Friday, July 01, 2016

Signs the Economy is Bad: July 1, 2016 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

This week we do have a bit of fuckery, but we also have some amusing news as well. So let's have a look.

  •  A recent survey found that 7 out of 10 Americans agree that the economy is rigged against them. I do not think this is surprising at all. All you have to do is look around and see the signs and evidence. Story via Common Dreams. You can find the report over at Marketplace, which includes a PDF link to the full poll. And that is not all. The poll also found that "moreover, 71 percent said they were afraid of an unexpected medical bill and 53 percent feared being unable to make a mortgage payment. Of renters, 60 percent fear being unable to pay rent." 
  • Student loan debt continues to be a problem, and now it is hitting fields considered to be high earning. So no, it is not just teachers and social workers and artists feeling the oppression. Now lawyers and finance folks are getting the pinch. However, those folks often have a privilege that the rest of us in service professions do not have: high end employers like brokerage houses and big investment banks willing to help pay the loan debts of their high end workers. Story via Good.Is. My advice on this remains the same: do not go to college if you have to take out a loan. No matter what. Either make sure the college gives you a good financial aid package that covers it all with no loans, work extra to pay for it yourself, or just skip college. Being a modern indentured servant or slave to college loans is not worth it. 
  • Naturally, in every exploitation system someone is making money, and this is true in the student loans racket. Here, Wall Street and the U.S. Government are really making out like robber barons on the backs of the college students they often swindled or baited and switched in the process. Think I am being harsh? Read the piece because "today, just about everyone involved in the student loan industry makes money off students – the banks, private investors, even the federal government." Story via Center for Investigative Reporting's Reveal
  • College loan lenders are not the only racketeers out there. Payday loan lenders are probably lower in the scum hierarchy. By some miracle, apparently one of those vultures had a change of heart and decided to "confess" his deeds. Read about Phil Locke, his change of heart, and how he felt like a modern-day gangster. Though let's be honest, he would be worse than a gangster. Story via The Intercept.
  • Meanwhile, in some areas, renters are getting yet another raw deal where their landlords are colluding with local ISPs for internet access. Story via Back Channel.
  • In the world of bookstores, things are not that much better. Barnes and Noble, which for a while has been more of a gift, collectible, and toy shop than an actual bookstore, is now moving to sell beer and wine in its coffee shops. Yep, you read that right. In the near future, you could have a nice cerveza while you sit in the coffee shop perusing some book or magazine. Oh, and it is not just beer. According to the article, "it’s not just going to be random beers in the cafe—they’re going full on table service, with 'shareable, American food.'”I guess they gotta do what they gotta do to avoid going the way of Borders. Story via AlterNet.
  • Meanwhile, in a story that can have a local impact for me, Hastings announced its Chapter 11 Bankruptcy filing. They owe money to Diamond, the comics distributor, and to Funko, maker of geek toy statues, the Pop! ones that seem so popular lately. Story via The Outhousers. Now there is a Hastings up in Richmond, KY, which is the "big town" next to Berea, KY, and where pretty much anyone in Berea and surrounding small towns go to shop. The thing about Hastings is that they set up shop in what is known as tertiary markets, i.e. the places in the middle of nowhere that stores like Barnes and Noble would not even consider. So if Hastings does go bust, which looks likely unless they find a buyer, it would mean no bookstore/entertainment options in this area. For the privileged and lucky, you could drive to Lexington, the "big metropolis" in the area for a bookstore, but for the rest of the people who can't, they would be shit out of luck. It is not just the books. Hastings sells comics, collectibles (which in some areas are quite hot now), music, and it is one of the few places that rents movies and video games (no, not everybody has Netflix or Game Fly). Oh, here is another detail: the one here hosts the local Friday Night Magic (as in Magic: the Gathering) league, so that would go out too. And if you do Tarot or other divination, that would go too as they are the only seller of such in this area. There are no new age or witchy shops anywhere near here (keep in mind this is Kentucky, fairly rural, and very religiously repressed. That kind of stuff is not welcomed here really). So if  you are lucky or privileged, it is a bit longer drive or shopping online. If not, you are up the creek. We'll see what happens. 
Finally, this week, we do have a couple of stories from the world of the uber rich:

Booknote: Green River Killer

Jeff Jensen, Green River Killer: a True Detective Story. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2011.   ISBN: 978-1-59582-560-5.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: true crime, biography, serial killers
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is the story of the Green River Killer, a serial killer that terrorized Seattle in the late 1960s and 1970s. It is also the story of the detective charged with capturing the killer. It took over 20 years to finally clear the case, and Detective Tom Jensen did the job in full, even long after his police department closed down the initial task force charged with solving the case.

The story is told by the detective's son, Jeff Jensen, a journalist. The story's narrative goes from the end when Tom is interrogating the killer and goes back and forth between the past and the present. When the killer was caught, Tom spent 188 days interviewing the killer to gain closure and answers. What Tom learned was a story of evil and horror. The narrative thus goes from the interrogation to the killer's memories recreating the scenes of his crimes. Along the way, we also get a bit of Tom Jensen's biography.

This is a story that initially draws you in right away. It starts with a very haunting opening sequence. From there, the story builds up. Over time as we read, we experience a bit of the frustration Tom may have felt: as the killer confesses, he holds back; he is evasive at times and claims not to remember certain details. It can be a bit exasperating, but it is also part of the story. The author takes us through the quotidian details of solving the case one clue at a time. Tom Jensen basically spent his career chasing the killer, and we get to be there for the ride.

The imagery and art are good in this volume. We do get some of the crime scenes so we can see the horror, but the art is well drawn; it is not as gruesome as some horror artist might have done. Yet in that simple restraint we can imagine the true horror. The art is in black and white, which adds to a sense of the past, looking back in time.

I'd say this book is another example of the good things that can be done in the graphic novel format. This is a riveting, suspenseful, and at times a bit slow or frustrating read (much like the detective must have felt at times). If you enjoy reading in the true crime genre, this is a good selection. This is a good selection for libraries too but do keep in mind this is for older readers.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Meme: 100 novelas

Once again, I decide to test myself against yet another list of books everybody ought to read according to somebody. This time, the list comes from Que Leer, which is a site for Spanish language readers. Books are classics, some originally in Spanish, others just classics from all over. I will highlight in bold the ones I have read. If I have read something else by an author, I will highlight the author's name instead, also in bold. As usual with these little amusements, you can find some additional snark.

The List, as provided in the article:

  1. Testigo de Cargo de  Agatha Christie (I have read a few others, but not this one. They've been works featuring Hercule Poirot).
  2. El conde de Montecristo de Alejandro Dumas
  3. Un mundo para Julius de Alfredo Bryce Echenique
  4. Ilona llega con la lluvia de Alvaro Mutis
  5. Las mil y una noches,  Anónimo
  6. El lazarillo de Tormes, Anónimo (This was required reading in high school).
  7. El principito de Antoine Saint Exupery
  8. Las aventuras de Sherlock Holmes de Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. El perfume de Patrick Suskind
  10. La muerte de Artemio de Cruz, Carlos Fuentes
  11. Factotum de Charles Bukowski
  12. Robinson Crusoe de Daniel Defoe (Required reading in college)
  13. La guía del autoestopista galáctico de Douglas Adams
  14. Las aventuras de Arthur Gordon de Pym, Edgar Allan Poe
  15. El misterio de la cruz egipcia de Ellery Queen
  16. Teresa Raquin de Emile Zola
  17. Sandokan de Emilio Salgari1
  18. Cumbres borrascosas de Emily Bronte
  19. Por quién doblan las campanas de Ernest Hemingway
  20. Crimen y Castigo de Fedor Dostoyeski
  21. La celestina de Fernando de Rojas (Required reading in high school, same year I read Lazarillo up above).
  22. Dune de Frank Herbert (a favorite I have reread a couple of times)
  23. La metamorfosis de Franz Kafka
  24. Odessa de Frederick Forsyth
  25. Cien Años de Soledad de Gabriel García Márquez (My all time favorite novel, which I reread every so often)
  26. El misterio del cuarto amarillo de Gaston Leroux
  27. “1984” de George Orwell (I had to teach this when I taught high school)
  28. Werther de Goethe
  29. El hombre invisible de H. G. Wells
  30. Tokyo Blues de Haruki Murakami
  31. Papillon de Henry Charriere
  32. Una vuelta de tuerca de Henry James
  33. Trópico de Cáncer de  Henry Miller
  34. Quo Vadis de Henryk Sienkiewicz
  35. Moby Dick de Herman Melville
  36. La Odisea de Homero
  37. Fundación de Isaac Asimov (Asimov's Foundation series has been on my TBR a while now. Maybe one of these days).
  38. La casa de los espíritus de  Isabel Allende
  39. El señor de los anillos de J. R. R. Tolkien
  40. Harry Potter de J.K Rowling (This is not happening. I just do not give a shit about Harry Potter. There, I said it).
  41. Colmillo Blanco de  Jack London
  42. Ulises de James Joyce
  43. Sentido y Sensibilidad de Jane Austen
  44. Soldados de Salamina de  Javier Cercas
  45. Corazón tan blanco de Javier Marías
  46. La náusea de  Jean Paul Sartre
  47. El mundo según Garp de John Irving
  48. El Aleph de Jorge Luis Borges
  49. La sonrisa etrusca de José Luis Sampedro
  50. El evangelio según Jesucristo de José Saramago (I read his On Blindness. It was such a bad experience I do not think I will ever read Saramago again).
  51. Lord Jim de Joseph Conrad
  52. El mundo de Sofia de Jostein Gaarder
  53. La vuelta al Mundo en 80 días de Julio Verne
  54. Guerra y Paz de León Tolstoi
  55. La Regenta de  Leopoldo Alas Clarin
  56. Ben Hur de  Lew Wallace
  57. Alicia en el País de las Maravillas de  Lewis Carrol
  58. Fuente Ovejuna de  Lope de Vega (yep, required reading in high school too)
  59. Mujercitas de Louise M. Alcott
  60. El padrino de Mario Puzo (Another one of my favorites)
  61. La ciudad y los perros de  Mario Vargas Llosa (I have liked Vargas Llosa, but this is one of his I did not like very much).
  62. Las aventuras de Huckleberry Finn de  Mark Twain
  63. Jim Boton y Lucas el Maquinista de Michael Ende
  64. El Quijote de Miguel de Cervantes (required reading in senior year of high school. I wrote my senior thesis paper on it).
  65. El camino de Miguel Delibes
  66. Niebla de  Miguel Unamuno
  67. El callejón de los milagros de Naguib Mahfouz
  68. Piense y hágase rico de Napoleón Hill
  69. La canción del verdugo de  Norman Mailer
  70. El vendedor más grande del mundo de  Og Mandino
  71. El retrato de Dorian Gray de  Oscar Wilde
  72. El Talento de Mister Ripley de Patricia Highsmith
  73. Trilogía de Nueva York de Paul Auster
  74. El alquimista de Paulo Coelho
  75. Apología de Sócrates Platón
  76. Alfanhui  de Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio
  77. Fahrenheit 451 de  Ray Bradbury (I also had to teach this one in high school. Actually, when it comes to Bradbury, I like The Martian Chronicles better).
  78. Juan Salvador Gaviota de Richard Bach
  79. Charlie y la Fábrica de Chocolate de Roald Dahl
  80. El caballero de la armadura oxidada de Robert Fisher
  81. Padre rico, Padre pobre de Robert Kiyosaki
  82. La isla del Tesoro de Robert de Louis Stevenson
  83. El libro de las tierras vírgenes de Rudyard Kipling
  84. Edipo de Rey Sófocles
  85. Los 7 hábitos de la gente altamente efectiva de Stephen Covey
  86. It  de Stephen King
  87. Rojo y Negro de Sthendal
  88. Milleniun de Stieg Larsson
  89. Muerte en Venecia de Thomas Mann
  90. El bastardo recalcitrante de Tom Sharpe
  91. Los renglones torcidos de Dios de Torcuato Luca de Tena
  92. A sangre fría de Truman Capote
  93. Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis de  Vicente Blasco Ibañez
  94. Los Miserables de Víctor Hugo
  95. La Eneida de Virgilio
  96. Cándido de Voltaire
  97. Ivanhoe de Walter Scott
  98. La dama de blanco de Wilkie Collins
  99. El señor de las moscas de William Golding
  100. Hamlet de  William Shakespeare

I have read a total of 31 books and 11 additional authors from the list. A good number of them were required in high school for Spanish (Peninsular) literature during my senior year. Anyhow, there you have it. 

Signs the economy is bad: June 24, 2016 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

This week there is quite a bit of fuckery going on, big and small. So let's get on with it.

  • I always knew that much of the bridal industry is a big rip-off, but now we get some confirmation. It turns out that, among other things, bridal dresses get marked up in price at least three times more than similar dresses simply because they are marketed as a "bridal" dress. Same goes for bridesmaids dresses marketed as "bridal." This is the kind of thing makes me glad I could rent the tux. Wear it once, return it, never have to see the thing again, and it did not cost me an arm or a leg. Ladies, honestly, get a clue, save a few bucks, get a nice dress that looks bridal but is not bridal. Story via The Washington Post.  
  • You know things have to be bad when you can find articles offering tutorials on how to go dumpster diving. Alternet just featured such an article. 
  • In philanthropy fuckery, Bill Gates, that charitable busybody who thinks he can tell anyone what to do based on tossing money at them (see what he does or not for higher ed for instance) recently decided that Bolivia needed chickens. Probably on the arrogant assumption that Bolivians are dirt poor and need to learn to raise chickens to feed themselves. Bolivia pretty much told him he could keep his damn chickens and pointed out that "already produces 197 million chickens per year, many of which are exported. And the IMF suggests Bolivia is about to become the strongest economy in South America." You know Bill, maybe your foundation and you should use some of that wonderful technology you own to do some damn research and get off your high horse. Or, if looking it up is too much, you can always ask a librarian. Story via 
  • The United States elevates to an art form exploiting the poor and then profiting from them. The Atlantic discusses a new book that "details how foster-care agencies and other safety-net programs hire consultants to maximize their funding and divert it from its intended use." Via a combination of privatization and even outright corruption and greed, Americans now turn the poverty of the most vulnerable into a cash stream for the wealthy and the greedy. 
  • Tuition at public colleges has risen in the past decade, and so have student fees. Gee, that would not have anything to do with the fact that local governments and the people that elect them decided to defund and stop investing in public education, would it? It is amusing to see the pathetic hypocrites cut funding for higher education then whine when tuition goes up? Where the fuck do you think they are going to make up the short fall because you are too whiny to pay your taxes or support higher education otherwise? You still want to send your kids to college. Well, it does not pay for itself. You either invest on it now so all can benefit, or keep tuition through the nose. Story via The Washington Post
  • And since people do not want to invest in higher education, putting students in debt slavery is just part of the package. The latest scheme now is for corporate banks and other interests to loan the money, then keep students paying a percentage of their salaries when they leave college. The Mafia would be proud of this long term extortion racket. Story via Truth-Out. 
  • Moving along, if you manage to make it out of college, and you belong to the creative class like artists, writers, etc., you could be ending up choosing voluntary poverty, especially in gentrifying cities. With salaries no longer enough to afford living in cities, where creative jobs are often found, it is a serious hardship for these folks to find work. Read the details out of AlterNet
  • Now what are Americans more than willing to pay for? Prisons. Americans love prisons, and they take pride in their prison industrial complex, so much so they let private corporations move in to run their prisons and make a profit in the process. Here is a profile of Corrections Corp. of America, one of the top players, but even they are facing challenges in the bad economy. Story via Mother Jones, which also has some related articles including an expose of an investigator who took a job working as a corrections officer in one of their privatized prisons. 
  • We have mentioned before how colleges, seeking to make up money lost to defunding by their legislatures and voters, sell naming rights for just about anything. Such schemes include donors naming bathrooms on campus and UW-Madison naming a fermentation lab after Kikkoman (yes, the soy sauce) among others.So now, since Americans loathe paying for anything that is a public good, it looks like corporations may soon be getting naming rights to national parks and other natural national treasures. Story via AlterNet
  • Finally, in a bittersweet note for this week, some news out of Puerto Rico. El Zipperle, the fanciest, swankiest restaurant on the island, feeding place of governors, legislators, and anyone who was anyone back in the heyday, has tax issues, as in has not been paying them, and now is forced to auction off its wine collections to pay their debts. It's the end of an era. Story via El Nuevo Dia (this is a source in Spanish).

Booknote: The Creative Tarot

Jessa Crispin, The Creative Tarot: a Modern Guide to an Inspired Life. New York: Touchstone Books, 2016.  ISBN: 9781501120237.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: creativity, inspiration, Tarot, advice, spirituality
Format: trade paperback
Source: Initially, the Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library. I have since bought a personal copy. 

This is probably the best book on Tarot I have read so far. Though it is a book for creative types, anyone who is learning to read Tarot cards and starting their journey can get much benefit from this book. If you are a Tarot veteran, you can still get valuable insights from the book. However, you do not have to be a Tarot cards reader to use this book. If you are a writer, an artist, painter, etc., you can use the images and symbols of the Tarot for inspiration in your creative work.

Tarot cards are often seen as esoteric and mystical, which to many people means they are inaccessible and strange. The author does a great job of demystifying the cards they can be more approachable. The strength in the book is that she has made the card meanings more relevant and accessible to modern readers. As I read through the book, I found that I could relate better to the meanings and understand the basics better. I say I can relate better because as a writer and blogger I found much inspiration in the his book.

The book is arranged in a way similar to other Tarot guides. You get the following components:

  • A brief introduction.
  • Some history of the Tarot. Yet this is not just some standard history. Crispin looks at Tarot and artists, plus she tells her own history with Tarot. 
  • A description and profile of each card in a Tarot deck. This is the bulk of the book. Unlike other Tarot book where a section like this can be seriously dry reading, Crispin makes the reading here light and very accessible. 
  • A section on spreads. She provides five simple spreads to help with creativity issues like getting through a creative block. She explains the spread briefly and then provides a sample spread reading to illustrate the lesson. 
  • A section on how to do a Tarot reading. This includes tips on how to pick out a deck, setting things up, and reading for others among a variety of topics. 
  • A short conclusion. 
 Let me add also a bit more detail on the card entries. Each card entry in this book features:

  • An illustration of the card. This is basically Rider Waite Smith images, which is considered a classic standard. Odds are good many people starting with Tarot picked up an RWS deck to start out. However, many decks draw from RWS or are derived from it. If you are using something other than an RWS deck, you will probably be OK. 
  •  A description of the image and symbols in the each card. This includes the basic meaning of a card. 
  • Further information on the card. This is includes expanding on the meaning. It also features stories and anecdotes about famous artists and how they dealt with the creative process. Much of the strength of the book is looking at those stories and seeing how Tarot can offer insights into creativity using those real life examples. Remembering these stories can also help Tarot students better remember some of the card meanings; this is something I find useful as I am learning Tarot. 
  • A small selection of recommended materials about the sample artists. This could be a book, a film, a work of art, a piece of music, etc. 
Overall, this is a very clear and accessible book. For Tarot learners seeking a learning tool that is easy to read and mostly free of jargon or vague meanings, this is a great choice. On the other hand, if you are just a creative type seeking inspiration, this may be a book for you as well. You don't even have to get a Tarot deck; reading the stories and how they connect to Tarot can provide plenty of ideas to get your creativity going. For me, this book serves me well both as a write and as Tarot learner. If I have to have one book on Tarot so far, this is definitely it. Crispin's work is bright and open. You feel that you can learn Tarot, and it is a book you can refer to as much as needed. Though I initially borrowed this from my local public library, I went out and bought a copy for myself. I highly recommend this one, and it makes a good selection for libraries, especially if they do not have a whole lot on Tarot.

5 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Additional reading note:

Possible book for further reading listed in Crispin's book:

The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by Robert Michael Place. ISBN: 9781585423491.

* * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Booknote: Battle Pope, Volume 4

Robert Kirkman, Battle Pope, Volume 4: Wrath of God. Berkeley, CA: Image, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-58240-751-7.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor, heroes
Format: trade paperback
Source: Bought at Half Price Books

With this one, I finished reading the set, and this completes the run. Though Kirkman and his collaborators have stated there could be new adventures for Battle Pope down the road, there has been nothing new since, so for now, this is it.

After Pope spent some quality time with Mary over Christmas in the previous volume, God being the jealous asshole he is gets mad at Pope. The two guys get into a drag out fight, but before Pope and God get it on, Pope has to survive Amon and his giant battle bot. Oh, and Mary is no longer keeping quiet about God's indifference and neglect for her. The series overall definitely goes out with a bang.

The volume did feel a bit short. The pace was very fast, and it did have some fun moments. However, it felt a little rushed. The ending wraps things up, but it leaves a bit of an opening for future possibilities. In addition, the art remains a great reason to pick this up, and in the color edition, the characters look great. Overall, it was a good ending to the series, and I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 10, 2016

Booknote: Black Mass, plus some thoughts on the film

Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil's DealNew York: Public Affairs, 2015.  ISBN: 9781610395533.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: true crime, mob stories
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

In the 1970s, James "Whitey" Bulger was an up and coming Irish gangster in Boston. He then got the opportunity of a lifetime to eliminate his major competitor: the Boston Italian Mafia. He did it by making a deal with the FBI to become an informant for the agency about the Mafia. John Connolly, an ambitious up and coming FBI agent, made the deal and protected "Whitey" and his partner Stephen Flemmi. What mattered to the FBI was taking down the Italian Mafia. As a result, the FBI either turned a blind eye or outright helped Bulger become the premier gangster in Boston. In a town where outsiders are despised, Connolly was able to make the deal where others failed because he was a local boy and Bulger's childhood friend.

This is a story that on the one hand can be hard to believe. On the other hand, it is a story that is easy to believe given the reputation of law enforcement of often breaking rules they are supposed to enforce and making deals with criminals of dubious value. Sure, taking down the Boston Mafia was a noble goal, but the FBI basically sold its soul to Bulger and enabled his own rise to control organized crime in Boston. Add to this a serious lack of accountability, the FBI's own internal corruption, and a parade of barely competent FBI supervisors, and you get a recipe for a disaster the FBI will be trying to amend for years to come.

The book is nonfiction, but it reads like a good crime procedural and thriller. The authors do include a lot of detail on the workings of the deal between Bulger and the FBI. We also get a good narrative of the Boston crime scene from the 1970s all the way through today as the drug wars rose to prominence. Still, despite a lot of minutiae at times, the book offers a pretty riveting narrative that keeps you reading. Part of the reason you keep reading is you wonder how much will Whitey get away with. Turns out the FBI was willing to basically give Whitey the kingdom, which also gave Connolly a lot of prestige and benefit inside the agency.

At the time I read the book, I had not seen the film, but I could see then how this book had appeal for Hollywood to make a film. It has a riveting story with lots of intrigue plus very dark characters. The book has a good, solid pace. Additionally, the authors took care to offer plenty of documentation with a list of sources and a section with notes. The edition I read is the updated paperback edition published in 2012; the story first came out in 2000. The story continues to draw interest.

For readers of true crime and/or mob stories, this is a recommended reading. In terms of appeal factors, similar books may include:

  • Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy. This is the basis for the film GoodFellas.  I have not read it yet, but I have seen the film, and it is one of my favorites in the genre. As soon as I read the book, you can count on seeing a review here on the blog. Also, if you like mob biographies, Casino, again basis of another movie, may also be of interest.
  • Arms and the Dudes. The link here goes to my review. I hear this one is getting made into a movie too. 
  • Betrayal: the Crisis in the Catholic Church. The link goes to my review. I list this one mostly because it is also investigative reporting from the Boston Globe (where the two reporters who wrote Black Mass worked) and it is about the Boston diocese and corruption. 
I am rating the book 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Additional reading notes:

The FBI deal really was bad:

"What if the FBI takes down the informant's enemies and the informant then rises to the top of the underworld.

. . .

What if murders pile up, unsolved? If working folks are threatened and extorted, with no recourse?

. . .

This could never happen, right? . . .
But it did" (xvi).

Bulger also had in his favor the fact he was extremely intelligent, probably way more so than the FBI, and very well read. He also learned from his mistakes and early arrests:

"No, the second time around he would stay in control and behind the scenes. Those years of reading in prison libraries had sharpened his instincts, and his mind had become an encyclopedia of law enforcement tactics and past mobster mistakes. Like a chessmaster, Bulger was confident that he knew the moves, that he could watch your opening and lead you straight to checkmate" (31).

The FBI treated Bulger and Flemmi like royalty, even socializing with them and protecting them from other police agencies:

"There were indeed people stalking Bulger and Flemmi-- like state troopers. Years later the irony was not lost on investigators from other police agencies: the gangsters had shaken the troopers tailing them by finding safe haven and a hot meal in the homes of FBI agents" (137).

In fact, the FBI even punished those Bulger threatened and extorted, like the Rakes family who lost their liquor store to Bulger's extortion. Mr. Rakes got called in to a grand jury, but he never really gave up Bulger. The FBI then took things out on Rakes:

"Rakes was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and in 1998 he was convicted of both iin U.S. federal district court. For Rakes it was the ultimate double jeopardy-- the government that did not protect him went after him, while Whitey walked away. But was a fate Stephen Rakes had come to prefer to facing Bulger" (177).

* * *
Some additional thoughts about the film

I saw that my public library had the film, so I put it on hold (it was checked out that the time). By the time I finished reading the book, the film arrived for me to check out. The film stays pretty close to the book; however, it does leave a lot of things out from the book. That's the usual Hollywood machine making narrative decisions to keep the movie on track and not make it too long. Unless someone reads the book to check, or maybe reads one or two of various articles that have pointed out the differences, the average movie viewer will not really care.  It is a pretty good film overall. 

  • Johnny Depp really captures the character of James "Whitey" Bulger. In terms of casting, I found the choice of Benedict Cumberbatch to portray Whitey's brother, state politician Billy Bulger, an interesting one. Cumberbatch does capture how Billy could portray himself as respectable yet be extremely ruthless.
  • The movie does not quite get right how Whitey meets Connolly to set the deal. Flemmi's role as an informant himself is greatly diminished in the film. Flemmi was the one working as an informant before Whitey came on board. This is probably done for dramatic effect, to keep Depp's character front and center, etc. 
  • The movie does compress a lot of the book, but it still gets the feel of it. Events in the film do move quite fast. 
  • The parts of Whitey and the son are not very prominent in the book. Yes, that did happen, but as I said, not really in the book. 
  • The Kevin Bacon character is not real. He is a mash-up of some of the FBI supervisors that were part of the story. 
  • This is a very dark film. It will get comparisons to The Godfather and more likely GoodFellas, but the themes differ from the classic films. There is no real sense of honor like in the classic mobster films (Puzo's work is fiction; Pileggi's is nonfiction). Also, it is a bit more procedural in the sense of getting a glimpse at how the FBI does things. However, it is only a glimpse. The book really goes in depth about the FBI's corruption, obstruction, and deal making.

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This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Battle Pope, Volume 3

Robert Kirkman, Battle Pope, Volume 3: Pillow Talk. Berkeley, CA: Image, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-58240-677-0.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: heroes, humor
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Bought at Half Price Books

After the events in the previous volume, Pope and Jesus are homeless. However, they soon find a new place to live along with the tenants of the previous building they lived in, who ended up homeless as well. Jesus and Pope are getting along slightly better as roommates. Meanwhile, Agnes, Pope's old landlady, keeps hitting on him, and if that was not enough, Pope has a crush on a female demon named Brenda. Could Brenda be true love for Pope at last? The volume also features a Christmas holiday edition, and the Virgin Mary drops by to visit her son for his birthday.

Pope continues to blast evil demons when he can, and he does get with the ladies as much as possible. Though the volume is not as humorous as previous ones, it is still amusing, and it does have some funny moments. The art is definitely a great reason to pick this up, and Image's restoration in full color makes this comic pop. The comic also features a short introduction by Chris Piers, and it also has a sketchbook so you can see early drafts and how the comic was developed. Overall, it was a fun read. As I've said for previous volumes, this is not a comic for young kids given violence and some very adult situations.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Booknote: Tarot Cards

Isabella Alston and Kathryn Dixon, Tarot Cards. Cobham, UK: TAJ Books International, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-84406-338-3. (Link to Amazon page. As of this post, WorldCat did not have a record on the book's ISBN number).

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, art
Format: hardback
Source: I bought this on clearance at Half Price Books. (Hey, it was a dollar, not bad for the value).

This is another small book, an art book of 95 pages showing a variety of Tarot card decks. It's a very nice book to look at. For Tarot card deck collectors, this book may incite their collecting lust a bit. The book starts with an introduction that sets up the book and gives a brief history of Tarot cards. This book looks at Tarot cards as an art form. The authors write:

"The beauty and lyricism of hundreds, and even thousands, of tarot cards illustrated throughout the last 600 years, as well as those currently in circulation, and those yet to be designed and published, make them a unique art form. This book celebrates that art form" (6).

After the book's introduction, we get to see various samples of Tarot card decks. Naturally, it starts with a selection from the Rider Waite Smith deck as this is the most popular style, and it is considered a standard. After this, the oldest sample we see is the 15th century Visconti Tarot. From there, the book goes on in order presenting other antique decks and working up to modern times where we find a wide variety of decks. Recently, as I have started a journey to study and learn Tarot, I coined what I call the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan, which states:

"Every Tarot deck its reader/collector, and every reader/collector its Tarot deck." 

This book helps prove the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan. Sure, you could start learning Tarot on the classic Rider Waite Smith. Many people do, but you don't have to start with the Rider Waite Smith deck. There are many styles and art form to choose from when it comes to Tarot decks. Yes, many are derived from or draw upon the Rider Waite Smith deck, but some creators have their own systems such as the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot. If you want to study Tarot, there is a deck for you. Like Arthurian tales and lore? There is an Arthurian Legend Tarot. Like DaVinci? There is the DaVinci Enigma Tarot. Like your art a bit more surreal and on the wild side? Maybe the Deviant Moon Tarot is for you. The book presents those decks and more for a total of 55 decks ranging from historical to contemporary. Aside from commenting on some of the historical decks, the rest of the book is simply images of the various decks.

The only disadvantage of this art book is the size. The book is about 6 by 6 inches. This means some of the images are a bit small. I do wish the book was a big bigger because some of the images could be better appreciated if they were bigger. Still, it is a nice little book to look at. Overall, the book is meant to give you a small overview of what has been created and what is available now. I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: