Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unexplored Theory Doesn’t Equal “An Agenda”

The Book of Matt: The Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard – Stephen Jimenez (Steerforth Press Paperback Edition)

The October 6, 1998 beating and torture of Matthew Shepard that eventually led to his death has become one of the more interesting rallying points in our recent history in the United States. Almost overnight Shepard’s brutal murder was plunged into politics based solely on the fact that he was an HIV positive, gay man; which raised the specter that his murder was due to hated or as popularized at the time, a hate crime.

In, The Book of Matt: The Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, journalist Stephen Jimenez continued his investigations of the crime and some of the facts that were left unexplored during the eventual trial and conviction of Shepard’s murders. Jimenez had been the producer of an ABC News 20/20 investigation into the case and a couple of months after Shepard’s murder, he went to Laramie, Wyoming to dig a little deeper into things that had come up in the initial digging into the story.

The book is the result of that second, deeper look at the story and some of the facts weren’t a part of the trial or the case against Shepard’s killers. It didn’t take long to track down those killers and the case against them in legal parlance was “air tight” so why would police dig any deeper?

Jimenez uncovered some clear evidence that Shepard, a slight, college student wasn’t perhaps the innocent victim of a hate crime, but perhaps even more likely, he was murdered due to his involvement in dealing methamphetamine. This naturally flew in the face of the activists who were pushing for legislation that eventually came to pass, to somehow supersize the crimes against protected classes as defined in the law.

Jimenez became the subject of attacks that labeled him as somehow “anti-gay” because he pointed out facts that flew counter to the public claims about Shepard. I guess that would make Jimenez a self-hating gay man; since he is in fact gay himself. The orchestrated campaign against Jimenez and the book is ridiculous on its face, since it doesn’t bother to actually address the facts in the book.

But that seems to be the way politics is debated in this day and age; and that is purely what is at play here. The politics of who cares more and who can somehow do more to protect or defend or give more to defined special classes. Think about the ridiculous nature of so-called hate crimes. Are people injured or killed because someone hates them? Certainly the answer is YES! Do we need a special set of laws to enforce criminal sanctions against those deemed to be in protected groups? NO…not really.

Matthew Shepard’s murder’s were convicted of their crimes; in a deal brokered by Shepard’s parents the killers received life sentences without chance of parole. If they had been convicted of a hate crime, would they spend any more time behind bars? The vile murderers of James Byrd, a Texas man who was beaten, chained and dragged to his death; both received death penalty sentences. When Texas eventually gets around to meting out that sentence, would they have been executed twice due to committing a hate crime?

Turning this book into a political debate is ridiculous. It’s clear to me that Jimenez didn’t have an “agenda” in mind when he set out to investigate the story, but it is in fact the left who attack him that have the agenda to somehow protect ridiculous hate crimes laws to somehow be portrayed as more caring and compassionate.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Story Two Decades in the Making

Jeter Unfiltered – Derek Jeter and Christopher Anderson (Photographer)

It is a story that is a true rarity in sports in the modern era. A player; not just any player, but one that in a sports world that throws around accolades like penny candy, is truly a superstar, all star and elite player, who spent twenty years as a member of one team. With free agency, salary caps, trade deadlines; that is almost as amazing a feat of accomplishment as hitting .300 for the season.

That is the story of Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. Jeter Unfilitered is the lovingly crafted remembrance, in pictures and words, of a story that is twenty years in the making. It is a story that almost surprisingly lives up to its title; an unfiltered look at guy who by in large spent his highlight reel career in the sports spotlight and not in the spotlight for his off field antics.

Jeter Unfilitered collects amazing photos not only from the archives of his career but follows alongside him as he winds his way through his final season. Photographer Christopher Anderson truly captures not only the on field exploits, but the off field, seemingly easy going, willing to shake any hand side of Jeter.

This tribute gathers together the experiences of the last twenty years; the rise to the bigs, the interactions and crossing paths with celebrity and average fan, the family, the FIVE World Series Championships, the highs and the lows that are part and parcel of his amazing career. While his life has been a series of accolades, this book gives great insight into not only the past, but what the future may hold for Derek Jeter and it’s a great way to start the next chapter.

They Never Found His Hands

The Forgers – Bradford Morrow – (Mysterious Press)

This one truly had something that appealed to me across the board. The tale the of rare book and manuscript trade appealed to the collector in me. The fact that the main character plied his trade in forging Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock-iana played right into me love of all things Holmes. Like a cherry sitting on the top of a ice cream sundae, the writing, setting and characters made Bradford Morrow’s The Forgers an irresistible choice.

Morrow wastes no time in setting the hook with one of the best opening lines in recent memory; “they never found his hands.” From that jumping off point how could you possibly not be intrigued enough to track down the answer to the mystery?

While it is set in the present, the story is so immersed in the mysterious world of book antiquities and collectibles that there is something old world and underground about the collectors, dealers, scouts and forgers that populate the realm.

Morrow uses a masters touch to finely hone the mix between setting and time and collector and scoundrel. There is a certain level of elegance to his writing that just seems to add the proper patina to the story line; this is not a modern fast paced thriller, but an expertly crafted, story steeped in the great traditions of the masters of the form that the collectors in the story seek.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Soap Box Grisham

Gray Mountain – John Grisham (Doubleday Books)

Right from his debut novel, A Time To Kill, John Grisham has been the master of the small town, big action legal thriller. Grisham better than anyone else plying their writing trade in the legal genre has done more to capture the ambiance and desperation of not only the small town setting but the small town lives of the characters that populate his stories.

For his latest outing, Gray Mountain, Grisham tries his hand at a fish out water tale of a Wall Street lawyer, an up and coming associate who like many of her colleagues gets caught in the tidal wave of trouble following the investment banking crash that took out not only financial gurus, but those in business that supported them, like those in Big Law.

The story starts out on the implausible footing of associates being furloughed, but being offered the opportunity to keep their benefits and seniority track, if they agree to volunteer and work pro bono for a non-profit legal group or organization. That is how we find Samantha Kofer dropped into the backwoods outpost of Brady, West Virginia and interning for a free legal aid group.

It’s at this point that Grisham veers off the rails and plants both feet firmly on the soap box and writes of the evils of big coal, even pointing out that the federal court that serves the area is loaded with Republicans and in the process gives credence to the tired old saw that Republicans don’t care about polluting the air and water. Are there issues facing the coal industry? Certainly. However the answers to fixing those issues probably don’t match up well with Mr. Grisham’s approach.

Gray Mountain, like most of Grisham’s collection, is larded down with memorable characters and settings, and enough plot twists and turns to shake a stick at. After wading through to the end, the book’s conclusion is a sudden stop…and I am left with a “is that all there is feeling.  

The All-to-Real World

The Liberators – A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse – John Wesley Rawles (Dutton Books)

If you think that everything is going well, that because the Stock Market is booming and the government tells you that the unemployment rate is below 6%, then this is probably not a book for you. If you think the government can and should take care of your every want and need, this is definitely not a book for you; just go back to your video games and reality TV.

If you believe in self-reliance and that government tinkering with the economy through think quantitative easing and endless printing money and that we can tax our way out of an economic downturn, The Liberators – A Novel of the Coming Global Collapse, by former U.S, Army Intelligence officer and best selling author John Wesley Rawles is right up your alley.

I always thought that thriller writers like Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn and Brad Thor were scary due to the almost predictive qualities of their books; and the proximity to real terror events, but Rawles details things that seem to hit closer to home making his books even more scary. Rawles, is a true survival specialist and he laces the novels in the Patriot series with real world examples of the world on the brink of collapse and chaos.

Working my way through the all-to-real scenario that Rawles draws in The Liberators, had me upping the personal ante on self-protection and preparing, or prepping, for what could be the hard road ahead. At times, Rawles books, even the novels, read like a road map of prepper survival; some may find that off-putting, others will create a shopping list.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Her-story Without the Red Bull

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney

While author Kara Cooney is a professor of Egyptian art and architecture at UCLA and her bona fides include; co-producing the comparative archaeology series Out of Egypt, with her husband Neil Crawford and a stint as curator of Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, what she delivers for her first book is hardly a scholarly treatise on the life and reign of Hatshepsut.

Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt reads at times like historical fiction. This isn’t to say that Cooney doesn’t deliver the goods; clearly there is a level of research and understanding that she brings to the story, just without the hints of text-booky-ness.

While many professors have a built in know-it-all quality, Cooney does not shy away from questioning what we know about Egyptian history, or in this case her-story, and posit a few “what if” questions.

If you’re looking for an in depth historical document with footnotes and bibliographies, might I suggest looking elsewhere. If what you seek is an entertaining take on history that won’t have you searching out a fresh hit of caffeine or needing to be wired on Red Bull, then grab this one history buffs and interested readers alike.

Friday, November 7, 2014

An Honest to Goodness Legend

Possibilities - Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey (Viking Books)

Over the course of time I have read stacks and stacks of musical biographies from a wide range of musical genres that have run the gamut from tell alls to those that covered one segment of an artist’s career including recording, touring and much, much more. Many had a tendency to fall into a familiar formula or pattern of ups and down and they often left me not much more informed about the subject than when I started.

The same cannot be said for Possibilities by legendary jazz, R&B and hip hop artist Herbie Hancock. Possibilities ranks as one of the most open and honest biographies of a musical performer I have ever read. Writing with Lisa Dickey, Hancock delves deeply into his seven decade career that has spanned not only the time but a diverse range of musicals styles.

Hancock has clearly made a career out of defying pigeonholes and labels to bring not only his masterful craftsmanship but his seemingly boundless creativity to bear on every project he undertakes. Hancock delivers great insights into the multitude of collaborators and cohorts that he has crossed musical and life paths with along the way.

The book provides a real sense of the unique combination of talent, desire and inherent genius that is a play in Hancock’s approach to music. One senses an all conquering drive and determination to deliver great music and an almost inner struggle; turmoil may be too strong a word, that is at play with Hancock when it comes to the need for success challenging the resolve for musical/artistic purity.

It’s easy to sense the level of enlightenment that Hancock’s practicing Buddhism has lent to his creativity and his life. Any jazz fan couldn’t help but be intrigued by Hancock’s stories about his time playing with Miles Davis.


The Wonderful World of the Tuna

Parcells: A Football Life – Bill Parcells and Nunyo Demasio (Crown Archetype)

Like him or not, Bill Parcells is easily among the most storied coaches in the history of the NFL. Along the way he has acted as the architect of winning programs and racked up a pair of Super Bowl rings, and been front and center of some memorable battle royals that have amused and outraged fans and the media.

Now in Parcells: A Football Life, an autobiography co-authored with Nunyo Demasio, a sports scribbler for publications ranging from Sports Illustrated and ESPN, The Magazine to the Washington Post and New York Times, Parcells has weighed in with his side of the story; often taking readers inside some of the more intimate, often painful stories that have become legend.

Clearly Parcells is a guy who doesn’t release his firm grip on a grudge very easily. While some in the sport media might like portray a collegial coaching brotherhood; Parcells doesn’t really qualify as a member in good standing. He details the betrayal of Bill Belichick as he transitioned from coaching New England to taking the helm of the New York Jets football operations. While Belichick stiffed Parcells, his mentor, on the head coaching job of the Jets, the book details offensive guru Charlie Weis, backstabbing Parcells in an NFL grievance hearing, in what might have been a transparent angling for the Jets head coaching gig. It backfired and Parcells reportedly told Weis,    “Charlie, you need to get your s— and leave the building.”

Despite being a long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan; I found Parcells: A Football Life entertaining, insightful and a solid read. Perfect for football fans, right in the middle of football season.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Business Motivation on Steroids

ME, Inc. – Build and Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business – Gene Simmons – (Dey Street Books)

Like most kids who came of age in the 1970s, I was became a fan of the band Kiss…granted not a Kiss Army level fan, but did wear out a vinyl copy of Kiss Alive. Later a became a fan of the band’s bassist, Gene Simmons; he of the un-naturally long tongue and fire breathing fame. It wasn’t Simmons musical ability that drew me to him, but line from and interview where he spoke about all the musicians that came along when he did wanting to be “like the Beatles” while he wanted to be like McDonalds…billions served.

As far as business side of things here was a guy who clearly got it. So I was surprised to see Simmons finally after decades of success land in the business section of the book store. In ME, Inc. – Build and Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business, Simmons espouse his thoughts on business and entrepreneurialism in a wide range of ventures.

I had to remind myself that the book is broken down into two distinct sections; the ME Section in which Simmons piles on the tales of his life, his successes and his multitude of business ventures. Clearly no one could accuse this guy of not having a high opinion of himself; some might say he’s cocky, but as he points out later in the book, self-confidence can go along way when you’re starting a business venture.

It is in the second half of the book, the YOU section that this book really hits its stride. While Simmons certainly doesn’t offer up any earth shattering, new secrets to business success; what he does do is offer a clear headed approach to both life and business with a palpable sense of urgency.

It’s easy to see why Simmons has become a favorite with the cable business and conservative news networks. Don’t expect a Harvard Business Review white paper; this is common sense based, pretty straight forward and at times hard hitting advice on business and success.

Simmons isn’t shy about stirring the pot when offers up his take on success and the impact of marriage and children. He dovetails a chapter on honing the ability to tell your own story and the impact that can have on your business success with a chapter on the importance of speaking English. I doubt Simmons would sit still very long a phone menu that includes; “Press one for English.” The case he makes is absolutely on target; English is the language of success.

While the ME section can wear a little thin as it runs on; I found the YOU section to be a real shot in the arm, its business and life motivation on steroids.   

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Drive Liberals Crazy…Oh Wait They Already Are!

Hands Off My Gun – Defeating the Plot to Disarm America – Dana Loesch (Center Street)

Conservative Radio/TV Host and author Dana Loesch has to just drive Liberals crazy. She is a true triple threat; brainy, bold and beautiful. Loesch’s first book, Hands Off My Gun – Defeating the Plot to Disarm America is like much of her career to this point as she fearlessly and systematically dismantles Liberal rhetoric on guns and the Second Amendment piece by piece.

Loesch points out the almost delusional self-importance that whacko Libs like former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Community Organizer in Chief, Barack Obama bring to the gun debate. They firmly believe that they can simply put a stop to both the high profile incidences of murder involving guns, like Newtown, Columbine and the shooting of Congresswomen Gabby Giffords, as well as the average gun crime, by passing yet another gun law.

Currently there are in excess of 20,000 gun laws on the books in the United States, many that go unenforced or contradict each other; so what would make these Liberal clowns think that they have the proverbial magic bullet to stop gun crime?

I love the fact that Loesch used a quote from Seinfeld character George Costanza, “It’s not a lie if you believe it” to start the chapter entitled The Fourteen Biggest Anti-Gun Lies, Debunked. That quote could be the clearest indicator of the Liberal mindset when it comes to guns. Time and time again Loesch points out the inherent lies and utter lack of knowledge that liberals seem hell bent on parading out for all to see when it comes to guns. Clearly they have NO knowledge of what an automatic weapon is, what the difference is between a clip and a magazine is, or what in God’s name an “assault weapon” is.

In the process of researching and writing this book, Loesch has delivered one of the most passionate and clear thinking defenses of the Second Amendment and gun ownership since scholar John Lott served up the classic More Guns, Less Crime back in 1998.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

In The Zones…Green and Red

The Bremmer Detail – Protecting the Most Threatened Man in the World – Frank Gallagher with John Del Vecchio (Open Road Media)

May 2003, Paul Bremmer, a former associate of Henry Kissinger, is named a presidential envoy to Iraq, by President George W. Bush; he will essentially run the country until a new Iraqi government can be stood up to replace the regime of the deposed Saddam Hussein. Naturally Bremmer will have to make decisions that will be unpopular among Iraq’s opposition parties so he immediately becomes a target for extremists.

Frank Gallagher, a former Marine and private security veteran gets tapped by the fledgling security firm Blackwater to head to Iraq and help secure Bremmer. In The Bremmer Detail – Protecting the Most Threatened Man in the World, Gallagher and co-author John Del Vecchio detail the fly by the seat of their pants approach during those early days in which Blackwater, Gallagher and his team were writing the protective playbook with game afoot.

Gallagher captures in entertaining detail the almost constant evolution of of the job he and his team were tasked with performing in the face of not only untold danger, but also the almost non-stop schedule that Bremmer kept. When you consider the limited manpower, the tactical limitations and the total unknowns; like the force arrayed against them, the uncertain nature of terrorist-types and improvised weapons, it is amazing that they were able to complete the task at hand and keep Bremmer unscathed.

The Bremmer Detail takes on a “bunch of guys telling stories” quality and ladles out healthy doses of insider stories that offer real insight into the process and transition that Iraq was going through. There is a level of irony given the current state of the country and ISIS terrorists.  

Scribblings of Genius

The Beatles Lyrics – The Stories Behind The Music, Including Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs – Hunter Davies (Little Brown and Company)

78 year old Hunter Davies, a British journalist and Beatles confidant, in fact the only author in a shelf full of Beatles bios, to ever pen an authorized biography of the entire band is out with a brand new effort, The Beatles Lyrics – The Stories Behind The Music, Including Handwritten Drafts of More Than 100 Classic Beatles Songs.

While there have been numerous books that have examined the Beatles lyrical output eight ways to Sunday, or perhaps better put, “eight days a week,” it is the second half of this book’s title that that generates the most interest. Included in the pages are reproductions of the scraps, shards and fragments of the original scrawls of those lyrics. It seems that whenever the muse struck, whatever was handy sufficed for jotting down the words that would inspire generations.

While those words and the songs that they would become have been a rallying point for multitudes of fans; listened to, sung, quoted, and cherished over and over again, the striking thing that this book illustrates is simple they often really are. Songs that been elevated to oft-quoted, almost Herculean status; able to move mountains, take on a much more stripped down, simple continence.

It seems at times that the members of the Beatles were always wanting for a pad of paper. These historical scraps have ended up flung far and wide, ending up at universities, museums and in personal collections and the hands of friends and acquaintances of the band. Davies has tackled the challenging task of gathering these images under one cover.

His personal access to the band and those around the band offers unique clarity and insight into what the what the band was thinking, what their state of mind was and the things the influenced the writing of these songs. The handwritten versions of the songs often show the evolution that the songs went through on their way to final renditions. I would put this book on par with Mark Lewisohn’s The Beatles: Recording Sessions, which offered an inside view at the recording of the music; a great addition to any fans bookshelf.