readings and speeches. She selected many outstanding little diddies. Some were the original recordings. Some were read by people such as James Earl Jones or Vanessa Williams. Overall, it was quite enjoyable.

Here are some of my favorite selections from this collection. I will attach links to audio versions where I can find them.

The Mike Christian Story, John McCain, 1971...read by John McCain. Concerning his experience as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

Ronald Reagan's Farewell Address, 11 January 1989. I remember watching it live and getting a tear in my eye.

A poem entitled "I Like Americans" written by Edna St Vincent Millay in 1924. It was read by Kate Burton.

There was a pretty interesting and very cool reenactment of the the hearing of Susan B. Anthony where she was allowed to make a statement in her own defense. It is read from the original court transcripts. It is entitled "The United States of America v. Susan B. Anthony", 1873. That was a very powerfula nd memorable performance.

Frederick Douglass' "If I Had a Country, I Should Be a Patriot", 24 Sep 1847 read by James Earl Jones...AWESOME!

John F. Kennedy gave a speech on 12 Sep 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association concerning the Freedom of Religion. This was a recording of the original speech and it was excellent.
A very sad reading of a speech by Chief Joseph when he surrendered to the U. S. Army in 1877. This one was quite moving and I had never heard it before.

There was an "Ellis Island Interview" by Manny Steen from 22 Mar 1991. "I am in America one day and I am on Broadway!"  :-)

There was also a reading from Upton Sinclair's book, "The Jungle". This was from the part where Jurgis is disabled and his life has become a nightmare. One line stood out..."There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where things are behind bars, and the man is outside."

28 November 2010

92. Amnesia Moon

Amnesia Moon - Jonathan Lethem

This is an excellent novel. 250 pages of writing that I just could not put down. It had me running with it from the very first page and I could not stop until it was over. It took less than two days. I could not stop. What a wild ride!

It is a dystopian novel, which is a big plus for me. I love the genre.

This one actually had a number of dystopian worlds within it's own world. As Chaos (the protagonist) and Melinda (a mutated teen girl with fur like a seal) travel from Wyoming to San Francisco they run across many different places.

Each place is different. One has a green fog that blinds everyone. They said it was like having green paper covering your eyes. Opaque, but you could actually see nothing. That was interesting.

Vacaville, California was too. The entire social system is based on a persons score on a test for having good or bad luck, and everyone is in love with the government television stars. That was a particularly nasty place.

Los Angeles is in a perpetual war with aliens. The humans must always be in flight. If they land they become slaves to the aliens on contact with the ground.

All the while the dreams of certain people are transmitted to others and are used to alter realities, change memory, and to control people. Each place uses this function in a different way. All are used to establish tyrannical controls, of course.

I loved the book and I think I will read it again in a few years. I will keep it on the shelf. Yes, it is a keeper.

91. Do-Gooders

Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim To Help (And The Rest Of Us) - Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a Conservative columnist who has written for many years in publications such as Jewish World Review, National Review, and Townhall. She is syndicated in over 200 newspapers nationwide including Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun and Washington Times. She has been around a while and is obviously a well educated woman.

The level of education and the tremendous depth of research definately shines through in the book. The facts are not just stated. They are backed up with references to legal cases, publications, speeches, articles, reports, etc. That is done throughout the book and it definately makes her case stronger.

This book is not a cover all bases bash the liberals across the board slam. It picks a few subjects and goes deep into why liberals are not only wrong, but are liars. The things they do in the name of helping the poor, women, racism, the children, and who knows what else, actually end up hurting those that they are trying to help and take a bunch of the rest of us down with them.

Do I think that is shocking? Not at all. I think the real goal of liberals, at least the real left-wing type of liberals, is to cause havoc and problems. They want people to be in need and to turn to government for assistance. That is the end game for them.

What subjects did Ms. Charen choose to cover in this book? Public Education, Affirmative Action, and Welfare.

In my opinion, she tore liberals to shreds. I think she did it with logic and reason. She did not go into a bunch of name calling and the inflammatory tone of many other books. She makes statements and then backs it up. I loved it.

I am going to check out Useful Idiots (thank you Josef Stalin for that wonderful moniker). The other book that she wrote a few years before this one.

26 November 2010

90. Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation

Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation - Ronald Reagan

"Every legislator, every doctor, and every citizen needs to recognize that the real issue is whether to affirm and protect the sanctity of life, or to embrace a social ethic where some human lives are valued and others are not. As a nation, we must choose between the sanctity of life ethic and the "quality of life" ethic."

"The real question today is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life?"

This is an essay written in 1984 by then President Ronald Reagan. It is rare that a sitting President writes an essay at all, but couple that with the fact that he wrote about the most controversial moral issue of the time...well, it is amazing that the essay exists at all.

It was a quick read that I wanted to knock out to pass the book on.

89. The Conscience of a Conservative

The Conscience of a Conservative - Senator Barry Goldwater

This book was first published in 1960. My copy was printed in 1964. I guess it was sitting in someone’s garage or attic. It stank of mildew and caused my nose to twitch as I was reading it. While my wife was driving and I was reading, I fanned the book toward her. She sneezed and had to open the windows to keep from choking. Despite the mold issue, this is probably the one book I have read where a politician stated his position on issues where I feel like I am in agreement with just about everything. Why can’t this Goldwater guy be around today?

I think I will just post a bunch of quotes from the book. I found them to be very interesting. Yes, this was written FIFTY years ago. So what. The principles and reasoning Senator Goldwater professed then still apply today. He, just like I am today, was critical of liberal policy, but was also dissatisfied with the Republican party.

The chapters in this book covered “The Conscience of a Conservative”, “The Perils of Power”, “States’ Rights”, “And Civil Rights”, “Freedom for the Farmer”, “Freedom for Labor”, “Taxes and Spending”, “The Welfare State”, “Some Notes on Education”, and “The Soviet Menace”. Looking at those chapters and knowing this man is conservative will probably give you a good idea where he stands already…but why does he take that stand? That is what I discovered while reading this book. Not just that I agree, but that it makes perfect sense when he explains the reasoning.

I was having a problem liking Barry Goldwater before reading this book. The reason? I had heard that he stood against the desegregation of schools during the Civil Rights movement. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That he was a racist. Well, after reading this book I think that is a bunch of manipulative political hooey and that I was lied to. (I later found that LBJ had run ads in the north saying Goldwater was a KKK member...a flat out lie...but it worked)

Why did he not push for desegregation as a Senator from Arizona? Because he did not believe the federal government had a right to shove it’s will down the throats of the states and that the people in the states would take care of these problems within their own borders in their own time…as free people! Well, that sure is a far cry from an old white guy saying he thinks black folks are inferior and would “dirty” the white children in desegregated schools. So I no longer think Barry Goldwater hates black people. That is good.

Goldwater was Conservative Republican with libertarian viewpoints. He butted heads with many in the GOP later in his career because his libertarian views conflicted with those of the religious right wing.

I also found this quote attributed to Mr. Goldwater. I found it interesting that decades later we are still having the same argument. 
"You don't need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

Anyway…here are some quotes from the book:

The Conscience of a Conservative

“The root difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals of today is that the Conservatives take account of the whole man, while the Liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The Conservative believes the man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Liberal’s on the other hand, -in the name of concern for “human beings”- regard the satisfaction of economic wants as the dominant mission of society. They are, moreover, in a hurry. So that their characteristic approach is to harness the society’s political and economic forces into a collective effort to compel “progress.” In this approach, I believe they fight against nature.”

“…each member of the species is a unique creature. Man’s most sacred possessions his individual soul – which has an immortal side, but also a mortal one. The mortal side establishes his absolute differentness from every other human being. Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature. …to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery.”

“The Conservative has learned that the economic and spiritual aspects of man’s nature are inextricably intertwined. He cannot be economically free, or even economically efficient, if he is enslaved politically; conversely, man’s political freedom is illusory if he is dependent for his economic needs on the State.”

“The Conservative realizes that man’s development, in both it’s spiritual and material aspects, is not something that can be directed by outside forces. Every man, for his individual good and for the good of society, is responsible for his own development. The choices that govern his life are choices that he must make; they cannot be made by any other human being, or by a collectivity of human beings. If the Conservative is less anxious than his Liberal brethren to increase Social Security “benefits,” it is because he is more anxious than his Liberal brethren that people be free throughout their lives to spend their earnings when and as they see fit.”

“With this view of the nature of man, it is understandable that the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order. The Conservative is the first to understand that the practice of freedom requires the establishment of order; it is impossible for one man to be free if another man is able to deny him the exercise of his freedom. But the Conservative also recognizes that the political power on which order is based is a self-aggrandizing force; that its appetite grows with eating. He knows that the utmost vigilance and care are required to keep political power within its proper bounds.”

The Perils of Power

“State power, considered in the abstract, need not restrict freedom: but absolute state power always does. The legitimate functions of government are actually conducive to freedom. Maintaining internal order, keeping foreign foes at bay, administering justice, removing obstacles to the free interchange of goods-the exercise of these powers makes it possible for men to follow their chosen pursuits with maximum freedom”

“…the corrupting influence of power, the natural tendency of men who possess some power to take unto themselves more power. The tendency leads eventually to the acquisition of all power-whether in the hands of one or many makes little difference to the freedom of those left on the outside.”

States Rights

(Speaking about another book)...Mr. Larson states“…while there is a “general presumption” in favor of States’ Rights, thanks to the Tenth Amendment, this presumption must give way whenever it appears to the federal authorities that the States are not responding satisfactorily to the “needs of the people. This is a paraphrase of his position but not, I think, an unjust one. And if this approach appears to be a high-handed way of dealing with an explicit constitutional provision, Mr. Larson justifies the argument by summoning the concept that “for every right there is a corresponding duty.” “When we speak of States Rights,” he writes, “we should never forget to add that there go with these rights the corresponding States’ responsibilities.” Therefore, he concludes, if the States fail to do their duty, they have only themselves to blame when the federal government intervenes.
          The trouble with this argument is that it treats the Constitution of the United States as a kind of handbook in political theory, to be heeded or ignored depending on how it fits the plans of contemporary federal officials. The Tenth Amendment is not “a general assumption,” but a prohibitory rule of law. The Tenth Amendment recognizes the States’ jurisdiction in certain areas. States’ Rights means that the States have a right to act or not to act, as they see fit, in the areas reserved to them. The States may have duties corresponding to these rights, but the duties are owed to the people of the States, not to the federal government. Therefore, the recourse lies not with the federal government, which is not sovereign, but with the people who are, and who have full power to take disciplinary action.”

And Civil Rights

“The intentions of the Fourteenth Amendment’s authors are perfectly clear. Consider these facts. 1. During the entire congressional debate on the Fourteenth Amendment it was never suggested by any proponent of the amendment that it would outlaw segregated schools. 2. At the same time it approved the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress established schools in Washington in Georgetown “for the sole use of…colored children.” 3. In all the debates on the amendment by the State Legislatures there was only one legislator, a man in Indiana, who thought the amendment would affect schools. 4. The great majority of the States that approved the amendment permitted or required segregated schools at the very time they approved the amendment. There is not room here for exhaustive treatment of this evidence, but the facts are well documented, and they are all we have to know about the Fourteenth Amendment’s bearing on this problem. The amendment was not intended to, and therefore it did not outlaw racially separate schools. It was not intended to, and therefore it did not, authorize any federal intervention in the field of education.
           I am therefore not impressed by the claim that the Supreme Court’s decision on school integration is the law of the land. The Constitution, and the laws “made in pursuance thereof,” are the “supreme law of the land.” The Constitution is what its authors intended it to be and said it was-not what the Supreme Court says it is. If we condone the practice of substituting our own intentions for those of the Constitution’s framers, we reject, in effect, the principle of Constitutional Government: we endorse the rule of men, not of laws.”

Freedom for Labor

The natural function of a trade union and the one which it was historically conceived is to represent those employees who want collective representation in bargaining with their employers over terms of employment. But note that this function is perverted the moment a union claims the right to represent employees who do not want representation, or conducts activities that have nothing to do with terms of employment (e.g. political activities), or tries to deal with an industry as a whole instead of with individual employers.”

“We have seen that unions perform their natural function when three conditions are observed: association with the union is voluntary; the union confines its activities to collective bargaining; the bargaining is conducted with the employer of the workers concerned.”

Taxes and Spending

“It has been the fashion in recent years to disparage “property rights” –to associate them with greed and materialism. This attack on property rights is actually an attack on freedom. It is another instance of the modern failure to take into account the whole man. How can a man be truly free if he is denied the means to exercise freedom? How can he be free if the fruits of his labor are not his to dispose of, but are treated, instead, as part of a common pool of public wealth? Property and freedom are inseparable: to the extent that government takes the one in the form of taxes, it intrudes on the other.”

“The size of the government’s rightful claim-that is, the total amount in may take in taxes-will be determined by how we define the “legitimate functions of government.” With regard to the federal government, The Constitution is the proper standard of legitimacy: its “legitimate” powers, as we have seen are those the Constitution has delegated to it. Therefore, if we adhere to the Constitution, the federal government’s total tax bill will be the cost of exercising such of its delegated powers as our representatives deem necessary in the national interest. But, conversely, when the federal government enacts programs that are not authorized by its delegated powers, the taxes needed to pay for such programs exceed the government’s rightful claim on our wealth.”

“The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate-from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all the other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal.”

“By reducing taxes and spending we will not only return to the individual the means with which he can assert his freedom and dignity, but also guarantee to the nation the economic strength that will always be its ultimate defense against foreign foes.”

The Welfare State

“The currently favored instrument of collectivization is the Welfare State. The collectivists have not abandoned their ultimate goal-to subordinate the individual to the State- but their strategy has changed. They have learned that Socialism can be achieved through Welfarism quite as well as through Nationalization. They understand that private property can be confiscated as effectively by taxation as by expropriating it. They understand that the individual can be put at the mercy of the State-not only by making the State his employer-but by divesting him of the means to provide for his personal needs and by giving the State the responsibility of caring for those needs from cradle to grave. Moreover, they have discovered-and here is the critical point-that Welfarism is much more compatible with the political process of a democratic society. Nationalization ran into popular opposition, but the collectivists feel sure the Welfare State can be erected by the simple expedient of buying votes with promises of “free” hospitalization, “free” retirement pay and so on…”

Some Notes on Education

“I agree with lobbyists for federal school aid that education is one of the great problems of our day. I am afraid, however, that their views and mine regarding the nature of the problem are many miles apart. They tend to see the problem in quantitative terms-not enough schools, not enough teachers, not enough equipment. I think it has to do with quality: How good are the schools we have? Their solution is to spend more money. Mine is to raise standards. Their recourse is to the federal government. Mine is to the local public school board, the private school, the individual citizen-as far away from the federal government as one can possibly go.”

“What the White House conferees were saying in 1955, and what proponents of federal aid to education have been saying ever since, is that because a few States have not seen fit to take care of their school needs, it is incumbent upon the federal government to take up the slack. My view is that if State X possesses the wealth to educate its children adequately, but has failed to utilize its wealth for that purpose, it is up to the people of State X to take remedial action through their local and state governments. The federal government has neither the right nor the duty to intervene.”

“The truth, of course, is that the federal government has no funds except those it extracts from taxpayers who reside in the various States. The money that the federal government pays to State X for education has been taken from the citizens of State X in federal taxes and comes back to them, minus the Washington brokerage fee.”

“…federal aid to education inevitably means federal control of education.”

“Subscribing to the egalitarian notion that every child must have the same education, we have neglected to provide an educational system which will tax the talents and stir the ambitions of our best students and which will thus insure us the kind of leaders we will need in the future.”

The Soviet Menace

“The American government does not have the right, much less the obligation, to try and promote the economic and social welfare of foreign peoples. Of course, all of us are interested in combating poverty and disease wherever it exists. But the Constitution does not empower our government to undertake that job in foreign countries, no matter how worthwhile it might be. Therefore, except as it can be shown to promote America’s national interests, the Foreign Aid program is unconstitutional.”

23 November 2010

88. It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis

This was an outstanding book written by an author who has stood the test of time. Lewis is more famous for writing Babbitt, Main Street and Arrowsmith, but this book is awesome. If those are better then I will enjoy reading them in the future.

This book was written in the 1930's and was Lewis' response to what he saw as a rise in nationalism in response to Hitler's growing power with the Nazi's in Germany. "It can't happen here" is satirical (sarcasm and irony), meaning that America becoming a facist nation is not possible because we are a nation of free people with Constitutional guarantees to those liberties. But, it does happen in this story.

It is an intricate plot where the stage is set by a political group where they are able to win the presidency, stack the Supreme Court judges, abolish Congress, gut the Bill of Rights, send dissenting citizens to rehabilitation camps, have unfriendly press just disappear, etc etc...and all this is done while the American people support it because there is an "emergency" situation. All the freedoms will be restored later when the problems are solved. Yeah, right.

Anyway, the plot was so in depth that I was lost at times. Why did Lewis need to include such detail? Why not? In the end it made the book that much better. The details piled up so much that it felt like it was far more real.

I find it fascinating that this book was published in 1935 and so much of the detail actually applies to the situation we find ourselves in today. Was this book prophetic? Did Lewis predict the future? I doubt it. I think the situation we are in today is the same situation he found our country in back in those days. I don't think the country changes all that much politically. Socially it does. Economically is does. Politically, I think we are still having many of the same arguments today that were being had back them. Therefore, the book seems like it is speaking for today's political climate...because it is still the same.

At the same time, I did find some of the tidbits quite fascinating. One, for instance, was that "due to war hysteria" people started calling sauerkraut "Freedom Cabbage". I found that very interesting. Mostly because 60+ years later France makes us mad and we start calling french-fries "Freedom Fries". Prophecy? Nah. Just a pretty neat coincidence.

Another interesting little detail...during the primaries for the Presidential election...before Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip won...there were campaign signs for other candidates. What did those signs say? "Save the Constitution!" "Robinson for Sanity!" Sound a little like some of the buzzwords over the last few months?

I learned a new word that I will be able to use in everyday conversation. :-)
SLATTERN: a slovenly, untidy woman or girl. a slut; harlot.

There was one other thing. Much of the story took place in Vermont, where Doremus Jessup lives, and a woman there had an accent that was used in a conversation. In that conversation she said "Freavensake." I remember hearing this used by my grand parents in Massachusetts. I remember thinking for a while that it was one word because of the accent they had and the way it was said so quickly. I found it hilarious that Lewis used it as a single word in this book and brought me back to my preteen years instantly. That was awesome. By the way, freavensake means "for heavens sake".

I purposely avoided blogging about the plot of the book. I do not want to mess it up for anyone wishing to read it. I think you should some time.

22 November 2010

87. Chariots of the Damned: Helicopter Special Operations from Vietnam to Kosovo

Chariots of the Damned: Helicopter Special Operations from Vietnam to Kosovo - Maj. Mike McKinney and Mike Ryan

It is my duty, as a member of the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service, to save lives and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do-that others may live. ARRS Code (Originally written as the ParaRescueman's Code and adapted for all of Rescue.)
Any Time - Any Place (Special Operations motto)
This book was awesome. I will admit that I am surely biased in that opinion. I spent 21 years in the US Air Force in Helicopter Special Operations and Rescue Squadrons. I was there for many of the events discussed in this book. I know some of the pilots and other crew members spoken of in these pages. I could see thier faces, hear there voices, recall their mannerisms. All that has definately put a bias in my opinion of this book.
Was the writing amazing? Definately not. Was the story a nail-biter that wouldn't let the reader off the hook? Definately not. But, it is the truth, even when the truth hurts to tell. Special Operations by their very nature are high risk ventures and they are not always a complete success. This book not only covered the heroic exploits of these men, but aslo covered some of the massive catastrophies.
This book covered many events. Some of them were the SS Mayaguez incident in 1975, The raid on the Son Tay POW camp in North Vietnam, the disater at Desert One during the Iranian hostage crisis, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Desert Storm, Bosnia, etc.
The book wrote about many units I know of and some I was a member of. The pilots on some of these missions were men I know personally. I was surprised to learn that Col. Comer was a pilot on the raid on Son Tay in Vietnam. I did not know that when I was serving under the man. I wish I had.
I loved this book. I recommend it to anyone who was part of these missions or a member of the units. It brought backa a lot of memories.

Hurlburt Field and all the Air Force Special Operations Squadrons. Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) units. Fort Campbell, Kentucky and the Army Special Operations guys. Fort Bragg and Delta Force. Navy SEAL teams. The endless exercises and practising for missions at so many places. The people I served with.
I miss so much of those days sometimes. Those days when there was a real reason to want to go to work and job satisfaction was HUGE when a mission was completed. HUGE! This book brought back a lot of those memories.

86. Sellevision

Sellevision - Augusten Burroughs

This was a silly book.

Sellevision is a fictional television shopping channel. Think QVC of Home Shopping Network. The book is about the hosts on that shopping channel and stuff that happens to them.

There is the homosexual man who's junk is exposed on air..and the scandal that follows...and the trail of events that leads to his being a gay porn star.

There is the headliner woman with a huge fan following who suddenly has a stalker...and her fall into alcoholism and drug addiction...only to find that her son is actually the stalker in a bid for the attention of his own mother.

And there are other characters too...all of which are interesting, but none of which are worthy of having a story written about them. So, since the characters didn't seem all that interesting, and the premise for the story didn't seem all that interesting, why write the book?

Actually, despite the lack of "interesting", it did enjoy the book somewhat. It was just OK. I wouldn't recommend it unless you have read most everything else.

17 November 2010

85. The Soviet Union

The Soviet Union - Gail B. Stewart

I read this book because it was written in 1990. I recall the parades in 1989 where things were obviously changing. I know the union broke up in 1991. I know who Gorbachev is and what Perestroika and Glasnost were. I remember all this because I was alive and well and paying attention pretty closely at that time. I read this book because I wanted to see what it was like INSIDE the Soviet Union in 1990...at least from an outsiders perspective, and therefore not the whole truth anyway, but whatever.

This book touched on  many historical aspects of Russia and it's neighbors as it lead up to "Revolution Day" (7 November) 1989. That was the official state holiday where they celebrated the overthrow of the government that took place in 1917. It is much like our 4th of July.

1989 was the first year where there were actually two parades in Moscow. One was the official state parade with all the missles and tanks plowing theorugh Red Square. The other was quite different. It was about 10,000 people with signs. Signs reading things like "The 1917 Revolution was a TRAGEDY!" and "Democracy is what we want!". In 1989 these people did not end up in Gulags or disappear. That was a huge change.

Mikhail Gorbachev became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985. He was a loyal communist, yet he was well aware of problems within his country and a need for change. His problem was a balance between changing too slowly and causing another Revolution or moving too quickly and everything falling apart. His plan had two aspects. Perestroika and Glasnost.

Perestroika: "restructuring". Gorbachev wanted to reshape the Soviet economy. He had already started that by allowing some private businesses, such as hospitals. He encouraged farmers to set aside some land for their own use. The private farm plots worked great. They made up only 2 percent of the farmland but yielded more than 30 percent of the fruits and vegetables sold in Russia.

Glasnost: "openness". Mainly meaning the government should be honest with it's people and not report propaganda as news, and things like that. One problem this created for Gorbachev was it gave a green light to citizens to speak up. They could now start their own newspapers and discuss issues freely. They were now permitted to criticize the government. That had never been allowed in the history of the Soviet Union. That, to me, sounds a lot like freedom of speech and freedom of the press!

So, this openness created a lot of problems for the Soviet government because the people were now able to voice dissatisfaction with the status-quo.

What were some of the problems within the Soviet Union that Gorbachev had to deal with?

1.The country could not feed itself for one. It's agricultural entity had taken a back seat to the industrial complex since Stalin took power. The workers on the collective farms (kolkhoz and sovkhoz) didn't have any incentive and therefore the farm suffered tremendously. The book equated it with farming "in a prison". What they got was a lot of sour milk and spoiled fruits and vegetables.
 2. There was also a lack of consumer goods. Even for those people who did make a decent living and could afford to purchase something at a store, there was nothing to buy. They would stand in lines for hours to purchase the rarely found clothing, appliances or shoes.
 3. Medical care was a mess. Those who could afford to bribe a nurse or a doctor got cared for. Those who could not pay the "fee" to have the nurse change a dressing did not get new bandages. The pharmacy was always empty too. Even if you could afford to see a doctor and get a prescription, there was no medecine to purchase.

I found all that very interesting. Mostly because I know that a year after this book was published the Soviet Union shattered. We always say it was the arms race that did this. We and the Soviets built so much junk to fight each other that they could not afford to do anything else, while we could. I think that is partially true, but not totally in the way that is commonly spoken. Why couldn't the Soviet Union afford the same things we could? They had more land. They had more people. They had fertile farms. They had a ton of resources. They had much more direct access to both Asia and Europe than we had. The answer for me comes down to the basic differences in our countries. Within the USA it was people prospering. Within the USSR it was a government prospering. In the long run (which wasn't really that long) Communism got it's ass handed to it because of it's own shortfalls.

What is really disturbing is that the causes for the failures of the Soviet Union are still very much ingrained in the cultures of Eastern European countries. I hope those countries can grow. I hope they can let go of the chains that were binding them for so long.

A personal note: I have a fond memory or Mikhail Gorbachev. I was in the Air Force stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. This was probably 1988. Our base was having a sports day. No flying and lots of sports competitions, games and berbeques to let loose a bit. Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa were coming to visit then President Reagan and his wife Nancy. The Presidential entourage drove by the front of our squadron with these worlds leaders in the cars. At that moment we were having an egg toss. That is when you toss an egg to a partner and the team who can toss the furthest distance without the egg breaking wins. When I saw those cars all I could think was what it must be like to have people throwing eggs in a field in America while your own people are home standing in lines for hours in hopes of getting some bread! That thought has never left me and has defined my view of how spoiled and luxurious our lives are compared to the rest of the world.

13 November 2010

84. Play The Piano Drunk Like A Percussion Instrument Until The Fingers Begin To Bleed A Bit

Play The Piano Drunk Like A Percussion Instrument Until The Fingers Begin To Bleed A Bit - Charles Bukowski

Poetry again. Much different than Jewel's poetry. :-)

I am still trying to figure out how to determine if something is good poetry or if it is just someone who wishes they were "deep" writing a bunch of brooding words to make people think they are so cool.

I think this guy is probably a good poet.

Maybe I should read something that tells me what the heck to look for in poetry. Better yet, I should go take a college class about poetry.

I read this one because the name of the book is awesome.

83. Pinheads and Patriots

Pinheads and Patriots - Bill O'Reilly

I like Bill O'Reilly.

I expect him to be Bill O'Reilly.

He was and therefore I like this book.

It is whatever you want it to be. Either a man making sense with the ideas and thoughts that are clearly better than some others, or he is a crack-pot who is capitalizing on a situation to make a dollar in the media circus.

I guess I am not the only one who thinks the guy makes some sense while he is entertaining me because he seems to be doing pretty well for himself.

What did I learn...everyone is a pinhead at times and a patriot at others...yes, even Barack Obama is sometimes a patriot. I think there may be an exception for Nancy Pelosi. She is lost in permanent delusional pinheadedness.  :-)

Just so you know where I stand...O'Reilly is not Beck, or Hannity, or Limbaugh, or any of those people who ALWAYS find fault with the left no matter what they do. O'Reilly is definately right-leaning, but is not like the aforementioned fellows he gets compared to. Most folks just say he is on Fox and is therefore a right wing hack. I say the same about MSNBC being leftist (to the real socialist degree). Who cares. Listen to and read whatever you want. It makes no difference anyway. If a guy like O'Reilly is able to change your position on something then you were just a wishy-washy flip-flopper anyway.

Have a nice day.

07 November 2010

82. Drive

Drive - James Sallis

The protagonist in the book is named....drum roll, please..."Driver". Well, I am sure that is not his real name, but it is the only name used throughout the book when referring to this character. Why is that? Ask driver himself. That is what he does. That is all he does.

Driver was an orphan. He was raised in foster care. As a teen he left and headed to California. He met a man who was a stunt driver in movies and the man took a liking to the kid. Driver became a stunt driver for films himself.

And then there is the other kind of driving. Driver is also a getaway driver. He is one of the best. He works with professionals. When he is hired for a job he makes sure they understand he drives, and that is all. He does not carry anything. He does not arm himself. He does not plan the job. He does not rob or make phone calls or anything. He just drives...and he is the best.

So, does this Driver guy think that if he is only driving and not actually doing the job that he is no breaking the law? I doubt that, but I think somewhere in his subconscious he is able to live with himself easier.

During a job there is a double-cross and Driver ends up with a lot of loot and trying to clean up the mess so he won't be murdered. All he wanted to do was drive, but it didn't work out that way for him this time. The bad guys come after him. Then he goes after them. It gets pretty violent, but it also has a bit of a humorous side to it also.

This was one of those books that took a while to get used to the writers style, but once I did I wanted to read the whole thing. It was a fun and exciting story with a twisty curvy plot.

01 November 2010

81. Reading Lolita in Tehran

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books - Azir Nafisi

This is a woman's memoir of her life as a female English Literature professor at the university of Tehran during the revolution and subsequent times.

Ms. Nafisi spends a lot of time comparing the political and social factions within Iran and how the different groups of people associated with those factions reacted to different events.

Many of the friends and acquaintances she had were University type folks. There were the leftist Marxists, the Islamics and many others. These groups interacted with each other while discussing literature throughout all the regime changes and cultural transformations in their country. Sometimes this was easier and sometimes it was on the verge of criminal to even discuss certain books.

I found it interesting how many women were concerned with wearing the veil when the Islamic folks took over. Not because they didn't respect the religion or looked down upon those who chose to wear the veil, but because they had lost thier freedom to choose, and therefore they had become irrelevant in society. Imagine going from a respected English Lit professor at the countries number one university to feeling, and actually being, irrelevant.

The stories Ms. Nafisi relates are very interesting. They don't shed any new light on what I percieved to be the way of life in an Islamic state, but they do open my eyes a bit as to how the opression from the new powers above the women was seen and dealt with at personal levels.

I especially liked when Ms. Nafisi, her fellow university professors, and her students put The Great Gatsby on trial. They did not try Fitgerald. They did not try Gatsby the charachter. They had a trial for the novel itself to see if it had a place within their society. That was very interesting.

While I did find the book interesting at times and enlightening in a few instances, I did not find it to be all that great. It seemed dry and slow and lacked any kind of spark to keep me reading. I thought it was repetetive in many of the stories and ideas Ms. Nafisi was attempting to pass on.

It was not a bad book at all, but I expected much more for some reason.

31 October 2010

80. The Snake

The Snake - Mickey Spillane

A quick romp through solving a crime with an over confident lawman.

Mike Hammer is his name. With a name like that would you expect anything but over-confidence? To tell you the truth, that is exactly what I expected when I picked this book up. I did not think it would be outstanding writing or an intricate plot. I expected a "wham bam thank you maam" kind of book. That is exactly what this is.

It was called pulp-fiction back when it was written. I hear Spillane and Hemingway had a few arguments about if these books were worth publishing. Spillane didn't claim to be a great author. In fact, he even said once "I am a commercial writer, not an author."

Some other Spillane quotes:
"Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney."

"Hemingway hated me. I sold 200 million books, and he didn't. Of course most of mine sold for 25 cents, but still... you look at all this stuff with a grain of salt."

"If the public likes you, you're good."

"Now I'm not an author, I'm a writer, that's all I am."

"Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it's a letdown, they won't buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book."

"My work may be garbage, but it's good garbage."

 and my favorite:  "I have no fans. You know what I got? Customers. And customers are your friends."

So, when I read this book from a perspective that Spillane is writing it to make a buck rather than write the best book...then this is outstanding. It makes me want to read "I, The Jury" and "Kiss Me, Deadly". I will find them both and follow Mike Hammer through those ridiculous, never gonna happen, no way in the world scenarios that he kept getting into and out of a million times.  :-)

I couldn't help but think if the old Dragnet TV show. This guy was like that, but cockier.

It was fun. I will give it a rating of good, but it is a different kind of good. It is good because the expectation was not to find another Vonnegut type of writing.

25 October 2010

79. Flesh Gothic

Flesh Gothic - Edward Lee

Horor today is definately not what horror was twenty years ago. It used to be scary. It used to get into my head and keep me awake at night. Now, it is more gross than scary. It invokes wretching rather than shivering. It makes me feel nauseous rather than afraid to open a door.
I have read a few "modern" horror novels now. Some of the others have been a bit better. This one is supposed to be written by the new leader of the pack. I read the blurbs and thought it may actually be something special.
"Edward Lee's writing is fast and mean as a chain saw revved to full-tilt boogie."
"The hardest of the hardcore horror writers."
"A true master of the horror novel."
"The living legend of literary mayhem. Read him if you dare!"
I dared! I think Edward Lee just took old ideas that were scary stories, infused them with lots of deviant sexual practices and satanic ritual stuff, and then churned it together to make it much more disgusting and revolting than horrific.
Don't waste your time.

24 October 2010

78. Amazonia

Amazonia - James Rollins

This book took forever to read. I carried it with me for about a month. I read a few pages here and there. I kept trying to really get into the story, but it just didn"t grab me and not let me put it down. The book was just good enough to keep me coming back and the plot was just good enough to make me wonder what would happen next, but overall it was found lacking.

It starts out great. A man wanders out of the Amazon jungle after being missing for four years. He has regenerated an amputated arm! He is also riddled with numerous aggressive cancers that kill him before he is able to share his story. From that point it is discovered that he is highly contagious and people begin to die throughout the world.
A team is put together to trace his footsteps back into the Amazon in hopes of finding a cause and possibly a cure for what has happened.
So far, so good. It goes slowly bad from there. Nothing drastic, mind you, but it is full of jungle cliché and b-movie silliness.
While traveling the Amazon, what are the typical things encountered by everyone?

Well, there must be the obligatory death by alligator (caiman in this story)...check!

How about the mysterious jungle people and the legends that are meant to keep out all strangers...check!

Oh, and the "outsider" who after some tragic event has been accepted as a member of the "tribe" and is fully trusted by indigenous folks with all their secrets...check!

There needs to be a second group to throw a monkey wrench in the works in the name of corporate greed. Of course the big evil drug corporations will hire the "ends justify the means" evil tracker guy to steal the cure once our heroes find it. And of course this guy will have fallen in love with a sadistic tribal woman who is the world's greatest shrunken-head artist. (Can you feel the ridiculousness yet?)

These things just felt like jungle-story cheese to me. And then there were other things.

How about the group gets attacked by a cross between giant venomous frogs and piranhas. These little critters killed an entire tribe of natives, but just by coincidence the groups "medicine man" happens to have some powdery substance that puts these things to sleep.

So, we escape the piranha-frogs with minimal loses. Whew...but then they are attacked by a flesh-eating swarm of locusts. Once again, the medicine-man uses some ancient natural jungle herb remedy to keep the bad monsters from attacking (though not hurting them) and the group escapes. Once again, the only guys dying are Army Rangers. (Military is expendable when we are writing a book that is supposed to be pro-environmental solutions only. Man made solutions would not help make the jungle itself seem so supernaturally powerful.)

Then we need to get across a swamp. Oh, man, what will we do now? Let's build rafts! The rafts then get attacked by more caimans. But these fellas are not normal. They are ancient. They are well over 100 feet long! Once again...Rangers die.

Then there are the giant black jaguars that look like shadows at night. Please!

Finally we make it to the goal. This is the place where a tribe lives that was supposed to be only a thing of legend. But they are real...and it is totally whacked! A giant tree has captured all manner of creatures for centuries and is keeping them alive in its root system. It is analyzing their DNA and altering it to suit its own purposes. This tree has altered human DNA to enslave the offspring. The tree has created the piranha-frogs, the man eating-locusts, the giant jaguars and who knows what else! GET OUT OF HERE!

I carried this book all these weeks and plodded through it just to read some crack-head junk like that? So, the events of the story were just good enough to keep me interested, though they felt kind of goofy and clichéd. The climax was totally cartoonish in my opinion and wouldn't even make a decent believable Saturday morning monster movie from the 70's.

Overall, it was OK...but barely. Maybe that is why it took me over a week to even try and type this blog entry.

14 October 2010

77. Falling Man

Falling Man - Don DeLillo

I did this one on audio because I went on a trip recently. I figured I would have time to listen while flying half way around the world. That didn't happen. I left it in the car. So, it took longer than I expected because I listened to it on my work commute instead.

I chose this book because I have wanted to read Don DeLillo's Underworld for quite a while. It sits on the shelf taunting me. It is a threateningly thick novel. I will get to it some day. In the mean time I figured I would get a taste for the author's style by listening to this one.

Falling Man is centered around a few every day folks living in New York City. The events of the book are centered around the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the effects that experience had on thier lives.

Their are different perspectives throughout the book and the writer jumps from one narrator to another quite often. There is a man who was in the tower, a woman who was in the tower and shares his experience, and his estranged wife and child who deal with it as outsiders trying to understand. There are people that are just friends and acquaintences and then there are random strangers with interjections into conversations.

There is also a perspective from the terrorists themselves going through flight school and wondering when the CIA will knock on their door to arrest them.

All of it comes back to what happened that day and how it is defining who they are today.

The Falling Man? He is a performer who, following the attack, puts on a harness and jumps from bridges and buildings. He poses his body in the way of one of the men who actually jumped from the World Trade Center and was caught on film. Arms back along his body, one leg bent. When it was described I recalled the photograph.

The writing was excellent. I fully understood the characters motivations for the actions they were taking. I understood the mood of each scene as if I was there. DeLillo is very good at doing that.

The only thing I didn't like was the dark subject matter. It brought back a lot of memories. It personalized those memories. It took 2800 some odd deaths and made the reader realize that each of them was an actual human being that interacted with the world. Each of them affected others in much the same way the people in this book did. That was very sad and depressing at times.

Something else that struck me was how everyone that was in the towers during the attack had a common theme in their lives. Not the real people, I mean the characters in this book. It seemed like each of them lost a zest for living. There was no reason for doing anything any more. Go to work? Maybe. What difference does it make? Why not just go to Vegas and play poker for weeks on end? What difference does it make? That was maybe the saddest thing of all. That the people no longer had any spark. They all seemed to be dead, yet still going through the motions of life. I would hate to live like that.

23 September 2010

76. Special Topics In Calamity Physics

Special Topics In Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl
This was a very enjoyable book. It had so many references to literature, art, film, etc. that I felt like I was in some kind of college course. It was a lot of fun.
The story was very intricate with well defined characters.
I enjoyed it a lot.

28 August 2010

75. The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening, 1720-1760: Religious Revival Rouses Americans' Sense of Individual Liberties - Monroe Stearns

I read this book because I wanted to try and get a feel for the place religion was playing in the American colonies prior to the Declaration of Independence, Revolutionary War and the writing of the Constitution. What was society like at that time? What were the norms and what were the views of the fringes? If I can understand that it makes it a lot easier to understand what the Constitution's intent was and therefore, if we are following that intent or have gone of on a tangent of manipulation of that Document.

This book told the stories of a number of itinerant preachers in the colonies at that time. They came from Pennsylvania, New England, Virginia, and others. It was not some localized hysterical event worthy of writing off as a one time thing. This "Great Awakening" happened over four decades with numerous players and participants.

"The free and personal religion strengthened the founders of American colonies to brave the perils of the sea and the wilderness in order to worship God as they chose. The spirit of that early religion, however, drained away as prosperity and ease of life came to the colonies. Rituals replaced the old sense of closeness of God to his people; preaching grew cold and stereotyped."

That was prior to the Great Awakening period.

"Then a new group of ministers began to stir the hearts of those impoverished, poorly educated, politically powerless Americans, restoring to them the comfort of a personal spiritual experience which gave them a new sense of dignity, worth, and above all, joy. This restoration of faith, the Great Awakening, aroused Americans to a recognition of an individual man's capacity to be a free person and to an understanding of how spiritual dictatorship can become political tyranny."

Who were these guys?
Theodorus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58)    I am a direct descendent! :-)
George Whitefield (1714-70)
Samuel Davies (1723-61)
Gilbert Tennet (1703-64)
James Davenport (1716-57)
Charles Chauncy (1705-87)

Some of these guys, notably Frelinghuysen, Edwards and Whitefield, were, in my opinion, pretty cool. I think some of the others went a step or two too far.

Yes, I do think the religious beliefs of the day had a lot to do with the wording and intent of the founding of our country.

25 August 2010

74. Jennifer Government

Jennifer Government - Max Barry

This was an outstanding novel written by an Aussie fellow with some attitude.

What happens when a Capitalist society no longer has the Government keeping it in check? In this story the author calls it Capitalizm. This book is written in a world where big corporations are more like governments themselves. International borders are defined by corporate mergers and alliances more than they are by the borders of today.

People are different in this world also. They take the name of the corporation for which they work as their surname. Hence Jennifer Government. Jennifer actually works for the government. Her daughter, Kate, is not named government. She is named Mattel. Why? Her school is sponsored by Mattel, of course.

There are characters named Hack Nike, John Nike, Buy Matsui, McDonalds, NRA, Burger King, Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and every other company you could think of.

I found it very interesting how the NRA itself becomes a major player in the world as not so much a company, but as a security force. Kind of like BlackWater. The thing is that these guys have fighter jets, naval ships, and forces comparable to modern day military. They are able to get these things because they are allied with Boeing, Sikorsky, or other current government contractors.

The government still exists, but has serious limits to its powers. For instance, before Jennifer is able to investigate the murders of fourteen children as a publicity stunt by the Nike marketing department...she has to go to the victims families to raise the funds needed to do the investigation. There are no taxes and therefore no government funds to use for this purpose, or any other. Needless to say, this puts the ultra-rich corporations at a tremendous advantage.

The corporations have no fear of government at all. They eventually align into two groups of competitors trying to bring in customers. These two groups end up in a full out battle with missles and guns and all that stuff. They all get together in London with the government (President, etc) in London at Parliament. The groups make a declaration that government no longer exists and has no authority over them. Then the groups shoot down the government airplane as it flies back to Washington DC. There essentially is no government.

Well, eventually, after much action and manipulation, some of the corporations realize that anarchy is not what is best for the corporate environment and that they need some government. The world calms down and the story ends.

But, none of that is what the story is about really. It is about Jennifer, her daughter, the Nike Liaison (John) she is hunting down as a criminal, Billy NRA and his adventures, Hack Nike and Buy Matsui trying to work their way up the corporate ladder along with Violet, an unemployed entrepreneur, and Claire, a radical protestor, are sisters. All of them get caught up in a more than they bargained for.

And yes, Jennifer got a barcode tattoo under her left eye. Until the very last few pages I was wondering why and what it meant. It is kind of funny once you find out what it was for. :-)

Jennifer Government was a fascinating story that was fun to read. I liked it a lot. More Max Barry please. Syrup and Company are already on the list. Machine Man should be out soon.

FYI…Max Barry has also designed a website where you can run your own country. It is kind of interesting. I started goofing around with it about a week ago. It is called NationStates and is based on the research he did to write Jennifer Government. Check it out. I created “The Free land of Somnambulistic Peoples”. Max even had the United Nations write him a "cease and desist" letter because NationStates was able to accomplish more than they were. LOL