Friday, October 31, 2014

Booknote: Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies

Scott Adams, Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies: Dogbert's Big Book of Business. Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel, 1991. 

This book is a riff on many business books out there. I always enjoy Dilbert books, even though they often hit close to home. A lot of Dilbert experiences speak to the librarian profession as well, and it's not complimentary. I often laugh and smile as I nod knowingly when I read a book like this. This book is no exception. It is not a perfect book, but it does have some good moments of humor.

A little of what the book offers. For example, in this volume, Dogbert deals with topics such as:

  • demagoguery (to stay on top, invent scapegoats and then lead the charge against them). 
  • suffering fools (learn to pity and tolerate them. By the way, we do have our share of fools in librarianship, but we don't really talk about that very much in this establishment). 
  • the rule of three (nothing productive ever happens with more than three people in a room. This one is very true). 
At any rate, this was a light, quick, and amusing read.

If you ask me, I'd give it three out of five stars.

Booknote: City: the Mind in the Machine, Vol. 1

Eric Garcia,, City: the Mind in the Machine, Vol. 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2014. ISBN: 9781631400421 

In a very near future, surveillance is everywhere, yet it is not enough. Ben Fischer has helped design Golden Shield, which can be everywhere. Golden Shield has one problem: it still needs a human mind because you still need human intuition to do surveillance well (otherwise you end up sending a S.W.A.T. team to kill a bunch of kids playing cops and robbers instead of killing real robbers). Then an accident happens, and Ben Fischer is fused with the machine, whether he likes it or not. Naturally, as Ben's brain is more connected to the machine, his power grows, power that can corrupt him. More importantly, the bosses who were all too happy are now getting worried that Ben will use his new power on them.

The story is very Orwellian, and it is very relevant to today's paranoid security state environment. This comic shows a near future that may as well be almost here. This comic is very reminiscent of other stories you may have read or films you may have seen before. There are elements that may remind you of the film Repo Men, which was based on the novel The Repossession Mambo. There is also a bit of the film Robocop (you can pick your version here given what I thought of was the corporate bad behavior, an element both Robocop film franchises share). And then you may also think of works like Philip K. Dick's "The Minority Report." In the end, if you read enough in this genre, you will see the formulas, which makes City a pretty predictable story. The comic does have a good blend of action and suspense, which should appeal to fans of this genre. I liked it, but was nothing that would "wow me" as a lot of it is stuff I have seen before, and in some cases, have seen elsewhere done better. That is why I just can't rate it higher. I liked it, but it was just another entry in the genre for me.

The volume is a compilation of the comics. I may look for the next volume just to see how the story develops. For now, I am just rating it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Once again, this is where I tell you that I read this via NetGalley; it was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And thus we appease The Man once more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Booknote: The Illegitimates

Taran Killam,,  The Illegitimates. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2014. ISBN: 9781631400360.

When I heard of this title, I was expecting something like The Expendables or some other similar story of a rag tag band of heroes. We do get a band of heroes here, just with a twist. Jack Steele is the top agent of Olympus, a super secret spy organization fighting the forces of evil. He is smooth, skilled, debonair, and like a certain other British agent, he loves the ladies, and the ladies love him. The only (apparent) difference is that Steele does not use protection. Then he gets killed on a mission, and Olympus is on a pickle without its top secret agent. So, what does the agency do? They round up the illegitimate children of Steele, who are around the world living their own lives with no idea who their real dad is. They are quite the disparate bunch from an American rancher to the son of a Yakuza princess. Can these five new agents come together to save the world?

This was very entertaining and fun to read. I really was amused by the idea of the super secret agent spreading his progeny around the world. It is an amusing premise (not new, but still amusing). The story itself, once the team comes together is an action/adventure where the new agents have to save the world from the bad guy seeking world domination. In this sense, this is like any other secret agent tale. What stood out is that the premise was so amusing, that the tale is fast paced and entertaining, and it has a couple of unexpected twists that keep the reader wondering. This was a very entertaining volume that I enjoyed very much, and I am definitely recommending it. It also has some very good art that is colorful, well drawn, and brings it all to life.

If you like things like the adventures of James Bond or stories about reluctant heroes coming together to save the world, you will probably like this one.  It looks like the start of a good series.

I give a good 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Booknote: The Heart of the Beast

Dean Motter,, The Heart of the Beast: A Love Story. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2014. ISBN:  9781606904916.

I found this graphic novel very disappointing. It dragged on and on as I wondered just what was wrong with Victor, the protagonist: was he a drug addict? an AIDS victim? what? It turns out that he is Frankenstein's monster, and he's had more than a few surgeries over time to make him handsome, well, sort of handsome. This comes at a price: he is forced to work for the evil Dr. Wright. That is not a bad premise, but the execution was simply bad here. In addition, the whole pretentious art scene, with the fake art racket, was completely boring. I did like the art of the graphic novel, but it is good art wasted on a lousy, boring story that, by the time a reader gets to the end, the reader could not care less. This was written 20 years ago (this is a re-issue), and it should have stayed forgotten. This is one I do not recommend.

I am giving it 1 out of 5 stars, barely.

Disclosure note: Read via NetGalley, provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, we have appeased The Man. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Booknote: Nightwing: Ties That Bind

Dennis O'Neil, Nightwing: Ties That Bind. New York: DC Comics, 1997. ISBN:  978-1563893285. 

This collection includes "Nightwing: Alfred's Return" and issues 1-4 of Nightwing. In Nightwing, Dick Grayson has grown up and left Batman to have his own life, which includes becoming the hero Nightwing. After a while, he decides to quit being a superhero, hoping for a more normal life. However, when new evidence about his parents' death surfaces, he dons the mask again to investigate. In "Alfred's Return," Alfred Pennyworth has left Bruce Wayne's employ. After traveling the world, he is back in London where he meets an old flame who appears to need help. Naturally, being the gentleman he is, he agrees to help, but then things really get complicated. Fortunately, Nightwing shows up to assist.

Overall, this is an adequate comics collection from Dennis O'Neill. There is not much depth here, but it was an entertaining read. The art style reflects its time; it is very colorful with a bit of a nice pulp feel. Good but not spectacular.

I liked it, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Booknote:I Remember Beirut

Zeina Abirached, I Remember Beirut. Minneapolis, MN: Graphic Universe, 2014. ISBN: 9781467738224. 

This was a nice graphic novel that was very easy to read. It is also a powerful and moving tale of a young girl growing in a time of war. The author grew up in Beirut during 1980s when war was raging between Christians and Muslims. The book is a recollection of memories of that time period. We see the cars riddled with bullet holes, travel in taxis that go where buses refuse to go, and we get a glimpse of her life with her family during this time period. The art is done in a simple black and white style that is similar to works like Persepolis. In fact, if you have read Persepolis, you will probably enjoy this graphic novel as well. Though it is rated for teens and young adults, I think adults will enjoy it as well. I really liked this one.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note is where I tell you that I read this book via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This helps keep The Man happy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Booknote: Bizarre Weather

Joanne O'Sullivan, Bizarre Weather. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2012. ISBN: 9781936140725.

This was a quick read, and it is a book that I do not have much to say about. It does pack a lot of weather trivia in a little book. If strange weather events and phenomena fascinate you, this may be a book for you.

The book is basically a chronology and list of events. It is organized into four chapters. Within each chapter, you get a lot of paragraphs, which are not always in a good sequence. The text makes for some pretty dry reading. It is not really a book to read through. This is more a book to browse here or there. Other than a few cartoons, the book is not illustrated. I think some good quality illustrations could have added some value to the book. The book is rated as juvenile reading, but given the dry text, unless a kid is really into this topic this is not an engaging book. In the end, it was just OK.

It gets 2 out of 5 stars.

I borrowed this one from my local public library.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Booknote: Damian: Son of Batman

Andy Kubert, Damian: Son of Batman. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781401246426. 

This volume is a different tale. It tells of a future where Batman dies and Damian, who lived, takes up the cowl to carry his father's mission and legacy. However, Damian is also the son of Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul. Thus Damian has some very different ideas of how crime in Gotham should be handled.

I liked the idea of this, but I did not always find the execution consistent. The story seemed a bit convoluted at times, difficult to follow. The transitions from one plot point to another were not always very good. Then we have the cat; yes, there is a talking cat (is Damian going mad?). I won't spoil, but there are a lot of details that get confusing;  you think it is one thing, turns out to be something else, often without any build up or rationale. Still, I found the art to be pretty good, and a fair reason to read this. In the end, I did find this to be an interesting alternate path to the Batman story. Bottom line it was ok.

The comic is part of DC's The New 52 series. For public libraries, I would consider this an optional purchase; if they already collect a good amount of Batman comics, they may want to add this one. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections, this is an optional title. For my library, I would get it if a patron requested it. 

I am giving it a basic 2 out of 5 stars as it was ok, but just too much of a mess to recommend it higher. This is a title that, if you must, borrow it rather than buy 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. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Booknote: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Utrom Empire

 Paul Allor, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Utrom Empire. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2014. ISBN: 9781631400247.

This is a title for fans of the TMNT who want to know more about Krang and the Utrom Empire. Krang is ramping up his plans to conquer Earth. Baxter Stockman, unbeknownst to Krang, has plans of his own and seeks to foil Krang. Caught in the middle is Fugitoid, an escaped robot who hopes to reach the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for help. Fugitoid has all the information about the Technodrome and Krang's plans stored in his memory. Will Fugitoid manage that on time? Does he have an ulterior plan?

If you are looking for the turtles, you will see little of them here. This volume gives us a look at Krang and his world, plus the story of the Utrom Empire. If those details interest you, then this is a volume for you. It was a  light and easy read that fills gaps and details we may not usually get. In the end, I liked it as a nice addition to the TMNT universe.

For public libraries, if they already collect various other TMNT titles, then this is one to add as well. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections, I would consider this optional. 

3 out of 5 stars.

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.

Booknote: The Harlem Hellfighters

Max Brooks, The Harlem Hellfighters. New York: Broadway Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780307464972. 

This is a fictionalized historical account of the African American 369th Regiment in World War I. The U.S. sent these Black soldiers over, but due to the usual American racism, these men were pretty much set up to fail by their country from the start. The 369th went on to prove themselves above and beyond, becoming the most decorated unit of its time. In fact, out of respect, the French called them "Men of Bronze." To the Germans who learned to fear them, they were the Harlem Hellfighters.

This graphic novel is a great narrative. It is strong, powerful, and moving. As a reader, it made me angry how the U.S. mistreated these men serving the nation, and the story illustrates how often the U.S. enjoys sending men to war but never does right by them. This is not a romantic war. World War I was a brutal, violent, painful, and deadly conflict, and this is presented in the graphic novel. Max Brooks' narrative along with Caanan White's art bring it all to life. From recruitment to training to the trenches of Europe, the men of the 369th discover a larger world that changes them. They went to make the world safe for democracy, and those who survive will return home to a new fight, the fight for equality and democracy at home.

The Harlem Hellfighters is a thrilling tale of honor, perseverance, and sacrifice. Once you pick it up, you will not be able to put it down. Brooks draws on solid historical research to bring a chapter of African American history not really known outside of a few scholarly circles--until now. It is an amazing piece that shows the best of what a graphic novel can do. It is a powerful tale with gritty art that practically makes you feel like you are there. This is a must read that I cannot recommend highly enough. For me, this goes down as one of the best books I have read this year.

I am giving it a solid 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Booknote: Hellboy in Hell, Volume 1

Mike Mignola, Hellboy, Volume 1: The Descent. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2014. ISBN: 9781616554446. 

Mike Mignola is back with Hellboy in Hell, Volume 1. Hellboy finds himself in a homecoming he does not really want. He confronts his past, his true nature, and his future. To be honest, as much as I like Hellboy comics, I found this one to be a somewhat convoluted story where Mignola is trying to tie a lot of loose ends. If you have not read previous Hellboy comics, you may miss a detail or two along the way in this one.

However, something that does make the comic worth reading is the art. The dark, bizarre depictions of hell and its denizens are really sights to behold and show the artist in top form. This was a big reason I liked the volume, but the story itself was fairly average when compared to previous Hellboy volumes.

In the end, giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note to keep things honest and The Man happy: I read this book as provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Booknote: Hellboy: The Crooked Man and Others

Mike Mignola, Hellboy, Volume 10: The Crooked Man and Others. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2010. ISBN:  9781595824776.

This is a collection of stories starring Hellboy. The stories draw, in part, on traditional folklore. For example, "The Crooked Man" draws on Appalachian folklore and the work of Appalachian folklorist Manly Wade Wellman. This is one of the few stories Mignola says he has done drawing on American folklore, and it is a very good tale.

The tales all draw on the theme of Hellboy as a wanderer/adventurer, putting him in the classic traditions of the wandering hero in folklore. Each story begins with a short introduction statement by Mignola on what inspired him and how the story was developed. In addition, there is a short introduction to the volume by Gahan Wilson. Wilson's opening introduction is the fairly standard laudatory to the author stuff. Don't get me wrong: I think Mignola deserves plenty of praise. Now, the introductions to the four stories are what deserve a look as they provide some insights into the creative process. Also of interest is the essay on Manly Wade Wellman at the back of the volume. In addition to Hellboy fans, those interested in Appalachian folklore may want to look at it. Finally, the book has a sketchbook with notes from the artists involved in the volume.

If you like folklore tales and spooky narratives, you'll probably enjoy this. Fans of Hellboy will find a nice change of pace here. The tales invoke darkness and the creepy, drawing nicely on some local American folklore (in two of the tales) or other myths. The art bring a gothic feel to life.

I am giving this one the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Signs the Economy is Bad: October 10, 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.  

A few interesting items this week, so let's get on with it.

  • It what has to be the "Motherfuckery Story of the Week," Walmart has decided that the economy is bad, and since they are not making enough money it's time to take away the health insurance of their most vulnerable part-time workers (story via The Week). And for the rest of the workforce, their premiums are going up too. To put things in perspective, " Walmart's net profits are expected to be $15.88 billion this year, and the Walton family — heir to the Walmart fortune — is worth a combined $143.6 billion." But you know, things are bad, so Walmart has to tie its belt, the poor babies.
  • Meanwhile, poverty and hunger in the United States continue to be a serious issue. Many in the U.S. make it their national hobby to demonize the poor. However, the thing is this: " more and more, hunger looks like you and me." Perhaps a little visual may help out as "Americans on Food Aid Document Their Hunger in Photos."Story via Yes! Magazine.
  • We have made jokes before in this blog about naming rights from ads in textbooks to naming bathrooms after donors. The economy may be bad, but rich people often love to see their names splattered all over the place to show their "generosity" (or cupidity is more like it). The next trend for rich people and corporations? Getting towns to change their names and the names of public spaces to the name of a brand or rich person. Economy is bad, and towns, municipalities, schools, so on need some cash. So, hey, sell off the local public park so it can be the Coca-Cola Park for a few bucks. Sounds good? In theory (for the corporate and the rich maybe), but this is a problem for public spaces and the message it sends. Story via AlterNet.
  • Bad economy or not, some people just feel like they need to have the latest gadget. In what is a pathetic commentary on American consumer society and the urban decay of Detroit all wrapped up into one, a Detroit man was trying to barter his beat up, fixer upper home for an iPhone 6. However, if you feel an iPhone 6 is too much, he is willing to negotiate.  Story via The Week
  • Today's Public Service Announcement is for college students. Contrary to what some cranky right wingers believe, not all college students are choking on their silver spoons. For many, going to college is pretty much living in poverty. It means having to, among other things, find cheap food options. So, to help out, here is a list of the "50 Best Cheap Pizza Places for College Students Across the USA." The nice thing about the list is that it does not have pizza chains, otherwise the "Hot N' Ready" guys would likely be on top as cheapest). On a side note, from the list, I have had pizza from Mad Mushroom in West Lafayette. It's pretty much pizza with no frills. Story via COED Magazine.
And finally, one for the uber rich:

  • Now if you are one of the uber rich, one of the problems you may face is dating. After all, if you are part of the 1%, there are not many others like you out there. So trying to find a suitable and well-off financially mate is kind of a hardship. Good news: there is a solution in a new dating app for the 1% called Luxy. Now, uber rich, don't worry: this new solution is not for gold diggers or such, so no need to be concerned that hot chick who pretends to have wealth is just some poor hoe who is a gold digger or, in the case of the gals, some poor schmuck trying to marry up. When it comes to Luxy, "'It’s Tinder without low-income dating prospects,' according to the description. 'In fact, the average income of male users on LUXY is over $200k and those who are unable to keep up financially are immediately removed from the service.'" Exactly. You are uber rich; you don't want to date just any plebeian. You have standards. You have more money than God, and you expect your date or potential mate to be the same. So, "if you're currently looking for a man or woman to fill the emotional emptiness in your Swiss Bank Account, Luxy may be the app for you." Story via Big Think.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Booknote: Encyclopedia of the Exquisite

Jessica Kerwin Jenkins, Encyclopedia of the Exquisite: an Anecdotal History of Elegant Delights. New York:  Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2010. ISBN: 9780385529693.

This is a curious book. It is somewhat reminiscent of older encyclopedias. Think here the old 10th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica for example or maybe older works. It reminded me a book I read a while back, All There Is to Know. On a side note, I may need to reread that book and post a review here sometime. Now the Jenkins book is not that lofty.

The book is a collection of anecdotes on various "delightful" topics. From the origins of badminton to red lipstick to trapeze, the book features a very eclectic selection of subjects. If you like trivia and tidbits, then this is a book for you.

In her introduction, the author recalls a grade-school jewelry box she had filled with knick-knacks and odds and ends. In the box, she kept things like a "prism that made rainbows, two Mexican pesos, an unusually large acorn cap, a miniature shell, the face of my father's old Timex, and a sample vial of Patou's Joy--all my treasures." That is the image the author seeks to evoke in this book. It works to an extent. For me an issue was that some of the prose was a bit slow to read at times. Like many collections, some subjects were more interesting than others. The book does have some good illustrations, but a few more subjects could have used an illustration as well for better definition.

I like this one, but it was not one I really liked, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: October 5, 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.  

This week, a Sunday edition, is a "Special Ebola Edition." Keep reading to find out why. In the meantime, things are still bad as rampant exploitation, poverty, and other issues mark the signs of the bad economy.

  • Now some pundits may be celebrating that "this week, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that there was a statistically significant decline in poverty last year.  It is the first decline since 2006, and just the second since 2000." Now, as we always say in this blog, pundits, what do they know? Not much. It turns out this decline, other than being a statistic, does not reflect the reality that the Average Joes and Janes in the United States face daily. Talk Poverty has a roundup of scholars and activists to give us a precise and solid response to the data. Here is a bit from one of the responses to give you some perspective: "One in every seven women lives in poverty. This is not and cannot be thought of as your grandma’s 'skid row' poverty. This is post-recession, soccer mom poverty. Look at your Facebook friends list and count.  Every seventh (or every one) of those women may be working full-time and still struggling to make ends meet."
  • Another reason that poverty and the bad economy remain problems is that you and I may be working more, but we are being paid less, often a lot less. Need a visual? Mother Jones has it in a nice chart
  • The exploitative system that is the student loan industry is a common topic here at "Signs the Economy is Bad." That system has often kept recent college graduates already suffering in the bad economy in a worse situation. And if things were not bad enough, here is more evidence that death may well be the only way many college graduates may be able to finally rest from the oppression of student debt. According to a story from The Hill, "a new government report has uncovered that seniors are facing yet another barrier to a secure retirement: their student debt. Once thought to be a young person’s issue, new data released by the Government Accountability Office shows that older Americans are also finding themselves buried under the weight of their student loans. The data helps paint a much larger picture of the overall economic insecurity that too many of our country’s seniors face every day." So, as if folks did not have enough problems, for many, retirement is nothing more than a word. 
  • You know what else can toss people into poverty and bad economic conditions? Being gay. According to this report from NBC News, there is "an untold number of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people nationwide who suffer economic distress and in some cases, poverty, as a result of anti-gay laws such as same-sex marriage bans, or from a lack of legal protections, like non-discrimination ordinances, according to a new report by two think tanks, the progressive Center for American Progress and the pro-LGBT Movement Advancement Project."

Now, as we know, in the bad economy, we always have a few vultures who do well. Let's see who has been profiting off the misery of others this week:

  • The Center for Public Integrity has an excellent series of articles on how prisons exploit prisoners and their families. How do they do it? Through banking. If you have a family member in prison, and you have to send them money, get ready to be exploited by the banks that have the contracts to "facilitate" the process. See stories on who makes money of prisoners' families,  how the debit cards slam them with various exorbitant fees,  financial gouging, the no-bid contracts the banks get, and learn a bit how the reporters uncovered much of this racket. 
  • The self-help and advice industries always do well in the bad economy. Telling people how to save money in obvious ways and often condescending ways can be a moneymaker for the scam artists and advice gurus peddling their stuff. A favorite item that they love to tell you as a tip is to cut back on your lattes. However that piece of advice may well just be a big pile of bullshit. Read why here via the New York Magazine. On a side note, if you want to read more good advice from bad people, there is a book for that
  • And in the ebola news we promised, it turns out pharma stocks may start doing well. You see, ebola is one of those diseases that Big Pharma really does not have an incentive to try to cure (there is a statement for not making health care a for profit operation). Here is the explanation: "Ebola lacks many of the characteristics that give private pharmaceutical companies an incentive to invest. It afflicts a small number of people, most of whom are very low-income individuals living in very low-income countries. That means that even if a company did spend the millions or billions of dollars necessary to develop a treatment, it would deliver it only to a limited market with extremely constrained financial resources." Well, with the recent outbreaks, and the possibility the disease might afflict white people in places like the U.S. (the horror), well suddenly Big Pharma may find people who can actually pay for any medication. It works like this: "If American insurers and European governments are going to want to buy Ebola drugs, pharmaceutical companies are going to want to produce them." Read the full article from New York Magazine here.

On a final note, let's see how the uber rich have been doing:

  • Well, many of the uber rich do not have to worry about blending with the hoi polloi when it comes to flying. They have their own jets. However, if the jet is in the shop, they still have options for not mixing with the common masses. They can book a private suite on Singapore Airlines for the bargain price of $23,000.
  • On the other hand, some uber rich have not been doing well in the bad economy. How bad have things gotten? So bad that not even Ben Bernanke can refinance his house. Yea, a little ironic that one of the engineers of the current economic clusterfuck is not a victim of that clusterfuck (though I am sure in the end he will land just fine, unlike millions of other people). Story via Crooks and Liars.
  • And finally, for the uber rich, turns out the economy is so bad even some of them have to use public assistance like WIC. Now, if you need to use the safety net because things are bad, I don't begrudge that. The problem with his asshole politician is he was doing so while earning a six figure salary. Yes, the bastard, a Republican politician (you know, the hypocrites who love to whine about the poor as parasites) was cheating the system meant to help the rest of us. And best part? How do we know? His ex revealed the scheme when he scorned her. Read the details over at Juanita Jean's. This was good to pass up.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Booknote: Creative Community Organizing

Si Kahn, Creative Community Organizing: a Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, and Quiet Lovers of Justice. San Francisco, CA: Berrett Koehler, 2010. ISBN: 9781605094441.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, community organizing, activism

I did not find this book really engaging. It's mostly a memoir of Si Kahn's work as a civil rights activist and organizer, including work with SNCC. In part, I felt that I had seen or read much of this. Maybe this is because I read it shortly after my intensive study of the Civil Rights era during the tour, so I was not ready to read more on the topic. Maybe I wanted a bit more "how to" and less memoir. In addition, keeping in mind this is more memoir than guide, the resources page did feel skimpy: aside from promoting his other books, his grassroots organization's website, and his music, there is not much else. In the end, the book felt a bit too self-promotional. In spite of that, I still think the book is one some young people can read and find some inspiration. If you want the quick and short, just skip to the end of the book and read his "Creative Community Organizing's Top 20" list. It has the basic principles distilled to a list; in fact, I made a copy of the list and pasted it to my journal.

Overall, this just gets 2 out of 5 stars for me as it was mostly OK. I think Rules for Radicals (link to my booknote on that) was simpler and much more practical. You may want to read that instead.

* * * 

Other reading notes, because I still got a few good ideas from the book I want to remember:

From Jim Hightower's foreword to the book:

"What community organizing does is bring people together so they can identify and common problems, looks for solutions, and craft strategies to reach, educate, and mobilize others, so we can all join together to make the changes we need and deserve" (x). 

Si Kahn's previous books, which he suggests for readers who want something more practical (maybe I should have read one of these instead):

People have a common cause, say civil rights for blacks, but they will often and usually be divided, or let themselves be divided by other things such as gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, etc. From the book:

"But, in real life and campaigns for justice, the people are always partly united, partly divided. It's up to organizers working with them to understand that this will always be the case and to do whatever we can to reinforce the unity and compensate for the divisions among the people with whom we work. Our job as organizers is to divide the united-- the people and institutions who hold power over others-- and to united the divided-- the dispossessed, disempowered people with whom we work, who should command our deepest loyalty and fiercest commitment" (19). 

Naturally, our enemies are very adept at exploiting and encouraging divisions among the vulnerable. The poor white woman on food stamps whose baby gets medical care via Medicaid who still votes Republican because President Obama is a "socialist" illustrates this extremely well. Organizers really have their work cut out for them in terms of educating and uniting such folks. 

Kahn does not really believe the notion of history repeating itself or helping predict the future. I beg to disagree here. Reading historians like Howard Zinn on the American empire does show that Americans do tend to repeat their mistakes. For example, water boarding is not some new 20th century CIA idea. American officials used the technique on labor strikers and activists long before the technique was exported to Iraq. In the end, you can learn a lot from history, but you have to choose to heed the lessons. I'd add the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, a historical regression showing that, again, Americans never really learn from their history, or anyone else's history for that matter. If nothing else, we need a new movement, something I reflected upon when I took the Civil Rights tour. However, I just don't see it. Is it too late? Do we really need a full-blown revolution? What will it honestly take?

Of local interest here in Berea, KY, the book has segments that go over the plight of miners in Harlan County, Kentucky and the rise and fall of the UMWA (United Mine Workers of America).

Organizers need to recognize that the locals still face the risks. Organizers may come and go, but the community members stay:

"As ethical organizers, we need to be absolutely certain the people we work with truly recognize the risks they're taking, the things that could go wrong, the losses they might suffer, before they make the decision to act, individually or together" (65). 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Booknote: Watson and Holmes

Karl Bollers,, Watson and Holmes, Volume 1: A Study in Black. New Jersey: New Paradigm Studios, 2013. ISBN: 9781939516015. 

This is a new adaptation of Sherlock Holmes from New Paradigm Studios. The main characters are re-imagined as African Americans in contemporary New York City's Harlem district. Watson, a veteran of the Afghanistan campaign, is a doctor working in an inner city clinic. Holmes is a very eccentric private investigator who takes strange and unusual cases. The mysterious death of a baby girl brings them together in a case that is soon revealed to have layers of conspiracy and danger from a ruthless group of ex-military mercenaries.

The adaptation is excellent. The authors do keep many of the classic details, but the setting, the characters, and the story add a new hip freshness that makes this a great comic. You don't have to have read Conan Doyle's classic tales to enjoy this. However, if you have read Conan Doyle's work, like I have, you can appreciate the craft in this new version. The volume, which covers issues 1-5 of the comic, features solid, colorful, and gritty art that reflects the setting very well.

This is is one that I definitely enjoyed. I highly recommend it, especially to fans of some of the other modern adaptations of Sherlock Holmes such as Elementary and Sherlock. Fans of the classic Sherlock Holmes tales will probably enjoy it as well. It makes a good purchase for libraries with graphic novel collections.

I am giving this the full 5 out of 5 stars. I borrowed it from my local public library, but this is one I would add to my personal collection.