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« October, 2002 »

The Anti-Capitalism Reader   book icon  
by Joel Schalit (2002)

read: 30 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

I have mixed feelings about things you can buy to support anti-capitalism. Now that corporate globalization is a daily reality that most of us can write and converse intelligently about, it seems only natural that someone would compile these discussions and sell them back to us. That said, this book offers a good overview to the many “talking points” surrounding the current cynicism about the brave new capitalist world being force-fed to us by the likes of Big Business and their henchmen the WTO and the IMF.

The essays range from a very down to earth and humorous look at the consumer-orientation of transexuality to post-modern yammering that I stopped reading at the phrase “the terms of anti-capitalism’s symbolic/conceputal production.” You’ll find more Marx here than Kropotkin, but the Reader is largely doctrine-free, though more closely aligned with the philosophical concerns of the anti-capitalist movement than the very real “well what do you do without capitalism, smart guy?!” issues that affect the day to day lives of many modern anti-capitalist thinkers.

Interviews with Thomas Frank from The Baffler, and Ramsey Kanaan from AK Press are two of the book’s stronger pieces, as is Naomi Klein’s homage to Subcommandante Marcos. The Reader covers a wide range of topics from open source software and intellectual property rights to bioengineering to Leninism. There’s a little something for everyone -- a perfect primer for Anti-Capitalism 101 at your local Megaversity -- and Punk Planet co-editor Schalit has the necessary cred to not only bring it all together but get it noticed as well.

Bones   book icon  
by Douglas Ubelaker (1992)

read: 30 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

This was a little something handed to me by my sister who is getting a Master’s in criminal justice. She, like me, has always been interested in forensics. This book is a sort of casebook by forensic anthropologist Ubelaker and Henry Scammell. It outlines, chapter by chapter, many of the issues that come up when dealing with the dead, particularly the bones of the dead. Ubelaker is often called upon to try to assist law enforcement officials in identifying victims of crimes, often with very little to go on. He explains how he does this, using examples culled from his real-life practice. Some of the stories can get a bit gory, so don’t start reading this if the idea of maggots or rotting flesh sicks you out. Ubelaker’s style is readable and chatty and there’s some really good jokes tossed in in a few places.

Sewer, Gas & Electric   book icon  
by Matt Ruff (1997)

read: 30 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

First off, this book of somewhat speculative fiction begins with a dedication to Ayn Rand. And yet, I read it because it is one of my sister’s favorite books and I trust her judgment. It’s not a heavy read. It takes place in a world a few decades in the future where huge beast inhabit the sewers and rich people build towers miles into the sky. And all Black people were wiped out by a virus a few decades back and only a few remain in isolated hamlets. The Black people you see around exist as machine servants made to look human called Electric Negroes. The dark-skinned versions were apparently more popular than the lighter skinned ones. I had a hard time getting around this set of premises, though I enjoyed the book. I just spent a lot of time thinking to myself “is Ruff a racist?” "Is Ruff a Libertarian?"

The answer to those questions doesn’t matter too much -- though Ayn Rand does show up as a character in the book -- and the story itself is a bit of a romp with a lot of weird character, sentient machines and odd goings-on. There is a nutty superhero guy, a quirky rich guy, an environmentalist theme and a cross-dressing 168 year old woman; knowing all that information should give you a good idea as to whether this is your type of book or not.

Why Things Bite Back: technology and the revenge of unintended consequences   book icon  
by Edward Tenner (1997)

read: 29 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

Tenner is fascinated by failure, he is curious about revenge. He notes that prior to the Industrial Revoltuion, there was almost no discourse about technological innovation being bad or dangerous or out and out spiteful. Advances were seen as a good thing. We know how far we have come from that nowadays. Everyone moans and groans about their labor-saving devices actually taking more time to accomplish tasks than their low-tech predecessors. This is what Tanner called the revenge effect. A new thing winding up doing the exact opposite of what it is supposed to do; low-fat foods causing you to gain weight, for example.

Tanner explores revenge effects and other failures of technology in a very level-headed way. He doesn’t whine about things that are hard to use, rather he explains how these failures occur, and what to do about them. He is also not an activist -- he doesn’t blame Big Business for society’s ills, he just tells it like it is. He investigates more areas than just high tech, he discusses innovations in domestic technology, sports technology and business technology. The end result is very readable since in many cases you are likely to smack your forehead and say “hey, that happens to me!”

The Ransom of Russian Art   book icon  
by John McPhee (1994)

read: 21 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

I generally think of John McPhee as painting pictures with words. As a result, his books are rarely illustrated, except with maps and other austere diagrams. This book is different. It has vibrant color plates of paintings by Russian dissident artists who were working in the USSR when being creative was punishable by imprisonment or death. He specifically focuses on the activities of one eccentric collector, Norton Dodge, an absent minded professor of a man who, through many trips to the Soviet Union in the 60’s and 70’s managed to collect a huge amount of this art, essentially preserving an entire art form for posterity. The books goes back and forth between examining the climate in Russia and examining Dodge’s own strange life and habits. McPhee interjects himself as Dodge’s examiner more than I have seen him do in any other book I have read by him. The book is short, filled with rich details and characters and a captivating story.

Islands in the Sea of Time   book icon  
by S. M. Stirling (1998)

read: 21 October 2002
rating: [0]
category: uncategorized

I was not the target audience for this book. That said, I enjoyed the parts I liked a whole lot. The premise -- something goes wrong and all of the sudden Nantucket of the present day finds itself in the 1300’s where the island is intact, btu the rest of the civilized world has disappeared -- is very creative and is the launching point for a lot of interesting problem solving. However, ultimately, the book is a war book, even if the war in question is being fought with trebuchets and hand-forged muskets and cannons.

The range of characters is broad, there are women and men in powerful positions, bad guys and good guys and peopel in-between. There appears to be a large value placed in “getting things back the way they were” so when the tiny island, near the end of the story opens a bank I think it’s supposed to be the good news. Honestly, I was fine with this book until I peeked at the author photo on the dust jacket and thought -- probably unfiarly -- “oh, this is just one of those typical sci fi guy fantasy stories” There are a few too many rapes and a little too much emoting [a lot of ZZZZiiiik and Pow! thrown in makes for good reading but a less than serious story] and utlimately it breaks down into a big dumb battle that seems to go on forever.

Booked to Die   book icon  
by John Dunning (1992)

read: 21 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

I was looking for a cheesy mystery that did not gross me out and this one fit the bill. It’s not even that cheesy. Along the lines of other “themed” mysteries, this one is about book collecting and book dealing. The protagonist is a cop-turned-bookselller who still has to figure out what happened to one of the nearly-homeless bookscouts that normally hung around in Denver’s used book stores. He’s a likable guy and you learn an awful lot about the world of rare and valuable books as you read it. The mystery part itself is tricky enough, not terribly clever or obvious and worth reading through to the end.

Women Sailors & Sailors' Women   book icon  
by David Cordingly (2001)

read: 9 October 2002
rating: [0]
category: uncategorized

Cordingly says in the preface of his book that he originally meant to do a slightly different book, one about women sailors. However, he had a hard time dredging up facts about these women and so he expanded his scope and wrote a book about women sailors, women pirates, women left ashore, women prostitutes that served sailors and the mothers and wives of sailors. This disjointed topic sphere does cause some troubles. Cordingly is an amazing researcher -- the things he was able to dig up, some dating back to the 1700’s -- are nothing short of astonishing. however, ghood research does not always a readbale book make. Some of these chapters -- on less interesting subjects like the wives and mothers of sailors -- are downright dull. They hop from well-researched anecdote to well-researched anecdote without letting hte author really tie them all together or breathe life into them. I wound up knowing a little about many subjects and wishing I’d read a pop history book about the subject -- something with a bit more of a narrative -- than this recitation of facts.

A Case of Curiosities   book icon  
by Allen Kurzweil (1992)

read: 9 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

Kurzweil comes out with about a book a decade. This doens’t stop him from being one of the more popular authors around, especially since his latest book came out only last year. I picked up his first book -- not knowing he had written two total -- and was blown away by it as much as I was with his last one. The story begins with an artifact that someone wins at an auction, a box with some weird stuff in it. The stuff turns out to be the historical footnotes of the life of a peasant-turned-engineer from the late 1700’s. The book then sets out detailing his life.

It’s not until you get to the end of the book that you realize how truly masterful it is. The protagonist has a friend, a bit of a hack writer, who is always thinking if gimmicky books to try and sell to the general population. His last attempt that we read about is a book about clock mechanisms that has 360 pages [for degrees in a circle] but only ten chapters [because the French attempted to mandate a sort of metric time for the poulace prior to the revolution] and you realize with a suddeness, that this is the exact number of pages and chapters of the book you have just finished, more or less [the less being explained in one of the last paragraphs of the book]. Like Kurzweil’s other book, the characters and the mechanical fabrications of this book are rich and worth a close examination.

The Complete Tightwad Gazette   book icon  
by Amy Dacyczyn (1993)

read: 9 October 2002
rating: [+]
category: uncategorized

Amy Dacyczyn’s name has become synonymous with household thrif and probably plastic bag recycling. She is the writer/editor of the Tightwad Gazette, a nationwide newsletter encouraging people to be thrifty and use products responsibly. Dacyczyn seems to be motivated more by quality-of-life issues than by simple living mantras or eco-friendly ideas. Her tips and tricks do tend to be more environmentally friendly but mostly because they teach you how to do more with less -- less trash, less product purchasing, less glut. When I picked up the book, I quick scanned to the introductory list of ten things you could do to save money and found that I already did pretty much seven of them [and missed out on two more because I don’t have any kids]. I stil found that there was stuff I could learn from this book

Dacyczyn’s main point is that in most cases, people who complain about money [i.e. most people these days] are not really doing all they can to save and live frugally. While she does agree that everyone should be thrifty within their comfort range, she offers a wide range of strategies for people who are trying to make ends meet. Depending on your personal outlook, these ideas may sounds crazy or they may give you some hints on what you can do in your own home. She complements her advice with many hand-done illustrations that make the entire book an interesting read.

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