Sunday, May 29, 2016

Misguided Outrage

Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State – Karen J. Greenberg (Crown Books)

Among the many famous quotes attributed to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is one that concludes, “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.” It was a quote I used many times in the heated days directly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, as the government’s heated response ratcheted up and gave us things like the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act.

At the time a said “be careful what you wish for,” warning that while you may agree with the expanded abilities of the government to pursue terrorist, what could happen when there is a shift in power and an administration you disagree with takes control of those capabilities.

It is those early, heated days, that is the central focus of Karen J. Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at the Fordam University School of Law’s new book Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. Rogue Justice is a comprehensive, and detailed look at the behind the scenes machinations that were at play as the government was thrust into the process for how to deals with balancing law and battling terrorism.

And that is the crux of the issue; the so-called war on terror is not a war in the traditional sense. There is no centralized battle location; the participants are not from one country and there are no uniforms to identify the players. So for many, including I sense, Greenberg, it is difficult to come to grips that we can’t engage them in a traditional manner. They aren’t soldiers who would fall under the provisions for treatment of the Geneva Conventions, but by the same token they are not criminals who would be afforded traditional legal rights.

It is this new category of existence that so many folks like Greenberg can’t quite come to grips with and they gets worked up, spouting platitudes about how we need to be better than the terrorist and we need to not go back on United States traditions and protections afforded to law breakers. Well I am here to state unequivocally that we already ready are better than the terrorists. While many cry foul over places like Gitmo, why not take a look at the treatment afforded folks there; they receive regular meals to the point of obesity, they get medical care and enjoy religious freedoms. Prisoners captured by terrorists regularly end up as part of video propaganda being beheaded.

While I have issues with how the Patriot Act has been misused to justify spying on U.S. citizens, I don’t fall into the category of folks who lose sleep over how terrorists are treated.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An Inspiring Bio of an Inspiring Man

For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr – Duncan Hamilton (Penguin Press)

Having spent many years working in and around the media including a stint with a large, metropolitan newspaper, one thing that I have learned is that many of the best writers end up working in the sports section. Sports writers bring the best mix of skills; they balance the basics of reporting skills, with the ability to take readers inside the game by painting vivid pictures with their words. They are blessed to cover folks who often possess larger than life personalities and there is a sense that every game is an event and if history is a yardstick, events are what make the most memorable news of our lifetime.

British sports writer, Duncan Hamilton, is one of those gifted scribes and he has a raft of awards to prove it. While Hamilton’s latest book, For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr, tells, what to many will be a familiar story, it is his ability to craft stories, while at once loaded with significant detail, are still wrapped in flowing prose that will grip your attention.

While some might shrug off the story as a continuation of the Academy Award winning film, Chariots of Fire, it is so much more than that. In a day and age when sports has become such a predominant part of our culture and society as a whole and athletes are revered and deified, while often parading their worst behaviors on the field and the sports pages, Liddell’s is a story begs to be told. It is practically unimaginable that any of today pampered athletes would make the kind of choices and personal sacrifices that are the cornerstone of Liddell’s story.

Like many stories of true heroes, I sense that Liddell would be more than a little uncomfortable with talk of martyrdom and heroism. He was a man of sacrifice and of principle that has no comparison the modern sports world and Hamilton does a marvelous job of capturing not only the details of the story, but the proper tenor and tone to match the tale. Hamilton’s ability to transport the reader and place them in the midst of the story is unmatched.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Record Collector/Detective

The Vinyl Detective – Written in Dead Wax – Andrew Cartmel  (Titan Books)

The Persuaders taught us there’s a thin line between love and hate. I have always believed there is a thin line between collector and hoarder. And now I have come to believe there is a thin line between record collector and detective!

Being, what I have not so jokingly called myself, a recovering record collector, there was a natural affinity for me to be attracted to the first installment in Brit screenwriter and novelist Andrew Cartmel’s new mystery series featuring the Vinyl Detective, dubbed Written in Dead Wax.
He is a record collector and connoisseur of high end audiophile equipment and he tries to scrape by working the bins at charity shops, used record stores, the odd yard sale and wherever he might track down some hard to find vinyl that he can make a few bucks on, all the while adding to his already unwieldy collection. His business card used for attracting potential buyers labels him “The Vinyl Detective.”
One day a beautiful and mysterious women enters his life with a challenge to end all challenges; hunt down one of the rarest of the rare an in the process possibly solve a decades old mystery. Colorful and glorious characters abound as Cartmel serves up enough twist and turns to send even the strongest among to the chiropractor. This one delivers a first rate mystery that will keep you guessing ‘til the end, plus a dash of good humor, and even the record nerd gets the hot girl! Twice! Can’t wait for the next installment of the intrepid Vinyl Detective!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Three Best Fiction Books I’ve Read in a While…

The Three Best Fiction Books I’ve Read in a While…

I have gone through a bit of a dry spell lately when it comes to finding fiction reads that have held my attention. I have picked up and put down a pile of books, searching for one that would keep me turning pages. Well that drought has broken…in a big way, with three new books all hitting the mark.

Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn – Ace Atkins (G. P. Putnam Books)

Veteran writer Ace Atkins continues to helm the ongoing continuation of the Robert B. Parker Boston P I, Spenser series of books. Atkins has steadily honed in on Parker’s timeless characters and continues to not only deliver great stories, but also evolve one of Parker’s final character creations Zebulon Sixkill. It would be easy to see that evolution continue, with Z getting his one stand alone series.

In Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn Atkins has Spenser taking on finding answers for a series of arson fires that is plaguing Boston. The first arson involved an abandoned Catholic church and left three firefighters dead. The torch is part of a trio of near-do-wells who on one hand desperately wannabe firefighters and who think they are “helping” Boston’s bravest to get the assets and appreciation they deserve.

That justification starts to when more firefighters and victims start to get hurt and the torch becomes unglued. Atkins mixes in some of the usual suspects with new players and ends up with another winning effort.

The Second Life of Nick Mason (A Nick Mason Novel) – Steve Hamilton (G. P. Putnam)

Sometimes the concept just isn’t enough; it’s the execution that matters. Multi-award winning novelist Steve Hamilton has launched a new series featuring lead character Nick Mason. In The Second Life of Nick Mason, here is the concept; Mason is five years into knocking down a 25 year sentence the old-fashioned way, one day at a time. Then out of the blue a locked up crime kingpin requests a meeting. After a time, Mason gets an offer he can’t refuse; if he plays along, the kingpin can make things happen and get Mason set free.

It’s a great concept, at what cost freedom? Mason is willing to strike the deal, with strings attached. It doesn’t take long to find out what those strings involve. Mason is forced to confront not only his new “arrangement” but ghosts from his past. The conflict and inner turmoil are compounded by one of the cops who put him behind bars who can’t quite reconcile Mason’s new found freedom and puts him squarely in the crosshairs.

Hamilton executes on the concept and sets the table for the Mason series to be a winner going forward as he ratchets up the tension not only within the lead character, but also with the players he is forced to deal with.

The Fireman: A Novel – Joe Hill (William Morrow)

Award winning, bestselling author Joe Hill serves up a novel, The Fireman that details a devastating, worldwide pandemic of a plague dubbed Dragonscale, that causes it’s victims to self-combust and threatens to reduce the world to a pile of ashes.

While some may draw a comparison to The Walking Dead, but they would be off base. While unlikely heroes emerge during the story, Hill creates an imaginative tale that given his experience writing graphic novels (Locke and Key) are strikingly visual, but wildly different than the Dead. There is a level of desperation that propels the story forward and keeps you locked in.
My only quibble with The Fireman, is Hill’s need to make snarky, off hand comments that don’t seem to fit the story. Conservative, talk show host Glenn Beck self-combusts early on in the book and when a hospital security guard wrestles the Fireman to the ground with a chokehold, Hill references Eric Garner. Okay we get it; Hill, like his father Stephen King, a liberal douche bag. I have never understood why writers and other artists feel the need to turn off potentially half of their audience.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Wealth Creation…a Bust

Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business – Rana Foroohar (Crown Business)

Wealth creation used to be accomplished by taking raw materials and honing and crafting them into an item that not only had a greater value than the sum of the parts, but also had some desirability to make it sellable in exchange for money. This was the basic premise behind manufacturing.

Today, wealth creation is achieved by coming up with a seemingly silly idea, like say renting out room in your house or offering rides in your personal car in exchange for money, and then selling someone that there is value in your idea so they will invest in your “business”. Once you find enough of these folks to buy in then you roll it out an IPO and voila you are a billionaire! Later when people have an H. L Mencken wake up call, (you know the guy who said “no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people) and your “company” goes up in smoke, you can laugh all the way to the bank.
As Time Magazine economic columnist Rana Foroohar details in her new book Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, we have moved to a system of financial instruments, manipulation and gambling as a source of wealth creation.

That shift, has spawned startups who have done/created nothing, other than a buzz of future greatness and some gaudy valuations with loads of zeros at the end. That has also spawned the economic bubble and the never ending boom and bust cycles.

While Foroohar spends plenty of ink lamenting the lack of government action to rein in some of this high flying wagering; the simple fact is that both parties have turned a blind eye to so much of this shenanigans that banks, financial institutions and most businesses have moved to take advantage of the process that has been put in place. In the long run it is the average guy and gal that ends up paying the price.

Foroohar details the fact that cash fat, Apple, sitting on some $145 Billion in banks, went out to borrow $17 billion, not for some R & D on a new innovation, but as part of a stock buyback plan to boost sagging share prices. Why borrow you ask? Because the cost of the interest rates on the borrowed money was less than the cost of the taxes levied to re-patriot the money back into the states and the value bump in stock prices exceeds those costs and makes investors happy happy.

This is truly one of the biggest issues facing our economy, as businesses keep money on the sidelines, avoiding steep corporate tax rates, rather than putting the money to work and creating jobs and wealth here at home.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Real American Heroes

Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor – Clinton Romesha (Dutton Books)

Over the years I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet and interview military leaders ranging from battle hardened warriors who earned their stripes to those who have been derisively called “perfumed princes” who came to leadership via one of the U.S. Military academies and never broke a sweat on the field of battle. I have spoken with military historians, educators and planners have developed and reviewed countless battle plans.

After reading Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, by Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha and I came to two conclusions; one -  Romesha is one of those battle hardened warriors, men who come by leadership not in the classroom, but as a calling and two – there is a reason why the term military intelligence has become an oxymoron.
Some may believe that Red Platoon reads like an action book, but the reality is, it is the telling of the kind of story that generations of military men have avoided telling. Even when asked about their experiences, most vets remain stoic and silent, choosing to keep the memories of what they encountered and more often what they lost, to themselves. Based on the courage he displayed the made him the recipient of the Medal of Honor we have a clear picture of Romesha’s courage, valor and bravery, but it is a different kind of courage he displays in committing to paper what he and his fellow soldiers faced at Combat Outpost Keating.

It is the positioning of COP Keating, certainly not at a critical locale of high importance, that makes me question what those charged with planning and placement of these outposts could possibly have been thinking when the decided to place Keating. It was that incomprehensible plan that lead directly to Romesha and his fellow soldiers to be placed into the situation he describes; an at times chilling and harrowing tale that found them outnumbered by a force of 5 to 1.

With all of the useless political chitter chatter about the 1% I think that all Americans, both those who are supportive of our military and those less than supportive types need to read Red Platoon to get a better understanding of the truly critical 1% of our population; those who sign on to take on the daunting task of defending our nation.

This Guy Gets It…Period

Worth Dying For: A Navy SEAL’s Call to a Nation – Rorke Denver (Howard Books)

If you come to this book looking for heroic stories of Navy SEALs in action doing what Navy SEALs do, then you may end up disappointed. If that is what you seek, there are plenty of other books out there that will more than fill the need.

If however you are seeking not only leadership, but life insight from the perspective of a retired Navy SEAL commander who clearly views things through a prism created by his training and hard fought and battle tested decision making process, then this just might be the book you are looking for.

In Worth Dying For: A Navy SEAL’s Call to a Nation, Rorke Denver a Navy SEAL commander and NY Times bestselling author (Damn Few) serves up his well-honed perspective on being a leader and a better person. Denver brings more to the table than just military training and experience; he holds a BA from Syracuse and a master’s degree in Global Business Leadership from the University of San Diego.

Based on his first-hand experience, Denver clearly gets the what and the how of this equation. Where he really steps up and stands out is when he takes his opinions down to a more granular level and gives us the why. Lots of people have opinions or thoughts on a subject, but when pressed on why they believe what they believe, that’s when the wheels on the bus come flying off. Not the case with Denver; he can deliver the strong a opinion, but also make the case for why he believes what he believes.

That steadfastness is bound to drive liberals and mushy middle of the road moderates who stand for nothing over the edge, but that also makes this one required reading.

Life and Death…DeLillo-style

Zero K – Don DeLillo (Scribner)

Masterful wordsmith Don DeLillo is out with his latest effort Zero K which tracks the ages old questions of life and death and stacks them up against his magical ability to conjure up prophetic prose in his own unique style.

With a futurist’s eye that somehow elicits thoughts of a sci-fi movie where you keeping waiting for the experiment to go wrong, yet things never quite reach that tipping point in the narrative DeLillo somehow manages to stitch this story together. The problem is even with his gift for words and story Zero K just doesn’t quite track as well as DeLillo’s jaw clenching masterpieces Underworld and White Noise.

I couldn’t quite shake the tales of Ted Williams and alt Disney preserved in a cryogenic state as the storyline unfolds of a billionaire investor, his dying trophy wife, the mysterious locale where scientists are trying to bend life and death to our purposes; preserving bodies while we await cures so we can get back to living.

The level of symbolism thread through the story and underlying themes seem to get lost in the peripatetic prose. Like I said it just doesn’t quite hang together and track well for me.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Real Life Rock Star

Stick It!: My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘n’ Roll – Carmine Appice with Ian Gittens (Chicago Review Press)

I don’t think that I can put my finger on exactly when it happened, but at some point in the not too distant past, the term rock star has become an over-used business clichĂ©; as in “he is a real rock star marketer” or some other lame business-y claim. The dictionary definition makes no such reference to business, when it defines Rock Star as; “a famous and successful singer or performer of rock music.”

Well I am here today to bring Rock Star back to its rightful place, to remove all doubt and all lameness and hang the once mighty appellation where it truly belongs, on a man who truly embodies not only the spirit, but also the hyper-sexual and well earned ego of being dubbed a ROCK STAR! That all conquering hero comes in the form of one of the true monsters of rock drumming, Carmine Appice.

What leads me to making this daring declaration you ask…it’s as easy as thumbing through the pages of legendary tales that make Appice’s new bio,  Stick It!: My Life of Sex, Drums, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. This guy found his way up when the rock world was populated with real men; you know guys who had their choice of groupies and didn’t care what you thought about them wearing chick’s clothes!

The list reads like a who’s who of legendary rock figures that this guys has either rubbed elbows with or played drums for. That list includes: Rod Stewart (who penned the books forward), Jeff Beck, Vanilla Fudge, Ted Nugent, and many, many more. Hell it was this guys Seattle hotel room that was the scene of one of the most infamous, talked and written about incidents in all of groupie-dom…you know the one that involved members of Led Zeppelin’s road crew, fishing poles and a mud shark. Not familiar with that tale? Appice serves up his eye witness perspective that only adds to the legend!

As I worked my way through the book I found myself wondering why the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame hadn’t seen fit to induct this guy into its ranks?! Then I remembered just how lame that place really is, and figured a real rock star probably wouldn’t want anything to do with the place.

Stick It! Features all the must haves, that every great rock bio needs; sex, stories from the road, sex, stories from the studio, sex, stories of rubbing shoulders with other rock stars, sex, insider insights about band fellow members, sex, and gossip about what a douche bag some rocker really is…oh and sex. This one is a truly entertaining and fun read.  




An Uninspiring Effort

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do – Chris Guillebeau – (Crown Business)

As a bit of a serial entrepreneur, I was interested in Chris Guillebeau’s book The $100 Startup. It sounded like an interesting concept, but I never got around to picking up a copy. After reading through Guillebeau’s latest outing, Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do, I’m glad I never spent the money.

Born for This, again sounded like an interesting concept; but once I delved into the book, I found most of the material Guillebeau covered to be pretty basic stuff and overall, pretty uninspired. I’m not certain who the target audience for the book is, but I felt like it might be a good idea to pass this one along to my son, who is at the beginning of his career path.
After a few chapters I found my attention wandering and I began to thumb through later chapters looking for the actionable ideas that the book laid claim to. I have always been an advocate for having multiple streams of revenue so I landed on the chapter Side Hustle. The goal is pretty simple, make more money, certainly a relatable goal. The guidance and advice that Guillebeau serves up is so simplistic and so basic I laughed out loud.

If you have any level of experience beyond beginner, I would suggest that there are any number of excellent books that will offer much stronger and more useful advice.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Yet Another…Pile of Rock

Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past – Eric Spitznagel (Plume)

The first time you move hauling a record collection the numbers in the thousands of albums, 45s, 12 inch singles, and CDs is a careful labor of love; crates evenly stacked and boxes neatly taped and labeled. The second and third time are not dissimilar experiences for the obsessed record collector. By the fourth move, even for a dedicated collector like myself and you start thinking it’s time to thin things out and reduce the dead weight; you know the stuff you have really listened to in awhile or can’t quite remember why you liked in the first place.

When it comes to move six you come to the realization that you’re getting way too old to haul 10,000 plus pieces and suddenly you start to call your “friends” that own record stores to see how much money you can salvage out of this behemoth collection. So I can totally relate to the concept behind Eric Spitznagel’s book Old Records Never Die: One Man’s Quest for His Vinyl and His Past, as he sets out on a journey to not only re-collect his musical past, but the seemingly impossible undertaking of tracking down the actual records that were part of his collection that he sold off over time.

Spitznagel reasoned that it wasn’t merely the music that provided the signposts along the path of his youth but the actual records themselves; the skips, the pops, the scarred covers, the initialed covers even the Bon Jovi album with a former girlfriends phone number scrawled on it. As a collector I could relate to the obsessive-ness of the hunt.

While the music and the pursuit served as the backdrop to the story, the book really evolved into more of a memoir of Spitznagel’s life and its soundtrack. While I found the musical side of the story relatable, I found Spitznagel to be a less than sympathetic character and more than a bit of a dirtbag. He comes off as a pathetic man-child doing his dead level best to never quite grow into adulthood.

The Grail Guitar: The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze Telecaster – Chris Adams (Rowman and Littlefield Publishing)

In a musical journey of a different nature, Chris Adams, the leader of the British based 1970s band String Driven Thing is on the hunt, trying to track down the origin and DNA signature of second hand guitar he bought while touring as a backup axe for live dates.

The shop’s salesman told him that one of Jimi Hendrix’s former roadies had brought the guitar in question into the shop in an effort to make some money; implying but leaving unsaid, that the Fender Telecaster in question may have once been the property of the legendary guitar hero. It wasn’t until many years later that Adams curiosity lead him to wonder if the guitar was indeed the former property of Hendrix and if it’s musical vitae may include the Are You Experienced, recording sessions that spawned Purple Haze.
The search genesis-ed by the question of the guitars heritage is recounted in The Grail Guitar: The Search for Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze Telecaster, as Adams tries to establish the guitar provenance. The questions abound, starting with the fact the Hendrix was a well known Stratocaster and did he indeed ever own, let along record with a Telecaster.

The hunt makes for an epic adventure has Adams and friends try to track down not only original source material; studio notes, articles, interviews with and about Hendrix, but also those that were around him, in the studio and playing with him in that era. To say that was a tall order given the number of intervening years and the passing of so many folks that were around at the time. It makes for a interesting mix of musical history and detective novel that form this intriguing read.

Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It – Bob Boilen (William Morrow)

Bob Boilen is the National Public Radio (NPR) host who created the programs All Songs Considered and the Tiny Desk Concert series. With the book Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It, he delves into the age old question of what musical influences and songs were the inspiration for a series of artist who would go on to various levels of success that he has interview over the course of his career.

While the concept isn’t exactly unique, it still remains a valid path for interviewing artists who in many cases have gone on to careers that have them being cited as an inspiration for a new generation of artists and bands. Boilen does his best to avoid becoming a fanboy as he recounts the stories he has mined along the way. Where it becomes a bit problematic is when he devolves into an over-wordy NPR host. I just could quite shake the image of Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon “interviewing” Alec Baldwin’s character Pete Schweddy about his “Schweddy balls.”

For the guy who developed the idea for the brilliant Tiny Desk Concerts this boils down to a short fall for a concept with much greater potential.

NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories – NOFX and Jeff Alulis (DaCapo Press)

Up front admission: I am not a NOFX fan now and can’t imagine that I will gravitate towards the band anytime in the future. That being said, I found NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, at times entertaining, at times laugh out loud funny, at times painful, but always intriguing.

The book follows the band’s exploits from the early days, and I do mean early, with the band getting started when these guys were mere scrawny 16 year old skater dudes with little or no real musical ability. Through perseverance or dumb luck they managed to find folks willing to give these young punks a chance.

As the parent of teenagers and recent teenagers I can admit to cringing at the tales of touring road trips with band gear and assorted friends were piled into a rickety on van with less than stellar mechanical parts and bald tires, but a cool graffiti style logo painted on the side, which I am sure made it a glowing beacon for cops.

The tales of drugs, run-ins with the police, misadventures and missed opportunities of a sexual nature, make this a rock ‘n’ roll story that is familiar on one hand and unique to NOFX on the other.  

Cookin' It Calif-style

Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes from the California Coast – Helene Henderson (Author) Martin Lof (Photographer) – (Clarkson Potter Books)

Think Malibu…and you think the enclave of rich celebrities, actors, and rock stars, surfing and soaking up the sun away from prying eyes and camera lenses…unless of course they are snapping off an armload of selfies to showcase their wonderful lives.

It should have been an only natural assumption that these spectacular lives playing out in a spectacular locale would be accompanied by spectacular sustenance. Enter Helene Henderson from the Malibu Farm Café, a real deal, California chic farm to table experience, chock full of sleek and healthy recipes for sleek and healthy celebs.
Henderson serves up those recipes in a sleek and beautiful new cookbook, Malibu Farm Cookbook: Recipes from the California Coast. Loaded with gorgeous photos courtesy of Martin Loff, the book serves up not only delicious, healthy recipes, but a series of helpful hints and tips to make the preparation process a bit easier. Some of these tips are age old things that have been around forever, but there’s a reason why they have been, they actually work.

While California chic cuisine isn’t generally my personal cup of tea, I took a stab at a handful of these concoctions and they proved to be fairly easy for even an amateur cook to prepare and turned out to be light and tasty for the whole family. I can certainly see a few of these offering finding their way onto my summer tables.