Sunday, February 28, 2010

Just Read: "My Life Among the Serial Killers" by Helen Morrison, MD

Just Read: My Life Among the Serial Killers: inside the minds of the world's most notorious murderers by Helen Morrison, MD, 2004, 0060524073.

An okay book. This was most interesting because of Morrison's view that serial killers are born and not made.

The popular theory is that serial killers are raised that way through brutal abuse and work their way from torturing animals to killing people. Morrison looks at things from a Freudian view and, according to her hours of conversation with these guys, the killers never progress past an infantile state of emotional development. They have no reasons to kill. Are unable to process a lot of things in live. Are unable to understand the illegality of their crimes.

I don't quite believe or agree with everything Morrison has to say but the book has some interesting ideas. She summarized her ideas at the end. I like that. They are:

-They do not have motives for their murders
-They have no personality structures and do not fit unto the usual theories of development espoused by people like Freud or Kohut.
-They are not psychopaths because psychopaths can have the ability to control what they do, think, and feel.
-They are not mentally retarded;most of them have an above-average intelligence.
-They are not psychologically complete human beings, even though they can mimic and play roles.
-They have not all been sexually abused, nor have they all been physically abused.
-They are addicted to killing and they cannot control their actions.
-Serial murder is not a phenomenon only of Western society. It happens around the world.
-Serial murder is not a new Phenomenon. It probably began with the most primitive of societies thousands of years ago.

One question of mine she does not ask is, "Why?" There must be a reason beyond experimentation. Do they enjoy what they see or hear? Touching the bodies? What?

Listened to: "Forgotten Patriots" by Edwin Burrows

Listened to: Forgotten Patriots: the untold story of American prisoners during the Revolutionary War by Edwin Burrows, 2008, downloaded from Overdrive.

I tried reading the print version but was getting nowhere. I like nonfiction audiobooks because with print I tend to try and study nonfiction as though I were prepping for a test. With audio I can just listen, learn, and enjoy.

Burrows did some deep research but still has to make a lot of educated guesses about what happened during the war. Basically, most prisoners held by the British were kept in the NYC area with a few in the south and around other smaller places in the colonies. Two large buildings in New York City were converted to prisons and, when those buildings too full, the Brits started using prison ships. All those facilities were shitholes with brutal treatment and below poverty level food.

Prisoners were supposed to receive a certain amount of food (2/3 or so of British Army regular rations) but did not. After all, the supply train for the Brits started in England and had to come overseas and they had trouble feeding their own people. American officers were treated with disdain by the "gentlemen" class which considered the common, rebellious scum.

In short, many died in New York and were buried in mass graves. For years afterward survivors would visit the "sugar house" prisons in New York that had been converted to prisons. Several thousand died in captivity. Much more than perished in battle and even more - if i recall correctly - than disease.

That the treatment and conditions of those prisons was forgotten is well covered by Burrows. If mainly comes down to money and reconciliation. After the war there was an effort to bring back the loyalists who had fled the country. Trade with England was also being re-established.

Burrows has a neat tale of how during WWI it was illegal to do anything seen as hurting the war effort. Criticizing he limeys for letting so many prisoners die was, therefore, illegal and one film producer was sentenced to a ten year prison term to a flick on the revolutionary war.

Anyway. A good book.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Read: "Making a Killing" by James Ashcroft

Read: Making a Killing: the explosive story of a hired gun in Iraq by James Ashcroft with Clifford Thurlow, 2006, 9781852273118.

There was a reference on to this. Most of the readers on the book board there tend to be really right-wing and that reflects their tastes but I reserved this and tried it out. It was good.

Ashcroft was in the British Army for a few years then became a lawyer in London. At the end of 2003 he quit his lawyer job and took a job with Spartan as a security contractor in Baghdad. At first his assignments were personal protection details but then the company started getting more and more work as more and more of my money started being spent there. His very first assignment (at least he made it seem like the 1st) ended in a deadly gunfight right outside the Green Zone.

Ashcroft and company set-up a compound and started training Iraqis to be armed guards for water supply and treatment facilities.

1. Ashcroft had plenty of time in the Green Zone and of the Coalition Provisional Authority. He was unimpressed with the "ticket puncher" officers and those afraid to say what needed to be said about troop levels and other foolish ideas by Rumsfeld and others.
2. Iraqis are not incompetent - they just don't care about certain things and graft is a way of life. Spartan's guards were happy with how Spartan did not skim off the top of the payroll or only hire family members and tribal members. However, that happiness did not last.
3. Ashcroft's discussion with U.S. Army officers about the clusterfuck of Iraq and how it had shit-all to do with 9/11 and Al Quaeda.
4. Screw-ups by the Army:
4a. Combat troops who just fought a war used as a de facto police force.
4b. Policies and actions by troops that end up making enemies. In the U.S. people would experience the humiliations some Iraqis went through and complain to the government or protest. Iraqis go home and get a rifle or make an IED.
4c. Incompetent officers who write up thievery of oil tanker trucks as insurgent activity rather than banditry.
4d. An interesting critique by British trained Ashcroft on the urban tactics of the U.S. Army.
5. I wonder what Ashcroft's Army experience and training were. He served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. He seems really switched on and capable as a shooter; was he just well trained or was he used to getting shot at? I don't recall if he wrote about that.
6. Lots and lots and lots of money was getting spent.
7. Iraqis had all sorts of theories and guesses about what evil the U.S. and Israel were up to in Iraq.
8. Muqtada al-Sadr is a murderous shithole who should have been arrested or killed.
9. Ashcroft's comments about cruelty and inhumanity remind of the first rule of living in a war zone: LEAVE.

Gave Up On: "Huge" by James W. Furst

Gave Up On: Huge by James W. Furst, 2009, 9780307452498.

Huge is Eugene's new name for himself. Eugene is about 12 or 13 and lives near the New Jersey shore with his mom and sister. Huge is shockingly smart but has mega- emotional and behavioral problems with anger. Huge has been suspended from school several times and is renown for his short height and shorter-temper. After slugging a teacher he spent a lot of time at home with his grandmother who forced him to read. That's sort-of good I suppose, it worked and Huge became hooked on hard-boiled mysteries.

Huge's grandmother is now in a home and when the home's sign is vandalized she "hires" Huge to find out who did it. Huge gets all sorts of bizarre suspicions about people that are just guesses in the dark - just like in hard boiled novels, really. Huge travels around town on the bike he custom built. Huge travels with his stuffed turtle a therapist gave him. Huge gets angry at everyone by thinking they betrayed him (presumably a leftover issue from his dad leaving several years ago). Tough guy Huge has a thing for a classmate but is unable to talk to her.

I gave up at the point where Huge and the would-be-girlfriend are sort-of hooking up at a party and playing cuddle monkeys. That early teen romance stuff gets creepy and uncomfortable for me.

This had some neat potential in Furst writing a hard-boiled novel with a 12 year old protagonist. Huge wants to be a detective but knows he is just a kid. However, being a kid he is able to convince himself that he has a real job and can make a real impact. I would have liked if Furst just kept with that but, to me, the storyline got off track. Since this has been sitting unread in the house for a month or so it's time to turn it back in.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Just Finished: "The Walking Dead" by Gerald Seymour

Just Finished: The Walking Dead by Gerald Seymour, 2007, 9781590200056.

Another solid thriller by Seymour. Told through several characters, liek Seymour has done in the other books of his I read.

Saudi 20-year-old recruited to be suicide bomber. sent to England. Also told by The Scorpion, organizes attacks in Iraq and is traveling to Engaldn separately. An English, Muslim girl in the terrorist sleeper cell. Other young men in sleeper cell. Dickie Naylor, a retiring English intelligence agent whose unit is tasked with domestic anti-terror work. Hegner, a suprisingly heartless FBI liasion. Banks, an English policeman who is at odds with his bodyguard team and sent off to protect a asshole of a witness.

I could write more but do not want to.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Finished: "My Dead Body" by Charlie Huston

Finished: My Dead Body by Charlie Huston, 2009, 9780345495891.

A disappointment after Huston's previously excellent work in this series. This novel wraps everything up so maybe Huston was burned out and just finishing off a contract. I don't know, maybe it is a natural misfire. That guy at L.A. Noir still has a man-crush on Huston.

Joe Pitt is living in the sewers when he is found by a non-vampire who want Joe to rescue his daughter. The daughter is shacking up with a vampire and pregnant. The dad says Pitt's girly-friend wants Joe to find the girl or she will never see Joe again. Once again Joe plays everyone against each other to make his way through Manhattan. He goes through Harlem, midtown, and the south part of the Island. A happy ending with Pitt and his girlfriend in hiding in fear of what will happen now that the world knows vampires exist. Things don't look good.

Not as much violence as previous novels (to my eyes anyway) and the story is not as focused as before. Pitt is annoyingly self-analyzing. The deaths of many characters are not as fun or satisfying as they could have been.

Listened to: "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" by John Perkins

Listened to: Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, 2004, downloaded from Overdrive.

Straight to the big question: Is Perkins a bullshitting liar? A lot of what he writes about makes perfect sense. But, some of what he writes about is laced with paranoia, suspicion, and guesswork.

What makes sense is that banks and construction companies are driven by greed and supported by government who want to get money to their pals and gain control of other countries. Nothing revolutionary there. What seems like a stretch, to me, is that Perkins makes some things seem so conspiratorial and espionage-ish.

A good book and an entertaining listen. Perkins makes many good points and has lead an interesting professional life. I want to look at reviews and critiques of Perkins to see what his detractors have to say. One thing that annoys me about the book is that Perkins fears personal sabotage and character assassination after having written the book. Perkins mentions this multiple times and that feels like a set-up to make the reader disbelieve whatever people may say about Perkins. That feels like a con job.

In short: Perkins grows up poor compared to the rich kids at the private school his dad teaches at. Perkins joins Peace Corps. Perkins recruited by consulting company after his experience in South America with Peace Crops. Perkins given job as economic analyst. His analyst job is to inflate and manipulate numbers to justify the World Bank lending tons of dough to developing countries. Developing countries are not expected to have economic boom but are expected to owe lots of cash and get under the foreign policy sway of the U.S. That way both the U.S. companies get lucrative contracts (mostly US aid money) and the government gets control.

Perkins moves up the ranks at his business but always feels a little weaselly about his job and justifies his job to himself while pulling in a huge salary. He eventually breaks away and starts a private electric power company. Perkins gets out of power business and does hippie work in Central and South America. Perkins starts and stops writing Confessions over several years. Perkins finishes Confessions.

8 March 2010: I just read a review in LJ from the Dec., '09 issue about Perkins latest book. Here's another set of tall tales written in purple prose from the self-proclaimed Economic Hit Man...we again behold Perkins's pro-wrestling worthy persona...can be a fun bit of infotainment for those willing to play along.

Read: Sgt. Rock: Between a rock and a hard place by Joe Kubert and Brian Azzarello

Read: Sgt. Rock: between hell and a hard place by Joe Kubert and Brian Azzarello, 2003, 1401200532.

Not so great. Sgt Rock and his squad are in the woods of either Belgium or Germany - I don't recall which country. The squad captures five German prisoners. The squad is ambushed on the way back to their lines. Four German prisoners are found shot dead and the fifth missing. Sgt. Rock wonders if a squad member murdered the Krauts. The squad goes looking for the fifth, missing, German. Things happen. Shells fall. Shots are fired. People die. Rock finds the German and discovers he killed the other four for revenge after they raped his French mistress. Rock kills the Kraut.

Not that great a story and I disliked the artwork.