Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Listened to: “MirrorMask” by Neil Gaiman

Listened to: MirrorMask by Neil Gaiman, 2005, audio version 2007 downloaded from

Okay, but not enough going on for an adult reader. This is a kids book and the print version tallies in at 92 pages. The storytelling is very abbreviated, so much so that I thought I was listening to an abridgement. There are many identifiable spots where more description, plot or dialogue seemed to be missing. The narrator did very well.

Helena falls asleep and enters a dreamworld. Except she’s not really dreaming; she is an a bizarre world with beetles as police, floating giants, flying books, blah blah blah. Helena is the double of an evil queen’s daughter. The other girl has run away from home and is destroying the world. I’m not sure how the world is being destroyed. Either I missed that tidbit or forgot it.

Not bad for 79 minutes of entertainment, but not great either.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Read: "unSpun" by Brooks Jackson

Read: unSpun: finding facts in a world of disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, 2007, 9781400065660.

A nice, short book jampacked with sense. This details a lot of things I have already learned about advertising, political adverts, and critical thinking. There are nice examples that the authors deconstruct and they give tips on recognizing bullshit. Eight chapters including "warning signs of trickery", "tricks of the deceptive trade", finding evidence, and online resources. A book worth buying. I, of course, got it from the Library.

There is a discussion at the end about being skeptical, but not cynical. I thought that was a nice tough and is something the authors touch on throughout the book. You need not immediately dismiss anything a spokesman says, just realize that the argument may be one-sided or ignorant of the opposing argument.

I also like the debunking of the "liberal media vs. right-wing media" arguments people make. In regard to the willingness of people to in the face of obvious proof, " decades of social science experiments have shown that, in a sense, there's a little UFO cultist in everybody" and "...we apply stringent tests to evidence we don't want to hear, while letting slide uncritically into our minds any information that suits our needs."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Listened to: "F. Scott Fitzgerald Stories" by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Listened to: F. Scott Fitzgerald Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald, downloaded from Overdrive.

Pretty good, better than I expected. Fitzgerald was a very astute observer of human behavior and wrote well about it. This was just two stories, Bernice Bobs Her Hair and The Jelly Bean, at about two hours runtime. The narrator was not so good.

The only other Fitzgerald story I have read was Great Gatsby during high school. The two stories here have really good looks into the characters and I should try to re-read Gatsby to see how my impression will have changed. Both Bernice and Jim (the Jelly Bean) were interesting and imperfect people.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Listened to: "The End" by Lemony Snicket

Listened to: The End by Lemony Snicket, downloaded from Overdrive.

A very good ending to the series and, more importantly, the book. I was thinking about the long term themes of the series (orphans making their way, duplicity of people, unavoidability of 'unfortunate events' in life, ethics and honesty, etc.) but I'll leave that to a PhD student.

After fleeing the Hotel Denoument in the previous novel the Baudelaires are at sea with Count Olaf when a storm washed them upon a coastal shelf and an island. The island is composed of other castaways and 'ruled' by Ishmael. Ishmael doesn't want "to force anyone" but his suggestions are accepted as orders. Ishmael orders are meant to keep the islanders safe from the evils of the world by keeping things as simple and primitive as possible.

Anyway. Olaf dies - either from a harpoon wound or Medusoid Mycelium - the islanders flee the island and the Medusoid, Kit Snicket is washed ashore, gives birth and dies, and the Baudelaires find an island history partly written by their parents. The Baudelaire parents are dead after all and Beatrice is the orphan's mother.

The ending is well done by Snicket. Loose ends are sort of tied up but, as Snicket writes, there are always mysteries and life goes on. The Baudelaires and Kit Snicket's daughter leave the island at the end.

Read: "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett

Read: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, 1980 edition, 0517338416.

I started reading Hammett when I was in high school and have always been a fan of the Continental Op stories. I'm sure I read Maltese before but do not recall for certain. I may be confusing the novel with the motion picture. I picked this on out for the Men's Book Club.

This is a short novel. No wonder the edition I received was able to cram five of Hammett's novels in one volume. The genre has definitely changed since Hammett helped start it. The violence in Maltese is mostly offstage. The only action is some fisticuffs between Sam Spade and a couple bad guys who are no physical match for him. As mentioned by another member of the book discussion the novel has a lot of dialogue. There is little description of the setting or the characters.

A good novel with a scheming and malicious broad revealed at the end. I did not remember Spade as being so vulnerable to the gal. Modern novelists would write more about Spade's inner turmoil - if any - about turning her in to the police. I liked that absence, it left me thinking more about Spade instead fo just laying everything out.

I was going to re-read Dain Curse of Red Harvest but have some other books checked out and waiting so I won't do that now. I wonder if my paperbacks of those two novels are still around.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Read: "Bomb Squad" by Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein

Read: Bomb Squad: a year inside the nation's most exclusive police unit by Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein, 2007, 978140131521.

I finished this a couple weeks ago but wanted to read the last appendix to be thorough. But, the book was dropped behind the bed and it was too difficult to gear myself up to read a selective list of international terror bombings from 1945 to 2003.

A fairly decent book but only because of the inherently interesting subject matter. The writing was just "okay" and the organization and background information could have been much better. The authors use that awful method of repetition of the same facts or statements from chapter to chapter that other journalist authors seem to use. As if each chapter is written a month apart and forgotten. These guys are not John McPhee.

The authors followed the New York City Police Department Bomb Squad through all of 2004. The squad is a small unit responsible for the whole city. Those responsibilities include sweeps at Mets and Yankees baseball games, parades, presidential visits, UN events, Fourth of July, City Hall, and federal buildings. Call outs for suspicious devices, old military ordinance in basements, and improvised bombs under cars. After September 11 demand for the unit and pressure to expand the unit have increased. Unfortunately, expansion would lead to less skilled bomb technicians as squad members would have less and less hands on experience.

Interesting tidbits:
Bomb techs do no follow-up investigations. They respond to a suspicious device, check-out it out or defuse it, and then leave it to detectives. Their only investigative duties are crime scene investigation and rebuilding or modeling exploded bombs.

Puerto Rican separatists, the FALN, set off loads of bombs in New York. One bomb maker, Morales, had both arms blown off, escaped jail, went on the lam and ended up in Mexico. "When the location of [the bomber] was pinned down, Mexican authorities were alerted. But they underestimated the FALN and sent just two cops in a patrol car. Morales had five armed guards. In the shoot-out, one officer was seriously wounded and the other fatally wounded. But the officers managed to kill all of Morales's bodyguards. As Morales tries to flee, a final shot from the wounded officer knocked him to the ground. The wounded officer picked up the wounded Morales, locked him in the trunk of the patrol car, and then hoisted his fatally shot fellow officer into the backseat. It was too late for the officer by the time they got him to the hospital."

"The rule: Wherever there are bombs and Nazi memorabilia, there will be dildos and sex toys."