Monthly Archives: May 2018

Book Review — The Line That Held


The Line That Held us is a story of that takes place in the border region of Tennessee and North Carolina. Darl, who poaches to make ends meet stalks a large buck on private property. Also Carol, Sissy, Brewer steals ginseng from the same property. Carol, although, not fully explained seem is slow. While digging around for ginseng, he is mistaken for a boar by Darl. Darl is 200 yards away, and Carol is dressed in gray and on all fours. Darl fires and kills Carol. He panics and gets the help of his best friend, Calvin, to help. Calvin reluctantly agrees and helps dispose of the body. Carol is noticed missing by his brother, Dwayne, who is violent, drinks too much, and is big enough to get away with it. Dwayne starts investigating his brother’s death and what develops is a classic case of Appalachian justice and revenge.

The characters are well developed and diverse although there is some stereotyping. Dwayne is perhaps the most stereotypical. His massive size and backwoods attitude make him a driving figure in the book. The setting contributes to the free action of the characters. Things that normally couldn’t be done in the urban or suburban setting fit perfectly in Appalachia. The plot moves quickly but not always predictably leaving the reader on a thrilling ride. I picked up this book and did not set it down until it I finished. It was quite a ride, and I found it quite a surprise in contemporary fiction. A well thought out and exciting read.

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Book Review — 1918: Winning the War, Losing the War

1918: Winning the War, Losing the War edited by Matthias Strohn is a collection of essays on different aspects of the final year of World War I. Strohn was educated at the Universities of Münster (Germany) and Oxford. He has lectured at Oxford University and the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Shrivenham. Since 2006 he has been a lecturer in the Department of War Studies at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and in 2011 he was also made a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham. He holds a commission in the German Army and is currently a member of the military attaché reserve.

Strohn gathers together lecturers and senior military officers to examine the last year of the war. General Carter opens the book with the essential lessons of the war. From reviewing coalition warfare then and now, maneuvering, adaptation, and innovation, these themes are the turning points in the war. Morale of the troops gains new perspective after the near-disastrous mutiny of French forces in 1917.

Each major force is examined in their strengths and weakness of during the last year. Germany who mastered the use of rail to supply troops and material to the front now sees rail stations coming under attack delaying soldiers and supplies. Britain, the dominant naval power of the time, kept its Grand Fleet in port for most of the war. Germany, likewise, kept its surface fleet in port. Brief battles by small naval forces in the Pacific and Atlantic. But, for the most part, the war remained a land war.

The US entrance into the war changed several things. The US was the industrial leader in the world. It is interesting though that the US contributions to the war in were steel, oil, and other materials. The US did not produce a great deal of armament or planes. Instead, they relied on other countries to produce with their raw materials. Fresh troops from America also filled in for countries that could not meet the recruitment needs. Germany had no such luxury, and its allies were effectively out of the war by 1918.

Technology is also covered in the book by various countries. It is stated that the war started as a 19th-century war and finished in the 20th century. The evolution of aircraft was dramatic. The introduction of tanks changed the static trench lines. Artillery developed into an effective tool for warfare. Tanks and aircraft would play a primary role in the next war’s blitzkrieg. Close air support of ground troops would also be developed for the next war.

By examining each country and not excluding the Eastern Front and the fighting in the Middle East, which created borders that still that still present friction nearly a century later, 1918 gives a description how the war changed the world. Its effects were felt much deeper than just the Balkans and the Western Front. The Second World War and even the Cold War can be directly traced to the First World War. The use of different authors presenting different essay topics presents a clearer picture of the last year of the war. The reader has the opportunity to see different perspectives on the war. Each section is extremely well documented, informative, and easy to comprehend.

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Book Review — The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century

The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century by Ben Reynolds is the prediction of the fall of capitalism by its own means. Reynolds is an author and activist based until recently in New York City. His essays, articles, and commentary have appeared in ROAR Magazine, CounterPunch, Center for a Stateless Society, China-US Focus, and The Diplomat.

There can be no doubt that capitalism has raised the standard of living where it was practiced in some form. England grew into a world power. The United States followed. Now, China has reformed its centrally planned economy and is now the second largest economy on the planet. Capitalism does raise the standard of living for some. Capitalism relies on markets for goods, profits, and raw materials. It requires growth to sustain itself. Raw materials are creating environmental problems as well as a new wave of colonization. Profits are unevenly distributed. Markets become saturated and planned obsolescence creates repeat buying. Capitalism built a pyramid scheme and is running short of new ideas to keep it alive.

Reynolds looks at the history of capitalism and how mechanization has changed production. For example, the printing press was one of the most important inventions in history. It changed many things. Many more people had access to books. Literacy increased. The printing press did something that hand copied books couldn’t do. The price became cheaper after producing the first book. Once the type was set many copies could be produced with very little labor. Certainly less labor than copying a book by hand. The printing press ultimately was responsible for creating unemployment. There is little argument against the printing press; it’s good certainly outweighs any negatives. Today, it is even better. E-books allow publishers to create a single file and replicate it without any effort.

Automation is one of the areas Reynolds examines and its effects on workers. Machines produce more and more products without human intervention. 3D printing is adding another level to automation. It will just be a matter of time before items can be cheaply printed in metal and other materials. Factories would only need to be supplied with raw materials. The costs for producers would drop. Aside from not requiring human employees, factories would not need to be heated, cooled, or even lit.

Reynolds does examine economic theory in this book. From the efficiency of industrialization, the centralization of workers and capital, and even the internet have changed how the economy works. In 2015, MP3 sales overtook CD sales. This is significant because reproduction and distribution of MP3s require almost no cost. The is no physical product to distribute. A Chinese company has begun computer printers using cement and waste to build prefabricated housing at a rate of ten houses in twenty-four hours. The revolution that Marx predicted might just be an evolution. The efficiency of capitalism and (computerized) industrialization is changing the world economy. American industrial production has not decreased as commonly believed, it has increased, but uses far less labor.

As of 2012, almost 80% of US employment is in the service sector. Employment in the industrial sector has dropped. Farm employment has also declined with large-scale farms and automation. The service sector employment will soon drop too with automation. As retail moves online and warehouses become more and more automated, there will be even less demand for labor. Although more is being done with less labor, products have to be bought. If no one is employed, no one has the money to purchase the goods being produced. This creates an interesting dilemma. A well-written history and projection of capitalism and hope for the future without revolution.

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Book Review — Don’t Send Flowers

Don't Send Flowers by Martín Solares

This is a book that makes American crime noir and the grittiest police novels look like child’s play. La Eternidad is a city that makes the darkest corners of any big city seem safe. Between the police, the military, the local government, local businessmen, and the cartels, the only people honest about what they do are the cartels. Everyone else is owned or works for someone else. Nothing is what it appears to be. The kidnapping of the daughter of a local business leader brings retired detective Carlos Trevino into the picture. Trevino is pressured into helping find the girl. He left the corruption of the police force and tried to live in peace and is now dragged back into the world he rejected.

Martín Solares paints a picture of violence, brutality, and corruption that is plaguing Mexican cities. Solares’ fictional La Etrenidad is near where he was born on the Gulf Coast. A dark book about what is now commonplace. Timely, violent and realistic.

Available August 24, 2018

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Book Review — American Hippo


American Hippo presents an entertaining adventure of an alternative US where the lower Mississippi River has been blocked off in a plan to raise hippos for meat. As strange as this sounds, it almost really happened in the early 20th century. What evolves is a story of revenge, with some very colorful characters who travel on hippos. Its a western with a twist. There are the good guys, who aren’t necessarily all that good. The bad guy runs casinos on the river and feeds the rowdy and cheaters to the gators…or rather hippos. Slightly different kind of western that is thrilling and filled with colorful characters and fierce hippos.

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Book Review — Gambling on War: Confidence, Fear, and the Tragedy of the First World War

Gambling on War: Confidence, Fear, and the Tragedy of the First World War by Roger L. Ransom is a study of the First World War through the eyes of an economist. Ransom is a professor of history and economics at the University of California, Riverside. He is the coauthor of the groundbreaking work One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation.

Over the last few years piles of new books about World War I have been published. Since the 100th anniversary of the start of the war in 2014 to the coming anniversary of its end, this November, many books have reexamined the war that defined the 20th century. Perhaps one of the biggest advancements was in mobilization. Railroads changed the speed of the war. Industry (blood and steel according to Bismark) was modern warfare. Most wars of the previous period were those of colonization a power going against an undeveloped country. Although there was death, it was not on a grand scale. The American Civil War was a prelude of what was to come large-scale continued fighting and attrition.

World War I involved economic powers of Europe and nearly bankrupted them in the process. Ransom does something interesting in his thesis on the war. He looks at the war from an economic perspective. Bismark was a master of the “risk versus reward” in his early policies with Denmark and Austria-Hungary in unifying Germany. In addition to risk versus reward, fear plays a major factor in the upcoming war. Secret treaties were meant to offset fear of other countries. The previous balance of power that kept the peace was being eaten away by secrecy. It is not so much that alliances caused the war. Alliances are effective in keeping the peace when open. NATO is a prime example.

Ransom uses the Composite Index of National Capability Score to assign economic power to the warring nations. This is a more accurate indicator of power than GDP. These values change over time. Britain was the clear world leader in 1850. By 1914, The United States, Britain, and Germany were competing for dominance. By 1919 the US was the dominant nation and Germany was on level with Russia which was fighting its civil war, but still above a devastated France. Another telling aspect are the graphs used to show yearly imports, exports, agricultural production, GPD, and industrial out for each of the major combatants. Each country is a bit different in the way the war took its toll. For example, German imports crashed while Britain’s imports skyrocketed. Austria- Hungary’s graph plotted impending disaster.

Confidence and fear played a major role in the war.  It was also a war no one wanted to fight but no one was able or willing to stop.    Fear brought secret alliances.  Unlike open alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact which kept the peace, secret alliances increased both fear and confidence.  Fear of invasion created a need for allies; secrecy was needed to prevent possible enemies from forming their own alliances. Confidences as in Austria-Hungary knowing Germany would support and defend them from Russia were responsible for the actual start of the war.  Gambling on War is an excellent look at the war through economics.

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Poetry Review — The Sexual Repression Collection


The Sexual Repression Collection by Nicole I-Nesca is a collection of free verse poetry. Nicole I-Nesca was born in Ohio. She developed a love of music, painting and writing early on and continued that love throughout her adult life. While living in Canada, she completed her first body of works The Sexual Repression Collection. She has been published in several E-Zines and has been a part of two anthologies. She and her husband, Tony, are the editors of the underground publishing company Screamin’ Skull Press and resides in Winnipeg.

I-Nesca style of writing goes well with being read aloud. The reader will capture much more of the rhythm and flow of the poems hearing them. The work contains an interesting mix of themes. One that runs through the work is that of a Catholic sense of guilt in terms of sinners, saints, absolution, and transgressions. It is balanced with rich imagery:

marzipan dreams and schemes of a tomorrow
unintentional free willing letting the virus filled
propagandized agendas ignoring bigger brother
hypocrisy foaming with power handed over by me
you he she and the guy across the street now
raging from cages barking howling complaining
about money oil and the toils boiling society

~ “hungry”

The lack of punctuation, capital letters, and lines that do not complete a thought create a dreamy, surreal landscape for the reader. Again, reading aloud does help create some mental boundaries with the structure without disturbing the flow. Poems like “Pinata” explode into being bringing color and emotion to the poem.  A collection well worth reading and exploring.  Not every reading will give the same meaning.  The style is open to interpretations.  The form is free-flowing.  Pausing a word sooner or later may change the meaning.  It is a wonderful and hazy state of poetry.

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Poetry Review — Emma Strunk


Emma Strunk by Tony Nesca is a novel written in verse about life in “peg zero.”  Nesca was born in Torino, Italy in 1965 and moved to Canada at the age of three. He was raised in Winnipeg but relocated back to Italy several times until finally settling in Winnipeg in 1980.

Peg Zero is a semifictional Winnipeg and a Winnipeg without any “win.” The collection of poems strike many cords and possible influences. There is the grittiness of Herbert Selby Jr. The drug-induced frenzy of Lou Reed and, too, a bit of the wild side. There is also the looming dread of the future from a Joe Strummer London filled with squatters. There is that feeling that many who grew up in the big cities in the 1970s remember — some nostalgic and some foreboding. It is real and not the sugar-coated sitcom of “Good Times”. Nesca captures that feeling through the lives of several characters all trying to survive knowing the future is bleak.

Our narrator leads us through the lives and relationships of several intertwined characters. Reggie is from Barbados:

he be cruising the streets
with pirate sensibilities lives
at a whorehouse surrounded by
tits and ass all funky pearls
now it’s true he’s a junky
it’s true he’s a hustler
it’s also true he doesn’t give a shit about me or

Laura is trying to make it work with Mike they both hit the pipe and she works as a dominatrix and hooks to make ends meet. Bob sells crack. Timmy is from Greece; sensitive, intellectual, but abused. Tracy is a junkie and hooker in an abusive relationship with Bob. Destiny is a native of Manitoba who fell into Peg Zero. Finally, Emma Strunk is perhaps the patron saint of Peg Zero. A rather mystical person who may be an ideal or just imaginary.

Emma Strunk is a brutally honest look at inner-city life.  Although dark there are moments of light like Mike and Laura in the park two weeks free of crack and planning for a better tomorrow.  Peg Zero, however, is much like a singularity.  A black hole that the residents circle on the event horizon.  Unable to escape the gravity, they exist in a limbo knowing the only way out is through the black hole and no one survives that trip. The verse adds to the feel much like lyrics add to a song.  Although dark and even depressing at times the reader will be drawn into the story and the characters.  It is an immersion into life in Peg Zero and the reader will feel compelled to follow.

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Book Review — Rockabilly Psychobilly: An Art Anthology

Rockabilly Psychobilly by Jamie Kendall

Rockabilly Psychobilly: An Art Anthology by Jamies Kendall is an illustrated collection of art from posters, movies, album covers, and just plain art. Rockabilly and its followers are described by Kendall as:

Rockabilly is the country boy pluckin’ away on his banjo, who gets off at the bus station and plays a few dive bars with such feeling that it compels people to get up and shake a leg (in a way those classically trained boys never could).

She’s that scrappy urchin chasing chickens and climbing trees, who grows up, fills out, gets her hair did, and before you know it, flyboys are painting her on the nose of their planes.

I believe the great appeal of modern rockabilly culture is that, at its core, it’s a working-class, people’s renaissance.

Psychobilly is more of the same but includes a bit of horror in the form of animated zombies, ghouls, and werewolves. Both contain women who as mentioned above would be right at home on a nose of a WWII bomber. The men sport pompadour ducktail haircuts and leather jackets. There are plenty of hot rods and more than a few motorcycles in this alternate reality of the 1950s. Kendall presents music choices to accompany your reading or rather viewing. Bands range from Stand up bass to Queen (yes, Freddy Mercury’s band). Psychobilly includes The Reverand Horton Heat to the Nekromantix. The music adds to the feel and the variations in themes.

Kendall knows his stuff and writes an informative introduction and occasionally adds comments to the art.  He is also the voice and guitar of the psychobilly band Batmobile. Also listed are the websites of the artist used in this collection for the reader after more art or more information.  A great collection of (warped) 1950s America captured in art and music.

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Book Review — House of Islam: A Global History

House of Islam: A Global History by Ed Husain is a history and explanation of Islam by an educated Western Moslem. Husain is a writer, adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and a former senior advisor at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. He is the author of The Islamist, a book about political Islamism and an account of his five years as an Islamist activist. Husain cofounded, with Maajid Nawaz, the counter-extremism organization the Quilliam Foundation.

In the West, there seems to be a single definition of Islam that is portrayed in the media and in the minds of many. This seems to include ISIS, the Taliban, and sharia law. However, Christianity is a peaceful religion that promotes charity, treating all people well, and the Golden Rule. Jesus’ message was one of love and inclusion. We seem to hold polarizing views. No reasonable person would say that the Westboro Baptist Church and its message represents mainstream Christianity. The same can be said of the Aryan groups’ version Christianity. Today we in the West oppose slavery when it was part of the Christian past. I have not read of modern Jews practicing Deuteronomy 21:20-21. There are parts, and laws, of the Bible that are no longer parts society. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean it is practiced.

Husain is a first generation British Moslem. What makes this book so important is it is written by a Western-raised and educated Moslem. He joined the Islamic Society of Britain. Studied Arabic in Syria, and worked for the British Council in Saudi Arabia. His first name is actually Mohamed but students started calling him Ed. What Husain presents in this book is a history of Islam that explains the religion by a practitioner who is also an educated and successful Westerner. He speaks to an audience that he is part of.

House of Islam covers the history of the religion from Muhammad through the Sunni Shia schism and into modern times. Also discussed is Sufism which brought forth some of the regions best poets one that most have heard of or read — Rumi. This is followed by sections on Ottoman Turkey and Islamists.

Relations with the Jews is covered n great detail. In Indonesia, a non-Arab Moslem country, 47% of the population had a low opinion of Jews. An interesting poll considering Indonesia does not have the history and interactions that Arab countries did and still do. Education is another interesting subject:

‘Knowledge and wisdom are the lost properties of the believer,’ taught Imam Ali, ‘so seek them even if they be with infidels.’

Today many see education as memorizing large tracts of the Koran in Arabic but without understanding the language. Memorizing is more important than understanding. Perhaps pre-Vatican II Catholics share the similar experience. As with other subjects, Hussain separates canon from cultural tradition in explaining laws, women, and sex in Moslem countries. Traditions play a large role in the culture. There is nothing in the Koran that states women must wear black in public but in countries like Saudi Arabia, there is little, if any, variation.

House of Islam presents an even view and explanation of Islam and its history.  Hussain separates the words of the prophet from tradition and sayings that are attributed to Muhammad.  He presents a sensible and easy to follow description of the religion that would benefit many in the West.

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