Friday, August 29, 2014

Booknote: Poetry of the Taliban

Alex Strick van Linschoten,, Poetry of the Taliban. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780231704045.

This is an academic book that collects poetry of the Afghan Taliban. In addition to the poetry, it does contain a good amount of academic material (introduction, essays, and other explanatory items) for scholars and students. I picked it up mostly due to my interest in history and world affairs. I will not rate it as I do others books, but rather offer my reading notes. I do think academic libraries, especially ones with strength in Middle Eastern studies and history, will want to pick up this item. I would not recommend this for public libraries unless it is requested. This is not really a book you read for pleasure, and I do not say that as a bad thing.

"The garden of my imagination was baked in the oven of cruelty,
I am looking for pain in imagination"
--Abdul Basir Ebrat, "Thunder," 1994.

Reading notes:

The book deals with a topic that has received little attention, and from Americans the attention usually comes from military analysts who pretty much lump it into propaganda. And yes, there is some propaganda in the poems, but there is also a human character.

On the type of poetry:
"While it is the tarana or ballad that seems to be the favourite genre of the Cultural Committee's propaganda, a primarily oral form of literature that has also received most attention from those who study the Taliban, it appears to be the ghazal or love lyric whose themes if not always form dominate the movement's unofficial literature. Made up of interlinked couplets that do not have to possess any continuity of narrative or even mood, the ghazal is by far the most popular genre of poetry in the region, which can be sung and recited, but also dominates the written literature that was previously composed primarily by court poets and mystics" (15).
The poetry is overly Afghan in emphasis. There is a debt to Islamic militancy, but little specific mentions of Al Qaeda, bin Laden, or Mullah Omar (one of the Taliban leaders). There are many references to Great Britain, the United States of America, the White House, and G.W. Bush.

More on the character of the poetry:

"Poetry features in all spheres of life: on political occasions, for social change, for religions purposes, at home, for weddings, for funerals, for festivals, and even-- as we shall see-- on the battlefield" (33). 

Often, Taliban poetry is overlooked by those monitoring the Taliban's website, seen as lacking "operational" value when compared to other content.

"Yet it seemed to be such a prominent part of what the Taliban wanted to present about themselves to the wider world" (31). 

On the poetry:

  • "The 235 poems in this collection aim to showcase some of the diversity of thematic and stylistic content as well as offering three dozen older examples from the 1980s and 1990s" (31). 
  • Older poems collated "from magazines, newspapers and casette tapes, transcribed where necessary and then translated" (31).
  • Newer poems mainly from the Taliban website, and they date December 2006 to February 2009. 
  • Authorship varies. The poet and person who performs it on an MP3 are different. Authors often use pen names. Some are propaganda; others are simply submissions from poets and common people. 
  • "There are, broadly speaking, three kinds of Taliban poems in this sense: those with a clear propaganda message, officially sanctioned; those very close to the same line and inciting others to fight, but unaffiliated with the propaganda apparatus; and completely unaffiliated individuals" (46). 
Some themes and topics covered:

  • Pre- 9/11.
  • Love and pastoral
  • Religious
  • Discontent (regarding various topics)
  • The Trench (Taliban war songs)
  • The Human Cost

Signs the Economy is Bad: August 29, 2014 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.  

It has been a busy month for me, but the stories keep on coming signaling that the economy is still bad. So, let's just get on with it and see how much ground we can cover this week.

  • You know things are bad when the hobbies the well-off tend to like suffer. It turns out that less young people are playing golf. The horror. How bad is it? Well, it's so bad that Dick's Sporting Goods "recently laid off 478 PGA pros who worked in the company's golf shops." Story via Big Think. And why would young people not want to play golf? The reason is "because golf is a pastime associated with white plutocrats." And we all know who fucked up the economy. I am sure they don't want to be associated with those people. I certainly would not.
  • Now a bad economy can make people depressed. When people get depressed, they often seek some comfort, even it is a small comfort. One such comfort is chocolate. Well, things are getting worse, so even that may soon be out of reach for some as chocolate is getting more expensive. Hershey, Mars, and Nestle all recently announced increases to the price of their products. Why? "The rise in the cost of chocolate is a direct response to the skyrocketing price of cocoa beans and dairy products. Unfortunately for chocoholics, numerous social, economic, and environmental factors suggest the price of sweets is only going to keep rising." Man, can't even catch a break these days, not even from the Kit Kat bar. Story via Big Think.
  • And if things were not bad enough, it was recently reported that more than 35% of Americans are being hounded by debt collectors. Story via The Week. Oh, and here is something to ponder: "Also of note is the fact that unpaid debts are concentrated in Southern and Western states, with Texas in the lead. Five Texas cities — Dallas, El Paso, Houston, McAllen, and San Antonio — have more than 40 percent of their populations reported to collection agencies. In addition, nearly half of Las Vegas residents have debts that are in collections." Hmm, southern and western states. I wonder what party tends to rule in those places. Not to mention that much of the American South ranks high when it comes to poverty overall. But it's not like we are seeing a pattern or anything, are we? By the way, you can read the Urban Institute report on delinquent debt in America here.
  • In addition, more people have difficulty keeping a roof over their heads. Buying a house for many is just not an option. So, the default, other than being homeless, is often to rent a place to live. Yet you can forget about catching a break there as well given that rents keep getting more expensive. Story via Mother Jones. It is so bad even the people who may have money to buy a house are choosing to rent instead.
  • And if you are young(ish) and trying to make a go of it, it is not looking good for you. Via AlterNet, here are "4 Signs Millennial Are Doomed to Dwindling Incomes." I will say that it is not just Millennials. A good number of people in my generation (I fall under Generation X) are not exactly thriving neither, and some of it is due to the reasons presented in the article as well. But if you are just graduating college, boy, I do feel for you. That is unless you happen to be rich, and in that case, odds are good you just inherited it anyhow, so you don't have to lift a finger while the rest of us starve and scrape by, often due to, well, plutocrats who by now are just inheriting old fortunes anyhow.
  • In other news, porn production is going down in Los Angeles. This is due to a new law mandating condom use in productions. Now, regardless of how you feel about porn (and disclosure, I personally have no problem with it, at least the commercial legal kind), this is a sign of a bad economy to come. Why? Well, most people usually think of the glamorous actresses who work in porn, but like any other industry, a lot of people work in small and large jobs often behind the scenes. Less porn making means a few of those folks could be out of work. No work means no money, and that means they won't be spending locally (or elsewhere) to keep the economy going. Anyhow, this is just something that caught my eye.
  • At least someone is staying afloat, and that is General Motors. It is not just due to the bailouts. It turns that they are still selling a lot of those gas guzzling SUVs, you know, the giant monstrosities that guzzle gas for low gas mileage, pollute more, and overall are often driven by obnoxious people. It seems a lot dads with money to burn and who do not give a shit about anyone but themselves are buying them, and by their own admission, "'I didn’t buy the vehicle for the gas mileage,' [Mike Quinto] said." Uh huh.
  • And a last minute inclusion this week. You know the economy is bad when you die in the midst of working four jobs to try to stay afloat. Story via Raw Story.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Booknote: The Annotated Godfather

Jones, Jenny M., The Annotated Godfather: the Complete Screenplay. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007. ISBN: 9781579127398.

This is a book that I found by serendipity at my local public library. Being a fan of the film, I knew that I had to pick it up. This was a book that I definitely enjoyed.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • A short introduction that sets up the book and the context of the film, a film that had many elements opposing its production. We learn that the books looks at various versions of the script, alternate and deleted scenes, modified film releases (done after the 1972 theatrical release), the novel, the production documents, and interviews. The book is very comprehensive in using sources to give a full and more in-depth picture of the film and its times as well as its legacy. 
  • An essay on "Genesis of The Godfather" that goes over how the film came to be and presents those involved in making the film.
  • The complete, annotated screenplay. This was for me the best part of the book. The book offers plenty of annotations with technical details, trivia, comparisons with the novel and adaptation notes, and other details. For fans of the film, the annotations may be much more interesting than the script. They certainly give depth to the film and give us a much better appreciation. This part of the book is definitely must-read. 
  • An aftermath essay that discusses the events after the film and its legacy. 
  • Appendices covering film credits, a timelines, and awards the film earned. 
  • A bibliography. 
  • An index of memorable lines. 
  • An index for the book. 
In addition to the above, the book contains great black and white as well as color photographs. These serve to enhance the book further. Also, the book's layout is good and easy to read; it does not feel cramped, making good use of white space and generous margins.

This is definitely a book I enjoyed reading. I learned much that I did not know before, and I found the book to be very accessible. I borrowed it from the public library, but this is definitely one I will add to my collection when I get a chance. Fans will want this book right next to their DVD or Blue-Ray of the film.

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Booknote: Los hijos de los días

Eduardo Galeano, Los hijos de los días. Montevideo (Uruguay): Ediciones del Chanchito, 2012. ISBN: 9789974620193.

I recently read Los hijos de los días by Eduardo Galeano. This was a very nice and easy read, and I learned some new things along the way. The book is arranged as an almanac with a story for every day of the year. Galeano presents a very diverse selection of stories and facts. They are all presented in a good narrative style that now and then evokes a sense of wonder. 

Remember a while back when Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a copy of Galeano's other book, Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina? (link to my review). In fact, I suggested we give Obama that book among with some others when he was elected president. It took Chavez to finally get it in his hands, go figure.  Well, we probably should give President Obama a copy of this book as well. In fact, I think a lot of United States denizens might help alleviate their ignorance of geography, history, and current events by reading this book. Don't worry. If you cannot read it in Spanish, it is available in English translation as The Children of the Days

The book not only covers Latin America. Galeano truly takes us on a globe-trotting journey across time. A few things you might learn by reading this book: 

  • Nelson Mandela was in the U.S. terrorists' list until 2008. 
  • Learn about the invasion of the U.S. by Iraq in 2003 (a bit of reverse history). 
  • Baby Rupert grey up to be a capitalist media tycoon. How did he learn about capitalism? During his college days, he read Marx and admired Lenin. 
  • Learn about the Mexican invasion of the U.S. in 1916 (this really happened). 
  • And more. . . . 
 Though I borrowed this one via Interlibrary Loan from my library, it is one I would love to add to my personal collection. This is definitely a good book to give to young readers. It will not only educate, but it may also urge them to read other things and learn more. 

If you ask me, 4.5 out of 5 stars overall. 

And to end, I have to share the book's beautiful epigraph that opens the book: 

"Y los días se echaron a caminar.
Y ellos, los días, nos hicieron.
Y así fuimos nacidos, nosotros, 
los hijos de los días
los averiguadores. 
los buscadores de la vida." 
--El Génesis, segun los mayas


Friday, August 08, 2014

Booknote: Sons of Dorn

Chris Roberson, Sons of Dorn. Nottingham (UK): Black Library, 2010. ISBN: 9781844167890. (Imperial Fists novel, Warhammer 40,000).

I saw some reviews of this before I started that said the plot was one from other Black Library novels (the Space Wolves series to be precise). I have not read the other series, and I am fairly casual reader, so I am coming at this novel with that perspective. At any rate, that is stuff that the hardcore fans may know or may want to know. For the rest of us, the basic plot is that of three rivals who get recruited (or kidnapped and taken in) by the Imperial Fists Chapter of Space Marines in the hopes of turning them into Space Marines as well. From there, Roberson develops the story.

When I started reading this, I was a bit concerned that it was going to be similar to Descent of Angels (see my review of that here), where the novel took place, at least for some part, in a world before the Space Marines arrived. That author did not provide a good work and I saw some small similarities initially between the two novels. However, the world of our protagonists here is different. For one, it had been contacted by the Space Marines already, though not recently, so the locals sort of lost touch with the Imperium of Man. Roberson then goes on to give us a better story than Scanlon, setting up early the rivalry between DuQueste, Zatori, and Taloc. The three men, members of civilizations at war with each other, are culled right out of a battlefield along with many others by the Imperial Fists who are looking for, to borrow the sales pitch, "for a few good men." Initially, the three men are not it, but we'll get there. Once the culling happens, the novel actually becomes more interesting as it goes along. The three men go through their training and indoctrination.

The processing of a Space Marines recruit and then neophyte is something not seen often in these novels; it is a process that can vary in small ways from one Space Marines chapter to the next. The Imperial Fists certainly have their specific rules and procedures, some of them quite ruthless. Add to this that the three recruits each have a grudge against each other, but they cannot act upon it during the training or later when they make it to be scouts (don't worry, I am not spoiling here. The fact they do become scouts is mentioned in the book's blurp). Doing so would earn them severe punishment. Will they be able to at least put their grudges aside long enough to survive the training and their first combat missions? That tension does add to the pace and suspense of the novel.

The action does pick up when the new scouts reach their first combat assignment. It is a world that has been invaded by Traitor Space Marines and Traitor Guards (former Imperial forces that have turned against the Emperor to serve the Chaos forces). The world holds strategic value due to high fuel deposits. Our new scouts end up in a siege as they have to hold a central location that is also a refugee center from the onslaught of enemy forces. Now, the Imperial Fists are known as masters of siege warfare, but will they be able to hold out here long enough for reinforcements to arrive? You will have to read to find out.

Overall, this was a pretty entertaining read. It is a good standalone novel, which for me is a good thing as I sometimes just want to read one good piece of fiction. However, the ending does leave the possibility of other novels down the road. I do not know if there will be a sequel or not, but I would consider reading it if it happens. Basically this is a good action tale of Space Marines. Fans of the Imperial Fists will likely be pleased. More casual readers like me can enjoy it as well.

I'd give it four out of five stars if you ask me.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Booknote: Indestructible, Volume 1

 Kline, Jeff, Indestructible, Volume 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2014. ISBN: 9781613779774.

I initially found the description somewhat interesting, which is why I picked up this volume. It is the story of Greg Pincus, a lower than average guy who gets mistaken for someone "special" and thus superhero material. This is a world where superheroes are celebrities, and they are usually discovered when their "gifts" are somehow revealed.  It's supposed to be a comedic take on the superhero genre. I found it to be a disappointment.

Greg is basically a loser without a spine. He is not heroic at all. A fluke gets people to think he may be something, and hero groups start courting him. His roommate is an opportunistic slacker without any likeable traits who overall is fairly despicable; I certainly found him repulsive and honestly wondered how Greg put up with him. Then again, since Greg is basically spineless and letting others move him around, it makes sense. Other than trying to exploit Greg's newly found fame for his own gain, the guy is pretty useless. To be honest, watching Greg bumbling around being reluctant to embrace the fame, claiming he wants to reveal the truth, yet allowing himself to be manipulated was more painful than anything else. I just dragged myself to finish reading it so I could review. I am sure you can point out there is some commentary on popular culture and its obsession with celebrities, but I was too annoyed with the characters to really appreciate it.

Overall, this is a series I will not continue reading. I do not recommend it, but I am willing to grant that for other readers their mileage may vary. I know I am not likely to purchase it for my library, and I would not recommend it for other libraries. I have enjoyed before other titles published by IDW, but this is not one of them. It annoyed me more than anything else.

I am giving it 1 out of 5 stars as I did not like it.

Disclosure note: Here is where I tell you I read this as an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thus, we keep The Man happy.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Booknote: All-American Ads of the 20s

Jim Heimann, All-American Ads of the 20s. Köln: Taschen: 2004. ISBN:  9783822825112

This is a big art book from the folks at Taschen, who are known for their art books. If you like vintage advertising, this is a good book for you. The book provides an introduction, then it is organized by topics such as: alcohol and tobacco, automobile,  and consumer products. With over 600 pages, the book strives to provide a very diverse sampling of advertising from the 1920s, the era of jazz and glamour. The glitz of the ads truly reflect the Roaring 20s.

This is definitely a nice, big book to browse. For me, the ads gave a glimpse into the decade, and the art is often quite fascinating. The publisher does have a series of books on ads for other decades, so I may look them up as well down the road. The edition I read did have parallel text in various languages. On a curious note, WorldCat has this title listed in at least two different ways. The way I have used above and as 20s: All-American Ads.

If you ask me, I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: Batman and Robin, Volume 4: Requiem for Damian

 Tomasi, Peter,, Batman and Robin, Volume 4: Requiem for Damian. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781401246181.

From the book's description:

"Spinning out from the tragic death of Damian Wayne in the pages of Batman Incorporated, the Dark Knight attempts to cope with the death of not only his partner, Robin, the Boy Wonder, but also his son. Will he be able to deal with his grief on his own, or will he turn to his allies to try and help him through the pain?"

The volume is a sad one given the death of Damian, but it is also a pretty strong and moving story overall. It is a reflective exploration of grief, and it is also a good tribute to Damian. Batman, as often is the case, does not exactly deal well with grief, so he does get darker than his usual self.  We also get a glimpse at how other members of the Bat Family deal with the loss. This is not a volume to rush through, but rather one to slow down and remember Damian Wayne. In addition, the art in the volume, dark, somber, with good use of shadow and color, enhances the volume. The volume is part of DC's The New 52 series, and it covers comic single issues of Batman and Robin 18-23. Fans who have been following the Bat Family comics will want to read this one. While the story stands for itself, for some readers, seeking out the Batman Incorporated series where Damian dies may be recommended.

It was a fairly quick read for me in the end.  For public libraries, if you have already been collecting other volumes in this series, then you will want to have this one. As I mentioned before, the Batman Incorporated volume that covers events before this one may be one to acquire as well. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections or recreational reading, I would consider this as optional.Overall, it was one that I really liked, so I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher.