30 May 2010

48. A Night Without Armor: Poems

A Night Without Armor: Poems - Jewel (Jewel Kilcher)

This is the first book of poetry I have read in a long time. Why choose this one? I think Jewel is an awesome song writer and musician. I think she puts more into the words of her songs than most people these days and like to hear her voice singing them.

This book is her writings that she felt did not belong to music, yet were worth sharing as written word.

The book is like taking a journey through the thoughts and feelings inside Jewel. It is deeply personal. She bares herself in front of the world in many of these poems. She may as well be standing naked on the stage. It was that open. I guess it could be categorized as autobiographical poetry.

There were poems about finding a losing love. Some about life on the road and the loneliness she feels. Some were about her past. Those written about her father and siblings as she was growing up in a post divorce family in Alaska were especially intriguing.

I will give a few examples of the poems I found the most moving for one reason or another.

The first is a poem written while in a hotel room in Tai Pei. It starts with where she is and how it is not her home. At the end there are the following lines:

“I have no Lover
only my pen and an
answering machine
back in the States which
no one calls

I am told
I am adored by millions
But no one calls”

That really made me feel badly for Jewel. As famous as she is and as big a star as people make her, she is still wanting and needing the most basic of human contact. She just wants to be cared about by someone. That made me shed a small tear.

Then there was a very short poem. This was written after a few where she was breaking off a relationship with a man. She wrote:

“I wrote you those nice
poems only because
the honest ones
would frighten you”

In the context of the book, that poem was very meaningful.

Near the beginning of the book was a poem about what Jewel sees and recalls about herself regarding the way young women look. The last line is awesome.

“I look at young girls now
in their tight crushed velour
skin tight sky blue
hip huggers with the baby doll
tank tops
and I think
I’ve been there.
God, have I been there.

Sixteen years old and
wrestling with an overwhelming
newfound sexuality.
Parading it in all its
raw and awkward charm.

I had a pair of vintage
burgundy velvet short-
shorts that laced up
the sides
from the 1920s
and I wore them
with a tight leotard
and a plastic faux pearl

showing off all my lanky
leggy blossoming
youth on the verge
of womanhood for all the
free world to see
with no idea how to keep
a secret, especially my own.”

When I read that I felt a bit of frustration as Jewel sees these girls and her own past as some futile way to get along in the world. There was and is so much more to these people than their bodies and sexuality. I guess it is a case of “if I only knew then what I know now”.

I loved reading these poems. I even put a pretty cool book to the side to finish these poems.

47. Culture Smart! Ukraine

Culture Smart! Ukraine - Anna Shevchenko

I have read many travel guides and history books about Ukraine. I have adopted four children from Ukraine and have a biased interest in the country, it's history and it's culture.

This book is a travel guide to help Americans understand some of the etiqette and idiosyncrasies of Ukrainian culture.

It covers history that most travel guides don’t cover. This one did and then tied in to why some of the cultural differences exist. I liked how it did that.

I recommend this book to anyone traveling to Ukraine, especially if it takes you off the main tourist paths of downtown Kyiv.

27 May 2010

46. Great Expectations

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

I think I messed up with this book. I knew it was one I wanted to read because I felt like I should have long ago, but I doubted I was ever going to pick it up and actually read it. So, I decided to pick up the audio book and listen to it while driving to and from work and appointments.

What I found was that this was a good story, but I can't imagine it was a classic in the form I encountered. This was an abridged version. I usually avoid them. I was reminded why while listening to this book.

It seemed like just when the descriptive parts were getting to a point where I was hooked, the scene ends and we jump to something else. Annoying!

The good part of this version of Great Expectations was listyening to Hugh Laurie (House) do all kinds of different voices and different English accents. It was fun to hear.

Maybe some day i will read this book again in a more traditional format. Probably not. At least I tried.

26 May 2010

45. Somebody's Gotta Say It

Somebody's Gotta Say It - Neal Boortz

I will begin this review by saying that I think Neal Boortz is an arrogant, egotistical, abrasive jackass who says things in a demeaning manner in order to raise ratings on his radio show. I think the man is genuinely a jerk and is using that personality flaw to make a bunch of money.

Does that mean he does not believe what he is saying? I don't think so. I think the man truly thinks his ideas are good and his beliefs are sound.

What does all that mean? It means that I tend to agree with much of what a raving jackass is saying.

Mr. Boortz railed on Democrats very heavily. He railed on Republicans almost as much. He even gave a bunch of reasons not to vote for Libertarians, of which he is one.

This book was published in 2007. That means it was written long before the election of 2008 and probably during the early part of the Presidential campaigns. It was probably after the primaries because he spoke about the wave of Obamamania. Despite when it was written, I found it interesting that he was able to write about the "secret" Democratic agenda. He rambled on with a list of well over a dozen items that these folks would try to accomplish if they got control of Congress and the Presidency. What's so fascinating? He was freaking right! It was a laundry list of all the garbage be tossed around up there in DC in the last 18 months.

Boortz covered a lot of ground in this book. One of the little tidbits was a response he got to something he said on the radio show. He said people called him ranting because he told all the fathers that if their teenage daughters were smoking then they should go buy condoms and birth control because they WERE having sex. Wow, what an stupid thing to say...but think about it...he is right. Remember High School? The girls who smoked were the ones who were doing all kinds of things before the other girls. He explained that smoking was actually "risky behavior" and so was sex. When they participate in one risky behavior, they will participate in others. That made sense to me and was verified through my own meandering experience.

Boortz says his fans ask him to run for President, so he wrote a chapter called "No Way In Hell!". He will not run because he does not want the job, but he did spend time writing out a platform of things he would campaign on. There were about 15 things he would go change in DC. Things like creating a flat tax and shut down the IRS. Much of it had to do with lessening the centralization of power and returning the power to the people and the state and local governments.

One of the suggestions he made I had never heard before and he explained it beautifully. When he first said it I thought he was smoking crack, but it makes great sense when heard as a whole. He said we should repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is the amendment that made all the Senators elected by the people rather than appointed by the State Legislatures. I thought that was kind of a stupid thing to suggest...and now I am all for it.

The original design of the Federal government had lots of checks and balances built into it. The 17th amendment changed that quite a bit without knowing it would happen. It also created problems for the States that are still present today.

The purpose of the House of Representatives was to represent the people of the country directly. They are broken down into small districts and small groups of people are all equally represented with one person. The House was purposely given the task of being the only part of government that had authority to begin budgetary concerns within the federal government. That was done on purpose because the people would be the ones paying for all the junk. The real power in DC used to be the House. Now it is far behind both the Senate and the President. That should be fixed.

The purpose of the Senate was to represent the States themselves. The State legislatures would nominate a person for the Senate and the State Governor would confirm that person. This was done to give all the States an equal say in matters. When the 17th amendment changed the way the Senators became federal lawmakers the States lost the person working in their best interest. Now these guys would be working for the people. The people of the entire State. A daunting task that would require massive compromise in order to even get elected.

Another byproduct of the amendment was that the elections of the State Legislatures lost much of its importance. Before the amendment was passed these guys were elected to represent small areas of the state and then they would nominate people they believed would best represent the State as a whole. After the amendment the Senator was elected by populist vote and took much of the importance of the state votes away.

This one amendment did more for the reduction of the power of the people and the states and the centralization of power at the federal level than any other change to our government. From that point on Washington has just taken more and more away from local levels and decided they would control larger portions of whatever they deemed the next great thing.

Mr. Boortz does a much better job of explaining it all than I do. It was fascinating. I think that was one of the most insightful things I have read in a long time. Here is a little bit of what he has to say. I found it on his website. You can look up more.

"I believe the argument can be made that the 17th Amendment has done more to promote the growth of federal government than any other action in our country's history. The 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, provided for the popular election of U.S. Senators. Our original Constitution created a system whereby the people of the United States were represented in Washington by the members of the House of Representatives, while the state governments were represented by Senators. Each state legislature would appoint two people to serve staggered terms in the Senate. The people had their voice in Washington, and so did the States. Tell me, do you think that the federal government would have successfully usurped so many powers from State governments? Would the U.S. Congress have placed so many unfunded mandates on the backs of the states? Our founding fathers (the politically correct term is now "framers") felt that in times of peace 90% of all government should emanate from state and local levels, and only 5% from the federal level. The growth of the federal sector at the expense of local power can be traced back to the ratification of the 17th Amendment. Repeal it. Return the power to the local governments."

To wrap it up...the guy is a boob...but I agree with much of what he has to say when I cut through the BS.

21 May 2010

44. Cat's Cradle

Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut

"You tell me who told these ants how to make water."

This book was very cool. I had no idea where the story was going. Maybe because it was so illogical and unfathomable for a "normal" mind that I could not have seen the end as the Vonnegut wrote it.

This was an apocaplyptic story that was quite funny. Maybe that is called black humor? It has some interesting characters. One being an author, John, who is trying to write a book about the day the atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. He is interested in what people were actually doing at that time and how it made them feel. I figured it would be an anti-nuke book at that point. I was wrong. It seemed like it was more of a futility of man's attempts to stay in control of anything.

The writer wants to interview the family and friends of Felix Hoenikker, the inventer of the bomb. He contacts them and things roll from there. One son is a midget who had a scandalous affair with a Ukrainian midget. He has an alder sister who was very tall and awkward looking, but ended up marrying a very important beautiful blue-blooded man who has nothing to do with her. Then there is another son who disappeared following the father's funeral and is presumed dead.

Well, the disappeared son is actually alive and is a General on a Caribbean island called San Lorenzo. John, the Hoenikker kids and many other very interesting folks all end up in San Lorenzo and the mayhem ensues.

This book is actually pretty sad, though it is funny. I think that is called satire. It was about our own inability to control ourselves during an international arms race. All science is used for destruction in one way or another by countries warring against each other. Ice-Nine was invented by Felix Hoenikker as an answer to a military question about how to have Marines not fight in mud. It ended up being used by people to get things they thought were important in life and then the destruction of our planet.

19 May 2010

43. Dead Even

Dead Even - Brad Meltzer

A crime novel. Lots of lawyers. Lots of criminals. This one didn't seem to be much different than most other crime novels I have read.

Bad guys do bad things. Lawyers and cops try to stop them. Bad guys win for a while. Good guys win in the end. Where is the suspense in that?

Despite the predictability, it was not all that bad. This was a story of a husband and wife who are both in the legal profession. She is a brand new rookie assistant district attorney. He is a defense lawyer seeking to make partner in a New York city law firm.

The bad guys do something bad and then manipulate the case so that the husband and wife will have to face each other in court.

I read these books and find them interesting because I just can't believe that folks find these characters anywhere near what they would be in reality. The good guys can't walk around doing anything they want to whomever they want and still make the case stick. The bad guys can't be as bad as they are supposed to be and still be unknown to the police in any way. Sometimes it is just a little too far-fetched and stretched to make it believeable at all, but it sure is fun.

11 May 2010

42. Ten Days in a Mad-House

Ten Days in a Mad-House - Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly actually has herself commited in New York in 1887. She was a newspaper reporter and wanted to do an expose story on whatever she found in her exploration into an insane asylum.

What she found was terrible conditions and horrible care givers who were supposedly there to help the less fortunate.

The book started with the planning. She spoke about her ideas and expectations. It is very ballsy to even attempt such a thing, let alone pull it of.

I am not surprised by the deplorable conditions or the cruelty she encountered. Why would the book ever be known to me over 120 years later if she had found a perfect setting where people were well cared for?

I am glad she did this and am still amazed at the guts this young woman showed to get this story and then to ensure the problems were fixed.

10 May 2010

41. Wild Animus

Wild Animus - Rich Shapero

This was a very strange book. I knew that going in. That is why I wanted to read it. I had heard a little about it and thought it would be different. It WAS different, though not in the way I was hoping.

It started at Berkley back in the 60's. The police were raiding the campus and being brutal. The protagonist was a graduate student and teacher of some sort at the University. During the melee he, Sam, met Lindy. She was younger than him by a few years. He was 24. She was 21, I think.

Sam fell in love with her immediately. She fell too. They embarked ion a 1960's style love affair that was very strange. It was fueled with LSD all the time.

Sam had this dream that he could become a ram. Yes, a real ram. A mountain goat climbing the rocks. Big curly horns. The whole deal. While on his trips he would put on this costume he made out of rams skin and an old taxidermists stuffed ram. He would dress up like a ram, take acid, and go mountain climbing. He would have these things happen to him that made him believe he really was turning into a ram and the god he imagined in his drug world he called Animus.

They both quit school and went to Washington. Sam renamed himself Ransom. Lindy supported him as he wrote a book about his becoming a ram and his god Animus.

Later they went to Alaska and Sam found a mountain in the Wrangells where he said Animus lived. He would climb there and lived in a cabin and took lots of drugs and wore his costume and did generally really weird stuff. He imagined there were wolves hunting him and he equated the wolves to Lindy trying to tie him down to a normal life with a family and kids. The wolves were trying to kill him and keep him from Animus.

Anyway...he was a whack job. Lots of people fed into the garbage he spewed. Lindy followed along for way too long. Ransom would cut himself open repeatedly trying to bleed into the mountain and connect with his god. Strange. Weird. I had a hard time following it.

Sorry, but acid trips and weird people who glamorize the felling they get from it just don't make a good book to me.

Ransom died. I didn't care. I felt sorry for Lindy at times, but she was pretty stupid for playing along with his BS anyway. I struggled through this one despite it being an audio book. The only really good thing was the reader himself. It was read by Peter Coyote. He did a great job. I especially liked the voice when Ransom became Animus and was narrating his adventures. The voice was excellent. Other than that, this was a complete waste of time.

Wait, that is not true. I learned some about the Wrangell Mountains and especially Mount Wrangell itself. It is a 14,000 foot shield volcano in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. What a cool place to visit some day…maybe.

08 May 2010

40. Ravenous

Ravenous - Ray Garton

Werewolves come to a coastal California town. Not just any werewolves. These are not the same as the ones from the old movies. Yes, silver bullets will work, but everything else is different.

This kind of werewolves don't transmit their lycanthropy to others with their bite. It is transmitted through sexual contact. Yes, raping werewolves. I know. Unbelievable!

It was a horror story because these guys were monsters. They eat human beings. One scene is where a werewolf eats a woman's little daughter as she is watching. Nasty!

Very different. Very gross. Not the best writing. I don't think the point of the book was to be written well. It was all about the shock factor. Duh. What else should I have expected.

There is a sequel called Bestial. I will read it to see what happens after the ending of this book. It did not turn out the way I expected. It ended abruptly and in a way I did not expect. That was cool.

I wonder what happened to the sherrif's wife. Whatever.

It wasn't worth writing much about. It was different and didn't suck. I kept reading to see what happened, so it must have been OK.

05 May 2010

39. The Bill of Rights: 200 Years, 200 Facts: A Guide to American Liberties

The Bill of Rights: 200 Years, 200 Facts: A Guide to American Liberties

This is just a little book of fifty pages. I have been meaning to read it for a while now.

This was written in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. The last few pages answer questions concerning a tour of the United States with the priceless original Bill of Rights document. I believe this book was sold as a souvenir as part of that tour.

It is short and quick. I almost didn’t bother blogging about it. Then I thought about it. It is fifty pages and I learned a bunch from it. I have blogged about similar readings in the past. What the heck. I am still stunned at how each section showed me, yet again, how much more there is to know about our own history.

This book covered a lot of information. It did it in a question and answer format. It started with some historical information and then traveled through each Constitutional Amendment that makes up the Bill of Rights.

As an example of what I learned: One of the questions was about when the Bill of Rights was written. Part of the answer said “After much debate the House and Senate approved twelve amendments at the end of September, 1789.” The answer to the question is quite literally September, 1789. Short, quick, easy…hey, wait a minute…that can’t be right!

You see, the Bill of Rights is a group of constitutional amendments that were passed as a group quickly after The Constitution of the United States was signed. Many representatives did not sign the Constitution because it did not contain a Bill of Rights. North Carolina refused to even ratify the Constitution itself until the Bill of Rights was included. I did not know these little tidbits of information. The point is…the Bill of Rights only contains ten amendments. The answer to the question says Congress passed twelve. What gives?

Come to find out, later in the book, that to ratify a Constitutional amendment three fourths of the States must approve of it. The first two amendments in the Bill of Rights did not pass that test and were dropped. What were these two amendments that didn’t make it through the state approval?

The original first amendment would have required that there be at least one representative in Congress for every 50,000 people. It says that today (1991) that would mean our current 435 member Congress would have over 5,000 members. I am kind of glad that one didn’t make the final bill.

The original second amendment would have required that no salary raise for members of Congress could take effect until after the next election for Congress.

Anyway, each amendment was voted on separately by the state legislatures. The first two did not get ratified. So, our current first amendment would actually have been the third amendment…and so on.

Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia voted to pass all twelve amendments. Georgia, Connecticut and Massachusetts didn’t even ratify the Bill of Rights before it went into effect.

I am also glad I read it for another reason. The second amendment has been one in which I see a lot of conflict in our society. It reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Most gun ownership proponents will only quote the second half of that statement. When I ask what “well regulated militia” they belong to, it turns into an argument. I contend that there is no constitutional right to own firearms to defend my house from robbers; to plink cans, to hunt, or to overthrow a tyrannical government. The only reason to own them is to be part of a well regulated militia in defense of the people.

This book helped me with that argument a bit. It says “The courts have consistently interpreted this Amendment to be a limitation on the federal government’s right to eliminate the state militia.

I believe this militia is the National Guard, State Troopers, local police, etc etc. What was needed in the 18th century is not needed today. My problem comes into play when I try to find a way to disarm the population. It would be impossible without creating a situation where law abiding citizens become vulnerable to the criminal element. It would get ugly long before the benefits would be seen and people would die. So, leave it the way it is and let the people keep their guns. That is what I think. I am getting off on a tangent. 

Anyway, there was a lot of information about the history, intent, interpretation and implementation of the Bill of Rights within out society. It was fascinating to read much of it. Sometimes it was very basic. Sometimes it was a whole new concept for me.

I am glad I found it and glad I read it.

This was a pretty long post for a fifty page book. LOL

04 May 2010

38. I Ain't Got Time To Bleed

I Ain't Got Time To Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic From the Bottom Up - Jesse Ventura

This was an autobographical book written by a very interesting man.

He wrote this book while he was governor of Minnesota. The first part of the book discusses his political beliefs and reasons for having them. He is definately not a Democrat or a Republican. He ran as a Reform Party candidate, like Ross Perot.

Ventura describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and therefore a centrist, like seventy percent of the population of our country. I have no idea if those statistics are correct, but that is what he claims.

After the discussion of his political beliefs he goes into his life story. He starts with his childhood and life growing up. He was definately not a clean cut kid. He got into some trouble and was a bit mischevious.

At 18 he joined the Navy and became a SEAL. He spends wuite a bit of time writing about the SEAL training and his time in the Pacific during the Vietnam war. He spent six years in the Navy and then returned home as a civilian.

At that time he was just cruising around in his Harley with the Mongols motorcycle club in southern California. His account of what this group did was very different than what was told in the book Under and Alone that I read a few months ago. Very different.

There is a large chunk of the book written about the wrestling years also. He discusses some of the secrets of the game and the behind the scenes manipulation that occurs to keep control of the whole show. Interesting stuff, but nothing I had not heard before in other books and interviews.

Then the acting career kicked in. Predator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, was the big break. Followed by Running Man. Many other movies and television shows followed.

From there he ended up in radio doing talk shows and stirring up controversy. Isn't that what radio is for?

And then the political career. it started because he got mad at his town board of directors and Mayor for doing projects the people did not want or need. So, he ran for Mayor and won. From there he moved up to Governor and won that also. Ventura spends time telling stories of events during the campaigns and during his tenure in office. Some of those stories are quite interesting.

I learned that I like the man's ideas for the most part, but he also has some political idealogy that I would have to think long and hard to accept. Who knows, maybe he can be President, though he says repeatedly there is no chance that will happen. Then again, the book was written in 1999. Much has changed since that time. ;-)

03 May 2010

37. A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

This book was written by the author of “The Kite Runner”. That was one of the best books I have ever read. I had high expectations for this one also. Especially after my daughter read it and said it was better.

Did it live up to those expectations? In some ways it did. In others, it fell short.

I absolutely loved the historical aspect of this book. How Hosseini describes the differences in society before the Soviet invasion, during the communist control of the country, after the Soviet’s left and the warlord’s fought for control, the Taliban days and the post American invasion days.

Afghanistan has gone through some major political upheaval in the last 50-60 years. How a people can withstand that much change and have so little control over their own destiny is hard to comprehend.

I also think Hosseini is amazing at describing the settings and the people over a period of time. I definitely felt like I had a visual to go along with his story. Not just a hazy picture of what he was relating, but a visualization of the real place. It was weird how it popped up into a three dimensional image complete with scents and sounds as I was reading each scene in the book.
I think Hosseini is a master at building the relationships between people using words. It was easy to understand how the characters felt towards each other, how an event may affect them, and to predict how they were going to react as the story unfolded.

Then there was the story itself. The story is basically about two very different women who’s lives become intertwined in an Islamic society. Sometimes that society is freer and more liberal towards women. At other times the women are treated worse than dogs.

The story is predictable. I was not surprised by anything that occurred. I was waiting for events to occur before they actually did. Examples of my “premonitions” in this story: Azziza being taken to an orphanage, the death of Laila’s parents, the return of the dead Tariq, Maraim and Laila’s struggles and eventual bond like sisters/mother-daughter. None of these events or anything else surprised me.

That is not to say that I did not enjoy the book. I did. Immensely.

It is also not saying that it was totally predictable. There were many “shocking” things. I knew Laila’s parents would die, but the description of the rocket attack was much more than I expected. I knew Laila would birth a son, but the description of the women’s hospital conditions under the Taliban was horrific. Imagine having a cesarean section without anesthesia. Damn!

Rasheed was also no surprise, but he was a shocking fellow. I knew he was one of those guys who believe in the hard-line fundamentalist Islam. Not the violent terrorist one, but the one with the burqas and the women speak when spoken to. Women are the property of the man to do with as he wishes. That kind of guy. The character was written very well.

I did not hate Rasheed despite all the despicable things he did. Why is that? The only thing I could come up with is that I tried not to look at him from a “rich” spoiled Caucasian Christian American perspective. Why was this man the way he was? Why were so many women in the prison for running away from home? Obviously they too had husbands much like Rasheed. So, Rasheed was only one of thousands of men taught to believe a certain way and then did what they felt was right. Even if I think Rasheed’s actions are abhorrent and evil, it was not thought of that way within his own society. So, how could I hate HIM?

I couldn’t. I sympathized with him. Not because his wives and children made things hard for him. Not because he lost everything. I sympathized with him because he was trained to be a certain way and then was unable to see that it was too extreme. He was unable to look at himself and tried to bend the will of others, as he was taught to do all his life. It was futile. It was doomed to keep him in a life full of misery and loneliness. In this way, and only this way, I felt bad for Rasheed.

Other than that the dude was a total piece of crap who just lied and manipulated to control people and use bullying and thug tactics to run his household. Beatings and threats were a daily occurrence for both Mariam and Laila. It was sad and shocking.

The hardest part for me emotionally was when Rasheed turned on Laila. This was during the Taliban days. Azziza was in the orphanage. Laila wanted to visit her, but could not leave the house without a male escort or she would be beaten. Laila took repeated public whippings in order to see her daughter. Rasheed, being a vindictive bastard, refused to escort her, just to be a jerk. She would go anyway. Why was this so hard for me?

I felt trapped with her. She had no control. She could not bring Azziza home. She could not go to live with her. She could not run away. She could not ignore the situation. She could not just move to another place. She was totally stuck in a place where her choice was to take a physical beating or to leave her daughter to the wolves. It was a bad situation all around. I really felt the walls closing in. Mostly it was a feeling of the helplessness of these women. There was nowhere for them to turn. It was one of the most frustrating feelings I have had reading any book.

So, despite the book being utterly predictable as a plot line, I recommend it. It has so many good points that they make up for the lack of suspense. Sometimes the story itself and the themes within it are good enough that it doesn’t need to keep you on the edge of your seat to move you. This was one of those books.

I would read anything Khaled Hosseini wrote.