Monthly Archives: October 2014

Bruce Springsteen: By the Book – NYTimes.com

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/books/review/bruce-springsteen-by-the-book.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0&referrer=

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Book Review: No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs

No Logo by Naomi Klein

No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs by Naomi Klein is an examination of the change from products to branding and the results that has had on the population. Klein is a writer, journalist, and film maker. She writes a syndicated column for The Nation and The Guardian, and covered the Iraq war for Harper’s.

I read this book shortly after Shock Doctrine and recognized quite a difference in writing style. Shock Doctrine was a fast paced read for non-fiction while No Logo reads much more like a scholarly thesis. It is fact filled and so well documented that it slows the reading pace down. This is a book you read for information not simply enjoyment. Also know that even the updated book was released in 2002 so some of the technology is no longer as relevant.

I remember when brands represented a product and a reputation. Growing up Schwinn was a quality bicycle. When you bought a Schwinn bike you knew you were buying a quality product. Today the brand Schwinn still lives, the name bought and sold a few times, and now Schwinns are sold in the toy department at Wal-Mart. They are disposable bikes. Cheap to buy and expensive to repair. I work as a bike mechanic and I noticed many things that Klein has brought up in No Logos. There is still brand loyalty in the bicycle industry, but in reality it is pretty meaningless. If your bicycle is an aluminum Trek, Specialized, Fuji, or other higher end brand, the frame was made by Giant, also a bicycle company. If you bike is carbon fiber it came from one of three plants in China or Taiwan. Simply put, brand loyalty has little to do with the actual product. You are buying an image, not a product. This happens in other industries too. Years ago a friend was showing me his Ford Probe. “Look at this.” he said pointing to the valve cover. There was a Ford emblem held in place with two screws. He proceeded to remove the screws and Ford emblem to reveal MAZDA stamped into valve cover underneath.

Klein spends a great deal of words on branding and brand identity and how it has changed over the years. Before you made a product, sold it, developed a reputation, and that became the brand. Now you create a brand and hype and sub-contract out for a product. Microsoft’s Redmond campus was contracted out. A company took over the cafeteria, another took over cd manufacturing, essentially all but the core operations were contracted out.

Klein also brings up people that find trends to sell to corporations. People who go out and look for the newest hipster trends and sell those ideas. Some corporations have quit going after counterfeit merchandise especially in the inner city. The inner city/rap/urban culture is cool and even if the item is counterfeit, the right person wearing it will more than make up for the counterfeit by becoming an ad. Graffiti artists tearing up a corporations ads? Don’t fight back, join in. Chrysler Neon used to have a friendly little ad with “Hi” written over the top of the friendly little car. Chrysler, went ahead and pre-vandalized their bill boards with a fake sprayed “p” after the “Hi” the Neon was now made “Hip” apparently by the cool graffiti artists.

Also, interesting was a paragraph about the NAACP petitioning cigarette companies into putting more blacks into their ads in 1960. Thirty years later a church group complained that cigarette companies were exploiting black poverty in the inner city. I grew up in Cleveland, which was at the time a very segregated city. My public library was on the other side of the de facto border. Even back in the 1970s, as a child, I noticed the change when crossing that border: the cigarette and malt liquor billboards with black models were everywhere. The billboards were very colorful, very stereotypical, and today would be seen as racist.

Those were only a few examples in the book. Mega-Mergers of the 1980s and 1990s and the growth of Wal-Mart and Blockbuster bring more change to the American markets. Throughout this book one thought came into my mind. If all corporations had a cap on advertising budgets, how much cheaper would things be at the grocery store? There is an almost unimaginable amount of money spent on advertising.

Again, Klein produces a scholarly study on brands, mergers, ads, sweat shops, advertising in schools, and all the tricks corporations use to become kings of the consumer markets.No Logo can be a bit dry reading at times, but this book clearly is the foundation of her later work. In the 1990s we celebrated capitalism and consumerism destroying communism and state planned economies. Today it seems capitalism and consumerism are also trying to destroy itself. A very informative and well researched book.

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Book Review: Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) by Jeff VanderMeer is one of the books the cool kids already beat me to. It has received mostly good ratings with one exception from those in my circle. The reviews and some prodding brought me to this book.

This is one of those books where the reader is dropped right into a bizarre story without much preface. To complicate the matter the characters are not much better off information wise than the reader. There is a boundary at the Southern Reach, which could be anywhere in the deep south near a coast. This boundary requires special attention to cross and only trained teams are allowed to cross; twelve of them since the appearance of this Area X.

Several possible themes run through my mind. Area X reminiscent of 1950s Science Fiction movies. The characters called by their occupation and not a name reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s Anthem or advanced soviet style world. Where did Area X originate from? A Chernobyl type accident? A Sverdlovsk type anthrax accident? Perhaps String Theory branes colliding?

Despite the short two hundred pages the story is really much bigger and more complex and mysterious. There are many small things that are are mentioned in passing that make one think there must be more to it. There is something really out of whack in this place, much more so than typical sci-fi.Annihilation is one of those books that you keep thinking about it long after you finish it. It also makes you wonder if the following books will drag you further down the rabbit hole or begin to make sense of the situation.

A very enjoyable in a mind bending way. I put the second book on hold at the library already so I guess I am hooked on this series.

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Book Review: Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey

Alex Haley's Roots by Adam Henig

Alex Haley’s Roots: An Author’s Odyssey by Adam Henig is a short biography of the man who wrote one of the blockbusters of the 1970s. Henig earned his bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in international and cultural relations from the University of California, Chico.

I was in the seventh grade when Roots premiered on network television. The image of the slave “Toby” being whipped was burned into my mind. “Your name is Toby, I want to hear you say your name.” Toby answers “Kunta Kinte” and the whipping continues. This was a powerful series coming on the heels of the bicentennial celebrations the previous year. This was also something I could actually watch because it was on network TV and not at the theaters. The movie mini series was probably the biggest television event in my childhood.

Alex Haley’s Roots covers mostly the time period during the release of the movie and the book tours that follow. There are a few flashbacks Haley’s earlier life. For as popular as Roots was, I knew very little about Haley before reading this book. A career in the Coast Guard, writer for Playboy, and co-writer of Malcolm X’s biography round out a successful sounding life. His personal life, however, had several failings mostly with his personal relationships and marriages.

One point that is brought out in the book, and later in the court cases, is whether the book was fiction or non-fiction. Doubleday released the book as nonfiction, although they never questioned the lack of bibliography or citations. Haley claimed it to be historical fiction. Part of that I imagine was part of the 1970s culture. You could hardly turn on a Sunday night movie without hearing “Based on a true story” which to a great many people meant they were watching a documentary. The fiction/non-fiction/research aspect of the book takes up a good deal of this biography. It adds a good deal of insight into the Haley and his work.

I walked away from this book with much more information and understanding than I expected. The biography itself takes up just over half the book. Unlike, Roots there is a copious amount of documentation. Henig has certainly done his homework and presents in a scholarly fashion. Also included in the book is a section by the author documenting some of his research experiences and his experience self-publishing Alex Haley’s Roots. A very good biography of a man that took center stage in the late 1970s with a books and movies that brought recognition to the people that were quietly written out of the American celebration in 1976.

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Book Review: The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals

The Modern Savage by James E. McWilliams

The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals by James McWilliams is a personal and emotional argument against the killing of and abuse of animals that are not necessary for man to survive. McWilliams received his B.A. in Philosophy from Georgetown University in 1991, his Ed.M. from Harvard University in 1994, his M.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996, and his Ph.D. in History from Johns Hopkins University in 2001. He currently teaches history at Texas State University, San Marcos.

I will start this review by stating that I have been a strict vegetarian for over ten years. I do not like the term vegan because I find it misleading. I do not eat meat of any kind and do my best to avoid using any animal products. That includes using not driving a motor vehicle because of the death it causes on our roadsides and the damage to the environment drilling for oil frequently causes. I try and do my best to leave a minimal footprint and cause as little pain to other inhabitants of the earth as possible.

I usually really like books like this because they reinforce what I believe. That is pretty simple human nature. However, I found McWilliams arguments to take an emotional approach to animal slaughter. Too many of the examples are what I would call “touchy-feely.” I am a little older than the author and like factual arguments. Emotional arguments may work on a younger audience, but to me they seemed more preachy than anything else.

I will give McWilliams credit for taking on some of the big names in the “sustainable” food world. He does a good job bring up some of the hypocrisy in the message. McWilliams also warns against listen to those who sold out to big media. Big media exists to make money and to make money the full and honest truth is often left behind.

On myth that McWilliams blows out of the water is that humanely raise animals live a happy life, except for one very bad day. That bad day is death, and death extends far beyond a day, and comes much earlier than expected in a normal life cycle. Factory farms are much maligned and with good reasons. The alternatives, however, are also deeply flawed. McWilliams explores these alternatives and presents the flaws in theories. Backyard (raised) animals still experience slaughter and well as animals raised in the other popular phrased environments, such as free range. They may have a happy life, but it is short. They are simply a means to an ends.

Another point brought out in the book is the natural life humanely raised animals live. The idea of green fields and the former California “Happy Cows” make the idea of dairy and meat consumption a sound like a happy bargain. The idea that domesticated animals live in a state of nature on small farms is ludicrous. Has anyone seen a wild cow? Perhaps a wild chicken? The fact that livestock do not exist in nature makes it a difficult case that they live a natural life. Breeding of livestock makes it harmful for poultry to live a free range life. Fast growth and oversized bodies make walking free dangerous to the chicken.

McWilliams makes his case fairly well. I wish it would have relied less on emotional response. Some of the stories are touching others a bit too emotional for something that could be a bit more fact based. I appreciate McWilliams convictions. He stands by his beliefs and does not waver even in the face of such popular writers as Michael Pollan. McWilliams does his best to end that terrible phrase “one bad day.” He digs deeper into that feel good area of humanely raised and free range labeling to expose what it really is. The Modern Savage is a well written book and helps re-establish the beliefs of those who already do their part. The emotional tone, however, is unlikely to win new converts.

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Book Review: Behind the Gas Mask: The US Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace

Behind the Gas Mask: The US Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace by Thomas I Faith is the origination on the US military’s chemical warfare branch. Faith’s public biography is limited to his career as a historian for the US Department of State. He has one other published manuscript, his dissertation: Under a Green Sea: The US Chemical Warfare Service 1917-1929.

America was unprepared for World War I . The military was under manned, Equipment needed to be procured through the Allies, for example, planes from Britain and France were used by US forces. Both Britain and France want to train US troops and use American soldiers and Marines as filler in their ranks. Pershing rejected this and it delayed America’s effective entry into the war. One area that America ended up taking a lead in was in chemical weapons and chemical weapons defense.

I joined the Marines in the early 1980s and chemical warfare was considered a real threat if we ever actively engaged the Soviets. We heard stories of “Yellow Rain” and remembered the recent outbreak of anthrax in the Soviet Union, which the Soviets claimed was from bad meat. In boot camp we learned of chemical weapons, and as Marines, we learned to trust in our equipment. Through our training we learned that chemical would be used as a last resort and that it was mostly ineffective against properly trained and equipped troops. It would slow down an advance and frustrate the attacked troops. Chemical suits and masks would protect troops, but they were cumbersome, taxing, and awkward to wear. We gained confidence in our equipment through repeated use in a heavy tear gas environment.

At the beginning of the twentieth century things were different. No one expected chemical weapons to be used, but once chlorine used at Ypres the race was on to develop new poisons and effective protections. The Hague Convention of 1899 banned projectiles that sole purpose was to deliver asphyxiating chemicals. Even in war, an effort was made to abide by the letter of the law. At Ypres, canisters of chlorine were opened and the wind was used to move the gasses toward allied trenches — avoiding the use of projectiles. The British developed the Livens Projector, which also avoided using projectiles by lobbing gas canisters.

Faith gives a detailed account of chemical weapon in the war and perhaps even more interesting and less known history of the US Chemical Corps. Practicality and the almost propaganda like willingness of scientists and engineers to cooperate brought the US to the forefront of the chemical warfare development. The Gas Service Section was part of the Bureau of Mines as a very practical matter. Miners have a history of working in hostile environments and poison gasses. Scientists and engineers prided themselves on their work and their effort to help win the war. There is a sense of duty and teamwork that sets the stage for the Manhattan Project in the next war. New gas masks are developed, poison gas is produced on an industrial scale, lewisite was refined.

Despite the advances and technological advantage the US was developing, almost none of it reached Europe. The United States’ late entry to the war and the time it took to ramp up production lost out to the Armistice. The Chemical Corps now faced a problem of survival. Here is perhaps the more interesting story in the book: How a government agency fights for its continued existence when it is no longer needed. They turned their expertise to the the synthetic dye industry (captured German technology). Deadly chlorine gas could be used to promote health. Gassed soldiers had a low TB rate than the general public. President Coleridge received chlorine gas treatment for a cold. The chemical Corps also had readiness testing for US troops to ensure equipment stayed in production and to advertise the need for the Chemical Corps. There was even fear mongering. Just because the US policy is not to use chemical weapons, there is nothing stopping our enemies from using it on US troops.

The story of the development of the US Chemical Corps is extremely interesting two aspects. First, the development of protection and the production of gasses for the war effort in an industry that did not previously exist. Secondly, the story of a government agency trying to survive when its practical use seemed to be over. Here is an agency that went to great lengths to ensure its continuation: An agency that manufactured a higher form of killing trying to adopt a peacetime role in a world tired of the killing. Well worth the read for both histories.

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Book Review: Impossible: Piercing the Veil #3

Impossible by C.A. Gray

Impossible by C.A, Gray is the third and final installment in the Piercing the Veil series. Gray has a degree is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor who, in her spare time, teaches college level chemistry, sings, takes part in theater, and writes. The Piercing the Veil series is listed as Young Adult, but it is a great series regardless of the reader’s age.

<<< SPOILERS This is the third novel in the series, and try as I might to keep plot elements from the first two novels out of this review, it is a difficult task. To the readers who have read the first two books, there are no spoilers below. To others, read the previous books in the series first. They are well worth the read.>>>

Intangible starts the series, sets the stage, introduces the characters, and introduces the story. Invincible explains the story and provides a very exciting, action filled run up to the concluding novel. Impossible brings the conclusion of the story. This novel is more strategy based than action packed. Peter and Lily are still the center of the story. After the setbacks in Invincible. Carlion must develop a new plan to defeat the Shadow Lord and his army of penumbra. Here the story crosses both realities. Isdemus, the leader at Carlion completes a plan to keep Peter and Lily safe. But, as the teenagers have demonstrated before, they do have a youthful problem with authority. Their pushing the limits and doing what they believe is right instead of what they are told has caused problems before.

Isdemus plans, separates, and secretly hides the two teens to keep them safe. Clarion’s brains focus on defeating the Shadow Lord and recovering the pieces of Excalibur. Lily’s rebellious nature brings her in contact with an unaligned penumbra, which starts a separate adventure that brings another mythology to the story.

The characters continue to act in the manner expected and developed throughout the story. There is growth in the young characters and an awkward budding relationship. New characters add an interesting twist to the story and add depth to the entire mythos. There are lessons to be learned too, especially about sowing the seeds of doubt and believing in oneself even when one is not sure of the outcome.

The story flows smoothly seamlessly blending into the second novel. The plot continues on a well defined course, although not always going where the reader expects. Impossible is an extraordinary finish to the series. There is closure, and most if not all questions the reader had through the series are answered. Piercing the Veil is a finely crafted adventure fantasy that fits perfectly into a trilogy. Each book presents a definite beginning and end point with Impossible bringing fulfilment to the series. An outstanding series for all ages.

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