Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Review: American Power And The New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky [1969]

Book Review: American Power And The New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky [1969]

I decided to download a torrent of Noam Chomsky books because I had been hearing his name mentioned in the political conversations of authors and artists whose work I respect and admire.
I was mostly inspired by the episode of The Green Room with Paul Provenza with Richard Belzer, Janeane Garofalo, Dave Attell, Doug Stanhope and Glen Wool.
During the episode, Doug Stanhope confronted Janeane Garofalo with an anecdote about attending her first show after 9/11 where he remembered Janeane saying that “Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn should just shut up.”
Janeane, understandably took umbrage to the anecdote and conflict ensued.
To diffuse the tension, Dave Attell said, “What’s going on with this program it’s been over a minute since someone said Noam Chomsky. How are we going to make the cover of Yawn Monthly?”
I’ve watched the two seasons of The Green Room over and over again because they’re nice light viewing to throw on in the background while you’re doing something else.
So, from my love of stand-up comedy and the comedians that do it, the name Noam Chomsky finally stuck in my brain.
I searched The Pirate Bay for Noam Chomsky and found a torrent for 60 of his books.
There was also a torrent of 26 audio books which I am downloading as I type this.
I went for the PDF collection first because I’m always fighting for space on the hard drive on my laptop, and 983.69 Megs was significantly less space than 5 Gigs.
But I have an external drive where I archive stuff that I’m not actively using and having read my first Noam Chomsky book, I decided that the audio books were worth the time and effort and disk space to download.
Also, for those of you that prefer videos, you can watch the documentary Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media here:

The PDF archive contained the following titles:
[1969] American Power And The New Mandarins
[1970] Anarchism - From Theory To Practice-With An Introduction By Noam Chomsky (Daniel Guérin)
[1972] The Pentagon Papers - Volume 5 - Critical Essays (Various Authors)
[1973] Counter-Revolutionary Violence - Bloodbaths In Fact And Propaganda
[1979] After The Cataclysm - Postwar Indochina & The Reconstruction Of Imperial Ideology (with Edward S. Herman)
[1985] Turning The Tide - U.S. Intervention In Central America And The Struggle For Peace
[1987] On Power And Ideology - The Managua Lectures
[1987] The Chomsky Reader
[1988] Manufacturing Consent - The Political Economy Of The Mass Media (with Edward S. Herman)
[1988] The Culture Of Terrorism
[1989] Necessary Illusions - Thought Control In Democratic Societies
[1991] Deterring Democracy
[1991] Terrorizing The Neighborhood - American Foreign Policy In The Post-Cold War Era
[1992] Chronicles Of Dissent - Noam Chomsky In Conversation 1984-1991 - Interviewed By David Barsamian
[1992] Stenographers To Power - Media & Propaganda - Interviews By David Barsamian (Noam Chomsky, etc.)
[1992] What Uncle Sam Really Wants
[1993] Rethinking Camelot - JFK, The Vietnam War, And U.S. Political Culture
[1993] The Prosperous Few And The Restless Many
[1993] Year 501 - The Conquest Continues
[1994] Keeping The Rabble In Line - Interviews With David Barsamian
[1994] Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky And The Media -The Companion Book To The Award-Winning Film
[1994] Secrets, Lies And Democracy - Interviewed By David Barsamian
[1994] World Orders, Old And New
[1996] Powers & Prospects - Reflections On Human Nature And The Social Order
[1997, 2002] Media Control - The Spectacular Achievements Of Propaganda
[1997] Class Warfare - Interviews With David Barsamian
[1997] The Cold War & The University - Toward An Intellectual History Of The Postwar Years (Various Authors)
[1998] Talking About A Revolution - Interviews With Noam Chomsky, etc.
[1998] The Common Good - Interviewed By David Barsamian
[1999]  The New Military Humanism - Lessons From Kosovo
[1999] Fateful Triangle - The United States, Israel & The Palestinians
[1999] Profit Over People - Neoliberalism And Global Order
[2000] A New Generation Draws The Line - Kosovo, East Timor And The Standards Of The West
[2000] Rogue States - The Rule Of Force In World Affairs
[2001] 9-11
[2001] Propaganda And The Public Mind - Conversations With Noam Chomsky-Interviews By David Barsamian
[2001] You Are Being Lied To (Various Authors)
[2002] Pirates And Emperors, Old And New - International Terrorism In The Real World
[2002] Understanding Power - The Indispensable Chomsky
[2003] Hegemony Or Survival - America's Quest For Global Dominance
[2003] Middle East Illusions
[2003] Power And Terror - Post-9-11 Talks And Interviews
[2005] Conversations On The Edge Of The Apocalypse - Contemplating The Future With Noam Chomsky, etc.
[2005] Government In The Future
[2005] Imperial Ambitions - Conversations With Noam Chomsky On The Post-9-11 World-Interviews With David Barsamian
[2005] The Kurds In Turkey - EU Accession And Human Rights (Kerim Yildiz-Foreword By Noam Chomsky)
[2006] Failed States - The Abuse Of Power And The Assault On Democracy
[2006] The Chomsky-Foucault Debate - On Human Nature
[2007] Interventions
[2007] What We Say Goes - Conversations On U.S. Power In A Changing World-With David Barsamian
[2008] The Essential Chomsky
[2010] Gaza In Crisis - Reflections On Israel's War Against The Palestinians (with Ilan Pappé)
[2010] Hopes And Prospects
[2011] How The World Works - Interviewed By David Barsamian
[2012] Making The Future - Occupations, Interventions, Empire And Resistance
[2012] Occupy
[2013] Nuclear War And Environmental Catastrophe (with Laray Polk)
[2013] On Anarchism
[2013] On Western Terrorism - From Hiroshima To Drone Warfare (with Andre Vltchek)
[2013] Power Systems - Conversations On Global Democratic Uprisings And The New Challenges To U.S. Empire-Interviews With David Barsamian

I decided to dive right in and start from the beginning and approach the titles chronologically which is how I found myself reading American Power And The New Mandarins [1969].
You may be wondering why I'm reading/reviewing a book from almost six decades ago.
As George Santayan said, "
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I have always found history interesting, but the immensity of human history that precedes my existence has always been intimidating.
It’s difficult to wrap your mind around history as it is difficult to define.
In theory, either an event occurred or it did not occur.
In school, history is presented in textbooks which are filtered through the bas of the authors and editors and publishers of the history books.
As an American, I was taught that the “founding fathers” were worthy of worship and communism is evil.
Questioning the history as given was not encouraged.
I remember when I was in college, I was asked to write a paper on a historical revolution.
I decided to take the approach that many revolutions are inspired by similar situations, like unequal distribution of wealth and resources and the centralization and exclusion of political power.
I got a D.
I ended up dropping the class because I knew that what I felt was true, even if I didn’t have the maturity and wisdom to justify my position, and I was of the opinion that although the professor might know a fair amount about history, she might also be an idiot, the two not being mutually exclusive.

American Power And The New Mandarins contains an Introduction, Eight Essays, and an Epilogue and focuses on the Vietnam War.
The essays, which provide what was probably a very unpopular perspective, are still well worth reading, especially concerning the details of the conflict that have surfaced since the book was published.
See: The Gulf Of Tonkin Incident
While reading this book, I found it difficult to not read it as an analogy of our current activities in the "middle east".
All you have to do is replace “communism” with “muslim extremism” and “Vietnam” with “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” or whatever country we’re currently occupying.
When we “began” our conflict in the “middle east” in 1992, I was fourteen, in eighth grade, and I felt an intuitive opposition to the American military invading a foreign country.
I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand or explain this intuitive opposition, but I expressed my opposition when the opportunity presented itself.
As I aged, I continued to read and watch and learn and twenty-four years later the American military continues to occupy and engage in violence in the “middle east”.
The discretionary budget of the United States for 2015 was 1.1 Trillion.

Of that 1.1 Trillion, 598.49 Billion was spent on the Military.

The cost of the war in the middle east is estimated at between $400 Billion and $1 Trillion, or even as much as between $4 Trillion and $6 Trillion.

I am of the opinion that this expenditure would have been better spent on developing our domestic infrastructure and paying down the national debt.
But since this is supposed to be a book review and not an op ed piece, I will refrain from further digression.

Some of the selections from American Power And The New Mandarins that I found of particular interest are as follows:
“The underlying assumption is that the United States does have a warrant "to take upon itself to prescribe what shall be the terms and conditions of a 'new order' in areas not under its sovereignty and to constitute itself the repository of authority and the agent of destiny in regard thereto."
“Every competent observer has pointed out that "the war in South Vietnam has been between the large, professionally trained army of an unpopular government and the amateur military wing of a strong, nationalistically based political movement in which the Communists have formed the spearhead"
And, lastly, and of enduring interest is the following:
“We can ask whose "interest" is served by 100,000 casualties and 100 billion dollars expended in the attempt to subjugate a small country halfway around the world.”

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Review: Beneath Contempt And Happy To Be There – The Fighting Life Of Porn King Al Goldstein by Jack Stevenson [2011 Headpress]

Book Review: Beneath Contempt And Happy To Be There – The Fighting Life Of Porn King Al Goldstein by Jack Stevenson [2011 Headpress]

I bought a tablet to read books while at work.
I had the kind of job where staying awake all night was part of the job description, but having a laptop open was kind of prohibitive.
I bought a 64 Gig chip so I could load it up with books and plug it into the tablet so I’d have books to read.
I’m not entirely against services like Kindle and cloud storage, but I like to have my own copies of the files I’m reading so I can manipulate them if I so desire.
I downloaded around 2,200 books from authors that I knew I liked.

Here’s a screenshot of my list of authors in case you were interested in knowing the kind of authors and content I’m interested in.

In addition to wanting what I knew I liked, I also wanted to browse around and see if there was anything available I might be interested in.
It’s tough to find the kind of books I’m interested in reading because when you try to browse e-books, the most popular search results are self-improvement, cookbooks, and textbooks and training manuals.
Not that I’m not interested in learning a foreign language.
I’m glad that the resources are available on the relatively open internet, but the most popular books don’t make for fun reading.

Clicking past the first few dozen pages, I started to find and download things I might be interested in checking out someday.
Beneath Contempt And Happy To Be There  – The Fighting Life Of Porn King Al Goldstein by Jack Stevenson was one of those books.

First and foremost, it’s a solid book, but not very well written.
A good editor would have been able to shave off a few thousand unnecessary words and make a tighter book and a better read.
The basic chronological biographical narrative form is adhered to, but the prose is full of pathos and bathos and unnecessary hyperbole.
For example, “(…) Death sank faster than a corpse with cement overshoes.”
“He was as American as apple pie and ambulance chasing lawyers…” and “His paperwork was wending its way through the system…” are clumsy usage of figures of speech.
And I’m pretty sure “Al grabbed a handful of cigars and rushed to the frontline to meet them.” and “At his peak cabbies, waiters, construction workers, window cleaners and garbage men hanging from the sides of sanitation trucks shouted in jubilation when they saw him passing in the streets.” are exaggerations at best.
Questionable language choices aside, the book kept my attention until the last arc when Al lost everything and was homeless in Manhattan.
The author laid the pathos on too thickly and I skimmed through to the end of the book.
The story itself was interesting to me as someone that has started a few of his own businesses and the pictures from the “golden” age of pornography and New York’s 42nd Street

Although not a great example of contemporary American literature, it helped a boring work shift to go by a little faster and if it’s the kind f thing you’re interested in, it’s worth picking up and checking out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (2006)

BOOK REVIEW: Lisey's Story by Stephen King (2006)

I didn't expect to enjoy reading this.
I was a long-time fan of King from the first time I started reading his books beginning with It (1986) in fifth grade.
I remember being young to ask the librarian if I could borrow books from the adult shelves.
Up till then I had been restricted to browsing the "Children's" room and the proportionately smaller section designated for "Young Adults".
Spinning metal racks with one or two copies of Tolkien and dozens of his bastard children.
Piers Anthony, R. A. Salvatore, Philip Jose Farmer, and any number of Sword & Sorcery style fantasy novels with dragons on the cover.
I remember the librarian appraising me with her learned eye and saying, "Okay... but you can only get two.  We'll try you out on two and see how you do with those.  If you take care of them and bring them back when they're due, we'll think about letting you take some more out."
In my hometown library, kids weren't even really allowed into the adult section.
It wasn't fenced off, but the circulation desk was right in front of the entrance.
The Children's Room was to the left, Young Adult and Periodicals in the area in front of the Circulation Desk and the Adult shelves were to the right.
If you were a kid, you were directed to the Children's Room lest you annoy the adults.
Asking and being allowed to enter the Adult section was like opening the door to a whole new world.
I had read almost the entire Children's Room and in the Adult section were ten times as many books.
I remember going to the horror section because I had enjoyed what I had read by Edgar Allan Poe, which was about as hard horror was allowed to get those days in the Young Adult section.
You have to remember this was at least a decade before the Goosebumps series started showing up.
I remember thinking that if I could only get two books, I’d better make them last.
I picked a thick book about the Mary Celeste, and Stephen King’s It.
My uncle Jim was a fan of horror movies and would let me watch whatever I wanted from his VHS collection as long as I promised I could handle it.
Of course I always promised, and I was allowed to watch wildly age inappropriate movies for a ten year old.
The Friday the 13th series, The Nightmare On Elm Street, and several of the film adaptations of Stephen King books.
Which ones specifically I can’t remember, but I remember Christine and Carrie at least and WPIX out of New York would show Cat’s Eye on regular rotation.
The book about the Mary Celeste was non-fiction.
There’s not a lot of non-fiction in the Children’s section, mostly books about animals written like Dick & Jane books.
Not knowing what a non-fiction book was, I was waiting for the story to kick in, and when it didn’t kick in after about fifty pages, I gave up on it being interesting.
That wasn’t a problem with It.
The first twenty or so pages of It are practically perfect.
A lyrical, poetic, hypnotizing, blend of plain words and plain talk used to draw the reader deeper and deeper into the story until poor  little Georgie Denbrough disappears down the storm drain forever and ever.
It’s not just because I was ten and reading my first adult book.
A few years back I stopped at a friend’s house and I was too tired to interact so I asked if I could take a nap on their floor.
Despite the fact that I was exhausted I couldn’t fall asleep.  They had a bookshelf with a hardcover copy of It so I picked it up intending to read a couple pages until I got sleepy and I ended up reading all the way until Georgie disappears down into the sewers without realizing I had read twenty pages.
That’s the power that King has when he’s at the top of his game.
Books that feel like cinder blocks but read like falling in love.
I haven’t enjoyed everything I’ve read by Stephen King.
For a while, it was like finding a bottomless well of wonder.
Carrie, Cujo, Christine, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, The Stand and his short story collections.
When I was a teen, I found the relatively new The Gunslinger and wondered, “Man, what can’t this guy do?”
But eventually my reading lapped his writing and I ran out of books by King I hadn’t read and I found other authors to read.
Clive Barker first and foremost with a solid reference from the King himself.
Later on down the road, Dolores Claiborne through Dreamcatcher, the books just didn’t have the same magic for me.
I’m not saying that they’re not good books and well worth reading.
I’m just saying that they didn’t work for me.
I started Cell expecting to be disappointed, and was blown away by the first hundred or so pages, but he lost me with the whole talking zombies thing.
I didn’t like Doctor Sleep.
Thought it was an interesting idea that had been poorly executed.
Read Joyland last week and appreciated it for what I was, but if it hadn’t been Stephen King brand, Good Housekeeping approved, I wouldn’t have thought much of it.
And I can imagine King chuckling and saying, “Fuck you too, buddy!”
And he’d be right to say so.
It’s just my opinion and I can cram it back in my ass with all of my other unwanted opinions.
But I want a book that, to paraphrase King’s UK documentary on horror movies, “The kind of (book) that makes you forget to make dinner. So when your husband comes home, you have to say ‘Sorry, honey.  We’re going to have to order take-out tonight because I got caught up in this book I was reading.’ ”
Having played with the words and wrestled with the muse a bit myself I’m not looking to just read another book.
I’m looking to read the best books.
Books that are so good that they inspire me to try to step up my own game.
Sure, you could go to the library and start at one end and read your way through to the other, but you’d have to be a book masochist to want to because you’re going to read a lot of bad books.
The best books are tough to find in these modern times of self-published free-for-all.
I agree that the power of production should be in the hands of the people, but without experienced editors functioning as aesthetic gate-keepers, everyone knows someone that wrote a book.
I’ve been published by a legacy publisher and published my own books.
I wasn’t unhappy with being represented by a publisher and when I had a good book that I couldn’t get any publisher to even look at, I published it myself and wasn’t disappointed with the bigger piece of the pie I kept for my work.
The reason I even mention that is because I’m imaginary friends with a lot of independent authors.
Every day I get a couple friend requests from people that have a decent amount of friends in common and if their profile picture or cover picture is the cover of their latest book I assume that they’re not really looking to make friends but to build their fanbase and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Since I review books, when they’re trying to promote their new book I tell them that if they send me a PDF to check out if I can think of anything nice to say I’ll do a review.
Usually I don’t end up doing a review.
I get maybe twenty, twenty-five pages in and I’m overwhelmed by stylistic flaws in plot, theme, or writing style that a judicious editor could have addressed if given a chance, and I have to give up before finishing the book becomes a grudge match.
It’s not that they’re bad people.
I mean, there’s a few raging assholes in the bunch, but pricks can write decent books sometimes.
Lovecraft and Bukowski weren’t exemplary human beings but I enjoy reading their work anyway.
It’s not that they’re bad people, but they’re nice people that accidentally wrote bad books and didn’t have anyone looking over their shoulder to say, “Do you really think third-person omniscient flashback is the right perspective from which to tell this story?”
For a while there, it seemed like the King brand was so strong that there wasn’t anyone that had the power to tell the emperor that he might have been a bit under-dressed.
I don’t think that an author owes his fans anything.
If you like a book, then bully for you.
King could walk away from his brand and write nothing but Danielle Steele fan fiction for the rest of his life and readers can read it or not.
But when an author establishes a style, it can be disorienting when the author experiments in a different style.
I started reading Lisey’s Story not knowing what kind of book it was going to be.
Was it going to be an earth-shaker like his early novels, or a self-indulgent oroboros, or a self-cannibalizing recycling of themes and characters from his earlier work?
The book starts off with the widow of a writer.
Long-time readers of King know that a book with the author as a central character, or in this case, the widow of the author, can go either way.
Lisey’s Story captures some of that magic that King’s earlier work had.
The long lyrical passages and strategic use of plain talk that defined the early work in his brand.
After about fifty pages, I started to get bored of Lisey and her sisters and their chicken-pecking-order squabbling, but each time I sighed I told myself, “Just a few more pages…” and even King’s more disappointing work has the quality that keeps you promising yourself “Just a few more pages…” until you find yourself at the end and wondering how you just read a thousand page book that you almost gave up on every fifty pages or so.
At least that’s what it was like reading 11/22/63.
I almost threw my hands up and gave up when I got to the “Let’s put on a show!” part that ended with a big musical number and an honest-to-God pie fight.
While I was reading Lisey’s Story I was reminded of when I took on the novels of D. H. Lawrence.
Not Lady Chatterly’s Lover, which, in addition to being his best known title is also a relatively brisk read, but his dense brick book trilogy Women In Love, Sons & Lovers, and The Rainbow.
I picked them up on the recommendation of Henry Miller and any number of other authors whose works I had enjoyed.
Reading D. H. Lawrence is an odd experience because there are eighty page blocks of boring procedural writing about the average everyday lives of coal-miners and housemaids and just when you think you’re going to fall asleep or give up on the book there’s a paragraph that blows the top off your head you have to read three times to make sure that you read what you read and that’s what keeps you going for the next long boring block of eighty pages about babies on the floor and fires in fireplaces until another magical paragraph that fucks you up.
I was thinking about this comparison when I got to Page 170 of the PDF of Lisey's Story I was reading and there it was:
Part 2: Sowisa
"She turned, and saw a great white moon looking at her over the hill. And her breast opened to it, she was cleaved like a transparent jewel to its light. She stood filled with the full moon, offering herself. Her two breasts opened to make way for it, her body opened wide like a quivering anemone, a soft, dilated invitation touched by the moon."
—D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow
There it was.
King, that wily trickster had decided to write a contemporary homage to D. H. Lawrence in his own style, setting the stage with his own tropes and northern Maine idiosyncrasies and he did it so well that, having read the work of D. H. Lawrence, I was subconsciously reminded of the work of D. H. Lawrence.
Not that I expect King to ever read this self-indulgent review, but allow me to say, “Bravo, you talented bastard.  You tricked me, and I don’t trick easy.”

Friday, September 18, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Kai by Derek Vasconi

Review of Kai by Derek Vasconi (2016)

I was hesitant to begin this book based on the description.
Coming of age stories about young girls are usually not my area of interest.
But the author was persistent in their inquiries and willing to send me a paperback advance review copy.
Usually if anyone is determined enough to actually send me a paperback, once I get it in my hands I’m fairly consistent about getting the book read.
I warned the author that if I couldn’t think of anything nice to say about the book, I wouldn’t post a review, which is my general policy.
If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything.
I’d rather promote the things I like instead of wasting time trashing things I don’t like.
I still do a fair amount of trash talking about things I don’t like, but I try to maintain a higher caliber of critical standards for this little book review blog.
Before I started reading the book, I flipped through it and was pleased to find that there were a few splash page intermissions tucked in between the text.
I like it when a book designer makes the extra effort to use design to make the experience of reading a book a little more immersive when done well, and I think this book does it well.
The use of title/author headers, icons as paragraph breaks, and watermarking is reserved and tasteful and does not distract from the main text.

I admit that I’m a bit of a Japanophile, having read a few manga series and watched several dozen anime.  I’m also a big fan of Japanese directors of samurai movies and Japanese horror movies.
Not so much of a fan that I would consider myself an expert, but more interested than your average consumer of modern media.
My interest has never been serious enough that I studied the language so that I could understand the media without translation or subtitles, but I can usually understand what’s happening and know a few words when I hear them.
The author uses two or three Japanese terms a page in the first fifty or so pages, but is kind enough to provide footnotes providing short definitions of the terms which is not as intrusive as it might sound and I appreciated as a reader that is not as familiar with Japanese terms as they would like to be.

As for the main story, I admit that my initial suspicion was correct.
I am not the target audience for a novel about two Asian girls a world apart with some sort of supernatural connection.
Although I admit that I enjoyed playing both of the Fatal Frame video games, in which you play as a young Japanese girl trying to survive solving a mystery with a magic ghost-capturing camera, the experience of playing as a young girl didn’t imprint itself upon me so much that I followed the Japanese Lolita/schoolgirl fetish further down the rabbit hole and started getting into Sailor Moon.
I do admit that I watched a couple of the Eko Eko Azarak movies, but I think that’s different enough to excuse without admitting to a Japanese schoolgirl fetish.
Despite being able to acknowledge that I am not the ideal target audience for this book, I can objectively recognize the quality of the writing and editing.
A fair amount of time and effort was put into writing this book and it shows.
Aside from some minor usage errors and awkward if grammatically correct sentence structure choices, the book is well-written and if you happen to be the target audience for an Asia-centric paranormal infused coming of age story I can recommend that you give this book a chance.
There is fairly liberal use of the words “fuck” and “motherfucker” and references to adult sexuality which, although not explicit, might discourage some parents from purchasing the book for young or impressionable readers.
I admit that my reading in contemporary Asian paranormal literature is limited and makes my ability to compare this book to other similar books likewise limited.
My only real comparison is Koji Suzuki’s collection of short stories Dark Water (originally published as Honogurai mizu no soko kara) but that’s stiff competition to compare an author’s first novel against.

If you want to know more about the author, you can read an interview with the author here.