Thursday, December 27, 2007

Book Quote: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut

"It was and remains easy for most Americans to go somewhere else to start anew. I wasn't like my parents. I didn't have any supposedly sacred piece of land or shoals of friends and relatives to leave behind. Nowhere has the number zero been more of philosophical value than in the United States." - Rabo Karabekian

Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Covers: The Eye In The Pyramid by Robert Anton Wilson

Book Review: The Pusher by Ed McBain

The third book in the 87th Precinct series is a more standard entry into the police procedural genre. But at the same time, it manages to reach an emotional depth somewhat unusual for the time period.

The plot is pretty straight forward. A pair of patrolmen stumble upon a apparent junkie suicide. But sometimes things aren't as easy as they seem, and the suicide squeal quickly turns into a multiple homicide investigation that threatens to become blackmail when Lt. Byrnes son becomes linked to the drug scene. The bulls at the 87th are relegated mainly to the footwork, as most of the behind the scenes action involves Byrnes as he struggles with his son's involvement. Byrnes goes as far as to fill Carella in on the situation, a decision that almost proves to be fatal.

Apart from some of the dated aspects one would expect from a well-reserched police drama from the fifties, the bulk of the novel is your typical expose on the brutal world of the street level drug trade. But as usual, McBain delves into the emotional causes and ramifications of the Heroin users and dealers. The most revealing of these is the personal and professional termoil faced by Lt. Byrnes with the revelation that his son is a Heroin addict. Adding to the emotional doubt of where he has gone wrong with his son, and the constant battle between anger and compassion, is the dilemma of whether or not to cover up his son's possible involvement in a crime, especially when a mysterious third party with knowledge of his son's connection attempts to blackmail him for police protection.

McBain doesn't just focus on the 87th detectives. Glimpses into the lives of low key players in the drug scene shows the many facets of human frailty and desperation and prevents the broad generalizations that many crime dramas easily fall into. Even the closer look at Carella's relationship with stoolie Danny the Gimp is both touching and revealing. But to McBain's credit, none of this detailed attention to the human element detracts from the gritty realism that is typical of this series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

McBain's second novel in the 87th Precinct series delivers an alternate to the straight mystery that started the series, setting the tone that his novels would switch back and forth betwee, and gives the main mystery a bizarre and darkly humorous twist.

In this case, a mugger that courteously bows and thanks the women he abuses and victimizes ("Clifford thanks you, Madam.") is terrorizing the city, and the bulls of the 87th doing their best to stop him. The pressure already on them increases when one of Clifford's apparent victims turns up dead.

With Carella on a honeymoon in the Poconos with his new bride Teddy, Willis and Havilland team up to track down the notorious Clifford. They are assisted in the search with the introduction of bald jokester Meyer Meyer, the most patient man in the 87th. Also introduced is female detective Eileen Burke, who goes undercover as Clifford bait in a desperate attempt to trap the mugger.

At the same time, patrolman Bert Kling finds himself stepping out of bounds as he looks into the murder of an old friend's daughter, who just happens to be Clifford's homicide victim. His private investigation threatens to endanger his job, but also puts him in contact with the dead girls beautiful college friend, whom he falls for instantly.

The Mugger is one of McBain's less spectacular stories, by which I mean it is not the crimes themselves that keep you riveted, but the characters involved and the stories they tell. A good portion of the book is taken up by interrogation transcripts, but they give a deeper feeling to the city and its denizens rather than bog it down.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Amongst Friends

It is the strangest thing. No matter where I place Stephen Colbert's latest book, I Am America, in the Right Wing section of my political book shelf, they always end up looking like this in the morning.

I Am America As Well

Despite my natural revulsion at the thought of actually paying retail for books, I managed to choke down my disgust long enough to purchase my own copy of Stephen Colbert's I Am America.

I strongly suggest you do the same.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: Cop Hater by Ed McBain

I've never been a fan of police procedurals. The majority of them tend to be more concerned with showing off the author's knowledge of obscure investigation technique trivia than telling any kind of cohesive, let alone down to earth, story. With this in mind, the only reason I offer for loving the 87the Precinct series, written by the man who practically invented the genre, is that he writes it better than anyone else. If you're sick and tied of the Law & Order clones, maybe you should take a step back and check out the series that defined the genre and has yet to be surpassed. And if you've never visited McBain's series, then there is no better place to start than the beginning.

Cop Hater is an able and worthy introduction to the world of the 87th Precinct's Homicide Division, walking the beat of its fictional city for over fifty years, right up until the author's death last year. Many book series suffer from weak openings and fluctuations in quality and style that often leave fans recommending later entries as a starting point for new readers. The 87th never felt any such growing pains, and Cop Hater still stands as strong as the 53 that soon followed.

Detective Carella, the anchor of the series, is introduced in this initial outing, along with other long-term cast members including his love interest and future wife Teddy, stoolie Danny the Gimp, Lt. Byrnes, hack journalist Savage, Bert Kling (still a patrolman before earning his detective's badge in The Mugger), angry bull Roger Havilland, and the diminutive but dangerous Hal Willis.

Cop Hater is one of McBain's more direct titles, and covers the plot simply. Someone is killing cops out of the 87th Precinct. A dead cop is always taken seriously by other cops, but things become personal for Carella when the third officer gunned down in cold bloody is his partner Bush, and even more so when newspaper reporter Savage turns his deaf girlfriend Teddy into a prospective target. With nothing more to go on than the killer's motive as a Cop Hater, the race is on to catch the killer before he kills anyone else that Carella cares for, or for that matter. Carella himself.

Many police procedural series try to over-the-top with spectacular crimes or completely outrageous twists and turns, and mind-numbingly technical procedure descriptions. This is territory that where the 87th Precinct never strays into. While McBain does take the time to explain how and why certain aspects of the job are undertaken, he does so not to flog the reader with facts, but to help them understand exactly what the bulls of the 87th are up against. The crimes and characters of the 87th are always believable, interesting, and never fail to ring with a truth and honesty that makes it seem as real as crime in your local papers. Cop Hater embodies this truth as much as any of the other books, despite being written over fifty years ago. The procedures may change over time, but the criminals are cops are still driven by the same beliefs.

The Tax Man Reporteth

It will be very interesting to here the spin coming from both sides on this come Monday morning...

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The richest one percent of Americans earned a postwar record of 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent a year earlier, reflecting a widening income disparity among different classes in the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing new Internal Revenue Service data.
The data showed that the fortunes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans are worsening, with that group earning 12.8 percent of all income in 2005, down from 13.4 percent the year before, the paper said.

Now to be fair, later in the article, numbers about the top 1% show that "the wealthiest, as a group, carried a disproportionate share of the overall tax burden -- 1.6 percent of all taxes, versus just 1.1 percent of all income." But since this report deals mainly with the Tx Man's AGI (Adjusted Gross Income) scale, what isn't factored into accumulated wealth owned. To give you an idea of the difference this makes, consider that in order to make the top 1% of wage earners, of which there are only 400, the bar you have to clear for a declared income is an AGI of $364,657. To make the top 5%, all you need is an AGI of $145,283.

Of course the Times article closes with this little gem:

(New York Times, 10,14) A second report that the I.R.S. will make public today shows that the number of Americans with high incomes who pay no taxes anywhere in the world has reached a record. In 2000, there were 2,022 Americans with incomes of more than $200,000 who paid no income tax anywhere in the world, up from just 37 in 1977, when the report was first issued.

Which means that there are five times as many wealthy wage earners not paying any taxes at all then there wage earners in the top 1%.

I might have missed it, but nowhere in the report could I find whether or not the tax dodgers and their 0% of paid taxes was figured into the percentage of taxes paid by the top 5%.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Book Cover of the Day: .357 Vigilante #1

Book Review: 5 Novels by Daniel Pinkwater

To this day, I can not fathom the popularity of Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia. Many might try to blame this on my age, or a lack of love for fantasy or adventure. The truth, however, is because I grew up reading books by authors like Daniel Pinkwater, and have since then passed up the painfully melodramatic in preference of the touchingly absurd.

This collection of young adult fiction by Daniel Pinkwater offers a generous sampling of the author's favorite subject matters. Aliens, misfits, weird people, rebellious students, and fat men all have places of honor among these tales.

In Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars, Leonard Neeble is such an outcast at school that even the nerds make fun of him. Just when he's given up hope on ever being happy, along comes Alan Mendelsohn, a new kid who seems to enjoy annoying teachers and blowing off the cool kids. Leonard and Alan become quick friends, and in no time at all Alan is showing Leonard how to skip school, smoke cigars, lift objects with his mind, contact alien races, and learn to enjoy who he is without the approval of others.

Slaves of Spiegel, simply put, is about a race of fat people that forces other races into a cooking contest, while The Snarkout Boys are a group of young lads who "snark out" at night and have many bizarre adventures. The Last Guru, is about, well, the last guru. Go figure.

My personal favorite, however, and the grand example of Daniel Pinkwater's bizarre brand of genius, is Young Adult Novel. The story revolves around Wild Dada Ducks, a self-proclaimed dadaist group consisting of Charles the Cat, the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), The Indiana Zephyr, Captain Colossal, and Igor. They spend their time performing dadaist plays and acts of pointless revolution at their high school, and writing parody young adult novels featuring the fictional character Kevin Shapiro. But when they discover that there actually is a student in the school named Kevin Shapiro, they immediately take him under their wing despite his protests, ignorant to the possibility that their own creation might rebel against them. After all, that is dada.

Very few children's authors, past or present, can successfully inject this much original wackiness into their stories while simultaneously teaching much needed life lessons that many books never touch on. Granted, not all of his young adult novels are meant to inform, but even the ones meant purely for entertainment can't help but leave you feeling better for the experience. Children, young adults, and even some grownups could do with a little Pinkwater influence.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Book Review: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout

These days, with the abundance of books, movies, and television programs available on demand for instant entertainment, our knowledge tends to be informed by popular culture rather. Because of this,our intake of the dramatic simplification of most topics is outweighed drastically by factual representation.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that most of us envision dangerous people as wild-eyed lunatics noticeable a mile way, disheveled madmen that are encountered far and few between.

As Martha Stout demonstrates in The Sociopath Next Door, there are people capable of unimaginable atrocities all around us, and not only do they appear like everyone else, but they might even be less conspicuous than one would hope.

If Good and Evil are opposites of the same coin, and Good people are those who care and feel for others, then it stands to reason that evil exists as people lacking the ability to care or love. These people exist, cold and calculating sociopaths unfettered by the restrictions of guilt or conscious, and they do so in alarming numbers reaching epidemic proportions. 4% of the US population are afflicted with Sociopathic Personalities, far greater than those afflicted with cancer. Meaning one out of every twenty-five people you meet feel no remorse or regret, and are capable of anything.

Martha Stout's book strikes an elegant balance between clinical facts and anecdotal examples, making this book an easy read that manages not to come off as either a fluffy fear-mongering diatribe or a stuffy jargon-laden medical tome. The examples created from personal case studies perfectly illustrate the points of each chapter, but don't detract from the factual or philosophical topics discussed.

Despite chapters warning of the realities of the sociopaths among us, such as their alarming ability to blend in and even charm us into their confidence, her tone never reaches an alarmist level. This is a book that informs and prepares, with instilling false hope or blind panic in its audience. Also, while this topic is heavy with emotion, Stout never descends into supermarket tabloid prose. Apart from a slight detour into 9/11, which almost has no bearing on the topic at hand, the examination of the origins and ramifications of the human conscious remain informative and exploratory without becoming preachy. Especially interesting is the chapter that delves into the nature vs. nurture debate, in which she examines the genetic, environmental, and cultural influences that can help create or subdue a growing child's sociopathic tendencies.

If you have ever witnessed someone behaving extraordinarily ruthlessly or cruelly, and have wondered how someone could even bring themselves to act in such a manner, this book will go a long way towards satisfying your curiosity.

Book Cover of the Day: Bread

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Book Cover of the Day: The Judas Gene

Book Review: .357 Vigilante #2 - Make Them Pay, by Ian Ludlow

Make Them Pay is the first book in the series I've read in the .357 Vigilante series, and I am now eagerly searching out the others, as this book definitely falls in the category of So Bad It's Good.

This short-lived series was apparently ghost written by Lee Goldberg and Lewis Perdue under the series pen name of Ian Ludlow. After lengthy consideration, I have come to the conclusion that this series was written completely tongue-in-cheek, and was meant to be a mockery of Vigilante Men's Action Series such as The Executioner and The Destroyer, with an obvious nod to the Death Wish/Dirty Harry influences as well. I base this theory on the fact that a) Both authors still make a living writing and would therefore hopefully have a better grasp of good and bad concepts, and b) There is no way that it should have taken two people to write this slim series of nonsensical scenes.

There is simply too much corniness to fully cover. Brett Macklin, our heroic vigilante, is a professional pilot with his own air charter company. His father was apparently killed in the first novel by some street hooligans, and since he wiped them out he's been itching to get back into the vengeance business. He's given the opportunity right away when he investigates a supposed child pornographer for the Chief of Police that condones vigilante justice, and in the process botches a tail bad enough to be identified. The next morning his beautiful nurse girlfriend, after a night of smothering each other's naked bodies with ice cream and screwing on the kitchen counter, is blown up in a car bomb meant for him.

But even with a newly dead loved one to seek vengeance over, Brett is still weary of becoming Judge, Jury, and Executioner. Two out of three isn't bad though, and he settles for having an outside party oversee his Vigilante Prosecution, the position of .357 Judge filled by a bitter ex-judge who now acts as the TV Host/Arbiter on a bizarre show that is a cross between People's Court and Let's Make a Deal. Having trivialized the concept of due process beyond comprehension, our favorite vigilante is now free to seek justice/vengeance without guilt or plot complication.

Even so, Macklin still manages to find time between getting his girlfriend killed and killing the bad guys to endanger the lives of other friends and loved ones, bed a hot reporter who is convinced that he is Mr. Jury (the press is apparently better at naming action novel series than the publishers themselves), and dispatch the numerous perpetrators of other crimes that happen to occur in his path.

The punchlines delivered by Mr. Jury whenever he exacts justice on a criminal are so over-the-top ludicrous, they are my ultimate proof that the entire series is a joke. Example: he notices an armed robbery taking progress in a convenience store, quickly grabs a steel level from the construction site next door, and just before caving in the criminal's skull delivers the line "You're unbalanced, buddy." I'm sorry, there is no way you can write that line without total contempt for the intended audience. And they get worse, trust me.

There is a moment near the end of the novel, as the evil child pornography producers are dragging our trussed up hero onto a mock dungeon set, when Brett Macklin looks around at the fake stone walls and mediocre reproduction of a torture rack and mutters "You have got to be kidding me." Brett, its like you read my mind.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

"He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past."

My definition of a truly classic novel is one that is so talked about and referenced that you can know all about the book and it's message without having ever actually read it. 1984 is one of the most glaring examples of this, as terms such as "Big Brother" and "Doublespeak" are now mainstream concepts that no longer require explanation.

The book itself gained its popularity, however, by successfully reaching a broad audience through exaggerating and reducing the complicated debate of the illusion of free will and freedom of thought in any kind of government structure that strives to control and manipulate the populace for its own benefit in an almost unbelievable science fiction setting. The extremes that are reached in 1984 may seem only possible in a work of fiction (or, as the work is seldom referred to these days, Science Fiction), yet there is a truth beneath the pulp novel trappings that most readers can not avoid recognizing.

For those who have already read this, I have a suggestion. Read 1984 again, only assume that the book actually takes place in our modern times, and that the narrator is a paranoid schizophrenic.

Book Cover of the Day: The Truth About Fonzie

Friday, September 28, 2007

Book Review: Rules of Prey by John Sanford

I find it amazing that John Sanford manages to take a half-dozen interesting character quirks and combines them all to create a hero you couldn't care less about.

Maybe it's because I grew up with detectives like Columbo and Nero Wolfe, but I tend to like my heroes to have the occasional flaw. Lucas Davenport is a tough and experienced cop who doesn't play by the rules. He also has rugged good looks and an animal magnatism that allows him to bed almost every woman he meets (except stupid girls and the nun with the skin problem, so I guess that proves he has standards). But he also has a sensitive side, as he enjoys reading poetry on the sly. And he's a genius, a popular game designer, which means he's also wealthy. Wow, this guy is good at everything. How boring. He's the kind of character I would expect a sexually frustrated high-school student to create.

Now let's add a serial killer into the mix, but make him a socially inept loser who is inferior to our man Davenport in every way imagineable (oh, he's clever, but not as clever as Lucas), and you have two main characters that you really don't care to read about.

Sanford has a habit of making even supporting characters appear shabby, incompetent and unappealing around Davenport (including TWO pairs of Fat Cop and Skinny Cop duos), and has him so on top of everybody else that he has to advise the Chief of Police how to handle the Media and information control (don't the police have people to handle that?).

Finally, Sanford proves repeatedly that he knows little about police procedure or the historical crimes he references (newsflash: David Berkowitz was not the lone killer in the Son of Sam case, and he wasn't caught because a cop looked in his apartment window and saw copies of the letters. He lived on the second floor, you see...). I can only assume by the success of the Prey series the books have improved. Actually, I can only hope.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Cover of the Day: Cuban Passage

Book Review: Inhuman Beings by Jerry Jay Carroll

Detective novels are nothing new, and neither are invaders from beyond stories, but you don't get many crossbreeds of the two outside of the hardcore futuristic sci-fi realm. In this regard, Inhuman Beings is an enjoyable treat.

Carroll's novel is tightly written, short and sweet the way detective novels should be. He doesn't skimp on the characters or back story, just the excessive pages of prose some authors veer off in to explain it.

It may seem unusual to complain about getting more than you asked for, but that is my major problem with the novel. The book description promises a lone detective suddenly involved in a subversive alien invasion, and Carroll delivers the goods right away, keeping a steady pace and developing the dangers at a quick and steady pace. However, the third part of the book changes gears with the involvement of government officials that eventually buy into the main character's claims of an alien attack, and a story of a lone man against insurmountable odds becomes a low-budget retelling of Independence Day or Invaders from Mars. It isn't exactly a bad change, but it was the former story I read the book for, not the latter.

Also, as good as the book is on keeping the reader interested in the main character, this is mainly due to the pace and tension his lone crusader status affords him. As soon as he becomes part of an underground force battling the aliens, the tone and feeling of the book is lost, along with a great deal of the tension.

In short, I enjoyed the book that I first picked up to read, but it wasn't the same book I eventually put down.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Book Review: 100 Bullets Volume 1 - First Shot, Last Call

100 Bullets is an ambitious crime drama comic series, of which this graphic novel reprints the first five issues.

These first two story lines, "100 Bullets" and "Shot, Water Back", set up the premise the series is built upon. Individuals from all walks of live are approached by a mysterious man bearing an unusual gift; a suitcase containing a gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, and evidence pointing them to someone who has wronged them in the past.

But the offer of unpunished retribution is far from simple than it sounds, as the people suddenly faced with this blank check for revenge suddenly find themselves dealing with the concepts of Justice, Innocence, Morality, Loyalty, and Retribution.

Azzarello not only brings these philosophical dilemmas into the light, but also enhances them with mystery surrounding 'Agent Graves' and his offer. A chance at vengeance is a tempting offer, but what are the ulterior motives of the man with the briefcase? Does the chance to settle a score outweigh the risk of being used as a weapon for someone else's battle? What is truly at stake here, and who is really pulling the strings?

The first two story lines in 100 Bullets take us from crooked cops and greedy gang bangers in the urban jungles, to internet crimes and corporate power brokers. The stories and situations are modern, yet there is an undeniable Noir tone throughout, an unrelenting mood that never lets you forget that, despite the occasional moments of brightness and levity, there are no happy endings when violence and vengeance become a part of the background.

Book Cover of the Day: Continent of Lies

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Book Review: 27 Plays by Christopher Durang

Not being an avid reader or attender of stage plays, I had never heard of Christopher Durang until five or six years ago, when I stumbled upon a cable-produced adaptation of his play "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You." Irreverent humor lampooning religious belief systems is a favorite genre of mine, along with gun-wielding nuns, so I wasted no time in picking up this collection of short plays.

While Durang is basically a humorist, many of his plays involve the lampooning of other plays. This can be a detriment to a reader who, like me, is unable to pick out the subtle stabs at the set design and dialog patterns of other well known playwrites. But it is a minor stumbling block, and not a mjor obstacle to enjoy Durang's offbeat sense of humor.

If you aren't hip to the stage scene, but still enjoy humor with an edge, do what I did. Pick up this collection for "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You", then peruse the rest with an open mind.

Book Review: 253 by Geoff Ryman

There are 253 passengers on a seven car Tube train that is about to crash. Every person, along with their thoughts and actions on their brief train ride (and including footnotes explaining their direct and/or indirect relationships with other people on the train), is described in exactly 253 words each.

While on the surface this may sound like nothing more than a mildly interesting experiment in constrained writing, the book manages to reach a deeper meaning than you would expect. Whether you read the book from beginning to or flip around to random parts at your leisure, the overall effect is the same; allowing you to freeze a moment in time and examine the lives and deaths of 253 people with more in common than they will ever truly realize. Contrasting and comparing their personalities and motivations affords the reader an almost God-like chance to examine the fantastic and mundane worlds of a train full of strangers as an intrinsic whole.

But don't let that scare you away. If you rather enjoy as a distraction rather than a perceptions-enhancing experience, it easily works on that level as well. No matter how you attack 253, it remains a truly unique book in both structure and subject matter, and equally enjoyable whether read in short bursts or cover to cover.

Book Review: Tears of Rage by John Walsh

Don’t ask me why, but John Walsh has always rubbed me the wrong way. That’s the main reason I read his book Tears of Rage; if I’m going to have an opinion on somebody, I’d rather it be an informed one. Ultimately, that’s the only difference this book has had on my opinion: it has informed it.

John Walsh isn’t a bad guy, and it is undeniable that both his political movements and his television shows have helped people and changed awareness and legal procedures for the better. But despite all he has done, it’s still hard for me to actually like him.

The first fifty pages or so of the book deal with his personal background and history, spanning from his childhood through the early years of Adam’s life, and it is this completely self-indulgent section that really displays Walsh’s personality. By his own account, he is street-smart, a tough and skilled fighter, a great athlete as well as extremely bright, has never known fear or a lack of confidence, has saved lives without even thinking twice about it, and has never failed in any endeavor that he has pursued. Basically, he’s perfect. But what really bleeds through is that he suffers from an overinflated ego that informs his self-centered world view.

This self-centered (bordering on selfish) attitude is apparent in stories related by him in such away that you must assume that he doesn’t see it himself. When Adam is born, for example, he is told by the hospital where his sick father is recuperating that he can not bring the child into the cancer ward, at the risk of infecting the floor full of patients with little or no immunity left. Knowing only that he wants his father to his grandson before he dies (which he would have anyway, as later they all go to Disneyworld together), he sneaks the newborn into the hospital via a fire escape, regardless of the risk he puts the others in the cancer ward.

Also, it is impossible that anything done by him or his wife could be wrong or ill-informed. When mentioning Adam’s natural birth without the aid of Lamaze, he makes a point of saying “I don’t even think there were those classes back then.” Being 1974, the Lamaze Method was already part of a strong movement towards natal health, especially on the east coast where they were at the time. Later, for their second child, he states that she started Lamaze classes then, but only in her eight month, when the fifth or sixth is when you usually begin. Nothing out of the ordinary there, right?

This self-centered egotism extends immediately to his son, whom he declares was the only perfect baby in the hospital. “All the other little babies, some were splotchy, others a little misshapen. Adam was the perfect little baby everyone was looking at.” Granted, every parent feels that his or her child is special, but by John Walsh’s factual depiction, it is quite possible the Adam, had he lived, would have been revealed as the Second Coming. Apparently, Adam did not share a single negative trait with the other dirty, filthy, and ill-mannered children that wander the planet. Everybody loved him and wished he were theirs, and all of their adult friends felt more comfortable talking to him than to other adults, because he was that well-mannered and mature and responsible and perfect. Blech. Some of his praise towards Adam also reveals a sort of class elitism, as he takes great pride that “Adam had sharp clothes. On the playground all of the other kids looked kind of scruffy compared to him.” It seemed important to Walsh that his son wore “not sneakers, but Top-Siders. And small Izod shirts instead of regular tee’s.” And let’s not forget about the Captain’s Hat, “…an expensive one with a black braid and a visor.” In the course of Reve Walsh’s description of the day that Adam disappeared, she makes mention of the hat at least three times, pointing out at each instance that it was “a nice one, not a cheap knock off version” like the other children wear. She even goes as far as to complain that this detail (among others) should have been used when the store attempted paging Adam.

The actual disappearance of Adam at Sears is, of course, the reason this book was written in the first place. It is also the main reason that I lose respect for John Walsh, as the one fact that he and Reve refuse to admit, to themselves or anybody else, is that they (or, more directly, she) are just as much at fault as anybody else. The simple fact is that Adam’s mother left him alone in the store for a period of time that, while she is unclear about (“I was gone a few minutes. Five. Maybe ten altogether.”), can logically be clocked at a good fifteen minutes by examining the list of things that she claims happened while he was from view. Also, during this time, she points out that she had made sure he was close enough so she “could have” peeked around the corner at any time to check on him, which of course means that she didn't. Then, when she suddenly couldn’t find the child she had left alone in the store, she became frustrated and angry when her situation wasn’t immediately made top priority.

This may seem a bit harsh on my behalf, but anybody who works in retail can tell you that negligent parents let their children run around stores unattended all of the time, then automatically assume that it is the store’s responsibility to play babysitter and round up their strays. This is the same attitude that Reve (understandably, yet at the same time predictably and unfairly) assumes almost immediately when her initial concerns are not met with the utmost urgency. Walsh is quick to say that this is because his wife looked young. “She had on shorts, she was a woman, and she looked nineteen years old.” The truth is that they were reluctant to scramble at her bequest was because she was acting like your typical negligent parent. Walsh goes out of his way to imply that the store and the police were slow and unwilling to help, yet neither he nor Rev can recall who finally contacted the police (which would mean that the store did, and means that they certainly didn’t), and neither do they know who informed the media during the first few hours of the search (which would mean that the police did, and again, that they didn’t). Does this make them bad parents? Not at all. But their refusal to admit that others did take immediate steps them that they did not take themselves in order to help makes them stubbornly reluctant to share in blame.

When they eventually dropped the lawsuit they brought against Sears, they claimed that they did so because the Sears lawyers were going to drag their names through the mud, and so they dropped the suit to protect their family as well as Adam’s Foundation. I personally think the truth hits a bit closer to home: Sears was no more responsible for Adam's disappearance than the mother who left him unattended for up to a quarter of an hour.

Another distasteful trait of Walsh’s is his tendency to use his dead son to win arguments. It is very evident throughout the book that Walsh has a short temper and a lack of emotional control, and in fact seems almost boastful of it. And while I like a “man of action who doesn’t play nice” as much as the next person, I tend not to trust people who describe themselves as such. Walsh rightfully argues against the bureaucracies and politics that repeatedly impede him, but his arguments always seem to be punctuated with phrases indicating that not he that demands justice be served, but rather his innocent, brutally murdered son. Being the savvy advertising executive that he never tires of describing himself as, Walsh seemed to learn early on that while you can argue with a hot-headed activist, you can’t argue with a dead child.

Again, I’m not painting Walsh as a demon; he has done much good. I am also not implying that he is completely bull-headed. He is the first to admit that he wouldn’t have gotten a fraction of the media coverage he did if Adam were a lower-class minority child, and I completely agree with his criticisms of the psychics and religious fanatics that attempted to use the situation for their own advantage, and when he defends his wife against claims by the media that she didn’t act the way a grieving mother should, as if there is a right and wrong way for individuals to handle emotions with which very few of us ever (thankfully) have to contend. While he at times seems to bend over backwards to both slam the cops and FBI for bungling his son’s murder investigation at the same time he praises both agencies for the good they do, it never appears phony or heavy handed. And, unlike Jon Benet’s parents, both John and Reve were quick to cooperate when the investigators turned their attention to them, knowing full well that it the quickest way was to eliminate themselves as suspects. I’m not out to get the guy. But when he talks about teaching his six year old son how to use a diving knife (yeah, that’s safe), and when he recalls the humorous story of when he left his six month pregnant wife alone in shark infested waters, I can’t help but feel a little contempt for him.

For the most part, Tears of Rage is a pretty good book, and tends to cover all of the bases. Just beware that it isn’t an objective view of the Adam Walsh case, but rather, one man’s crusade to tell his own story the way he sees it.
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Book Cover of the Day: The Skook

Friday, September 21, 2007

Book Review: 58 Minutes by Walter H. Wager

I would not have picked this novel up if it weren't for the giant "Basis For The Movie DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER" plastered across the front cover. Not that I'm a huge fan of the movie, either, considering its the worst example of cookie-cutter-sequel garbage, far worse than the two films that followed it. However, I'm always interested in how novels differ from their big screen counterparts.

The first two chapters are pretty much what you expect. Flowering scene-setting description of the Big Apple in the winter, and a sharp and brutal introduction to the villains. The lead bad guy and all of his henchmen are what you expect, and are handled competently. They are cold and calculating, diverse and colorful, and most of all, deadly and ruthless.

Then we meet the hero, and it all falls apart.

The irony is bittersweet. In the Die Hard series, the selling point of the John McClain character is his lack of superhero credentials. He isn't the best there is at what he does, he's just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, an ordinary man under extraordinary circumstances surviving by the skin of his teeth with a lot of luck and determination.

Now meet Captain Frank Malone. In just one six page chapter, we learn that Frank Malone is; a handsome blue-eyed blond,instantly intimidating, two-year best Ivy League Quarterback, an expert hand-to-hand combatant, NYPD pistol champion, cool under attack, admitted to both Harvard and Columbia law schools, a highly decorated hero, the youngest captain in the force, and recognized by all New York cops as a first-class commander, and powerful yet merciful role model.

Bored yet?

This kind of over-the-top jack-of-all-trades Super Cop, clones of which can be found littering Clancy-Lite terrorism thrillers like this by the dozens, are barely recognizable as human beings, let alone realistic characters that lend themselves to the reader's sympathies. When Doc Savage wannabes like Frank Malone swagger onto the scene, there's no doubt that the bad guys don't stand a chance. But where's the fun in that?

Thrillers usually work because we like to watch someone prevail against overwhelming odds, but stacking the chips in favor of a nearly perfect hero caricature leaves the reader betting on a sure thing, which assures a happy ending but destroys any real tension or suspense.

Book Cover of the Day: SunStop8

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Last Thing We Need Is Another 'Decider'

Do we really need another President that is more than willing to seek out alternate opinions and suggestions, unless those recommendations happen to conflict with his own stubborn views? Do we really need to hand over control of our country and military to another thick-headed jackass with no real sense of where his wants and needs end and the safety and security needs of the rest of the world's begins?

Do we really need President Giuliani?

Obviously, the answer is No.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Urban Survival Quiz

Consider the following scenario:

You are a middle aged, white, professional business man. You somehow find yourself deep in the middle of a city public park at night. As you wander the dimly lit paths, you begin to notice that you are not alone. Furthermore, you realize that the rest of the park’s current populace is comprised almost entirely of stocky black men. Realizing that in a potentially unsafe environment, you decide that the best course of action is to:

a) Ignore the irrational racist fears buried deep within you, remind yourself that those of darker skin are human beings like yourself, and stroll purposefully out of the park with peace of mind.

b) Run frantically through the park, waving your arms frantically over your head while screaming “I have a wife and kids! Please don’t kill me!” until you run head on into either the edge of the park or a well-armed cop.

c) Squeeze the large canister of mace in your right hand pocket and stare straight ahead as you attempt to casually walk at twice your normal speed, whistling tunelessly as you quickly attempt to mentally train yourself in the Martial Arts by recalling every Jackie Chan film you’ve ever seen.

d) Promptly assume the stride and mannerisms of your typical black person, which you do your best to recreate by mimicking what you remember of Gene Wilder’s black costume from The Silver Streak and the Jive Talking Passengers from the Airplane movies.

e) Locate the nearest public park bathroom, and, in order to prevent the possibility of becoming yet another hate crime “statistic”, you do your best to diffuse the situation by offering the nearest black man in the bathroom $20 if he’ll allow you to blow him.

If you’re Bob Allen, Florida Republican State Representative and co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign, the correct answer is E, offer someone money to perform oral sex on them. At least, that was the explanation he gave in a recorded statement he gave to police immediately after being arrested for soliciting sexual acts from an undercover police officer.

Sure, some people may scoff at such tactics, but when it comes to the fine art of urban survival, only the most inventive and creative will survive.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hillary's Breasts and othe signs of the coming Apocalypse

Okay. Our country is caught up in a prolonged war that is slowly sucking us dry, both financially and emotionally. The Housing Bubble has burst like a greasy pus engorged zit, and is threatening to take the rest of our economy down the bathroom sink drain with it. Our Attorney General is so blatantly full of shit that he’s actually causing some to look back at Janet Reno’s reign with a fond, reminiscent yearning. Our Vice President is an evil puppet master. Our President is a puppet. The new switch in power has only assured us that the opposite sides of the House and Senate will waste even more trying to one=up each other. And to top it all off, we have over a dozen do-or-die politicians vying for position to be declared an official candidate in a presidential race that will probably be more explosively fierce than the last seven.

So, tell me again why I’m watching Hillary’s cleavage on the news?

It took me a couple of days to figure it out. I mean, it couldn’t actually be newsworthy, could it? Breaking News: Hillary Clinton has Breasts. I’m pretty sure we all knew she was a woman. Hell, her femininity (to an extent) is the only thing that both sides of the extreme political spectrum actually agree about. So why do we have panels discussing the political implications of her primary sex characteristics? If she had flashed the stadium during her speech to show off her new ruby-lined pasties, I could understand the infatuation. But why does the choice of a low-cut blouse for one of her political events suddenly warrant hours upon hours of pseudo-intellectual debate? Why are we talking about Hillary’s breasts (or, to be more accurate, the fleshy valley between them) to begin with? For that matter, why am I still hearing about John Edward’s haircut? Or Mitt Romney’s makeup? Or Obama’s middle name? Or Al Gore at all? Why are these endless news channels pumping endless streams of completely pointless trivia that signifies nothing?

When the answer finally hit me, it was obvious that I can’t believe I missed it in the first place.

They hate us.

They despise us. They don’t care about us or the events that affect our lives. All they see when they look down at us is an endless sea of potential ratings, and the news isn’t a tool for the dissemination of pertinent information as much as it is a huge trawling net meant to drag us in and convince us that the mindless crap they keep churning out to entertain us is actually helping us.

They are not helping us. They are slowly killing us.

I’m not even talking about the wall-to-wall tabloid story coverage that they spend half the time apologizing for, and the other half spoon feeding it to us like so much rancid jam. There will always be Anna Nicole Smiths and Paris Hiltons, and there will always be people who want to see as much of them as humanly possible. It may be an insidious evil sucking away at our eternal souls like blood gorged leaches attached to the human psyche’s testicles, but you aren’t going to beat that horse just because you can call it by name. Let it ride, it will eventually forget to eat and drown in its own bitter saliva.

My problem is that the rest of the news has become nothing more than a mirror of the times. You might think that’s what it’s supposed to do, but cast your back to a time when journalists actually uncovered stories, followed leads, asked hard questions, made deductive leaps in logic, and helped us to read between the lines. They exposed conspiracies, unearthed secrets, communicated desperately needed truths, and occasionally lifted up the rock to show us what was crawling underneath, whether we wanted to see or not. They toppled empires and destroyed legacies, for no other reason than that they were expected to do so.

What do they do now? Sit back and watch Tony Snow’s PowerPoint Presentation of how the facts aren’t facts until the White House confirms them as such. Oh sure, the occasional reporter may shake his head quietly at the blatant spectacle. But that just isn’t enough. Case in point: look at the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

News Channels have been doing reports on substandard bridges and overpasses for decades. I remember seeing their cute little exposes back in High School, and they’re still doing them today. Of course, they were always somewhere between the cute photo-op and the weather, something to stretch the reporting minutes when there weren’t enough Hollywood Pseudo-News extravaganzas to fill the time before the Sports segment.

But then a major bridge collapses during rush hour, and the twenty-four hour news channels clog the airwaves with new exposes, in-depth segments, flashy graphics, useless reporters vainly attempting to avoid bumping into one another as they pace around “Live at the Scene” looking for sound bites, and the endless line of talking head experts ready to talk for hours and hours.

Since when does interviewing someone who has nothing to do with what happened so they can give their unneeded opinions about the hypothetical questions posed in regards to the unverified facts pouring in? I guess since twenty-four hour news channels realized that actual news just wasn’t going to draw in the Nielsen shares they need to draw the big advertising dollars.

You can fault the public for not paying attention to countless second-break stories about unsafe overpasses. You can blame the government for the same. But what were the news programs and channels doing when they could have been exposing the horrifying truth about just how unsafe our infrastructure is, when society had their face rubbed in the avoidable loss lives should have been like a bad puppy soiling its own habitat?

They were talking about Hillary Clinton’s breasts.

They hate us. They’re killing us slowly. And when we finally succumb, they’ll be sure to have a man on the scene to ask grieving family members how they feel, and there will be countless experts and analysts on hand to debate the possible causes of our demise.

And we’ll most likely watch.

The News Media as a whole need to make a decision. Are they the Watchdogs of Society? Or are they merely here to document our downfall while selling advertising space to pay the salaries of the models and actors posing as newscasters?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Robust Economy or Phantom Recession?

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took his turn to question Bush’s nominee for the White House Budgeting office Jim Nussle to voice his concerns over the current administration’s economic theories. He seems to have a problem with the White House’s continuing policy of help the rich get richer while the country slowly slips into a bizarre ghost recession that no seems to be able to actually see. Well, Senator Sanders can apparently see it, and while his question for Nussle had to do with the need to give the Wal-Mart family a $32,000,000,000 tax break, just look at the laundry list of red-flag statistics that he trotted out to underline his point.

Just to sum up his major talking points, since 2000:

*5,000,000 people have dropped below the poverty line

*7,000,000 people no longer have health insurance

*Median Household Incomes have dropped $1,300

*3,000,000 Manufacturing Jobs have disappeared

*3,000,000 American Workers have lost their pensions

*Home Foreclosures are now highest on record (so far up 63% over last year)

*Personal Savings is now in the negatives (first time since The Great Depression)

*College Graduate earnings have dropped 5% over the last few years

*Entry-Level Wages for High School Graduates is down 3%

*Wages and Salaries now hold the lowest share of the Gross Domestic Product since 1929.

It should also be important to note that Nussle, the guy up for the job of running the White House Budgeting office, did not even attempt to refute or contradict the numbers thrown at him by Sanders. The best he does is to say that there are statistics out there that show growth. He doesn’t elaborate, but I’d take a good guess that those numbers have a lot to do with corporate profits and the phantom specter of Consumer Confidence, the latter of which is always used to argue that if people are spending money, the economy MUST be doing well. Just like with the gasoline prices: Gas hits $3 a gallon because of supposed hardships felt by the oil companies, who rake in record profits because of it, and the best they can argue is “People aren’t buying less gas, so it can’t be that bad!”

That, of course, sums up the entire philosophy that our government is now running under. It isn’t broken until it blows up in your face. There’s no housing crisis until home foreclosures destroy the financial infrastructure. There’s no Medical Insurance crisis until insurance companies suddenly run out of people able to pay the exorbitant premiums and start folding up their tents. There’s nothing wrong with the bridges until the collapse during rush-hour traffic.

The disaster in Minneapolis underlines why everything is falling apart in this country. There were people that knew the bridge was unsafe, rapidly deteriorating, and in desperate need of maintenance. But the kept it to themselves and crossed their fingers, and told us all that the fact it didn’t collapse when we drove over it yesterday should be proof enough of its stability. And as long as its cheaper to pretend everything is holding up fine, nobody in charge is going to run the risk of snarling up traffic by closing it down for repairs.

The Economy is in desperate need of an overhaul, and the only thing keeping the powers that be from admitting is the fear that someone might ask them where all of that toll money has been going.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Political Profile: Brian Fletcher

Now that I’m taking a closer interest in local politics, focusing mainly on the races taking place within the 23rd District, I’ve decided to try and meet up personally with some of the primary winners and get to know them on a more personal level. Granted, not being formally leashed to any of the supposedly legit news outfits, getting close enough to say “Boo” to some of them isn’t going to be the easiest of tasks.

Luckily for me, not all of the politicians running for office are as inaccessible. One candidate in particular that I found extremely accommodating was Brian Fletcher, one of the two Democratic candidates currently running for the position of Hunterdon County Freeholder. In fact, Fletcher has gone out of his way to be accessible to the public, including reaching out on the Internet to rub virtual elbows with people more computer savvy than our current President.

Many candidates are courting the Internet these days, including many 2008 Presidential hopefuls, with video diaries and interactive websites attempting to reach where whistle stop tours can’t. These even include such modern icons of the Internet revolution like MySpace, which Freeholder Candidate Brian Fletcher currently exists on as fletcher4freeholder.

His openness towards public interaction and the Internet naturally extends to bloggers, and so I’ve been able to talk with him on several occasions.

I find that Fletcher doesn’t fit my initial biased mental image of your typical New Jersey Politician. Of course, he isn’t a typical politician. You only have to meet him to figure that out. He’s all smiles and full of friendly, but as you talk to him you slowly realize that the smiles and friendly nature are natural and not just part of the Meet-The-Public act put on by so many others. Of course, it is quite possible that he doesn’t smile all the time. But having spent four years in the Active Duty Air Force, and another four in the Ready Reserves, he could most likely kill me with a tea cup. I personally think it best not to find out what happens if he stops smiling.

But enough about Fletcher’s charm and my delusional fears, what matters most is what he plans to stand for as a Hunterdon County Freeholder. He’s very straight on the subject of his main platform, which is strengthening county ethics laws and rooting out the corruption that has become so commonplace in New Jersey Politics.

He’s quite adamant in his belief that the careerism overtaking many politicians is what leads to the rampant corruption we seem to keep seeing more and more of these days. The first part of his solution is one you don’t hear from too many candidates; term limits across the board. Or, as Fletcher is often fond of saying, “If two terms are good enough for the President then two terms are good enough for a county freeholder.”

Of course, it only begins with term limits. He’s been very vocal in supporting the advancement of a transparent system that will help prevent conflicts of interest amongst the Career Politicians that spend a good deal of their time brokering behind-the-scenes deals to help along their corporate entities, real estate holdings, and shady investments.

He’s quick to point out the recent scandals riddling the Sheriff’s office as perfect examples of the rampant abuses in the system, including but not limited to million-plus dollars in settlements spent covering up misdeeds to settling multiple discrimination lawsuits out of court. The worst parts aren’t the questionable actions of those supposedly acting in the public’s best interest, but the lengths to which others in higher offices will go to cover up for them.

Another major issue constantly in his crosshairs is the debacle known by many as the Highlands Legislation, which Hunterdon County officials have had no problem squandering hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting. Their dedication has quickly turned sour now that its unpopularity has increased during an election year, and now they are suddenly taking the position that it's not financially in our best interest to continue the lawsuits. Of course, the general consensus was always that it was never in the county's best interest, but that didn’t seem to sink in until their jobs were threatened. Now the only politicians still fighting to keep the lawsuits going are the ones who stand to make the most money off of the multiple land deals that would result if they are eventually successful. I’ll have to touch on that a bit more in the future.

In short, he is very aware of a lack of leadership at the county level. That is what inspired him to run for office in the first place. Like most of us should do, Brian Fletcher got fed up with the corrupt freak show passing for our leadership, and decided to do something about it. “We need common sense leadership,” he told me, “and we need it now.” He seems to think he’s just the man for the job. So far, he’s not looking too bad.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

K.O. Karrow and the Art of Bully Politics

As the 2008 elections draw near, the eternal battle between Light & Darkness, Good & Evil, Right & Wrong, (and I’ll leave you to decide which side of The Force your political party is aligned with), begins to heat up as the job security of many full-time public officials treads on shaky poll-driven ground.

However, not all of the conflict takes place in that vast no-man’s-land of dubious ideology that supposedly exists between the two equally infallible political parties. High stakes primaries and changes in the power structure can create enemies among the most devoted party members. This is what the press likes to refer to as ‘infighting’. The fighting can be fierce, but is seldom physical.

But in New Jersey, where the weak are killed and eaten, infighting takes on a whole new meaning. This is especially true in the 23rd District, where the blows being traded by Marcia Karrow and Chris Harcar have escalated from sound bites to shoving matches. Harcar is currently down for the count due to unnecessary roughness, while Karrow is well on her way to establishing a new chapter of G.L.O.W., soon to be known as the GOP Ladies of Wrestling.

The friction between these two has been heating things up since 2002, when they chose to back different primary candidates. Harcar’s decision to cross party lines and support Democrat Jeff Marshall for Mayor in 2004 didn’t go over well with her Republican friends, and since then she’s been the Black Sheep of the Party. Adding to the animosity are an overturned drunk driving charge in 2005, and her unflinching support of ex-husband county Sheriff Peter Harcar, who resigned in a plea bargain after allegedly discharging his gun accidentally in a local health club last October. Land-grabbing real estate deals are always guaranteed to raise tempers, and Karrow’s recent attempts to move along the township’s acquisition of the Urbach farm drew sharp criticism from Harcar, and increased the rivalry between the two.

As can be expected, some local Republicans feel the need to keep their distance from Harcar. Karrow might have taken the desire a bit too recently, when she allegedly ejected Harcar from a volunteer-driven Republican phone bank with all the love and compassion of a strip club bouncer.

As could be expected, the story differs depending on who tells it. According to Karrow, she simply "informed Harcar she was not welcome" and took away phone script, after which she simply left. Harcar’s version includes some body checking before her untimely exit, as she claims Karrow shoved her up against a nearby podium a couple times hard enough to break her arm before throwing her out.

Just to sweeten the tea, Karrow also alleges that Harcar was “stinking drunk” when she ‘trespassed’, that she could smell a "strong odor of alcohol on her breath.", and that several witnesses can attest to Harcar being three sheets to the wind and rowdy as a rugby player. Not too surprisingly, GOP Chairman Henry Kuhl unflinchingly backs Karrow’s story. Did I mention the phone banks were being operated at Kuhl Corporation, Kuhl’s family business? Kuhl and Karrow, by the way, backed Tony Critelli in an unsuccessful primary bid for Hunterdon County Sheriff. He came in third behind Deborah Trout, who was backed by Harcar. See a pattern forming?

Also interesting was Karrow’s insistence to responding police that she wanted "this whole incident dropped."

Normally, this kind of nonsense isn’t even worthy of daytime television. Strip away the political affiliations, and you’ve got two soccer moms slap-fighting in the electronics section of Target. But add the strong-arm bullyboy tactics, slanderous accusations meant to take advantage of a recent controversy, and vicious power plays delivered with anything-goes gusto, and you have…

…well, New Jersey Politics. And I have a feeling that things aren’t going to slow down anytime soon.

Right Wing Radio Running Scared?

It’s almost sad how Right Wing Radio has been hunkered down in defensive mode for the past few months. Granted, they’re always in a perpetual state of self-appointed persecution, which is bound to happen when you spend the majority of your time insulting callers, smearing opponents, spreading misinformation, and downright lying to your audience. But lately, things are getting downright dangerous.

It all started back in April, when Imus bad mouthed the wrong black female basketball team and lost his job due to a sudden lack of advertising revenue. Racial slurs always guarantee you the most airtime (Just ask Kramer), and everybody gleefully ganged up on the sickly looking elderly cowboy wannabe in an effort to see who was more righteous and socially relevant.

Oddly enough, as soon as the words “Hate Speech” and “Talk Radio” starting cropping up, the world as a whole nearly gave itself whiplash looking over at the likes of Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Coulter… the list is so long, it didn’t really take long to find a name whose angry ranting made Imus’ little ‘hoe’ slip up pale in comparison.

The spokespersons for Right Wing Radio, Right Wing Radio themselves, snapped into action by immediately blaming the ‘Left Wing Media’ for singling them out. They cried that they were the victims, and warned that the people criticizing them just wanted to control what you hear and think. They then held up the defunct Fairness Doctrine, warning that if the American public wasn’t careful, the LWM would bring it back. The warning backfired, however, as a rather large group of people shrugged and wondered why that would be an overly bad thing.

That’s where the waters get muddy, because they can’t tell the real reason the Fairness Doctrine sends a shiver down their spine. Forcing equal air time for these Right Wing Blowhards would essentially force them to debate their opponents. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but to people who have built their careers and reputations on a firm foundation of uncontested lies and misinformation, the presence of an educated opponent that you can’t shout over or cut the microphone on threatens the very fabric of their false cloak of legitimacy. The foundation on which the giant Talk Radio Empire has been built can be easily taken down by simply forcing it to adhere to the rules of an average high school debate team, and they know it.

Fortunately for them, the fires started by such minor racial slurs may blaze bright, but they burn out quickly. Things seemed to be getting back to normal recently, and Right Wing Talk Radio had settled back into its comfortable pattern of slandering Democratic Politicians and pretending that no one knows Lieberman is going to defect to the Right by 2008. Then, just when you thought it was safe to sing “Obama, the Magic Negro,” a report from the Center for American Progress titled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" told us what we already knew; 91% of the total daily talk radio programming is conservative. They also told us something that a lot of people probably didn’t know; 257 of the Right-leaning news/talk stations are owned by five organizations: Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Citadel Broadcasting, Cumulus Media and Salem Communications.

Lord Limbaugh and his Errant Knights quickly leapt into action and declared victim status for themselves yet again. But the role of underdog is hard to assume when your legion of mouthpieces are all leashed by the same handful of corporate masters, and the Fairness Doctrine is once again the bogeyman of the day. Only this time, instead of screaming Freedom of Speech, the fall back argument has become the Free Market. This is America, the eagerly point out, and the Free Market always works things out. If people don’t really like Hannity and his ilk, they can easily listen to something else. Of course, the ‘listen to something else’ argument tends to fall flat when your owners have a stranglehold on the market so there isn’t anything else to listen to.

The Free Market argument does hold some truth, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow when you consider that outrage and controversy trump substance and accuracy when it comes to ratings. The Fairness Doctrine may feel a bit heavy-handed, but maybe it’s a lesser evil than allowing our Nation’s political discourse to align itself with the same broadcast philosophies of Howard Stern and American Idol.

Maybe the Right Wing Radio focus is just another distraction from the true culprit here, which is that the institutions that were once dedicated to seeking out the truth and reporting it to the people are now more dedicated to ratings sweeps and shareholders, or even more frighteningly, media robber barons doing their best to deliver their own ideological message while sidestepping the long-forgotten monopoly laws.

Asbestos and Mirrors

A lot of attention was given to today’s testimony at a congressional hearing about the environmental impact of the September 11th attacks. Much of the news coverage focused on the finger-pointing taking place between Former Environmental Protection Agency Chief and Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, and Republican Primary Presidential Hopeful and Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani. None of it focused on the bigger picture behind the EPA fiasco, and who is really winning the Blame Game.

9/11 has been getting a revival in the news, in part due to “America’s Mayor” Rudy G., who has been running his campaign on an “I was Mayor during 9/11” platform. His false Hero status has been taking hits from unavoidable news events, such as the EPA hearings and the New York Firefighters rebellion against him, bringing plenty of debate and argumentation to an already hot-button issue.

Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko has also added fuel to the 9/11 flames, with his criticism of the US healthcare system and well-timed Cuba visit controversy drawing attention to the Ground Zero rescue workers, who were literally poisoned by the air they breathed during the prolonged rescue mission and following restoration.

So, with all of this attention being given to the specific question of who was responsible for monitoring the air quality after the Twin Towers collapsed, you would think a little attention would revert back to what we already know. Right?

Whitman blames Giuliani for not properly following EPA recommendations regarding respirator usage and exposure to the toxic air around the site. Giuliani’s staff says they did the best they could, and that Whitman’s just trying to divert the blame.

What no one is mentioning is that, according to a report released by the Office of the Inspector General of the EPA back in 2003, the White House implicitly instructed the EPA to give the public misleading information regarding the air quality in the vicinity of the World Trade Center rubble, going as far as requiring all statements to the media to be cleared through the NSC first, which repeatedly resulted in scientific warnings about air toxicity and suggested cleaning procedures to be either toned down or deleted.

Of course, there is plenty of blame to go around. Whitman released false statements regarding the safety of the air in New York City after 9/11, and didn’t make any attempt to correct false or misleading information after it was released. Giuliani knew enough about the false clean air assurances that he urged the city's Congressional delegation to limit the city's liability for Ground Zero illnesses to $350 million combined. But the EPA and Manhattan Island weren’t running the show, and the people with the power to set things right were calling the shots with the intent putting up a good front, at the cost of health and wellbeing of the people they expected to clean up the mess.

Its about time some fingers started pointing in the right direction.

Monday, June 25, 2007

When do we get around to posting a new Witchfinder General?

Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that Bush purposely does things just to stir up shit?

A couple of weeks ago, Bush gave the name of his choice for the next Surgeon General:

"Today, I have announced my intention to nominate James W. Holsinger, Jr., to serve as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States. Dr. Holsinger is an accomplished physician who has led one of our Nation's largest healthcare systems, the State of Kentucky's health care system, and the University of Kentucky's medical center. He also has taught at several American medical schools, and he served more than three decades in the United States Army Reserve, retiring in 1993 as a Major General."

What Bush fails to mention is that Holsinger is also a high-ranking official in the United Methodist Church, being one of the nine members of the United Methodist Judicial Council, the church's highest court.

It isn't too shocking that Bush willfully omitted this part of Holsinger's resume, seeing as how his constant hard-on for not-so-subtly injecting religion into governmental roles is constantly under fire.

But, to be totally rational, belonging to a church council shouldn't automatically void your ability to serve in a government position, should it? Of course not.

Let's look a little closer, shall we?

Holsinger and his wife are also the founders of the Hope Springs Community Church, a church with programs to help homeless people, and aid those suffering from addiction to drugs, alcohol, and even sex. Holsinger's pastor, the Rev. David Calhoun of Hope Springs Community Church in Lexington, also mentioned another habit that Holsinger's church helps people kick:

Hope Springs also ministers to people who no longer wish to be gay or lesbian, Calhoun said.

"We see that as an issue not of orientation but of lifestyle," he said. "We have people who seek to walk out of that lifestyle."

That's right, Bush's proposed candidate for "America's Doctor" cures gay people.

What could I possibly add to that? Bush continues to write his own punchlines.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spanking the Donkey: New Jersey Politics At Their Finest

Just when you thought New Jersey politics couldn't get any more entertaining…

Last Friday afternoon, police in Flemington, New Jersey answered a call at the Liberty Village Premium Outlets. Two women at a bus stop at the popular shopping center reported to arriving officers that they had witnessed a man standing outside his minivan while “committing lewd acts.” A quick NJDMV license search and police lineup later, the lewd acting individual was identified as Christopher Daul.

Some quick background information might be needed for those unfamiliar with Mr. Daul. Christopher L. Daul is a 49-year-old lawyer and government official in Hunterdon County. He works for a management and consulting services firm, chairs the Delaware Township’s Planning Board, has served as a counsel to the to the commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, an assistant counsel to the New Jersey State Senate, and on the last two Governor's Transition Teams for the state Department of Transportation.

And last Friday, he was caught masturbating in public wearing only socks, glasses, and a hands-free headset.

When I first read this story in the local papers, three questions immediately sprang to mind. First and foremost, were the socks black? Try as I might, I couldn't imagine this middle aged politician/professional business man standing there in white athletic tube socks. If he was going to keep the glasses on, then the socks had to be black. I was ready to put money on it.

Next, I was puzzled by the headset. Granted, I was relieved that such a busy individual was doing his part to drive responsibly by using a hands-free device for his cell phone, even if this particular use is not quite something the Bluetooth people would want to structure an ad campaign around. But his decision to leave it on while showing the women at the nearby bus stop exactly how fast he cold pop his cork made me wonder if he was using it at the same time. Was it possible that he was in the midst of an obscene phone call at the same time he was knuckle-shuffling for the Flemington shoppers? In such a fast paced technological age, it seems only fitting that even the sexual deviants have to multitask these days in order to make their perversion quotas. Then again, he might have simply been on the phone to his wife, an executive in the state Treasury Department, to let her know that he was running late and would pick up the dry cleaning on the way home.

My third and final question, of course, was whether or not he finished before fleeing the scene.

Of course, friends and coworkers of Daul’s did their best to express their displeasure with condemning the man, while at the same time sympathizing for him and his wife without excusing and belittling the crime at hand (pun painfully intended). You can’t really fault them for their awkward statements or unwillingness to respond to questions, though. Would any of us react differently if someone we had known for years was suddenly arrested for jerking off in front of some window shoppers in a mall parking lot? I think not.

Tempting as it is, it’s kind of hard to hold this whole event up as an example of the corruption inherent in politics today. Anti-gay religious leaders buying male prostitutes and crystal meth, politicians responsible for Internet Predator legislation being caught preying on underage boys on the Internet, and presidents bumming hummers off of impressionable secretaries are all great examples of the sort of hypocrisy and abuse of power that cranks up the righteous indignation loud enough to wake the neighbors. But a middle-aged lawyer exposing himself to a couple of women at a bus stop, then driving away buck naked in his minivan? Hell, we've all been there before.

And yes, the socks were black.