Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Way to the Sea(food)

The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook – Howard Mitcham – (Introduction) Anthony Bourdain – (Seven Stories Press)

With so many online food outlets, cookbooks find themselves at a crossroads; they can’t just be a list of recipes and ingredients, those are over the web. Pretty pictures of delicious looking food aren’t going to make the difference either, for the same reason. I am sorry, but cookbooks by alleged super-models with chipmunk cheeks and butter faces just aren’t believable; I am not buying what you’re selling.

So maybe aspiring cookbook authors or chefs should take note of the newly re-release of the classic The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook by artist, storyteller and chef Howard Mitcham. A perfectly tasty mix of history, fisherman’s tales and seafood is served up with some original drawings courtesy of the author, with just a nip of salty sea air permeating this wonderful tome.

You can find original copies of this book for sale online for hundreds of dollars or settle in to this retro upgrade complete with a new introduction from late chef and raconteur Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain relishes his early days in the food industry when someone gifted him a copy of the original. I think the thing that separates the true culinary masters from the super-model pretenders is the fact that these folks immerse themselves in not only the food, but the stories that go into the recipes they create.

Mitcham was one such character; he not only gives you the tasty victuals, he also steeps you into the history and the details of how he acquired the recipe or the fish tale that goes with it. This one is as much fun to read as it is to cook from. It’s easy to understand why for Bourdain, and so many others this became the go to way finder when the goal was to achieve a delicious seafood feast.

Bias Re-Visited…with a Side of Fake News

Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism and Hollywood – Derek Hunter (Broadside)

Back in 2001, former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg set the news media industrial complex on it’s ear with his bestselling expose of the network news business’ clearly left leaning tilt in the book Bias. Goldberg’s colleagues cried hysterically and denial in reaction to the examples of the liberal slanting of the news.

Now 17 years later, conservative columnist, blogger and contributing editor Derek Hunter has served up a kicked-up version, that not only details media bias, but how the media world has changed dramatically in the intervening time; where clueless comedians masquerade as newsman and are taken seriously, low IQ nitwits can air their grievances online and Twitter, Twitiots can take down CEOs with a concerted #hashtag campaign.

In Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined Science, Journalism and Hollywood, Hunter cites chapter and verse examples of how even the minimally aggrieved have run amok as mobbed up, often anonymous tyrants who aren’t satisfied until they utterly silence those they disagree with. It not enough to have public debate and discourse, if you dare to differ, you will be pummeled.

Liberals love to claim conservatives “hate science”, but who has done more damage to actual science than nitwits like children’s television host Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astro-physicist who masquerades as a climate science “expert”. The clueless cabal can’t be bothered to ask what makes these two circus clown experts about what the preach when it comes to climate science. If you dare to question, be prepared to forever be labeled a “denier”.

Unlike the lefties he takes down brick by brick, Hunter actually backs up his theories with countless examples that get backed up with actual, reliable sources. Imagine that!

Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age – Donald Barclay - (Rowman and Littlefield)

It used to be a cornerstone of primary education that students were taught critical thinking skills. It was what would form the basis for something (depending on your age) that your parents or grandparents would label common sense. In the mad rush in public education, to make sure Johnny feels good about himself, critical thinking skills were tossed off the education island so a couple of generations (at least) have gone lacking when it comes to common sense.

So much of the national machination over what has been popularly dubbed “fake news” it gets lost that if you bring even a bit of critical thinking skill to the table, much of this stuff falls apart under its own weight. Leave it to a librarian to serve up what I can only call a needed lesson in common sense and critical thinking in the form of Donald Barclay’s Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age.

Barclay kicks it old school and offers great examples of not only the current state of propaganda, but also the historical use of the form. He also points out how we as news consumers can fine tune our bullshit detectors and raise good, thoughtful questions about what comes across our screens on a daily basis. In my humble opinion, question everything should be the starting point for, well, everything.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Emperor Has No Clothes

Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock – Steven Hyden – (Dey St.)

The concept: the mortal demise of classic rock due to the steady, inexorable drip, drip, drip of the of the passing of aging classic rock artists. That is the focus of Steven Hyden in his latest outing, Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock.

Hyden writes with just the right amount of fanboy laced into his dynamic prose. The guy clearly has a love for classic rock and it shows. While the concept is certainly interesting and writing entertaining, I will posit that the bigger concern is not so much the death of classic rock, but maybe something even larger to consider; the death of rock…period.

Here’s the problem, everything that made classic rock great, the impact that it had on changing and inspiring folks lives is missing from most of today’s music. Music has moved from being utterly inspiring to become utterly disposable. Can anyone name even one band that in the future will live up to the moniker “classic rock!? Hyden talks lovingly about how fans flock to see these aging classic rock artists and pack huge arenas; could the real reason we as music gans cling to these classic rock legends be because there is nothing viable to take their place?

The Emperor Has No Clothes

I’m sorry, but music critics who heap praise on rap music are mostly full of shit. This stuff is pure noise and will never fill the void left by the demise of rock music. Critics who walk this path are like the fable of the emperor with no clothes; they lack the testicular fortitude to say this stuff flat out sucks.

There is also something to be said about the fans who cling to classic rock being a case of nostalgia over reality, because if you’re being honest the aging incarnation of the Rolling Stones are a shitty live band. If you saw Mick mince about in his 30s do you really need to see him again in his 70s? The fifty percent remaining of the Who are a shadow of their former selves, while Townsend can still be fiery, Roger Daltrey flat out cannot sing anymore. Hyden writes lovingly of Black Sabbath, but let’s face it Ozzy is utterly incoherent and decades of head banging has probably given him a case of CTE.

While we will certainly continue to experience the loss of more and more of our musical favorites as time continues to pass, be safe in the knowledge that we can continue to enjoy their music via vinyl, CD, digital file or whatever comes next. With technological advances maybe even the hologram live shows will become a little less creepy. 

Failure is not an option...

Fail Until You Don’t: Fight. Grind. Repeat. – Bobby Bones – (Dey St)

“Failure is not an option” – often credited to Gene Kranz, NASA, Apollo 13 flight director; although in reality he never uttered that famous phrase.

While that phrase is and should be doctrine at places like NASA where mission critical actions can mean the difference between life and death; a lot has changed when it comes to the world view of failing. It has reached the point where failure has been elevated to being a pre-requisite for success. It has even reached a point where some business gurus are pushing folks to fail quickly and often.

I for one think this positive spin on failure is a bit of a stretch. Not that failure should be viewed as something terminal that you can never recover from, but because it is often a misnomer. While the recovering former radio host side of me finds a bit of humor in the fact that radio guy Bobby Bones is out with a self-help book, Fail Until You Don’t: Fight. Grind. Repeat, there is something to be said about the message he imparts.

While it may be packaged as a book that makes failure a bit more acceptable, what I think the real message is; is one of grit, determination and getting after it to do what it takes to be successful. I don’t see this as a book on failing, but more one of having the drive to overcome roadblocks, and being side-railed and having the drive to do whatever it takes to succeed.

Bones details more than a handful of setbacks and hardships that he has overcome in the course of his lifetime, right from his childhood and on through his pursuit of the profession of radio personality. The message here flies in the face of participation trophy generation. While failure is not an option isn’t necessarily about life or death, for Bones it’s about climbing the mountain and not letting anyone or anything stand in your way. That is a message that we certainly need to hear more of.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Road Trip!: Memories from the Road

Don’t Make Me Pull Over: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip – Richard Ratay – (Scribner)

My oldest cousin had just gotten married, and at 16 I had been an usher in her wedding party. Once the wedding festivities had wrapped up, I was going to be a participant in the ages old family tradition, at least in our family, of the mega-family road trip! Yep, not just Mom and Dad, it was the full on family rodeo; Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents, the whole gang was piling into a caravan of big old, 1970s era land yachts and heading down the road to a far flung cabin in the woods for a glorious retreat to the wilds of Pennsylvania.

I remember it well, not because of the destination; a dilapidated old pile along a creek with stacks upon stacks of bunk beds to sardine the “kids” or the one redeeming feature, an ancient console stereo that we played the one album (Elton John’s live record Here and There) I managed to sneak into the luggage over and over again on the rainy days. No, what made it oddly memorable to this day, was folding my six foot plus sized frame into the back seat next to a couple of cousins who almost right on departure hunched straight forward over tattered pillows from some long disposed of, smelly sofa and were almost instantly asleep. At the time I suspected my straight-laced Aunt and Uncle of somehow slipping the pair some sort of mickey, that had put them out so they wouldn’t have to deal with the inevitable “are we there yet?” questions.

This slightly creepy memory was dredged up from my subconsciousness by Richard Ratay’s humorous and informative travelogue/memoir, Don’t Make Me Pull Over: An Informal History of the Family Road Trip. Right from the start Ratay hit a home run for me conjuring up not only that bizarre trip, but nightmarish memories of fighting who would get stuck riding on the “hump” the ubiquitous Quonset hut style covering of the rear wheel driveshaft and the too numerous to mention road side attractions that my Dad never could resist making a pit stop at. My teeth still hurt at the memory of numerous stops at the coal mine tour gift shop (!) to pick up a box of “coal lump” licorice candy, each box coming with a nifty little sledge hammer to break up the chunks of black candy.

Ratay offers up more than just a recounting of the now, sadly, long lost family road trip, he garnishes this tale with some great road side trivia and history and factoids about this once great mode of vacationing. While we all grumbled about the biannual, seven hour road trips to visit my grandparents and various aunts, uncles, and cousins, Don’t Make Me Pull Over, serves as a reminder of simpler times without smartphones and tablets, when traveling families would play car games and actually talk to each other. It brought back cool memories of wood paneled cars, driving by the iconic Bob’s Big Boy mascot figure outside the burger joint and the home of the Little League World Series.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Don’t Give a Sh*t, Do U?

Give A Sh*t: Do Good, Live Better, Save the Planet – Ashlee Piper (Running Press)

The signs were all there.

I really should have seen them.

The cover blurb from pasty musician Moby should have tipped me off.

The back-cover blurb from militant PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk should have sounded the alarms.

Darn it, the author choosing to self-describe as “eco-lifestyle journalist” should have been like waving a red sheet in front of a raging bull.

In all honesty, I missed them and delved into Give A Sh*t: Do Good, Live Better, Save the Planet by Ashlee (yep two Es) Piper. Dear God, just reading this stuff gives me a headache. Ms. Piper is someone who thinks that if you choose to live your life in a way different from hers, then you clearly don’t give a shit about the planet or people around you. What a load of holier than thou horse shit! Sorry but anyone who feels the need to use the ridiculous progressive phrase about being “woke” will get a resounding and not polite response of fuck you from me…sorry but I guess I see that as a microaggression…insert Smiley Face Here.

Ms. Piper offers her invaluable guidance on how to have an “ethical” wardrobe; sorry if a lean towards comfortable. She also dishes up some veg-head advice on how to whip up some “super-simple” (not just simple, super-simple) recipes from 15 ingredients or less! I can hardly wait to grab my hemp grocery bags and truck on down to the local Whole Foods and hump back with my 15 ingredients strapped to my back.

I couldn’t help but wonder if Ms. Piper consumes only tofu that is made from ethically sourced soy beans? Is she aware of exactly how her tofu is made? It must take a massive amount of water to soak the beans in preparation for the conversion to soy bean curd, not mention what is the source of the electricity that is used to run the conveyors, grinders and crushers to mash the soaked beans. Now let’s talk about the power needed to create the steam to cook the beans down to curds. The process to create the curds calls for adding magnesium chloride to the paste, to help with coagulation; does Ms. Piper know if the elements of that chemical compound are ethically mined? Are they mined from locations close to the tofu plant, sort of like farm to table only in this case ground to factory. Now we need to add yet more water in the pressing stage and more power for the cutting and packing, and who knows where the plastic packaging is coming from! Next the tofu is heat pasteurized…more water, more steam, more power. From that process the packaged tofu goes into a chilled vat of…you guessed it, more water! To me this whole tofu things seems a bit selfish and not at all eco-friendly. Maybe Ms. Piper should consider churning her own soy beans and hydrating with her own purified urine, which would add some kick to that recipe for Jamocha Silk Pie.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Piper, like most eco wingnuts seems more concerned about shelter dogs and Bessie the cow than she does about “littles”, her term for children. She advocates for population control, because of the negative impact more kids could have on the environment. Guess that makes kids a bit like tofu.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Best of Smerc

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right – Michael Smerconish – (Temple University Press)

Before making the shift to morning drive, when I was doing an afternoon talk show, I would spend some time dialing in Michael Smerconish’s show based out of Philadelphia; WPHT had a big enough stick (radio lingo for powerful enough signal) to reach Erie. I always liked his show because he proved that you could talk politics, have an opinion, but still talk about a whole world of other things. Smerconish also proved that with his newspaper columns where he covered a full range of things in and out of politics.

I also admired Smerconish for his steadfast take on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, the convicted murderer of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Falkner. Smerconish is out with a new book, Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right, which collects a diverse and interesting group of 100 of his columns. To pare down from a collection of more than 1000 columns over time had to be a difficult and daunting task, especially when most writers think of their words on paper as children.

Since I tend to like my talk show hosts/writers steeped in conservatism and hard to the core, I was puzzled by Smerconish’s flip flop to the mushy middle of things a few years back, because it seemed so self-serving, notably his endorsement of Barack Obama. I guess I can chalk it up to the knowledge that before law school and radio, Smerconish had his fingers in politics and actually ran the Philly portion of Arlen Specter’s 1987 re-election campaign, after all Specter was the ultimate self-server.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right is full of easily digestible, roughly 800 words each, columns that cover everything from politics, to family life and Smerconish’s oddly outsized obsession with the progressive rock band Yes. I give Smerconish big points for taking the author proceeds from this collection and donating them to the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, which serves children who are victims of trauma. This is not the first time Smerconish has donated the profits from his book sales to having donated his take from Murdered by Mumia to a charitable trust in Falkner’s name.

Re-Contract With America

Trump’s America – The Truth about Our Nation’s Great Comeback – (Center Street)

With his subject matter, Donald Trump, clearly being far and away at the top of the list of most hated politicians in our lifetime, author and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich is no slouch when it comes to generating liberal hatred.

Upon examination, this inordinate amount of hate from the unbalanced left could stem from the simple fact that both Trump and Gingrich are so effective and so successful at pushing through their agendas that it drives the do nothing left over the edge, because liberals have always been about having and exploiting problems rather than solving them.

While Trump is all bombast and bluster, Gingrich takes a more cerebral approach to tackling the big issues and challenges we face with a focused clarity that gets to the heart of the matter straight away and offers up concise solutions with actionable steps. In Trump’s America – The Truth about Our Nation’s Great Comeback, Gingrich serves up not only a full breadth examination of Trump’s plan, but offers a concise, but detailed look at a whole scope of issues we face. I look at this as a follow up to Gingrich’s wildly successful Contract with America; sort of an updated, Re-Contract with America.

Along the way he tackles immigration/sovereignty, cutting red tape, health care, taxes, employment, and many others. Most interestingly he also offers a direct solution for fighting addiction that flies in the face of how liberals would portray a conservative solution to the problem. Gingrich clearly has a handle on the ins and outs of the opioid issue and what is the scientifically proven most effective way to combat the issue. Take that all you liberal weasels who think conservatives are somehow anti-science.

Don’t mistake this as a Trump cheerleading book; it is truly a playbook for how to continue to Make America Great Again and tackle issues this country has been facing since well before Barack Obama was in the White House, plus a whole bunch of things he screwed up over eight years.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz (Harper)

The set up is everything. To me, great novels are the ones that quickly grab me by the collar and drag me along for the ride.

Ms. Diana Cowper, an apparently wealthy mother of marginally famous actor, one fine spring day wanders into a funeral parlor and without an appointment sits down to plan her final services. A mere six hours later she is found dead in her home, strangled with a weapon of convenience, the cord from curtains in her home. The setting at this point could be current day or even jolly old England, it’s still a coin toss at this point.

So begins the latest novel from bestselling author Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder. Just when you think the set up in everything, along come what I can only dub, author-ception, as Horowitz cleverly inserts himself as a character in his own story, quite naturally playing the role of himself.

Oddly eccentric, almost annoyingly brilliant and just the right amount of Holmes-ian to keep things interesting, former police detective, turned investigative consultant Daniel Hawthorne is looking for a ghost writer to detail his story. Enter Horowitz, a not so willing participant who can’t seem to shake the intrigue of the good story the Hathorne as propositioned him with.

So commences the tale chalk full of crackling repartee between the odd couple-ish version of Holmes and Watson. Clearly Horowitz doesn’t take himself too seriously placing himself on the receiving end of lightly blunt-force humor scattered through the story. While Holmes purists may take offense at the regular points of reference and reverence, I found this to be the perfect entrĂ©e into the summer reading season.

Thoroughly Angus

High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, AC/DCs Last Man Standing – Jeff Apter – (Chicago Review Press)

There has always been something working man, lunch bucket about the band AC/DC. This is a band of guys who pull on their work boots, one foot at a time and climb up on the rock ‘n’ roll assembly line to crack out raucous hard rocking fist pumping anthems.

Veteran music author Jeff Apter serves up a thorough, in depth portrait of the band’s hard working, affable leader and guitar slinger Angus Young and his band of brothers (literally) and merry men, AC/DC in his latest, High Voltage: The Life of Angus Young, AC/DCs Last Man Standing.

The stories Apter details in the book are at once familiar, but serves as great reminders of the highly charged tales about the band's rise, near fall following the death of original lead singer Bon Scott and the Phoenix-like resurrection to even greater heights with the addition of vocalist Brian Johnson. He strings together bits and pieces from the band’s evolution and that of Young’s development of his onstage, bad, schoolboy persona.

I had all but forgotten about the band being connected to the so-called Nightstalker serial murderer/rapist, Richard Ramirez because he claimed AC/DC was his favorite band and that he was somehow inspired by the band’s song Night Prowler. Naturally there was outrage on the part of the media, a rarity way back in 1979, and more than a bit of confusion on the part of Angus and company for being roped into a case they had absolutely nothing to do with.

While the writing is a little loose, to the point of being sloppy at times, High Voltage, serves as a perfect vehicle for the Angus Young/AC/DC story; just the right mix of raw, rough and rowdy.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Elegant History

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World – Simon Winchester (Harper)

When people ask me what I do for my day job, I have often used the line that I translate doctor to English or taking complex medical information and making it easier to understand for the average person. That is almost what I see historian and bestselling author Simon Winchester’s role as: taking often distant and arcane information from history and transforming it into relatable, sparkling writing.

In his latest outing, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, Winchester speaks of finely machined gears as things of “beauty and utility.” While the goal of all writers is to tell a story, not all writers are storytellers; Winchester certainly clears that bar with ease as he crafts stories of contributions of often little-known innovators who have had a dramatic impact on our lives through their inventions.

While even history buffs may blanch at the thought of reading, let alone finding interesting, a book about precision engineers Winchester manages to make intriguing with vivid, detailed stories the tales of hydraulic presses, precision machine tools and the men of micrometers.

He writes of the simplicity and elegance of the problem solving that went into so many of these precision devices, who’s use has become so commonplace. These stories could not have been better placed, than in the hands of a master craftsman and wordsmith like Simon Winchester.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Dog Whistle or Dose of Reality

Messing With The Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News - Clint Watts (Harper)

Author Clint Watts serves up a dynamic book that is part autobiography, part call to arms, the makings of a high tech thriller and a bit of a political screed, in the form of Messing With The Enemy: Surviving in a Social Media World of Hackers, Terrorists, Russians and Fake News. This is all based on his real world interactions with dirtbag terrorists, hackers and his meandering career path that has included stints in the U.S. Army, the FBI as an agent (twice) and as a cyber security guru/expert/blogger.

When he writes about playing high tech cyber-tag with terrorists as he tracks them around the wild frontier of the world wide web he offers up close insight into how the evil doers have transformed their game; transitioning their recruitment efforts from dodgy audio and video pronouncements to a steady diet of social media outposts and content. He paints a truly chilling portrait of this almost wholly un-policed realm.

While he clearly has first hand knowledge of the nefarious dealings that are ongoing in this online world and he paints a detailed if albeit scarry portrait of the new global jihad, it is when he shifts to politics that the book devolves into a bitter liberal screed, bashing Fox News, conservative media and the President.

He questions the level of expertise to be found in the current administration, which leads me to wonder what exactly so-called “expertise” of prior Washington leaders has gotten us? Never-ending wars on poverty and drugs that clearly aren’t working. Add to that terrible and expensive government healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid/VA), not to mention failing schools and infrastructure. So much for expertise.

Watts should stick to what he knows best; sound the warning bell on the negative impact of social media and offer up some insight into how to address the problem.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

6 Albums, 103 Songs…The Clash Examined

The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs – Martin Popoff (Voyager Press)

It sometimes boils down to numbers.

Veteran, prolific rock writer Martin Popoff has dutifully cranked out over 7000 album reviews, somewhere well north of 50+ books and I am ballparking here, somewhere in the millions of words about rock ‘n’ roll.

Once again the master of the completist examinations has turned his microscope on the career span of a band; this time out he turns his focus onto the 6 studio albums, 103 songs and 2 live albums that mark the career span of the band that was once dubbed “the only band that matters” the Clash. Popoff’s latest outing The Clash: All the Albums, All the Songs, delves into what really boils down to a thunderous, ten year starburst.

Image result for the clash all the albums all the songs

Popoff captures the incredible evolution in the band’s sound over the course of just six studio albums. While they never lost the biting edge to their sound, it truly evolved to include a mass array of influences and snippets of genres that songwriters Mick Jones and Joe Strummer gravitated towards.

The thing that truly sets Popoff’s books apart from just a mere writing machine, are the quality of the total package. Once again the visuals, photography, graphics and bits of Clash history make this book an outstanding collectible for both the Clash fan and the music lover alike. This collection will have you reaching for your vinyl or CDs to revisit one of the truly great bands in a generation.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

A Fiction Slog

It seems that when you read as much as I do, things tend to run in cycles. I will either hit a string of great reads, fiction and non-fiction alike, or a hit a spate of things that turn into a real slog to try to get through. Lately when it comes to fiction I have hit the slog zone…

The Outsider – Stephen King (Scribner)
In rare sojourn from the familiar confines of small town Maine, Stephen King weaves an interesting plot line into his at once familiar atmosphere of small town Flint City and drops the corpse of an 11 year old boy into the middle of things and stirs with a suspect who is instantly recognizable in the town and King’s prior work. So far, so good right?

The slog starts when King can’t quite manage to avoid letting his politics and correctness start to seep into the pages of The Outsider. While not overtly political, you can’t quite escape the obvious lurking in the story line. When you think about it, like most folks, I turn to King for the pure escape of delving to the twisted mind/world of a true horror master. That pursuit of escape is spoiled by his need to let everyone know where he stands on the political scale.

Sorry, but you’re free to have and express any opinion you’d like, but to have it intrude into your work makes it seem like a lack of self-control. I don’t turn to Stephen King or any other fiction writer to get the low down on where they stand on the issues, I come to entertained and step away from the day to day reality.

The Kremlin Conspiracy – Joel C. Rosenberg (Tyndale House)

Joel Rosenberg is single-handedly responsible for some of the most explosive works of fiction that have a ripped from today’s headlines feel, and in some cases an almost Nostradamus-like ripped from next month’s or next year’s headlines forecasting the future quality.

His latest, The Kremlin Conspiracy unfortunately does quite clear the high bar that his prior outings have set. This one becomes a bit of slog with the multi-stage plotlines and characters not quite matching up. I found that the first third of the book is spent trying to develop the setting and tone and it seems at times like it could have been done with more economy of words and scale and achieved a better outcome.

While the read between the lines and see reality certainly showcases some familiar parallels to real world characters, it tends to come off as predictable and a bit dry, plus I’m not sure the “cliffhanger” ending left me breathlessly awaiting the next installment.

Adjustment Day – Chuck Palahniuk (W.W. Norton)
Chuck Palahniuk is a different kind of cat who dabbles in his own unique brand of twisted fiction. While he has certainly served up some memorable efforts in the past (Fight Club/Choke), I am not quite sure that his latest outing, Adjustment Day quite lives up to his prior billing.

There is something that is overtly familiar about the storyline, a been there done that mix of 1984, Logan’s Run, In Time, and The Purge movies. While he is well known taking his rapier approach to things cultural and societal in nature, with this outing that approach seems to get bogged down by political overtones that creep into these pages.

Okay, we get it; you don’t like where things are or where they may be headed in your estimation, but to have it intrude into your storyline gets a bit exasperating for some of your readers that may come from a different mindset.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song that Inspired Generations – Jonathan Cain – (Zondervan)

Full confession up front: before transitioning to talk radio I spent over a decade working as an air personality for a variety of rock radio stations. Much of my time on the air was spent working for tightly formatted and playlisted stations that featured Journey in HEAVY rotation. I was among a legion of folks who disdained the pre-fab corporate rock sound that helped them to sell millions upon millions of records. Granted they had and have a multitude of fans that continue to follow them after decades and decades together. My disdain for the band peaked when my girlfriend at the time, my wife all these years later, and I attended a Journey show (thank God for comp tickets) just so we could see the opening act, Bryan Adams. As we departed the sold out arena we ran into a fellow station employee who was SHOCKED that we were bolting following Adams’ set.

That being said, I have always been a fan of rock bios, so I was interested in getting the insights on the story of one of the men who was responsible for churning out a nearly non-stop parade of hit after hit for Journey, during his stint with Bad English and even for numerous other artists; Jonathan Cain.
Cain’s bio, Don’t Stop Believin’: The Man, the Band, and the Song that Inspired Generations, tracks from his humble roots right through the start of his pursuit of music career and on to the highest reaches of his chosen profession. Along the way he serves up in great detail some of the trials and tribulations of his life, as well as the triumphs and amazing experiences his music afforded him.

He truly was shaped by not only his career path, but his childhood that was impacted by a tragic and horrifying fire at his elementary school that left nearly 100 of his classmates and teachers dead. It’s almost impossible to think that that could not have had an impact that sticks with him through today. As he writes about that event, you can clearly sense the desperation he felt while witnessing the fire escalate and trying to find out if twin girl neighbors/friends were among the dead. They survived and he writes with clarity about the impact that faith had on his thought process at the time.

It is that faith that is clearly articulated throughout the book. That may turn some reader/fans off, but Cain can hardly be accused of postulating or trying to force his faith on others. He also clearly spells of his flaws and failings but, what rock bio doesn’t come without an (un)healthy dose of problems and slip ups along the way? Cain personifies resilience as he takes his challenges head on only to come out the other side seemingly stronger.

It is impossible to escape the obvious; Cain along with his songwriting partners in Journey have crafted songs that are part of not only the soundtrack of generations, but even a step further, part of the cultural fabic of our life.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Peace Through Strength

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence – Ronan Farrow (W. W. Norton)

President Ronald Reagan famously summed up his foreign policy doctrine by saying that America’s mission was to “nourish and defend freedom and democracy.” He, likely many strong leaders before him, dating back to Roman Emperor, Hadrian in the first century AD had a stated policy of “peace through strength.”  This policy of military might drove Reagan’s naysayers in the Democrat party and the media to the brink of their sanity as they often labeled him a cowboy or much worse. Yet the results speak for themselves with the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and around the globe attests.

Writing for the CATO Institute, Doug Bandow summed it up with the simple line “peace was the end and strength was the means.” Since Reagan, U.S. foreign policy has been a mishmash of failed policies that focused on trying to chit chat, or buy our way to influence around the globe with failings like the Clinton era of having former President Jimmy Carter negotiating a nuclear deal with North Korea, to Clinton’s failure to deal with international terrorists like Osama bin Laden; who famously dubbed the U.S. as a “paper tiger.” George W. Bush couldn't quite wrap his arms around whether or not he wanted to be a nation builder, and don’t even get me started on Barack Obama’s international apology tour and utter failure to deal with American’s held hostage around the globe, best summed up by his trading of five terrorists for an Army deserter. Then there is the debacle of the Iran Nuclear deal.

Apparently in the midst of him being thrust into the global spotlight for his investigative journalism on the sexual harassment/assault/#me too front, journalist Ronan Farrow found time to pull together his thoughts on the demise of American foreign policy in the Trump era in the form of War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence. Farrow tapped into his time working in various advisory roles in the Obama State Department and offers some interesting insight into the inner workings of the negotiations and process of working with globetrotting ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

I can’t help but think there is an almost childlike quality to liberal’s belief that you can somehow talk and buy your way to peace. While it may be a hard lesson for some, peace is not negotiated, it is won. So-called peace negotiations all too often boil down to battling over the size of the conference table for the peace negotiations (see Viet Nam War.)

For Farrow, much like Mark Twain’s death, the reports of the death of American foreign policy and influence are greatly exaggerated. While Farrow’s colleagues in the media will breathlessly speak of trade wars with China, in their eyes wrongheaded Presidential Tweets about “little rocket man” in North Korea and the utter folly of scrapping the awful Iran Nuclear deal and moving on without our European allies, the ends will be the return of a stronger United States on the international stage and the means will be through a position of strength, not kowtowing to thugs and dictators.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Required Reading for Reporters

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think – Hans Rosling (Flatiron)

Here is a test: I challenge you to head down to your favorite big box bookstore and take a look around, I will bet that you will no problem finding shelves and shelves of books on the power of positive thought. The challenge is to try to find one, just one book that will help you be better at being negative. Here’s a hint…you won’t find even one, because no one needs a book to tell them how to be negative, because it’s an almost natural inclination.

Dr. Hans Rosling, a medical doctor, professor of international health and regular participant in TED Talks addresses the phenomena of ten instincts he categorizes, that dictate and some cases distort our perspective on the world around us in his new book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

All too often writers or thinkers are describe as influential because they impact what we think; Rosling has really set out to impact or influence how we think. So much of what we are subjected to in the ways of influence is based on the bias of the influencers and it becomes all too often a case of garbage in garbage out. Rosling makes the case that when you are pre-disposed to thinking negatively then that influence will simply reinforce that thought process in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This book should become required reading for anyone who wants to pursue a career in journalism. With the non-stop, 24/7 news cycle, the Twitiots, Facebook and so much more is it any wonder that we have seen the rise of fake news. Often all it takes is a dose of not-so-common sense and critical thought to cut through the bias and raise questions about what is being served up by the influencer class.

Rosling does a great job of dialing down the rhetoric and our natural instincts, to put things into perspective that is free of bias and actually based in fact…or in this case Factfulness.

The Hip. Fully Completely

The Never-Ending Present: The Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip – Michael Barclay (ECW Press)

I remember the conversation vividly. I wandered into the converted old house on Buffalo’s east side that was home to an independent record promotion company run by friends of mine; my mission was to pick up an arm load of new music to play on my show. Unlike the stereotypical image of slick guys in silk tour jackets, more concerned about money and radio airplay, these guys were old school music fans, who happened to have a company that worked to get records played on the radio. Their track record of “breaking” bands was impressive, as the oversized autographs on the office wall that dated back to 1980 from a little Irish outfit known as U2 can attest.

Spinning in his office chair to greet me, my friend Bruce reached down to a stack of albums leaning against his desk and thrust copies of the Tragically Hip’s self-titled debut EP and their first full album Up To Here, into my hands and proclaimed, “you have to hear this, you have to play this.” With that he went to the office stereo system and dropped the needle onto the record and cranked up the volume. I had seen the look on his face before, so I knew this was the real deal. I had the rare opportunity at the time to have a show on a otherwise tightly formatted rock station to pick and choose music I thought was cool and great and give it a spin. Needless to say, the Tragically Hip was both cool and great; it’s no wonder that Buffalo, NY would form a love affair with the band that would that was unmatched outside of their home of Canada.

It was with a mix of love for the band and sadness at the passing of frontman Gord Downie that I approached Michael Barclay’s epic rendering of their history, The Never-Ending Present: the Story of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip, from beginning to end at the all too early age of 53. Barclay utilizes an almost documentarian approach to detailing the band; utterly comprehensive from the band’s formation in Kingston, Ontario and through the evolution of their sound and style serving up insights from studio and the thought processes of the band.

While I tend to avoid the minor details of getting the first guitar/drums/bass and the machinations of how bands came together, Barclay manages to deliver the highlights without dwelling on every broken guitar string along  the way like many biographers. He paints the picture, sets the scene and moves the story forward. While the book is 500 plus pages, it never felt like a door stop like too many overblown tales. Thank God it also avoided the tendency of so many rock bios to wander into the Behind the Music, realm of too many drugs, too many women and too much excess; like I said, The Hip was cool and good.

Barclay does a great job of showcasing the cultural shift and impact the band had on Canada that was like no other band. The fact that my home town of Buffalo got to be like a distant, but loving cousin who was a part of that was not lost on me as I read the book; he managed to tap into the joy that that band brought to so many while never diminishing the impact of the tragic loss of Downie to brain cancer.

While I have moved away for career reasons, I continued to live vicariously through the reporting of my home town newspaper, The Buffalo News, and their reporting on a jam packed video screening of the band’s farewell concert, which I have managed to watch online a couple of times. It seemed somehow fitting that my friend Bruce was quoted via text message by the Buffalo News music critic Jeff Miers, in his obit of Downie, “Gord died last night” for me completing the circle, fully completely.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Who Knew?

Big Whiskey – Carlo DeVito (Cider Mill Press)

While some of the distilleries that pour forth the subject matter behind  the new book, Big Whiskey have long and rich histories, I could only conclude, who knew that the tales behind these storied practitioners of the distilled arts ran so deep.

A few years back I became intrigued by images of bourbon/whiskey drinkers in film and and references made in novels. Thriller master Brad Thor went so far as to compile a blog post detailing a list of his suggestions for serving a flight of bourbon or hosting a home tasting. A beer drinker by choice, I was intrigued enough to try my hand and my taste buds out and branch out into sampling a range of small batch vodkas, and now have moved on to sampling a range of bourbons.

It seemed like a natural step to pair this tasting journey with some new knowledge, hence delving into Big Whiskey. This heavy, dense tome is beautifully illustrated and would make a nice addition to any spirited connoisseur’s bookshelf, looking to expand and engage with their spirit of choice.

DeVito along with WhiskeyReviewer.com managing editor, Richard Thomas and Emily West, a writer for the Tennessean, who covers spirits, business and local news, deliver a very approachable writing style. While it does serve up some insight into the taste palate of the variety of brands and types of whiskey, it doesn’t slide off into the land of the fru-fru, with spice notes and hint of chalk board. Even if you aren’t a participating drinker, the rich and often times colorful history behind these familiar and not so familiar brands make for great stories and a raise a glass to their skillful telling.