Monthly Archives: August 2015

Book Review –Fire Phone: A Well Established User Guide for Fire Phone. Learn the Basics of Setup and the Latest Tips and Tricks (Fire Phone Books, Amazon Fire Phone, Fire Phone Unlocked)

Fire Phone by Jacob Gray

I own a Fire phone, and for the most part I am quite happy with it. I don’t use many apps, and I use no games. The phone is used as a phone, text device, mp3 player, and to keep up with Goodreads, WordPress, and Twitter. I find it just as good as my previous iPhone and slightly lacking from my last Android.

What I was looking for was the “Latest Tips and Tricks” mentioned in the title. I have learned online how to put Google Play on my phone so that I have Google+ and Youtube. What tips and tricks did I find in this book that were not covered in the user guide? None. This book is basically the owners manual with little more information like explaining the difference between GSM and LTE.

Luckily, I checked this book out with my Amazon Prime account so it didn’t cost anything.

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Book Review — Ampersand Revisited

Ampersand Revisited by Simeon Berry

I recently read and reviewed Berry’s Monograph which I received through the Univerity of Georgia Press. I ordered Ampersand Revisited immediately after finishing Monograph. Usually, I have so many books to read I rarely order anything myself, but Monograph made enough of an impression on me that I had to read the predecessor.

I was not disappointed at all with Ampersand Revisited. It has the same style and ability to enrapture the reader. This collection covers the poets earlier life, high school and college in much the same way Monograph covers his present life. The poems are informative and seem to come from a part of the brain that is not used in conversation. Berry says he thinks in italics when he had trouble writing. Several themes reappear in the collection. There is the usual sex and drugs allusions and mentions of Sappho. There is an unusual recurrence of a gun and a brother who is an anarchist who holds grenades and adjectives in equal esteem.

The poems in complete are outstanding and even passages can inspire the reader:

Spend too much time outside
the body & you become like
a paragraph, transitory, &

A very impressive collection

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Book Review — Running on the March Wind

Running on the March Wind by Lenore Keeshig

Running on the March Wind by Lenore Keeshig is a collection of a Native Canadian (First Nation) poetry. Keeshig is a poet and storyteller from the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. Keeshig was a founding member of the influential Native writers group “The Committee to Re-establish the Trickster” in the 1980s. In the late 1980s, she was also part of a group of Native writers who spoke out against the appropriation and misrepresentation of Native stories and culture by non-Native writers. In 1989, Lenore gained widespread recognition when she addressed a panel at the Writer’s Union of Canada asking non-Native writers to “Stop Stealing Native Stories. During the cultural appropriation controversy, she became one of the best-known voices speaking out on the issue.

This collection opens in an unexpected way. Keeshig recounts playing as a child and the children would play Cowboys and Indians. Everyone want to be a cowboy because the Indians were the bad guys. The poem concludes:

So we were all cowboys back home
on the reservation.

There is feeling that modern culture has reached deep into the reservations and poisoned the indigenous heritage. Later critiquing the national anthem:

O Canada — your people shout Our home and native land
(Our home, your settled land)

Not everything is negative. There is a poem of the bear that takes place in many shorter poems interspersed throughout the collection. The section titled “Songs for the Tress” is simply amazing. The connection with something as simple and overlooked as trees is deep, and almost creates a sentient being in the plants. This is shown again in another way:

South America is killing rainforest. British Columbia is killing rainforest. Northern Ontario is killing white pines. In Mississauga a man bulldozed 48 acres
of trees — his land
HIS land for developing.

Poetry is not something I associate with the original people of North America. I do associate a culture with a strong oral tradition and creative, meaningful stories. Keeshig expands on this tradition with open verse poetry. She expands on the respect for the nature that surrounded her people and the pride of their civilizations. Although much modern culture is shown to be negative, the writing itself seems to hold out hope and a positive message. One can easily see that Keeshig wants for children to be Indians again and the Indians were not the bad guys. She wants to set the record straight and preserve the past. Although written for a native North American audience it is the non-native population that has the most to gain from this collection — Informative, cultural, and spiritual lessons.

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Book Review: Shadow Sovereigns: How Global Corporations Are Seizing Power

Shadow Sovereigns by S George

Shadow Sovereigns: How Global Corporations Are Seizing Power by Susan George is a book that I looked forward to reading. George is an American and French political and social scientist, activist and writer on global social justice, Third World poverty, underdevelopment and debt. She is a fellow and president of the board of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. She is a fierce critic of the present policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (IBRD) and what she calls their ‘maldevelopment model’. She similarly criticizes the structural reform policies of the Washington Consensus on Third World development. She is of U.S. birth but now resides in France, and has dual citizenship since 1994. George attended the Sorbonne, obtaining the French equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1967.

This is a book I really wanted to like and hold up like a beacon so that others could see. However, almost from the start I felt I was caught up in a Dennis Miller type rant, without the humor. I can say I agree almost entirely with George on her positions, but it is the presentation that troubles me. The book is written more as an angry rant than scholarly work or even a work that is looking to change people’s minds. She is preaching to the choir and alienating everyone else.

When discussing the legitimacy of government, I was looking for some Locke or Rousseau, instead there is an argument that corporations are taking over to the point of being able to sue governments. She does not even establish criteria for the legitimacy of a government.

The book is a rollercoaster ride through the wrongs in the world and the dismal state of democracy. It does cover many of the current failures of the system from Monsanto to the corporate takeover of national sovereignty. George also covers the growth of the pharmaceutical Leviathan, the disappearance of small farms, and climate change. Shadow Sovereigns could be a great book with a message to reach the masses, but it seems like George simply went on a rant while her editor was asleep. There is so much good information in this book. It is a shame it is not delivered in a more orderly or formal approach.

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Book Review: Shout It Out Loud: The Story of Kiss’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon

You wanted the Best, You got the Best, The greatest band in the world…KISS

Shout It Out Loud by James Campion
Shout It Out Loud: The Story of Kiss’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon by James Campion is the history of Kiss up to and including the making of Destroyer. Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus, and Midnight For Cinderella.

It’s hard to believe that Destroyer was released forty years ago. I was introduced to Kiss by a school friend when I was in that musical stage of moving out of AM Gold and into progressive rock. Eventually Kiss and Led Zeppelin posters covered most of the empty wall space in my room, and CREEM magazine replaced MAD as I began to take music seriously. A good part of growing up in the 1970s included quite a bit of KISS. It was hard, loud, and its simple message. Today, however, the music seems tame. The rhymes and lyrics are almost humorous at times:

You were distant, now you’re nearer
I can feel your face inside the mirror
The lights are out and I can feel you, baby, with my hand.

~ C’mon and Love Me

Still I manage to listen to KISS with fond memories of youth.

Shout it Out Loud tracks Kiss from its early roots to finally making it big with Destroyer. It’s hard to believe that KISS almost didn’t make it. Their early albums floundered which is difficult to believe with songs like “Deuce”, “Strutter”, and even “Rock and Roll All Night”. KISS created a frenzy at live shows with pyrotechnics and Gene Simmons spitting fire and “blood.” The act, however, did not transfer into studio success. The band was tanking and released “Alive” as an act of desperation in 1975. The impossible happened. The live album sold, and sold, and sold. The same studio songs that fizzled now sold. Kiss was about the act as much as it was about the music. “Alive” captured some of the act and saved the band so that Destroyer could be produced.

The making of Destroyer reveals much about the band and its members. From the drinking and drug use of two members and the unexpected tea toddler to the songs that made it to the album, Campion writing and history will capture any fan’s attention. Alice Cooper fans will also enjoy this book as both bands shared producer Bob Ezrin who left his mark on their music. KISS moved from being a raw power band to a more refined rock band under Ezrin drill instructor type leadership.

Shout It Out Loud is an excellent look at the evolution of one of the most recognizable bands in rock history. It is not an easy ride and there are more challenges than most people can expect. It was not an easy way to the top for KISS and their contemporaries in Australia, AC/DC, may just as well be singing about KISS when they played:

Ridin’ down the highway
Goin’ to a show
Stop in all the byways
Playin’ rock ‘n’ roll
Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you, folks
It’s harder than it looks

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

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Book Review — Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism

Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism by Harry Harootunian is the study of political theory against history. Harootunian is adjunct senior research scholar in the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University and Max Palevsky Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Chicago. He is also the author of History’s Disquiet: Modernity, Cultural Practice, and the Question of the Everyday Life.

Marx is important in history and he has left an impact on the world not only in the rise of communism in the USSR and China but in the lives of all who live in the free world. Marxism came at the time exploitation. Men, women, and children faced long and dangerous hours in factories. There was no forty hour work week or benefits of any kind. Child labor laws were nonexistent. In fact, I remember an editorial cartoon from a history course that showed a sick English woman and her several starving, rag dressed, children being evicted from their room because the mother could not pay the rent. Countering that was a sick slave father being tended to by his wife and children along with the master reassuring the family that everything will be ok. In a very warped sense, it was meant to portray slavery as more humane than the runaway industrial capitalism in Europe. Honestly, I would not want to be in either place.

Marx’s spectre that was spreading through Europe was real, and Marx’s failure was believing that the capitalists would not give in to the demands of workers. What happened instead was, that when faced with revolt, the capitalists blinked. Workers came to enjoy limited work weeks and vacations. Leisure time became something a common man could experience. With that came a rise in literacy and education. Everyone won, except Marx.

Harootunian picks up with what happened immediately after Marx. Communism splintered and took different paths trying to make up for Marx’s failure. Lenin is talked about and how Russia was made to fit into the communist mold with Leninism and Trotskyism. Russia’s experiment with Communism ends there. Stalinism was a dictatorship plain and simple and had little to do with Marxism. Stalin to communism is akin to terrorists and Islam. A hijacking of an idea.

Marx After Marx turns to later thinkers. Antonio Gramsci is discussed in the problems of the unification of Italy and cultural hegemony. The Frankfurt School is mentioned throughout the text. Breakaway thinkers and activists like anti-Leninist Rosa Luxemburg’s and Western Marxist Georg Lukacs’ theories are also covered. Regions and cultures also play a role aside from previously mentioned Italy and Russia; Japan, Peru, and former colonies are covered. Latin America is mentioned too. Although free from colonial rule for over hundred years it is still treated, by powers, as a colony.

Marx After Marx is not for the light reader. It is heavy in political theory and easily the most detailed I have read since graduate school. It is a rewarding read for those looking to expand on the original Marxist theory in real-world applications as well as theoretical thoughts. A difficult but rewarding read.

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Book Review — Monograph


Monograph by Simeon Berry was chosen as a winner The National Poetry Series 2014 Open Competition. Berry has been an Associate Editor for Ploughshares and received a Massachusetts Cultural Council Individual Artist Grant. His first book, Ampersand Revisited, won the 2013 National Poetry Series.

The first question one would ask when starting this collection is “Is this really poetry?” Berry makes it clear in his work he prefers poetry over prose. He notes that it took Raymond Chandler years before he could write a character gracefully leaving a room. In verse Berry says:

This is why I don’t write Prose.
I hate Choreography. Just fill up the
bong with Delphic smoke, please, and
I’ll find a way to get out of the stanza.
See? Like that.

Berry does not title his work, but rather puts them in labeled sections that have something to do with at least one of the poems. Some of the work is informative, like the meaning of human from ancient Hebrew. Sometimes the topic is the writer almost dying as an infant, but mostly the poems center on “N” Berry’s girlfriend, and former lesbian. He describes their friends and family too. Some of this may seem a bit mundane, but there are brilliant bits interlaced through the collection:

Fog ate the tops of the buildings and made the
park smell like an iron works.

The writing has a particular quality that draws the reader into Berry’s life. I am sure many readers think they have led fairly exciting lives. I think we all do to some extent. Try this experiment. Sit down and write a short story length work on one of you most exciting life events. No matter how fond we are of memories, they never seem to work their way into exciting written stories. Berry takes a rather routine life and interjects bits and pieces of uncommon information turning his writing into something that is difficult to put down and occupies your complete attention.

Opening Monograph is like cracking open a common grey stone and finding that it is marbled with brilliant crystals, not a solid core of crystals, but patterns interlaced throughout the rock’s structure like stars in the sky. Berry takes life and unstructured poetry and creates a radiance that shines through the cracks of ordinary.

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Book Review — The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

The Impossible State by Victor Cha

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha is the latest in books on North Korea. Cha is a former Director for Asian Affairs in the White House’s National Security Council, with responsibility for Japan, North and South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Cha served as President Bush’s top advisor on North Korean affairs. Currently, he holds the D. S. Song-Korea Foundation Chair in Asian Studies and is the Director of the Asian Studies program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Cha is also senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

There have been several books on North Korea in the last few years. The one thing in common with them is that they repeat the same few stories. Granted North Korea is isolated and information is scarce, but there has to be more information. With Cha’s impressive background, I expected more information. He does repeat several stories or parts of stories that have been told and retold. However, he includes something that is lacking in other books. He goes into detail with North Korean relations with its neighbors and their history.

Key in North Korea’s existence is its ability to play countries against each other. Throughout the Cold War, North Korea played China against the USSR to its advantage. With the fall of the Soviet Union, both China and Russia turned their sites to better relations with South Korea. Better trade with South Korea was more profitable than supporting the North Korean Regime. The puzzling thing is why has North Korea been able to make itself so important. Korea had no strategic importance in the Cold War. There was no economic interest in North Korea, but the idea it was divided created an artificial interest in the area between the powers. Although nothing was worth fighting for neither power wanted to leave. China still has that problem of defending North Korea while enjoying profitable trade with the south. China has recently taken to extracting raw materials from North Korea as a form of trade basically reducing North Korea to an economic colony of China.

North Korea continues to confound its “enemies” as well as its allies. Kidnapping Japanese citizens, sinking a South Korean ship, defying the major powers in nuclear talks. North Korea acts like a spoiled child making outrageous demands and acting poorly in public and regional and international powers act like coddling parents. North Korea although does not have a nuclear delivery system it does have the means to deliver chemical weapons to South Korea and Japan. It possesses enough deterrent to make military engagement costly in lives and property.

How does an isolated regime continue to function? There is the Kim cult of personality and illegal means. North Korea produces nearly flawless counterfeit US currency. Another source of income is methamphetamines. North Korea produces nearly pure crystal meth and distributes it around the world using diplomatic pouches for distribution. North Korea also exports its military hardware, reliable but not highly technical.

Although Cha rehashes old stories and even repeats himself in the book, he sheds light on the North’s policies through its relations with its neighbors and trading partners. You can tell quite a bit about a person by the company he keeps. The same can be said of a country. North Korea does not allow much to be seen inside its borders, so what they show outside their borders is the best we can get and adds greatly to the little we know about North Korea.

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Book Review — Collected Poems: Len Gasparini

Between the H-bomb and the hula hoop
came rock and roll
Between McCarthyism and the ducktail haircut
came rock and roll
Between the Civil Rights movement and Clearasil
came rock and roll
When Elvis Presley came
white was really never the same

~ Memories of the Rockin’ Fifties

Collected Poems by Len Gasparini

Collected Poems: Len Gasparini by Len Gasparini is a collection of the poets half century of writing. A native of Windsor, Ontario, Gasparini has written poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays, and children’s books. In 1990, he was awarded the F.G. Bressani Literary Prize for poetry. In 2010, he won the NOW Open Poetry Stage event. Having lived in Montreal, Vancouver, New Orleans, and Washington State, he now divides his time between Toronto and his hometown.

When your collection opens with a poem about rock and roll, it really sets the tone. Gasparini was really influenced by his hometown, across the bridge from Mo-Town. His early poems speak quite often of Lake Erie, Detroit, and his home, Windsor. Later his subject changes as he moves to different cities. The chronological order of his poems allows the reader to track Gasparini’s movements across the two countries. Some poems, however, like “Grapes” jump the ocean to Tuscany before returning.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but Gasparini paints a thousand pictures with his words. His ability to observe and relay that information back to the reader produces an image sharper than our eyes can detect. From poems like “Indian Serenade” where complex scenes are described and the imagination builds to created events to poems like “Centipede” and “The Earthworm” where the mundane is brought to new light, Gasparini is a master of converting vision to words. For example, the two line poem “British Columbia” speaks volumes:

The sun cut itself
on a mountain and bled into the valley

Gasparini also likes to have fun. “Pickup” is a poem of two undercover vice officers that mistakenly try to arrest each other in a bar. He also takes a swipe at a book reviewer who lives in a mushroom colored room. The poems from his time in New Orleans also take on a fun and gritty tone. Fun is fun, but the reader is brought back to a reality quite quickly with “The Buffalo Nickel.”

Collected Poems is a rare example of great poetry for all readers. The subjects and language will not scare off a novice interested but uneasy about embracing poetry. For the lover of poetry, there is so much present in this collection. The simple style is not used played down to the mass audience, but to deliver a deeper vision. Unlike Robert Frost, Gasparini does not take the road less traveled, rather he wonders why Frost just did not blaze a new road through the yellow wood. Then looking at his choices he blazes his own path in North American poetry. An outstanding collection for everyone.


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Book Review — The Best Small Fictions 2015

The Best Small Fictions 2015 by Robert Olen Butler

The Best Small Fictions 2015 is a collection of very short fiction originally published by a variety of publications. I was asked if I would review this book by the series editor Tara L. Masih several weeks ago. I accepted because I like it when I am asked to review something that isn’t a vampire apocalypse romance novel. I was not entirely sure what small fiction was about but was told there was prose poetry included. That was good enough for me.

I will say I was very surprised with this collection. I usually do not care for short stories because I feel dropped into the middle of a story and pulled out before it’s over or before I completely understand what is going on. Small fiction, however, is the matchbox of fiction; no story is more than a few short pages. There is also the feeling of completeness in these shorter stories that are missing from traditional short stories. It is not Cliff Note or the Readers Digest version of a story either. There is a fullness that usually requires many more words.

The range of material is very broad along with the style and format. The shortest work is one hundred and forty characters taken from Twitter Fiction. Most stories, though, tend to be a page or two. Almost from the start I was hooked on this collection. J. Duncan Wiley’s “A Notice From the Office of Reclamation”, a two and a half page warning for those thinking of entering the mine, read in part:

Rocks grind their granite teeth over geologic eons, holding their grudges close. You cannot win against them. Your little flame of curiosity, infinitesimal by comparison, will gutter before it illuminates even the shallowest depths of that darkness. You will fall.

There is a rhythm and a taunting voice that leaps from the pages and expands the words into something more than simple prose. It reads like a dark fairy tale with enough detail to fill a dream.

Some stories capture real-life events and the little embarrassments that join them. Stuart Dybek’s “Brisket” is such a story. The trappings of everyday life capture us when we are distracted. “Brisket” is a great story with a moral that even vegetarians like myself can enjoy. Adding to the real life theme, Naomi Telushkin and Dan Gilmore write realistic, timely tales of identity.

Not everything is light. Emma Bolden’s “Before She was a Memory” touched a very real and dark place in my life. Catherine Moore’s “Not About Liz” seems innocent but has a dark and creepy undertone.

These works have all been published in various places and collected as a “best of volume” much like David Lehman does with the yearly Best of American Poetry series. The sources range from Twitter, to 100 Word Story, to Black Lawrence Press, and a wide variety of other publications. Also included with this collection is an interview Phong Nguyen of Pleiades and an interview with Michael Martone who has two stories in this collection. This is truly a well-selected collection and has given me a new appreciation for small fiction. The Best Small Fictions 2015 will make you a believer in small fiction as literature.


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