Friday, June 30, 2017

Booknote: Friends of the Family

Tommy Dades and Mike Vecchione, with David Fisher, Friends of the Family: the Inside Story of the Mafia Cops Case. New York: Harper, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06-087427-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: true crime, police corruption, Mafia, the mob, New York City
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

After reading Casino and The Way of the Wiseguy (links go to my reviews of those), I wanted to try out the true crime genre a bit more. I saw Friends of the Family at the library. It seemed interesting, so I picked it up. It is the kind of story  that might make a decent made-for-television movie but not so much a Hollywood film.

This is the story of two cops, Louie Eppolito and Steve Caracappa, who went on to be highly ranked and decorated NYPD detectives. They also became paid hit men for the mob and moles for the mob inside the police. At the time, this was the biggest scandal and betrayal of the badge the NYPD had ever seen. They almost got away with it. They were not caught at the time, and they happily retired to Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1990s. They were living the good life. A decade later, another NYPD police detective, Tommy Dades, who is close to retirement, takes a long look at the case, and working with Brooklyn ADA Mike Vecchione, brings the case back to life, turning it into a historic case.

The book has drama, and suspense, and characters you can root for. It also has a lot of procedural details. If you like reading about the work investigators do behind the scenes and about legal wranglings, this book is for you. Those are the not so glamorous parts that don't make it into legal dramas but make the bread and butter of police work. So you may find it interesting or a bit slow reading at times. Then you get to a real infuriating part, the legal maneuvering for fame and glory. Brooklyn started building a case the feds all but forgot. The moment the feds sniffed a chance at press and glory, they did every cheat, lie, and trick to steal the case from the city, even reneging on deals they made with  the city for collaboration, so on. That part I found particularly disgusting because the feds showed that justice did not matter as much as getting headlines even if it meant taking credit for work they did not do. Despite that, the cops were eventually taken to trial, but getting them there took a lot of drama.

The book's pacing varies. It has parts where the narratives moves fast and draws you in. Then it has other parts where it slows down, and at times it may get bogged down in minutiae. So in terms of reading experience, it can be a little inconsistent. Yet overall it is a dark tale of corruption and justice served. Overall, I liked it. It's a book to read once and enjoy; certainly a book to borrow.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional Reading Notes:

So, how bad were these cops? Well, at the time, nothing like this had happened. The closest thing was a 1914 case of an NYPD lieutenant who was associated with street gangs. The two cops' damage was so bad we may never know all of it:

"The extent of the damage that Eppolito and Caracappa did to the department may never be completely totaled. They gave up informants to the mob, who murdered them. They informed the mob about wiretaps and investigations, they warned men who were about to go on the lam, they forced innocent people to confess to crimes they hadn't committed by threatening to kill their families, they provided whatever  information the mob needed, they kidnapped people and turned them over to wiseguys to be tortured and killed, and finally they put on their badges, pulled their guns, and murdered at point-blank range. There's no possible way of figuring out how many investigations they destroyed, how many people died because of them" (7). 

Turns out that, as if all else was not bad enough, the two cops even had instances of passing on the wrong information:

"Casso found out they'd wacked the wrong Nicky Guido from the newspapers. According to the story in the papers, this Nicky Guido was an installer for the telephone company. The murder of Nicky Guido had been a simple mistake. The two cops had provided the wrong address. No one knew what the intended victim looked like, so they had killed an innocent person" (87). 

One way investigators fill in information gaps:

"There are information gaps in every investigation. Usually, they can be filled in by putting together causes and events, what had to happen to enable the next action to take place. It's a leap of information, sort of the way a nerve impulse will leap across a synapse from one neuron to another" (146). 

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 23, 2017

Signs the economy is bad: June 23, 2017 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.

I have a lot of stories this week. In fact, I have so many I am breaking this post into sections, so let's just get on with it.

  • Let's start with some good news. It seems that bigotry misinformation peddling rag fine paragon of conservative journalism (uh huh) known as Breitbart has lost 90% of its advertising. What makes you wonder is who are the remaining 10% keeping it afloat. It will be better news when it goes out of business. As librarian, I can use one less source of misinformation I need to teach others to avoid. Story via The Washington Post.
  • It turns out that those cuts in Medicaid the Party of Stupid is proposing would hurt rural voters the most. So in other words, they hurt a significant number of their voters, voters who were only too happy, proud, and willing to vote for that party. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • Attendance in Disney parks is down. When the economy is bad, recreational spending goes down as one of the first things you cut. Story via The New York Times.
  • In an illustration of why the US needs a universal health care system for all, it is a nation where many poor folks have to sleep in their cars in hopes of getting a medical care appointment at an indigent clinic. Story via NPR.
  •  Did you have the horror of getting stuck having to take out a usury-level shylock loan that would make the mob blush subprime loan to buy a car, say so you can go to work? Life happened, you fell on hard times, and they repossessed the car?  Tough shit, they will still make you pay the loan too. Why? Because those vulture fuckers did not get enough recoup of costs from reselling the repossessed car, and they sued you for the rest of the loan. It's exploitative fuckery. Story via The Washington Post
  • Meanwhile, in prisons, prisoners are gouged for making phone calls to their families. You think Verizon and the others are expensive, pray to the deity of your choice you are not put in prison, and kept from calling a loved one due to that expense. Story via The Intercept.
  • Did you know migrant remittances help fight world poverty? Learn more from this story at TeleSur. 
  • Also, did you know that minimum wage is not enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the US? Story via The Rural Blog
  • Next time you see a big rig trucker on the road, keep a good thought for him. Odds may be good he is getting seriously exploited to the point of exhaustion and bordering financial ruin to bring you Amazon's goods or whatever they may be carrying. USA Today just did a very revealing expose on the topic. It makes indentured servitude look appealing.
  • In more fuckery, recent study reveals Air BnB hosts tend to discriminate against disabled customers. Story via Good.Is.  
  • In Texas, the anti-immigrant rhetoric is at an all time high, and they are constantly whining about sanctuary cities and those terrible immigrants. However, being Texans, thinking is not their forte. Turns out that those laborers they rely on to do things like landscaping, cooking, construction, hotel maids, so on are now in fear, because they are immigrants, and they are either leaving the state or not going there causing a labor shortage. Heaven forbid Cletus and Billy Bob pick up a shovel or a weed wacker and get to work in 100-plus degree heat. For them, Fox News is "must watch TV" they can't miss. Story via The Austin Statesman.
  • That is not bad enough for you? Also in Texas, if you have a fluctuating income, say you freelance or you lost job recently, they will be happy to take your Medicaid away, because fuck you, that's why. Story via NPR. 
  • Meanwhile, in Middletown, Ohio, apparently calls to their 911 and emergency services are getting a little expensive for the city council. So, one of their councilmen made a suggestion to help cut down costs: cut back on any calls responding to drug overdoses. In fact, the councilman "also notes that people with cancer don’t get free chemotherapy from medics nor do people having heart attacks get a free heart bypass in an EMS run." That is the kind of fine, upstanding citizen, wholesome Christian man of family values that Ohioans elect to office. Story via LEX 18.
  • Then again, Kentucky has plenty of fuckery of their own. Turns out they rank 34th in child welfare. Not surprising given the priorities they vote for. Story via the Lexington Herald Leader.
  • In tobacco news, well, the rich people mostly stopped smoking. However, the poor have more than picked up the slack. Now before you judge, maybe keep this in mind: “'People down here smoke because of the stress in their life,' Seals [a smoking cessation program worker] said. 'They smoke because of money problems, family problems. It’s the one thing they have control over. The one thing that makes them feel better. And you want them to give that up? It’s the toughest thing in the world.'” I can tell you here in my rural part of Kentucky, smoking remains quite rampant, especially among the poor as well as many college students. Story via The Washington Post.
  • The US Government may not be doing any better. Americans have been slow paying their taxes (gee, I can't imagine why), and thus returns for the government have been low. Story via The Washington Post.
  • Oh, a heads up to online holiday shoppers: UPS will be raising their delivery rates. Basically, they are raising fees on companies like Amazon, so guess what Amazon and others will be doing? If you answered that they will be passing the cost on to you the consumer, you have played this game before, huh. Story via NPR.
  • One more heads up: Do you subscribe to one of those box services that send you a meal for you to cook at home? Did they entice you with free shipping for something that could do just fine with  a cookbook and some simple shopping at your grocery store? Here is the example of Blue Apron and what the real price of that "free" shipping is. Story via The Washington Post.
  • By the way, are you in a relationship or considering marriage? You DO know the economy is bad, right? You may want to consider staying single. Wise Bread even suggests "6 Ways It Pays to Stay Single." It may be too late for me, but save yourselves.
  • In the end, things in the United States are bad given so many people die penniless. Story via USA Today.
The bad economy in higher education:
  • Student debt continues to be a problem in the United States, and it is about to get worse as the Pendejo In Chief's regime is removing the few protections those students had under Obama's administration. However, student debt is not just bad here; it is bad in other parts of the world too. Stories via Moyers and Company, Truthout
  • In higher ed fuckery, a new survey reveals that postdocs who are parents are often conveniently reclassified in their employment so they are unable to get parental leave under FMLA. Illegal? Does not seem so. Immoral and just plain fuckery? Yes. And that is not all. Read the truly rude story of the senior researcher asshole who was at his postdoc's hospital room after she gave birth asking her when she was getting back to the lab. Look up "fucking asshole" in a dictionary, and you get a picture of that guy. Story via Inside Higher Ed.  
  • Here is a piece on what happens when faculty cannot afford to live near the campuses they work at. I can tell you one thing from experience: it means faculty do not connect to their local campuses and communities as well as they should if they are more worried about a long commute because they have to live farther out in order to find an affordable place to live. It is a topic that I have come across in my current workplace (but that is another story). Story via Inside Higher Ed.
Some Amazon news:

  •  The big news this week for the big online behemoth is that they bought Whole Paycheck. But that may not be all Amazon is after. Story via The Guardian.
  • Apparently Amazon is not attracting enough people fast enough to their Prime memberships, so they decided to give discounts on it to low income customers. They define "low income customers" as those with a valid EBT card for SNAP assistance, so on. No, they are not being altruistic or such; they are just trying to undercut Walmart, who they fear is rising up in the online shopping front. Story via NPR. 
    • Walmart is answering back with a test of making their employees do package delivery for online order customers from their stores. Sure, they claim employees can do this voluntarily on their way home, but given how badly Walmart treats their workers, I am sure the definition of "volunteer" is, shall we say, fluid? Story via USA Today.
  • I can tell you one nefarious thing Amazon is likely up to: keeping you from comparison shopping while you visit one of their physical location stores. Because they miss the irony that people do showrooming in other stores and then shop online at Amazon. That, and, just plain fuckery. Story via The Washington Post

This week there has been so much ridiculous stuff about the Pendejo In Chief, I am devoting a section of this post just to him. Because just because he is rich, does not mean he does not give us signs of the bad economy. If you get hives just thinking about him, you are welcome to skip this part:

  • A good number of  wealthy people give money to various charitable causes. They get a big tax deduction, and you can't beat the PR, especially if it is a charity for children. Now, if you are the Pendejo In Chief, you want to get the PR, but you do not want to give up the money. After all, he is no ordinary millionaire. So, for example, he funneled money meant for a children's cancer charity to his own businesses. Story via Alternet.
  • He is proposing privatizing air traffic controllers. So we may need to get used to this scenario: "Flight 623, would you like to upgrade to 'Land the Plane Now' Platinum Plan? If yes, please insert a valid credit or debit card. If no, you will need to circle above for another two hours to allow Platinum Flight member craft to land first." Because airline deregulation has turned out so well. Story via NPR. 
  • The Pendejo in Chief's brand is not doing better, at least not according to residents of his Trump Palace condo in New York City who are hoping to remove his name from the property's name. Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • One of his golf courses in New York is not doing well either. Turns out many golfers are staying away from it. On an interesting note, the reason we know this is because, unlike so many of his properties which are privately held, the city owns the course, and he just has a contract to operate it. Thus he has to do filings on it. Story via The Washington Post.
  • On the positive, he may be inspiring new entrepreneurs such as this Mexican gentleman who is marketing "Trump Toilet Paper." Story via Crooks and Liars.
  • Meanwhile, the Pendeja Princess' hellish sweatshops fine garment manufacturing operations do not treat their workers very well. Heck, it is so bad the workers can't even afford to live with  their own children. Story via Alternet.
  • Overall, the Pendejo In Chief may be rich, but he sure owes a lot of money. Story via NPR. 
  • Which makes me wonder if all those debts had anything to do with his net worth slipping to a "measly" $2.9 billion.Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • Oh, and apparently, the Pendejo In Chief being president has been toxic to Mar-A-Lago's banquet business. Sure, the resorts revenue has been up since the election, but they are bleeding business largely due to hassles related to the Pendejo In Chief. Those folks are finding it is better to have your event elsewhere. Story via The Washington Post
Now I do not want to leave my four readers feeling all down and pessimistic. There are still some good business opportunities and uplifting stories in the bad economy. Let's end with a smile then.

  • The legalization of marijuana has been very good to the economy in places it was legalized. In fact, pot sales are getting larger than a few well known industries. Story via Alternet.
  • In Texas, you will soon be able to hunt wild hogs from a hot air balloon. Story via Vice
  • Hong Kong property market is extremely expensive, but the rich can handle it. Also a place where you can make a fortune with the right opportunity. For instance, charge $664,000 for a parking spot. Story via The New York Times.
  • Meanwhile, Kentucky Fried Chicken is launching a chicken sandwich into space. Why? Because they can. Story via The New York Times.
  • I think imitation vanilla may be making a comeback since there is a coming shortage of natural vanilla. Story via NPR. 
  • The cattle cargo airlift business will getting some lift in Qatar. As some of you may know, a group of other Middle Eastern nations cut off ties and commerce with Qatar. Well, apparently they like to drink milk in Qatar. So, how do you solve a shortage of moo juice? Why, if you are a rich nation, hire an air cargo company or  two to bring a few (as in at least 4,000) cows over. Because you do need some good milk to pour over your cereal and your coffee. Story via NPR. 
  • Catering businesses that feature alcohol may be getting a boost. The US Commerce Secretary suggested that to better recruit high schoolers into manufacturing jobs and trades for businesses to feature hors d'oeuvres and cocktails for students and parents. Because deity of choice forbid he makes a sensible suggestion like offering better pay for those workers or better working conditions. Story via The Washington Post
  • At least in one town in Kentucky they may be finally figuring out the coal jobs are not coming  back no matter how much the politicians say otherwise. This town is trying out some creative business ideas. Story via Moyers and Company.
  • In Tennessee, a town is boosting its economy with bass fishing. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • Mattel apparently is not selling as many toys, especially Ken dolls, as they would like. So they gave Ken a major makeover: he now has a man bun, and a few other styles that make him look either like the unemployed mooching boyfriend of Barbie, or an underemployed hipster living way beyond his means while working as a coffee barista. Story via NPR. 
  • Now, with the bad economy, you might not be able to your drink on at bars as often as you like. You may need to get a bit creative to get that drink on. Matthew Walther at The Week suggests that "Chuck E. Cheese's is one of the best bars in America." Read it first before you laugh; he may have a point or two. 
My four readers have been great reading this so far (assuming they did not bail out sooner). I've kept you here a while, but I just realized we have some avocado toast news, so I will wrap up with those and wish you all a happy weekend. Remember, as always, comments are welcome (within reason).

  • Live in Los Angeles, CA? Need help finding the best avocado toast in the city? Here is a helpful guide via The Los Angeles Times.
  • Apparently, with the recent fad of avocado toast, injuries due to people who are apparently not too skilled to cut an avocado are on the rise. The solution? a new five-in-one tool that to be honest looks more like one of Dr. Frankenstein's instruments. Those people will be lucky they do not amputate their whole hand with these gizmos. Story via The Guardian.
  • Some people do not just eat avocado. They like it so much they turn it into art. Story via Foodiggity.

Booknote: Betty Boop

Roger Langridge, Betty Boop. Mount Laurel, NJ; Dynamite Entertainment, 2017. ISBN: 9781524103187.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: vintage comics, humor
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

I remember watching Betty Boop cartoons as a kid. Given she was a bit before my time, these would have been in syndication. I do not remember much other than she was cute, that she sang now and then, and of course her famous catchphrase. So when I saw this title, I figured it would be a nice nostalgia trip.

My memories did not quite match up. Either the cartoons I watched did not have that whole ghosts trying to take over her house plot, or I just forgot about it. At any rate, that is the major plot of the story in this volume. To be honest, the stories featured in the volume are pretty much so-so, and they are not particularly memorable. The best part of the comic is the art. It truly brings the comic to live, and Betty looks particularly good. She looks even better in the comic issue covers, which are included in the volume.

The bottom line is that this was a nice quick read. It was entertaining, and it did have some humor to it. However, it is not a particularly memorable volume. As I mentioned, I liked it more for the art than the narrative. The covers would make nice poster prints. This is one to borrow rather than buy. For libraries, I would consider it an optional purchase.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for these 2017 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Banquete Total

Jay Fonseca, Banquete Total: Cuando la Corrupción Dejó de Ser Ilegal.  San Juan, PR: Autopublicación, 2013.  ISBN: 978-1-937891275.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Puerto Rico, politics, Spanish language books.
Format: trade paperback
Source: Interlibrary Loan via my work library, Hutchins Library, Berea College. The book came from the UC Berkeley Libraries.

This book is basically a catalog of Puerto Rican political corruption in the 20th century, give or take at least the last 60 years or so. If you need to know why the island is so fucked up, in addition to American colonial exploitation and pillage, this is the book you need. Disgusting does not even begin to describe it, and yet I kept on reading it like someone rubbernecking a bad train wreck. The reason I read this book is because Nelson Denis, author of War Against All Puerto Ricans (a book I read, see my review here), mentioned it in an article he wrote for The Nation entitled "After a century of American Citizenship, Puerto Ricans Have Little to Show for It." If I recall, one of the many links Denis has in the article mentioned the book. Anyhow, the article is worth a read too. Banquete Total is a self-published book that may be a bit of a niche market outside of the island: Puerto Rican local politics, specifically politics other than the ever present question of the island's political status. Lucky for me, a few large universities that have Puerto Rican Studies programs have the book in their libraries, so I was able to borrow the book via Interlibrary Loan.

The situation as of the end of the book and this blog post: The Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party, or PNP by its Spanish initials; they are the pro-statehood party, and they lean heavy Republican) is currently in power, and they are certainly exploiting power, graft, and greed. However, their predecessors, the Partido Popular Democratico (Popular Democratic Party, or PPD. They are they pro-commonwealth party, a.k.a. the colonial status the island has now) were doing it before. The only difference is that, much like U.S. Republicans, the PNP greed and corruption are not subtle at all. But in the end, as Fonseca points out, at some point corruption in Puerto Rico became no longer illegal nor immoral.

If you have been gone from the island for many years as I have, and you have not kept up, you might need a road map to read the book. This is a book written by a local person for other locals who already known the cast of players really well. So if you live abroad and have not kept up with local politics, you may want to keep Google handy to look up a reference here or there. I have managed to keep up best I can, plus I grew up in much of the time period he is writing about. There may have been a small detail I did have to look up, but overall, I was able to get it just fine. It amazes me that the  more things change, the more they stay the same. The actors have changed over time, but the shameless corruption, greed, nepotism (if you think Trump having his daughter as an "advisor" is bad, that's nothing compared to some of the things in this book), graft, etc. is the same as when I grew up in the island during the 1970s and 1980s; in some ways, it has gotten worse. This is a book that made me sad at times, and it made me angry here or there. Yet it managed to also make me laugh in some parts that seem so out there that I bet even García Márquez would say, "Damn! really people?" At times, Macondo has nothing on  Puerto Rico.

The book has a short prologue, and it is organized in eight chapters. Fonseca does his best not to leave readers in despair, so in chapter seven he does provide 75 solutions to solve the island's problems. There are some idealistic ideas (think a bit of pie in the sky here), but there are also some very concrete, realistic, and viable solutions that could be implemented if Puerto Ricans ever get their act together, stop voting for the same two parties that are only interested in power (getting it, keeping it, and undermining the other side when they lose so they can get back in power again, rinse and repeat), and elect people who will truly put the interests of the island and the people first. I am not holding my breath on that ever happening.

Still, the book is an interesting read. Fonseca keeps a mostly light tone throughout. Reading the book is like hanging out with your cool, somewhat radical, knowledgeable uncle having a couple of drinks and food in the house's front porch. That relaxed, conversational tone makes the book accessible and easier to read. The subject matter is  heavy and dark, but Fonseca lays it out well, explains things, and makes it easy to read.

Overall, the book provides a good look at the island's internal situation; this is stuff you will rarely see outside of the island. Yes, American exploitation has been terrible for the island, but as if that was not bad enough, the elites of the island, often collaborating or selling out to the colonial oppressors, have wrought great damage for the sake of power and greed; that pain is self-inflicted. In the end, it is not an easy book to read, but it is an important book that I hope more people read, especially Puerto Ricans.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. The quoted passages come from the book, so they are in Spanish. Since some are a bit lengthy I am not translating  unless someone actually requests it. These are mostly ideas from the book I wish to remember or that I reacted to somehow while I read the book.

First off, the epigraph Fonseca uses to open the book is perfect. It basically sets the tone for the book and sums things up. I remember reading and enjoying Ernesto Cardenal's poetry when I was in graduate school. I may need to reread some of his poetry again:

"Libértanos tú
porque no nos libertarán sus partidos
Se engañan los unos a los otros
Sus mentiras son repetidas por mil radios
sus calumnias están en todos los periódicos."

--Ernesto Cardenal, "Salmo 11." 

Fonseca, in addition to being a journalist, is also a lawyer (his ordeal to becoming a lawyer in Puerto Rico was quite an ordeal full of pettiness and retaliation from folks in power that makes quite a tale, but you can read about it in the book). Like many lawyers, and many of us in general who can read and interpret the world around us, he realized early on the system is literally a pile of shit. His epiphany came when he read Marbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803) early on in law school. I admit my own epiphany was a bit more gradual, but I reached the same conclusion, though I am not a lawyer. I am a librarian and teacher. Fonseca writes,

"Desde entonces los abogados y abogadas que realmente leyeron y entendieron el caso terminan sufriendo de algún tipo de depresión o negación, pues llegan a saber muy rápido que todo el sistema es un estercolero y que es una quimera pensar que la democracia es un legítimo modelo pristino y que la división de  poderes no existe y solo se levanta para darle perfume al embuste que vivimos. Ahí se encargan de ir deformando tu mente y empiezas a sufrir de desolación, solo que lo disimulas para ser funcional viviendo de felicidad temporera en felicidad temporera hasta que te conformas con que ni modo, 'así son las cosas' y si quieres cambiarlo vas a pagar un precio que solo los mártires pueden explicar. Y total, es el menos malo de los sistemas que hemos vivido porque al menos te ofrece la impresión de tener algo de poder cada cuatro años y la esperanza de subir un gobierno que sea pulcro está latente" (30). 

That is a seriously depressing life truth. I had to laugh at the last line, and not in a good way. My mother used to say "de la esperanza vive el cautivo" (the captive lives out of hope). Given the island is a captive colony, and to quote George Carlin once more, "people suck," so the situation is actually pretty hopeless.

Contrary to popular belief or what we may have learned in school, people can't really bring down a government by elections:

"Pues contrario a lo que nos han enseñado siempre, no es del todo cierto que el pueblo pueda 'tumbar' al gobierno en cada elección. De hecho, si algo ha demonstrado la democracia es su impresionante capacidad para rmantener el establishment o gobierno permanente. . . " (47).

A few more thoughts from the reading:

  • What is the difference between a politician and a leader? A politician is successful as long as he wins elections. A leader is successful if he inspires people, regardless of his position. One is not the same as the other (47). 
  • A summary of Puerto Rican political corruption, which involves not only government officials but also the people who work for them and with them: Basically, politicians in the island rise in power surrounded by people who want access to said power. Those people could not care less about the public good. They are only interested in their own self interests. They are interested only in money and power. In order to get those, they have to affiliate themselves to a political party (either PNP or PPD). So, they charge outrageous fees for their "services" because they need to provide for themselves not only for the time they work for the "public interest", but also to cover for the time spent lobbying and pushing to get power and influence and then to cover for the lean times when their party falls out of power, and they lose their political jobs (107). They then wait out four or eight  years til their party gets power again, and the whole process repeats itself. And by the way, this is not just Puerto Rico; the U.S. does it too, though Puerto Ricans have made it into a true art form. 
  • Who really has the power  in the  end? It is not the government as you would think. It is people and powers that  do not submit themselves to the will of the people via elections. This includes the following: the Fed, banks, wealthy families, television, radio, newspapers, and media, construction companies and insurance companies, investors (who may or not be corrupt), unions and sindicates, churches, and even drug cartels, universities, nonprofit organizations, and social media. All those folks care about is money. 

Though Fonseca tries to end the book on a somewhat positive note, the situation overall looks gruesome. At this point, there are only two sides left: those who have left the island pretty much for good, and those who remain. Those who left are pretty much gone. I do not hold hope for those who remain who keep enabling the system. As he  pleads in the  end, best some of us can do is to stay informed, keep studying, learning to analyze, and think critically for yourself. That may be a way for change, but as I said, I am not holding my breath on it.

* * * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reading about the reading life: June 16, 2017 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary. As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason).

I was going to do one of these last week, but life happened. This week then we have a few extra stories I saved up for last week plus the new ones for this week, so let's get on with it.

  • This is not so much about books, but apparently typewriters are making a comeback, at least for hipsters and people who do retro. Story via I can certainly remember typewriters. I went to college as an undergraduate with  a Smith Corona typewriter. It was a big deal it had correcting tape. We've come a long way.
  • One more not quite about books, but I think a bit more about literacy and evaluating sources. That whole image we often see in places like the "History Channel" (the place for Nazis, aliens, and ice truckers) of Nazis as hardcore occultists? It is not quite true nor accurate. It does, however, make for great fiction and films. One example is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Story via Aeon. Actually, story is written by author of a book on the topic, so I guess there is your book angle.
  • Glad Day, the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the world, has a new exhibit inspired by glory holes. Worth taking a look. Story via OUT Magazine
  • In Croatia, the government is providing grants for bookstores to help with things like starting up the business, renting a location, so on. They are trying to address the closure of a major bookstore chain that left many parts of the country without a bookstore and to increase access to books. Just the type of cool thing you'd never see in the U.S. Story via Total Croatia News.
  • File under libraries I would like to visit some day: the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York City. It was highlighted in Atlas Obscura.
  • I admit that I often complain when bookstores seem to become more of a gift and toy shop than an actual bookstore (I am looking at you Barnes and Noble). Having said that, I get the notion of doing what you must to survive another day. This bookstore in Kansas has been doing it for a while selling things over the years such as: "Fountain pens, carbon copying paper, specialty envelopes, small lots of resume paper, letter jacket patches, train puzzles, sports clothing, vintage textbooks, Melissa and Doug toys, Kansas flags and books."  They are celebrating 125 years in business, and the family's fifth generation now runs it. How cool is that? Another place to add to my road trip list. Story via The Wichita Eagle.
  • In France, they are building tiny houses to serve as small traveling bookstores. Story via New Atlas.
  • You may have heard Amazon, the online book retailer who has also become a seller of just about anything, has opened retail physical locations. They are not getting good reviews, especially from readers. The New Yorker argues they are just not built for readers, which then begs the question: who the hell are they built for? Besides Bezos and corporate vanity. 
  • A story now about a bookstore in India with a history that goes back to the country's independence.  Politicians, diplomats, and writers have all visited at one point or another. Story via Gulf News.
  • Meanwhile, in China, their largest bookstore chain turned 80 recently. It is a nice little tale. Story via 
  • In some cute and good news, Mafalda comics are now being translated into Guarani language. Guarani, a native language, is one of the official languages of  Paraguay. Story via Telesur.
  • Dangerous Minds has a recent piece on the Tijuana Bibles. (Illustrations in this story are NSFW).
  • Via Literary Hub, a look at why One Hundred Years of Solitude remains so popular
  • In Argentina, Alberto Manguel has become the head of their national library, a post previously  held by Jorge Luis Borges. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Manguel is Canadian. Story via The Globe and Mail (Canada). Manguel is author of The Library at Night, which I have read and reviewed.

Booknote: Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods

Cullen Bunn, Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2017. ISBN: 9781524103149.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: science fiction, adaptations
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

If you enjoyed the original film, or the original television series, you will probably enjoy this series as well. It captures the feel of those works quite well.

In this story, the fleet is caught in a black hole that sends them to another part of the galaxy. To make matters more difficult, the Cylons pursuing them get caught in the same black hole and end up in the same place right behind the fleet. Then, because things cannot get worse, except they do, there is a different group of Cylons, and the humans and the original Cylons need to get into an uneasy alliance in order to survive. What caused them to travel this unexpected path? Without spoiling much, I will say it was an enemy from the  Galactica's past.

As I mentioned, if you enjoyed the original 1970s series, you will probably enjoy this. The story moves along at a good, steady pace, and the intrigue slowly builds up. The art captures the feel and imagery of the series to an extent. It is not perfect. Some of the characters look better than others, but overall the art works. In the end, it was a light and quick read. It is entertaining, but there is not much more to it. It is a title to borrow rather than buy I'd say. I liked it; I like it enough that I would read others in the series.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Kitchen Confidential

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. New York: Random House Audio, 2007. ISBN: 9780307933386.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: cookery, food, biography, celebrity chefs
Format: audiobook
Source: Overdrive via my local public library, Madison County (KY) Public Library.

I have read some of Anthony Bourdain's later writings, such as  The Nasty Bits (link to my review). I kept hearing that I needed to read Kitchen Confidential, so when I saw my library's Overdrive system had it on audio, I took the chance. Anthony Bourdain reads the book. Note also that this is an unabridged edition. For me, I tend to prefer when an author reads their own book, assuming they have a good reading voice and their personality comes across in the reading. If you have watched Bourdain on television, then you are familiar with his narrative style, and you find that in this book.

I am going to note that this was written before he became the TV traveler personality he is now that does not really cook anymore. Heck, in a later episode of "No Reservations" when he cooked in some other celebrity chef's kitchen, he admitted how out of shape he was in terms of pulling a full shift. So in a way this is him before he really hit it big. Interesting that he says he hopes to be cooking and working after the book. He is working now well after the book, but I am betting he is not cooking as much these days.

He starts by saying he will tell you of the life as he has seen it, and while he has no intention to skewer the more famous, he will if he gets the chance. And yes, horror stories will be included too. Just remember not to order the fish on a Monday and learn not to order well done steak.

His first job was as dishwasher, because, like many young people, he needed some spending money. Plus, like many young men, he needed money for the girlfriend; yes, women can be expensive at times. On a side note, his childhood description of privation of good food as the moment of epiphany is well written and very evocative. He gets to work, acts like a jerk, gets humbled, then strives to do better and makes right, and in the process learns all the secrets, some of which he tells us in this book.

Bourdain does have a good evocative voice, and his story of youth does  have some very moving moments. That is a strength of the book. In addition, there are some horror stories and revelations, such that for some readers they may seriously reconsider if they want to eat out or not again. However, Bourdain would argue that you need some common sense, and in some cases, especially when you travel, taking the risk on some hole in the wall place that does not look "too sanitary" may be well worth a little food sickness the next day. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, I really liked the book, and I did enjoy having him read it to me.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

  • CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in the 70s was very different than the elite institution it is  now.  
  • Who actually cooks the food?  Not the chef. Most likely young, ambitious, mercenary, and very likely not American (migrants). The cooks may still be foreign, but not as exploited (or as illegal). It is a competitive field, and now (at least in the quality places), they do get paid well for their work. Many are still Ecuadorian. 
  • As many misfits and outlaws and prima donnas cooking can attract, character still counts. You can teach someone to cook; you cannot teach them character. This is applicable to many other career paths. 
  • Here is why you don't order fish on Mondays. It is likely to be at least four days old. They got it the previous week, and if they still have fish on Monday, it means that fish has sat around all weekend. 
  • Not only is Monday fish bad, mussels can be worse unless you know exactly where and when they got them, their freshness. Otherwise, food poisoning is likely.
  • Cooks also hate brunch. Often, the food is made by whoever is available; the best cooks were on Friday and Saturday night; they are not getting up on Sunday, so it is the second string, or where they let the dishwasher start to learn his cooking chops. Not reassuring if you add the leftovers they use to make the brunch.
  • I just thought this was a really good line from the book: Vegetarians and their Hezbollah branch the Vegans. (Bourdain's disdain of vegetarians and vegans is well known).
  • Rotation of food is key. If the place is busy, and a particular food item flies out constantly, it is probably OK to eat since they sell a lot, they rotate a lot. If it is a slow place with a big overdone menu, forget ordering that fancy item; it has sat there for ages before you order it. Also, keep an eye on the waiter, he knows. More reason to be polite to the waiter. A waiter that likes you may be helpful and warn you of a bad fish. However, if he is under orders, well, his body language can still be a tell. 
  • Best times to eat then: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, when the cooks have had fresh delivery and time to be creative versus weekends when they rush, know it is just tourists they will never see again, and to be honest, could not care less about more than to turn those tables. This is why on rare times the Better Half and I go out to a nice place, we often do it in the middle of the week. Besides, the place is often glad to see you (since it is slow), so the service also tends to be attentive and more relaxed.
  • As for germs, a bit of germs won't kill you, but still avoid places of absolute filth. Much of his point is have some common sense, and be attentive. 
  • An interesting lesson. Sometimes it is  good to have enemies, even if you do not know who they are. It is  a sign you are important.  
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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading  Challenges:

Friday, June 09, 2017

Booknote: Live Girls

Ray Garton, Live Girls. New York: Dorchester, 2006. ISBN: 9780843956740.

Genre: horror fiction
Subgenre: vampires
Format: paperback
Source: Interlibrary Loan via Hutchins Library, Berea College. This loan came from the St. Joseph Public Library in Missouri.

I picked this up for a couple of reasons. One, a couple of reader's advisory resources on horror had it as a suggestion for vampire fiction readers. Two, I did it to have something for the Pick Your Poison challenge I am doing this year, which includes horror fiction. The premise looked great: a vampire stripper club set up in 1980s New York City before the city decided to "clean itself up" and get all Disney-fied. By the way, you may find some spoilers here, so tread accordingly.

This novel is your classic 1980s horror novel with graphic elements and full of explicit sex. If you like your vampires adult, mean and terrifying, and more mature theme and story, this may be for you. In the end, it has its good things and not so good things.

On the positive side, as I mentioned, this  is a vampire story where the vampires are mature adults, and they are terrifying creatures. Davey Owens gets pulled into their world when a stripper at Live Girls lures him and then eventually turns him into a vampire. Being vampires, sex is given, and there is a lot of it, and it is graphic. Personally, this did not bother me as much. I think it may be in part because I read erotica regularly, so a few graphic scenes do not bother me (and I have read much more graphic to be honest). Yet for other reviewers I read, the explicit sex tended to bother them, which honestly made me wonder what were they expecting. Personally, I also found the Midnight Club dance performance fascinating, but then again, performance art is fine by me in all its forms; this seemed to bother a few reviewers too, again, maybe they should go read something a bit more tame. Anyhow, there is that. In addition, the novel does capture the ambience of the city rather well, a time when the city was much  more gritty and sleazy than it is now (the good old times for some folks). Furthermore, the vampire world building and dynamic are actually pretty good. These are old vampires, like Anya who  keeps a scrapbook of  reviews of her dance performances going back to the 1920s. It  was small details like that which I found fascinating.

On the negative side, the pacing of the story is extremely slow. It picks up in bits and pieces, and gets a bit quicker in the latter part of the book once Davey is turned. However, it is slow reading for a bit more than half of the book. In addition, there are some irritating characters, such as Chad, Davey's nemesis at the third rate publishing house they work in, and their boss, an obnoxious woman who is not above sexually harassing her male subordinates. Then we have Benedek the reporter, who has the potential to be interesting, but it only goes so far. He is seeking revenge from the vampire that killed members of his family. In addition, the book can be scary, but for all the fuss, I honestly did not find it that scary. What I found was a vampires tale that works OK, and that is a good refreshment from all the tween vampires and emo vampires we find today. My main problem is that it dragged, and after you take the good elements, it really is not that great of a book. I had a hard staying with it because it was not that exciting. It is pretty much one of those you read once, and then you go looking for something better.

The edition I read is a 2006 reprint; the book first came out in 1987, so it does remain popular for some folks. I understand there is a sequel to this book, but based on this book I will be skipping it.

In the end, it was just OK, so I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Book qualifies  for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Booknote: People I Want To Punch In The Throat

Jen Mann, People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2014. ISBN: 9781494557430.

Genre: humor (though that is questionable)
Subgenre: memoirs, suburbanites (I would add first world problems, white whines)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Overdrive system via the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This was another book I picked up from my public library's Overdrive system to meet the audiobooks reading challenge I am working on this year. Don't bother with  it; it was pretty much a waste of time. This was worse than Worick's Things I Want To Punch in the Face (link to my review of that). This book is basically the author whining and griping about her travails in married life in a suburb where  her husband goes from being the greatest guy to being the greatest asshole depending on her mood. How they remain together is truly puzzling. The book is not amusing at all.

The book description offers the following: "From noted blogger Jen Mann comes a collection of hilarious essays about suburban life and motherhood." That is probably one of the most highly inaccurate descriptions for a book I have read as a reviewer, and I have read some bad stuff in my time. I have no idea how or where she is a noted blogger, and this book is definitely not hilarious at all. It is more like cringeworthy and embarrassing. I had her other book, the holiday edition checked out too on Overdrive, and I returned it without bothering to read it because one dose of this is more than enough.

I am giving the book one of out of five stars, and I am doing it under protest. 

* * * * *

A few reading notes, which are mostly me responding some of the things I read as I was listening to the book:

Book written by Jen Mann. Renee Chambliss is narrator. Chambliss must have either  been paid very well or was desperate given the material she was stuck with reading. Still, for those audiobook readers out there who pay attention, she did a decent job narrating.

Author starts out with the amusing nature and yet boring and mundane traits of chat in the AOL days. There are not many pseudonymous chat places left online, which in a way is a pity really, but I digress. This AOL segment started amusing, but it pretty much gets annoying fast. She is describing a man she met via AOL chat in those early days. They both make all sorts of assumptions based on little to no real evidence, get mad at each other, and it amazes me they still kept on chatting. This is a segment that the author is stretching way too long, and she should have just moved on after a while.

She actually ended up marrying the guy?? Good grief, the woman must have been desperate or a masochist. This whole exchange is insane in an annoying hipster yuppie way.

She is right. I wonder how that man puts up with her brand of crazy. She either got lucky, or he has really low standards, was desperate too. He seems dorky, but not nuts to the scale she is. Sheesh, can we move on already?

This is related to the story of the pillow for the ring bearer at her wedding. Her mom does have a point:  you should have grabbed the damn pillow before you left. But yea, the guy is an asshole too. Again, how the hell they got married is beyond me, and hearing this is just getting painful at this point. I will be  blunt: the Better Half did not make that mistake. She made sure all the bases were covered, and no one lost their cool. What can I say? Some of us manage things better, but we do not need to write books about it.

I did not think this would be some crappy first world problems memoir. The subtitle of the book is seriously misleading as I have not heard anything about crafters, despots, or other suburban scourges. This is just the  author pretty much whining about every other little white whine first world problem imaginable. How anyone thinks this  is humor is beyond me. The more I read, the less I give a shit.

Her whole uptight thing about the swinger friend is even more ridiculous. Lady, can't handle it? Just leave. And "best part" is  everyone else knew but her. Not very attentive I guess. So the neighbor swings. It is not the end of the world nor a scandal.

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: