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basswood

basswood

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Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind
Michael J. Bradley, Jay N. Giedd
Waiting for the Barbarians
J.M. Coetzee
On Power: Its Nature And The History Of Its Growth
Bertrand De Jouvenel
American Coup: Martial Life and the Invisible Sabotage of the Constitution - William M. Arkin Essentially: We now live in a time of “forever-war.”

The worry about the government instituting martial-law is sooo 1990’s because we now truly live a martial life. And we’ve accepted it. There is no “over there” anymore when it comes to the militarization of our lives. Over there is here. We live to assist the government in everything. See something, say something. And the bottom-line of everything that the government does in the name of national security is not to serve, protect, or assist you but to preserve itself. It’s all part of the Continuity of Government (COG) and it’s been in place for many years but it spectacularly grew into the multi-headed hydra immediately after 911.

No one and nothing is now immune to the shadow of the umbrella of government entities that “protect us” in the name of national security as fully 10% of the population of the United States (30 million persons) are astoundingly connected in one way or another to the Department of Defense. Arkin describes in specifics (most of it inefficient, bumbling, and embarrassing) the dual system of the government in protecting its continuity: a public system made up of laws and elected officials, and a hidden system made up of plans and appointed experts, unimpeded by Constitutional hampers.

Arkin writes near the end of the book of the expanding effect on all of our lives:

“Suffice it to say that whatever the threats, they are ubiquitous and unrelenting. At home, the enemy is not just Muslim Americans or Arab Americans or Somalis or Palestinians or Middle Easterners or those of the Muslim faith. It is illegal Mexicans. It is drug lords and smugglers and gangs and organized crime and the sex trade. It is foreign visitors and students and overcurious tourists. It is sovereign citizens and white supremacists. It is disgruntled school kids with access to guns. There are the incarcerated, the lone wolves, and the mentally ill. There are libertarians, antiglobalizers, environmentalists, Occupy and Tea Party activists, constitutional oath-keepers and survivalists, hackers and copyright stealers, the antiwar and the antigovernment. There are those who are just evil and those who are macabre attention seekers. Those are those who don’t pay taxes, who want to keep their guns, who insist on living off the grid, who won’t vaccinate their children, who don’t want their library cards scrutinized or their internet activity tracked, or who insist on drinking unpasteurized milk. Precisely because constitutionally no one group can be targeted as such, government attention has to be equally applied to everyone, everyone potentially and equally a threat, a vast universe of potential dots, enemies of the state being not only those who take up arms or perform treasonous acts, but also those who insist on preserving ungoverned space in the ubiquitous martial landscape, where at home is already assumed to be over there, and over there, right here at home.”

Detailed case studies of the steady progression of military expansion into our everyday lives through our governments (local, state, and federal) are provided from the Revolutionary War up to 911, Hurricane Katrina, and Sandy Hook. Any type of civilian or natural disruption is immediately deemed to be the venue for military maneuver as precedents are set and local control is superseded. Citizens are increasingly required to be registered, licensed, and screened to simply volunteer their help or services in an emergency.

The uncorrected advance proof copy I received in a Goodreads giveaway is actually 233 pages long, with an additional 112 pages of notes. It is concretely dense, not in size or weight, but in content. I really wasn’t prepared for that, going into it with the idea that it was just another one of those books I could flip through but the facts presented pulled me in.

There were times however that it was just too too much. The most painful example is the use of extremely long sentences filled with numerous acronym-toting factual examples that were separated into thoughts with the profuse use of semicolons. It left me too often with crossed eyes. I won’t bother with an example because I swear, I marked off a hundred quotations to provide but I think I’ll scrap them as it would be too ironic to make this review as long and packed with details and examples as this book is. Suffice it to say, Arkin leaves nothing uncited or unsourced. His facts are as hard-hitting and surprising as his sources are varied and believable.

There is nothing conspiratorial in “American Coup.” No one is blamed. He doesn’t point at individuals who are setting out to take away your rights. He sees it as all being done with fair intentions. It is a “process” underway, a system that is perpetually growing. The military describes it understatedly as “mission creep.”

The author is a serious and respected expert, especially among the people he reports on; he was one of them. The only thing that is shadowy in this book is the offering of any solution to what is occurring/has occurred. It’s my belief that this is because there is no solution. Arkin vaguely alludes to an effort at understanding Constitutional intents and ideas but at this point, I think he, like most Americans, lives with a cognitive dissonance. It’s apparent he’s well-steeped in history and I’d think he’s smart enough to know there’s no turning back. Power doesn’t relinquish itself so easily. This book is best served as a “record” of what happened.

13 Ways: Illustrated Stories - td Whittle,  Sandra Peterson Ramirez Caution, this review contains high praise.

Wonderful.

Two authors with two completely different styles collaborate to make one terrific and imaginative book. Beginning with a single photo, they explore every style from sci-fi to grit to comic; and while the stories are thoughtful and poignant in their right, what makes the whole collection so unique is that it's accomplished in a refreshingly (revolutionary?) "traditional" manner: through creativity and strong characters. There is no "experimenting" evident here as each of the authors arrives with a confident and experienced voice to tell you a great story.

A few of the stories had me laughing out loud and one of them had me wiping a tear from my cheek (of course, that may be because I'm such a sensitive guy...). And without hyperbole, I could have easily mistaken "Someone Like You" for a Vonnegut tale recently found tucked in the back of a desk somewhere (minus the cynicism).

This is how you write short stories. I am a better reader and a better writer for having read it.
13 Ways: Illustrated Stories - td Whittle,  Sandra Peterson Ramirez Caution, this review contains high praise.

Wonderful.

Two authors with two completely different styles collaborate to make one terrific and imaginative book. Beginning with a single photo, they explore every style from sci-fi to grit to comic; and while the stories are thoughtful and poignant in their right, what makes the whole collection so unique is that it's accomplished in a refreshingly (revolutionary?) "traditional" manner: through creativity and strong characters. There is no "experimenting" evident here as each of the authors arrives with a confident and experienced voice to tell you a great story.

A few of the stories had me laughing out loud and one of them had me wiping a tear from my cheek (of course, that may be because I'm such a sensitive guy...). And without hyperbole, I could have easily mistaken "Someone Like You" for a Vonnegut tale recently found tucked in the back of a desk somewhere (minus the cynicism).

This is how you write short stories. I am a better reader and a better writer for having read it.
The Magus - John Fowles Going to have to call this one "unfinished" and part ways with it. Found it much too wordy and with so many pages to go I was depressing myself with the effort I had to put into trying to forge on.
Lumen Fidei: Enciclica sulla Fede - Pope Francis,  Rino Fisichella The most intelligent and clear encyclical I've seen come from Rome... in my lifetime? Though we will not likely know exactly how much was written by Pope Benedict XVI, my estimate is 80% of it, the contrast is that unsurprisingly stark in thought and style. Without consciously looking for it, I suddenly found myself sensing a different tone and went back to look at several areas to find the sudden shift. Maybe not so noticeable to other readers but being a fan of the writing style of Joseph Ratzinger, I noticed. Concise and can be found online here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html
Lumen Fidei: Enciclica sulla Fede - Pope Francis,  Rino Fisichella The most intelligent and clear encyclical I've seen come from Rome... in my lifetime? Though we will not likely know exactly how much was written by Pope Benedict XVI, my estimate is 80% of it, the contrast is that unsurprisingly stark in thought and style. Without consciously looking for it, I suddenly found myself sensing a different tone and went back to look at several areas to find the sudden shift. Maybe not so noticeable to other readers but being a fan of the writing style of Joseph Ratzinger, I noticed. Concise and can be found online here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20130629_enciclica-lumen-fidei_en.html
Roadside Picnic - Boris Strugatsky, Arkady Strugatsky I'd previously tried watching "Stalker," the movie that was loosely based upon "Roadside Picnic" but quit it about 15 minutes in, the Soviet stylings and sensibilities still too bleak for my psyche. The only reason I did get to reading the actual book is because I recently learned that many fans considered it to be the inspiration for the SyFy miniseries, "The Lost Room" of which I am a devotee of epically-geek status.

I often read copious amounts of reviews and spoilers before I decide to delve into something out of my normal comfort zones but none of what I read prepared me for the interesting and fun writing style of the Strugatsky brothers. How the brothers developed an almost "noir" style in the mid 20th century Soviet Union is beyond me but it is evident nonetheless and parts could be easily mistaken for a Raymond Chandler novel.

The title of the book is derived from a proposed theory (within the story) on what the nature of the "zones" is, zones that contain objects with strange properties, seeming evidence of an extraterrestrial "visitation":

"...What do you think about the Visitation?"

"My pleasure. Imagine a picnic."

Noonan shuddered.

"What did you say?"

"A picnic. Picture a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car drives off the country road into the meadow, a group of young people get out of the car carrying bottles, baskets of food, transistor radios, and cameras. They light fires, pitch tents, turn on the music. In the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that watched in horror through the long night creep out from their hiding places. And what do they see? Gas and oil spilled on the grass. Old spark plugs and old filters strewn around. Rags, burnt-out bulbs, and a monkey wrench left behind. Oil slicks on the pond. And of course, the usual mess -- apple cores, candy wrappers, charred remains of the campfire, cans, bottles, somebody’s handkerchief, somebody’s penknife, torn newspapers, coins, faded flowers picked in another meadow."

"I see. A roadside picnic."

"Precisely. A roadside picnic, on some road in the cosmos. And you ask if they will come back."


But without going on to add any spoilers here, I'll just remark what a GREAT read this was. One of the best pieces of Science Fiction I've ever read, hence the newly rare 5 star rating. It's very short and can be found online free here: http://thomas-hersey.wiki.uml.edu/file/view/Roadside%2BPicnic.pdf

I promise on my Goodreads good name that anyone who reads it won't regret it. :)
Cloudstreet - Tim Winton I really had to waffle around in considering how to rate this. There's really some of the best gritty, realistic and poetic writing I've ever read interspersed with some moments of ham-fisted "wise-dickery" (to use Winton's own word). I had to put the book aside three times when I first started it but once I really got into it, I couldn't put it down. Soon though, as it progressed, I gradually lost interest and found myself crawling to the finish line. I never developed anything more than a cursory care for what should be very interesting characters. And this is the reason I'm giving it 3 stars. It's the "anti-Willa Cather" novel in the sense that Cather was able to tell an epic and dramatic story of a people that took place over decades and generations (like in O Pioneers!) yet still left you feeling as if you'd breezed through a slim short story. You wanted more. Cloudstreet was 400+ pages but felt more like 800 as it became mired in its own grit and finishing it was like freeing myself from quicksand.
The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle - Jocelyn  Murray I bought this for my 12 year old daughter as an alternative to the dystopian fiction that kids seem hooked on these days and when she took a break, I grabbed it and started reading it myself. What a great surprise! I occasionally read historical fiction so am familiar with the genre (and this is all based on a remarkable true story), but I never remotely thought I'd get pulled into this like I did. Murray is a very talented writer and story-teller and I'm again jealous of another author. If there indeed were punctuation and grammar issues when the book was first offered as one reviewer complains of, they have since been fixed, I noticed none.

The plot is simple: Anna, a bright and curious 15 year old, discovers an old mirror in her grandmother's house and magically steps into 1643, smack in the middle of the English Civil War. In the ensuing adventure she begins to learn the meaning of courage. Murray doesn't spend time explaining how or why this happens, but gets right into the telling of the story.

The first half of the book is very descriptive, thoroughly fleshing out the environment of 17th century English castle-life. Foods, clothes, customs, the darkness of the nights without electric lights, the quietness of the days without planes and cars, and all the little things that might not occur to you at first thought are explained in thoughtful detail:

Anna looked out over the landscape. It rose and dipped for miles, rugged and rocky, then soft and velvety as the meadows blended into the craggy heath. It was hard to believe that something so pretty had been witness to something so ugly. But then she remembered the spider and the butterfly they had just passed moments before...

Around the mid-point of the book, the excitement begins, and Anna is pulled into the conflict as she tries to find her role while helping her "cousin" Elizabeth defend the castle from a besieging army. There is excitement, trickery, humor, doubt, and fear and a poignant moment when she comes face to face with the evils of war as she struggled for her very life:

Tossing hot embers was just as difficult when Anna watched in shock as several of the enemy caught fire. One of them had reached the top of the wall, his roughly gloved hands grasping the battlements. His helmet must have fallen off in the climb. Stepping back briefly in surprise, she grabbed one of the embers with her gloved hands and threw it in his face. He ducked a moment so that the smoldering piece glanced off his head. One spark was all it took for his hair to ignite. For a moment Anna could do nothing but stare in horror as his hair caught fire and burned wildly. The pungent smell of scorched hair and flesh was revolting, but she still could not avert her eyes as she watched in morbid fascination, the flames engulfing his face like a malevolent halo crowning a god of the underworld. Then their eyes locked in an excruciating moment that Anna would never forget as long as she lived. In the depths of those liquid orbs, wild with panic and fear, Anna saw the awareness of his mortality flash before him, and the vain grasping at a life that was fast slipping away. He stared into her eyes, pleading for something, but what? And as the fire consumed him, he lost his grasp and footing, and a blood-curdling scream escaped him as he plunged to his death below.

And as the story progresses to its finish, Murray inserts some fine examples of insightful and touching writing:

"Time stops when one is ill. Gravely ill." Anna told her. She was remembering a time when she had been sick with rheumatic fever as a young child. Her joints had been so inflamed she could not even walk to the bathroom. Her father had to carry her. The pain was a blur now, but time seemed to have stopped then. Pain and illness have a way of pulling you out of time's current and leaving you momentarily by the wayside. Your world shrinks to a string of moments, held together by an acute awareness of nothing, save your own overwhelming predicament.

The Gilded Mirror: Corfe Castle is a surprise gem, a clean and healthy well-written alternative to what's commonly offered to teens (and adults!) these days. Murray obviously loves her subject and is as good a writer of historical fiction as is out there.
Democracy--The God That Failed: The Economics and Politics of Monarchy, Democracy, and Natural Order - Hans-Hermann Hoppe A clear and honest but overly repetitive argument in favor of an anarcho-capitalist system rooted in pure libertarianism. I find little to argue with in its criticism of the past 200 years of social and political "de-civilization" however I find two faults with the book:

Firstly, footnotes. Literally, half of the book is comprised of small-font footnotes; footnotes not simply citing a source, but footnotes including voluminous paragraphs from the source. Some pages are comprised of nothing but footnotes. If the information contained was so important to the work, why not simply work it into the text rather than relegate it to a secondary status? My guess is because it is easier to quote others than it is to incorporate other's ideas into one's own words. I've noticed over the years that this footnote disease is especially prevalent among "traditionalist" writers. Why?

The second fault stems from the content of the footnotes and it's tempting to say you may just as well skip Hoppe and go straight to his sources. Find a primer on Austrian economics by von Mises, another by Rothbard, two books by de Jouvenel: Soveriegnty and On Power, and Fuller's The Conduct of War, and you will have the "proof" of every criticism he lays out. Much of the "original" thinking he provides seems like so much cheerleading in its denunciation of what are already obvious ills of today's world.

Still, the arguments against centralized public government in the book are coherent and logical and important. But in the end, they are unlikely to be anything more than ideals to be preserved for a future more amenable to privacy.
The Firebugs: A Morality Without a Moral - Max Frisch, Michael Bullock Possibly more appropriate and timely today than when it was originally written, post WWII.

A joke is a good camouflage. Next best comes sentiment... But the best camouflage of all - in my opinion - is the plain and simple truth. Because nobody ever believes it.
Sarrasine (Le Livre de Poche) (French Edition) - Honore De Balzac A lot going in this packed little read that begins slowly and builds to an exciting and dramatic crescendo. In brief, a layered story of Sarrasine, a man grown bored with life until he happens across the opera singer Zambinella. Passion and infatuation follow but things (predictably) aren't always what they seem...

“‘La Zambinella!’ echoed the Roman prince. ‘Are you jesting? Whence have you come? Did a woman ever appear in a Roman theatre? And do you not know what sort of creatures play female parts within the domains of the Pope? It was I, monsieur, who endowed Zambinella with his voice. . . . .’

Hmmm...

The Law - Frédéric Bastiat Very short, simple, and logical assertion of what "law" is and what "law" is for. Questions of the desirability of unlimited liberty aside, as the essay progresses I think it suffers from an uneven tone and it strays from its simplicity, expanding into lecture on Sparta, Paraguay, and other topics. Perhaps his unveiling of the socialist motives of his colleagues in the chaotic French legislature of 1848 were easier to receive in contemporary ears than in ones of present day, though his passion is still relatable.

One of the more powerful paragraphs from the pamphlet:

No society can exist unless the laws are respected to a certain degree, but the safest way to make them respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality are in contradiction to each other, the citizen finds himself in the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense, or of losing his respect for the law—two evils of equal magnitude, between which it would be difficult to choose. It is so much in the nature of law to support justice that in the minds of the masses they are one and the same. There is in all of us a strong disposition to regard what is lawful as legitimate, so much so that many falsely derive all justice from law.
Nature - Ralph Waldo Emerson Not quite as captivating as other essays.
The Soul of Man under Socialism - Oscar Wilde Important: Wilde was not a philosopher but a writer and no one should be taking his "proposals" here too seriously.

I agree with other reviewers that his remarks on the excesses of capitalism are fair and his anarcho-libertarian/socialist dreams can even be alluring for certain people. But I also agree with another reviewer here that it's perplexing to decipher just how much of his essay is actually tongue-in-cheek and how much is serious proposal. Even Wilde once said, "I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying."

Wilde was an excellent observer of man's behavior but he formed his own philosophy based upon a strange (to me) Christian antinomianism of ironic contradictions, situational ethics, personal interpretation, and the setting up of straw men based upon obviously limited understandings. And his unique view of Christ as "individual" and "artist" really make no sense to me as the reason that people follow or listen to Christ in the first place is not because he was man but because he was God, no?

Regardless, I think it works better in his later De Profundis as he matured through physical/emotional/mental trial because he is only coming to terms with his own individual sufferings there rather than making the decision to come to terms with and try to solve mankind's here. Utopia is fool's gold and oppressor is only followed by oppressor. The nature of man on his own (and of politics and nearly everything else) is to excess, good intentions be damned.

I won't add direct quotes from the piece here to make the points, other reviewers have done a fine enough job of assembling them already. But throughout the entire essay, it is unmistakably pure Wilde in personality and wit and it is still enjoyable to read, hence the three stars. He was a literary genius and the fearless criticism of society that he unleashed in his short life shines strongly in the prose here. He is right in pointing out things that are wrong in the world but that fact doesn't lead to him being correct about what is right.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald Finally got to it. I see now and agree: one of the best novels ever written.