28 January 2011

6. Son Of Hamas

Son Of Hamas - Mosab Hassan Yousef

The Green Prince! This is an awesome book that reveals a lot about the Palestinian side of the Arab-Israeli equation. This guy and his story are amazing.

"The oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a charismatic founding member of Hamas, Mosab Yousef makes his newfound faith public and risks everything to expose the secrets of the extremist Islamic organization and reveals the amazing double life he lived trying to prevent the killing of innocents by working with Hamas’ enemies."

"Mosab Hassan Yousef was born in Ramallah, in the West Bank in 1978. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, is a founding leader of Hamas, internationally recognized as a terrorist organization and responsible for countless suicide bombings and other deadly attacks against Israel. Yousef was an integral part of the movement, for which he was imprisoned several times by the Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service. He withstood torture in prison only to discover Hamas was torturing its own people in a relentless search for collaborators. He began to question who his enemies really were— Israel? Hamas? America? After a chance encounter with a British tourist, Yousef started a six-year quest that jeopardized Hamas, endangered his family and threatened his life. He has since embraced the Christian faith and sought political asylum in America."

Love it. You should read it.

5. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater - Kurt Vonnegut

The book is also known as "Pearls Before Swine" and the title page lists both titles. This was definately not my favorite Vonnegut novel. It was good, but not as good as others I have read.

Eliot Rosewater is the main character in this novel. he is the President of the Rosewater Foundation and a millionaire. This position and it's wealth can be transferred to another family member only if Eliot is proven insane. A corrupt and greedy lawyer plans to do just that and make a fortune during the transfer of power and wealth.

We get to know Eliot, his father the Senator, his estranged Parisien wife, the simple people of Rosewater county that he is taking care of, Fred Rosewater and the Rhode Island cousins, and a few other characters.

The story is told as a series of short stories about numerous incidents. Sometimes this feels disconnected, but it does make sense as you read on.

I realize that this book is satire and criticizes the faults in modern day American society, but I did not find it all that humorous or eye-opening. Maybe forty years ago it was more meaningful than it is today.

One thing that really did stand out was when Eliot's father, the obviously capitalistic politician and upper crust rich guy, confronted Eliot for the way he chose to live. At one point the Senator accused Eliot of being a communist. I did not find that correct at all. Dad saw Eliot's giving money to the poor as a communist trait. He saw it as "sharing the wealth". That is not communist. Communist is about taking from the rich and giving to the poor...redistributing through state control. Eliot was giving away his own money to things he found important. I call that charity. So, the Senator was wrong. I understand that Vonnegut was using this as an example of satirizing the rich as snobbish and cruel with no feelings for the poor, but it was not believable in that instance. Maybe when it was written it made more sense. That was much closer to the McCarthy commie hunts. That could be why it was used.

I will read more Vonnegut, but I will not read this one again. He has better novels.

24 January 2011

I, Pencil

I, Pencil - Leonard E. Read

This book was too short for me to count and keep a clear conscience. It was 16 pages total. That being said, it was a very powerful story and deserves to be blogged.

The story is written from a first person perspective, but the person is a pencil. Yes, a pencil is the narrator. That in itself was pretty cool.

The pencil tells it's story as a genealogy. Who are the pencil's ancestors and how did pencil get to be pencil? Wood, graphite, enamel, brass, rubber, etc. All ancestors of pencil.

The story has a message and that is that a central planned economy can never achieve the things a free economy is capable of doing. It uses the pencil, something simplistic from a manufacturing standpoint, and tells the story of how a pencil is made. How thousands of people all over the world are involved in the production of something as simple as a pencil. How no one, not one person in those thousands, is capable of making a pencil on thier own nor are they capable of even knowing everything that is required to make a pencil.

Is making a pencil simple compared to something like an airplane or a car or a computer? Sure it is. That is precisely why Mr. Read chose to write the story as a pencil and not something very complicated. The process is supremely complicated even for a simple product.

Lawrence Reed says "It explains is plain language why central planning is an exercise in arrogance and futility."

F. A. Hayek wrote "This is not a dispute about whether planning is to be done or not. It is a dispute as to whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals." Mr. Read answers the question with this story.

Adam Smith's "invisible hand" theory is alive and well in "I, Pencil"

Take fifteen or twenty minutes and read the story. You can find it on line.

22 January 2011

4. Don't Eat This Book

Don't Eat This Book: Fast Food and the Supersizing of America - Morgan Spurlock

This book is written by the guy who did the movie Supersize Me. He also read the book for the audio version. That is what I utilized. The audio book alos contained numerous elaborations, updates and additions by the author.

Needless to say, Mr. Spurlock is anti McDonalds. Actually, I think it is not so much a hatred of McDonalds as it is a dislike for corporate greed at the expense of the wellbeing of it's own customers.

I have no idea what Mr. Spurlock says his political leanings are or how he votes, but I am going to make an assumption after reading this book that he is liberal in many ways. He definately has a disgust for the big food industry and it's Washington DC lobby. Spurlock keeps talking about how the government needs to make more regulations for protecting the people from these entities, but then also says that the FDA and the USDA are useless lackies afraid of the very industry they are monitoring and regulating. He wants more rules, but acknowledges that the rule makers don't give a hoot. It is an interesting poition to be in. To want more of the problem in government without a solution to fixing it is weird.

I do agree with much of what he says concerning the fast food industry, the horrible processed and packaged foods in the grocery stores, the lobbyists in DC, the greed and disregard for health shown by businesses, the stupidity of having junk food in schools...and most of all...the marketing and advertising manipulations executed in many instances to sell more crap.

Spurlock did point out one thing that made me think differently. He was discussing the litigation brought against many companies. Much of that litigation is considered "frivolous" by many people. I would include myself in much of it. One example is the lady who sued McDonald's when she spilled coffee on her lap. She won millions. Is that right? I don't think so, but I did see a different view for supporting such lawsuits. The example he used was the tobacco industry and how for decades there were a million little fights in courts all over the country. Each one opened a door a little further and allowed people to look in on the industry. It took a long time before the tobacco industry admitted their product was bad for people, that they were lying about all kinds of things and that it took all those little lawsuits, as fivolous as they seemed, to make changes in the way the product was regulated, marketed and perceived by the public. That exact same thing could happen with the fast food industry. It could take decades to reveal the truth in a way that actually makes a change in the industry like it did to tobacco. That is not a bad thing.

What else did this book do for me? It reminded me of the things that I felt when reading "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser or "Slaughterhouse" by Gail Eisnitz. Both fellow muckrakers. One in fast food. One in the meat-packing industry. I ws disgusted and did not want to eat that crap.

Since reading this book I have skipped McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, Sonic, Taco Bell, Firehouse, Moes, and a million other places where I love to eat. I have done my shopping around the outer edges of the supermarket and avoided all the frozen and boxed junk. I have read labels and put many items back on the shelves.

Even when buying stuff for the kids, like apple juice, I read the labels. I was amazed that the store had about 25 different kinds of apple juice. I wanted on that was just apples, or close to it. I found one that was made from pressed apples and only had ascorbic acid (keeps it from turning brown) and lactic something-or-other added. The others were all made from concentrate WITH ADDED INGREDIENTS. I thought that would mean water. Add h2o to apple concentrate. Nope, it was mixed with 10-12 other things that were hard to pronounce every time. Many were not even just apple. They had concentrates from pears and whatever else added also. What the hell is that? All I wanted was some stinking apple juice!

So, I will try and eat better and maybe not be a fat chunk of American laziness who has diabetes and an addiction to nastiness. We will see. At least I will make an attempt. I skipped the McDonalds double cheeseburgers and bag of cheetoes the other night. I ate romaine salad with balsamic vinagrette and sushi instead. I could do that.  :-)

I just learned that Morgan Spurlock graduated from NYU in 1993. I wonder if Mike ever met him.

3. Pocket Guide To Business And Everyday Math

Merriam Webster's Pocket Guide To Business And Everyday Math - Brian Burrell

Yes, it is math. No, it is not thrilling or exciting. I picked it up because my son had a question about a geometry formula and i didn't feel like looking at some fat high school text book. This is a little pocket sized book and it is full of math that IS used even after taking the final exam in math class.

There are sections for 1. Numbers and Computation, 2. Algebra and Geometry, 3. Everyday Math, 4. Probability and Statistics, 5. Business and Personal Finance.

I read every stinking word on over 330+ pages. I always do read every word, but come on, this is a book about math. Who reads every word in a math book?

Some of the things I found cool about this book...
It has all the algebra, geometry and trigonometry formulas you will ever need in a single tiny book.
It has information about how the FDA calculates the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamins, calcium, calories, etc.
What are all those liquor measures? Dram, nip, finger, shot, double, triple, pony, jigger, fifth, split, flagon, yard, magnum, demijohn, keg, firkin, barrel...they are all here.
What is a kilowatt-hour? It is on your electric bill. What are they charging you for every month? How is wattage measured? Amperage? Resistance? Electric Horsepower?
How do you read a gas or electric meter and how are they calculating your bill from those readings?
How do you measure "legal square footage" as used in tax assesments?
How do figure out how many squares of shingles to buy in order to reshingle your roof?
Why are lumber dimensions so weird and how do you calculate your needs in construction? How about measuring cords of wood, yards of concrete, sizes of nails?
There are tons of automotive math formulas and explanations...average velocity, instantaneous velocity, acceleration and braking calculations, engine displacement, horsepower or revolutions per minute, compression ratio, gas mileage, tire sizes, etc etc etc.
How about calculating wind chill factors, heat and humidity indexes, dew points and frost indexes.
Mapping and geography were pretty cool sections also.
What are the probablilites of drawing certain poker hands? How do you calculate on the fly, or count cards?
How do you calculate odds? What are the differences between true odds and house odds?
What strategies can be used at a craps table? A roulette table? Betting on horses?
There is a whole section on baseball statistics. I loved that!
There is over a hundred pages of financial calculations. Everything from interest rates to insurance or mortgages. There is a ton of definitions and explanations for the terms used when talking about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, government securities, tax-deferred investments, etc.

This little book covered a lot of information, compacted it down to the basics that you will need to know outside of a classroom and then organized it in a useful manner.

I think I will keep this little fella around for quick reference.

14 January 2011

2. Afraid

Afraid - Jack Kilborn

The United States government has created terrorist teams using criminals and psychos with surgically implanted micro-chips that control their thoughts and motivations. These teams are called Red-Ops.

During the Vietnam war a video of one of these teams assaulting a village in South Vietnam as a test operation was discovered. A man tried to blackmail the government with the tape. Now, decades later the Red-Ops folks have found the town where this man lives and wage an assault upon his world.

The attacks are gruesome and intended as terrorist type tactics. The Red-Ops teams are supposed to instill fear in the people they are attacking, which is an entire town in Wisconsin.

Well, the bad guys lose and the good guys win, though they predictably loose a few along the way and take a few serious hits themselves. But, in the end they walk into the sunset...or more like limp and help each other along.

There is nothing new or exciting in this writing. It is not bad, but it just more of the same old stuff pumped out to make a few bucks. It is not bad, but is hardly worth blogging extensively about.

09 January 2011

1. The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

This book has been sitting on our sehlves for years. My wife started reading it a long time ago and set it aside. I decided to pick it up. I never thought I would.

I thought it was a "girls" book. You know, like Janet Evanovich or Jackie Collins. Maybe more like Jodie Picoult and the Sister's Keeper type.

Then they made a movie and I heard that it was a "horror" movie. I still don't know where I heard that and I have yet to see the movie. I still don't understand why it was called "horror".

What I found was a book about the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl in 1973. Her body was never recovered and the murder was never solved.

What was good is that the entire book is narrated by the murder victim herself over the years and decades following her own murder. She follows the lives of her family members, friends and her neighbors. She even follows the murderer at times.

It was a very interesting perspective from which to hear a story told. I do not recall another like it, though it has probably been done before.

Despite the violent and disturbing subject matter the author handles it with delicacy and grace. It is not overly gruesome or sexually distasteful. I mean, it is a rape, but it does not need to be overtly sexually descruptive to convey a sense of fear and desperation. The author did a good job with that balance.

I think she also did excellent showing the father's internal struggles trying to keep the rest of his family safe, deal with the death of his first born and to see justice served. It had to be immensely frustrating for him. I can not imagine being in his shoes.

It was a good book. I liked it. I did not love it. I will not jump up and down singing it's praises, but I will not tell anyone to avoid it either. If you pick it up you will most likely not hate it. That is a good thing.  :-)