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Book Review: The Department of Magic by Rod Kierkegaard, Jr.

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Image of woman holding a cross-bow.Summary:
Di Angelo and Farah thought they were getting a typical, boring DC government job.  But it turns out they have been assigned to the Department of Magic, and whether they like it or not, their horogaunt boss is having them face down demons, shifters, and more in repeated robberies to gather the pieces of George Washington in the hopes to bring him back to life to fight off the ancient Mexican gods who were stirred out of slumber by all the talk of the ancient Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012.

Review:
I have not hated a book this much since finishing Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift in February (review).  On the plus side, this means you all get to enjoy an angry Amanda take-down style review.  On the minus side, I had to suffer through this horrible thing.  But this is what book reviewers do.  We suffer through things and tell you about them so you don’t have to.

This book has a triple-whammy of awful.  It has so many grammar and spelling mistakes that I can’t believe it ever made it through an editor (oh but it did!).  The plot is confusing and ill-paced.  Finally, and most importantly, it is so prejudiced I had to double-check that this wasn’t a pen-name for Ann Coulter.  Too often I’ve made these assertions in the past but been unable to truly show them to you since it was a library book or some such.  Enter: the kindle.  But first let me quickly explain the plot/structure/pacing issues.

So Farah and Di Angelo aka Rocky are hired by this mysterious department in the US government.  There is a lot that makes zero sense about the department.  First, it appears to only consist of Rocky, Farah, and their boss Crawley (a horogaunt).  Anyone who has worked in the US government *raises hand* knows that they do not underhire. They overhire.  So this just makes the author look like he knows nothing about government.

Throughout the book, Farah and Rocky have this problem of carrying out covert operations for the department and almost getting arrested and wanted for murder and blah blah blah.  Um, excuse me. This is the motherfuckin government.  If they want George Washington’s sword they “borrow” it.  If they can’t “borrow” it, they send in government agents and protect them from prosecution because, I reiterate, this is the motherfuckin government.  A department that supposedly exists to keep America aligned with the goddess America and protected from demons and vampires and what-have-you that no one else knows about would probably be a Big Deal on the inside. So this plot point makes no sense.

Then there’s the pacing issues.  The pacing goes up and down and up and down and the reader keeps prepping for a climax only to get none.  I think you see the analogy I am going for here. And it sucks.

Moving right along, let’s get to just a few of the more egregious grammar, spelling, and other writing I caught in this *laughs hysterically* edited book.

rung off. (location 385)

Americans hang up. No one in this book is British. The narrator is not British. This is stupid.

He could feel her hot breath, fetid as a zoo animal’s gorged on fresh meat. (location 752)

This is a bad analogy, as any high school student can tell you, because the vast majority of people don’t KNOW what a zoo animal’s breath smells like.  An analogy is supposed to help a reader connect an unknown thing to a known thing.

Kabbala (location 858)

This is not how you spell Kabbalah.

Then she pulled both of their caps off and bit him on the mouth. (location 1889)

No, this is not a scene between one of our heroes and a demon. This is supposed to be Farah romantically kissing Rocky. Was that the image you got from that? Didn’t think so.

The most terrifying form devils or demons can take.  No one has lived to describe them. (location 1889)

This comes from the federal book on beasts and demons that our heroes read and start every chapter with an excerpt from. Question. If no one has ever lived to describe these demons then a) how do you know they exist and b) how the hell are you describing them in this book?!

Her face was beautiful, appearing radiantly soft-cheeked and virginal in one instant, a rotting grinning skull, a death-mask in the next. (location 3922)

If you are writing a sentence comparing something from one instant to the next, you can’t compare three things! Two. Two is your limit.

Ok, but obviously I wouldn’t hate a book this hard for bad plot and some (ok a lot of) writing problems.  I’d give advice and encouragement. The hating on the book comes from the prejudice hitting me left and right. It was like running the obstacle course in Wipe-Out!  I can’t and won’t support or recommend a book to someone else as not for me but maybe for them when it’s this painfully prejudiced throughout.  Let’s begin, shall we?

Look, hon, you know you’ve got zero will-power.  Honestly you’re like a lesbian.  You go out with this guy a couple times, you’ll move in together on your third date.  I see him all day, every day.  I don’t want him underfoot when I come home too.  Plus he’s too poor for you. (location 741)

Oh look! Homophobia!  The sad part is you can tell that Kierkegaard thinks he’s being funny when he’s just flat-out offensive.  To top off this delightful bit of dialogue, we’ve got classism.  And I feel I should mention the man they are talking about is an Iraq War vet.  But he’s poor. And clearly that is what matters in dating.  Homophobia is not quite this blatant throughout the rest of the book, although we do have a *delightful* scene in which Bobbi (a girl) shows up to seduce Rocky, who she thinks is gay, since Farah spread a rumor that Rocky is gay to keep her fiancee from being upset that she’s working with a man. Yeah. That happened.

There is more blatant classism, though.

Baltimore is the blue-collar ugly step-sister of the white-collar Washington DC metropolitan area. (location 1250)

Noooo, comparing hardworking people with blue collar jobs to the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella is not offensive at all.

*sighs*

Also, pretty much every demon “disguises” themself as a homeless person. This means almost every homeless person our heroes run into is a demon. Seriously.

And what about women?

The reason I’m so into Nineteenth Century romantic literature, I guess, is because I love anything that reminds me of growing up with my mom and my sisters and gets me inside women’s heads. (location 1214)

Yes! Let’s just go ahead and say that Jane fucking Austen represents every woman’s head everywhere in the 21st century. That’s just awesome.

Speaking of women, I will say this. Farah is the more talented of the duo in climbing, which is nice.  However, she and every other woman are presented as shallow and obsessed with fashion.  Also, a baby is born, and Farah turns overnight into a doting mother-figure when she was a sorority-sister type girl mere hours before.  Meanwhile, the actual mother fails at parenting, and the only explanation for this utter lack of ability with babies is that she is a vampire.

I’m not sure what the precise word is for it….xenophobia perhaps?  But Kierkegaard makes it abundantly clear that only Protestants have the whole religion thing right.

White or “good” magic, he told her, already had a name.  It was called “prayer.” And even prayer, unless directly addressed to God the Creator, is in essence a Luciferian transaction, because it relies on the intercession of intermediaries, such as saints or boddhis, and inevitably involved some sort of quid pro quo. (location 1545)

Speaking of religion, no hateful book would be complete without some anti-semitism tossed in there, would it?

Freemasons–A Lucifer-worshipping conspiracy cult dedicated to Zionist one-world government, heirs of the Christ-murdering Pharisees and the Knights Templar. (location 1596)

Christ. Murdering. Pharisees. He actually went there. And not only are they the Christ killers but! They also secretly run the world through a Satan-worshipping secret organization!

I would have thrown the book across the room at this point, but it was on my kindle, and I love my kindle.

And finally. To round it all out. We’ve got some good, old-fashioned American racism.

First we have the black man who spoke entirely normally until this sentence:

You got any questions you need to axe me, you know where I live. (location 1193)

Then we have the Asian-American man who can’t pronounce his own name:

There they consecutively picked up a squat red-faced Asian named Robert, which he pronounced as “Robot,” and a noisy and vituperative older black man in a water-sodden daishiki named Walkie-Talkie. (location 3225)

Beyond these blatant examples there’s the fact that every person of color is either actually a demon in disguise or working for the seedy underground of some sort of organization.  The exception to this is Farah, who is Lebanese-American, but Kierkegaard takes extreme care to point out that she is NOT Muslim. She’s one of the Christian Lebanese-Americans.  She also basically acts just like a white sorority girl but with an exotic look!!

See? See? I just. *sighs*  The only people who might not be horribly offended by this book are the type of people I don’t really want to recommend books to anyway, except to be like “Here, read this book that might make you realize what a douchebag you are being, like say some classics of black literature or books on how hard it is to be gay in an evangelical family or maybe read about the real history of the Bible.”  You see my point.

The only people who would enjoy this book are people who have this same prejudiced world-view against basically everyone who isn’t a white, straight, Protestant, American male. So, I guess, if that’s you, have at it?  But it’s riddled with spelling, grammar, and plot problems, so you won’t enjoy it anyway. So hah.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Book Review: The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health by T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II

April 15, 2012 3 comments

Blue and green text on white background.Summary:
Dr. Campbell spent the early part of his scientific career researching diseases of affluence such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  When a study in rat livers demonstrated that a greater percentage of protein in the diet led to greater disease, Campbell became intrigued.  He designed the China Study to compare Chinese citizens with American citizens, since the Chinese have low rates of these diseases until they immigrate to the United States.  Through this and other studies, he believes he has the proof that most diseases of affluence are caused by the Standard American Diet.  In his book he presents these findings, as well as an insider’s look at the scientific, health, and government trifecta that vastly affects what Americans learn about health.

Review:
Clearly the most valuable part of this book is the chapter that explains Campbell’s China Study.  Since it’s generally not considered ethical to study humans and disease by injecting them with various substances, one of the better methods available is population studies.  You compare and contrast over a long period of time the differences between different populations and attempt to determine what aspects may cause bad health.  It is undeniable that the traditional Chinese rural population compared to Americans eat less animal products and move more.  Additionally they have less disease, particularly cancers, heart disease, and diabetes.  Campbell’s study establishes this easily observed fact into something that has been scientifically proven.  It is also interesting to note that those who emigrate to the US and adopt the Standard American Diet (SAD) change to the American rate of these diseases.  This is ground-breaking information, of course, but it is easy to gather this all from one chapter.  Campbell finds it necessary, for some reason, to devote a chapter to each illness, which frankly gets repetitive and tedious to read.

Beyond the study itself, which is interesting and good for people who aren’t already convinced of the health problems caused by animal products, I felt the rest of the presentation of these facts to be dull in comparison to Diet for a New America.  Where Campbell’s strength lies is in discussing his experiences as an insider in the American health and scientific industry, which frankly we all know is royally fucked up.  He addresses at length how these have become intertwined with the government and animal product lobbyists to the extent that for the sake of profit of animal product producers and those working in medicine, Americans are getting a severely watered down version of what scientists and health care workers know to be the facts.  Anytime anyone tries to tell Americans to eat less animal products, the lobbyists get all up in the way.  This is why people talk about how capitalism should not be involved in health.  It’s only natural that people who have spent decades learning cardiology might not want to suddenly have half the surgeries to perform because heart disease can be reversed by diet.  Or that people who own a dairy farm might not want American women to know that dairy consumption leads to osteoporosis.  But it does.  And Campbell illustrates why and how these facts are kept from the American public.

He also eloquently shows why we have constantly conflicting news stories on health.  Everyone knows the joke about how eggs were bad for you then good for you then bad for you (but only the yolks) all over again.  Campbell shows how this is the direct result of the conflict within the science and health industry.

I have come to the conclusion that when it comes to health, government is not for the people; it is for the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the people. It is a systemic problem where industry, academia and government combine to determine the health of this country. (page 318)

I have worked in the health field myself for years now, and I can tell you, the vast majority of the people who do genuinely care about you and your health.  But traditions are hard to break and even those within the system don’t know everything that goes on among the lobbyists and the top echelons.  I mean, they are still teaching medical students to utilize BMI to determine health in their patients, when multiple studies have shown it is not a reliable tool.  Why is this?  People want to believe what they’ve first learned, and especially in medicine, if a new idea comes along many many many studies must be done and obstinate people push for it before the method utilized will be changed.  This is meant to protect you from quacks, but unfortunately it can lead to the burying of ground-breaking information.

Plus, how would Americans react if tomorrow Mrs. Obama and her obesity prevention program came out and said everyone needs to go vegetarian or vegan?  Hell, the woman is taking flak for daring to suggest children play outside.  I think you can see my point.

Overall, this book definitely could have been shorter.  I believe it would have worked better if Campbell had presented his study and his insider’s knowledge as to why the health care and science industries seem so confused and conflicting half the time.  I hope this knowledge will convince more Americans to take direct control of their own health and conduct their own research to come to their own conclusions.  It’s worth a read for this knowledge, but if you are not interested in the politics of science and health and simply want the information, then I suggest you go with the more reader-friendly Diet for a New America.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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Stop the War on Women

April 8, 2011 2 comments

That’s it.  I’ve had enough.  It’s bad enough that I’ve lived my whole life, half of which has been lived in the 21st fucking century, with outdated, outmoded, misogynistic mores, norms, laws, and principles in action.  That’s bad enough.  But on top of that, instead of seeing that improve with my lifetime, it’s sliding back down the fucking hill!

Our foremothers (yes, foreMOTHERS) didn’t fight the fight for the vote, the right to be recognized as an individual outside of our fathers, brothers, and husbands, the right to make our own choices for ourselves, the right to an education, the right to our own bodies, just to see it slip back away out of our grasps in the 21st century.  Worse, not only are they slowly chipping away at our rights, but gradually the respect we used to garner is slipping away.  It’s disgusting. It’s despicable.  I’m tired of it.  It needs to stop.

It’s bad enough that we are constantly barraged with what we *should* wear and what our hair *should* look like and whether or not we *should* wear makeup and what type of body is the *most* womanly and whether or not to eat a fucking salad on the first date.  What happened to our right as Americans to be ourselves and pursue our own fucking happiness?!  If I want a salad, I’ll have a salad.  If I want a whole chocolate bar, I’ll eat the goddammed whole chocolate bar.  If I want to bench press weights, I will, and I shouldn’t have to worry about being considered not womanly or being “accused” of being a lesbian (like that would be a *bad* thing?!).  I should be able to just be myself and let people appreciate me for me.

I am not a bad member of this country!  I pay my taxes.  I pay attention to what’s going on around me.  I do my best to be a positive element of society.  And what?  I’m bad because I’ve used Planned Parenthood in my day?  I’m bad because I plan ahead because, brothers, we’ve all seen your track record for sticking around and being a fucking man about life if a woman does get pregnant and decides to keep the baby.

Do you know what there’s an epidemic problem of in this country?  It isn’t women being immoral.  It’s men refusing to GROW THE FUCK UP and behave like adults!  What is so fucking terrifying about treating women like equals?  What is so fucking terrifying about letting us have our nature-given right over our own fucking reproduction system?   Is it a fact that a 24 year old woman in Boston has more balls than you do?  Because I can tell you, I’ve stood up for my rights to fuckers like you many many times over the course of my life, and that takes a lot more balls than to tromp on people who are just trying to keep their natural-born rights.  Are you really that much of a pussy that I have more balls than you do?  Let us have our rights!  Better yet, get beside us and *fight* for them!  That’s what a real grown-up man would do.

Donate to Planned Parenthood

Donate to NARAL

 

Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Red book coverSummary:
The US government is searching for new biological weapons by sending satellites into the edges of the atmosphere to collect bacteria strains that may exist there but not on earth.  Due to concerns of contamination on reentry, an emergency team called Wildfire is created as a contingency plan.  When a satellite crashes in the Arizona desert, grotesquely killing all but two residents of a small town, the team of scientists is put to the test in a race to protect humanity.

Review:
An up-front confession: Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors.  I love how realistic his science is, and he writes suspense quite well.  I was therefore excited to read his first book.  Unfortunately, Andromeda Strain did not live up to these expectations.

The suspense is killed right off the bat with the narration style.  The story is told as if it is a report being written up by someone after the event.  This means that we not only know that some of humanity survives this impending doom, but that society is still held together enough to want a report.  If I’m sure that everything is going to turn out hunky dory in the end, I’m just not going to be all that concerned throughout the book.  Similarly, the characters aren’t fleshed out as well as in later books.  They are basically their careers.  Here’s the bacteriologist.  Here’s the professor.  here’s the surgeon.  They don’t come across as real, rounded people, so I completely failed to care about them at all.  This isn’t good for suspense, because if I don’t care about the characters, I’m not going to worry about them too much.

Crichton’s ability to set a scene shines through well in this book, however.  Wildfire’s underground station is vividly imagined, as is the scene at the small town in Arizona.  It was simultaneously gruesome and exciting.  Similarly, his ability to weave real science into a fake scenario is carried off flawlessly here.  The glimmers of the writing that would later appear in Jurassic Park and Prey is clear.

Speaking of the science, Andromeda Strain doesn’t age well.  An entire page is devoted to explaining binary like it’s this huge complicated thing, which it isn’t to anyone who grew up with computers.  Indeed, a lot of the book is devoted to explaining the huge computer in Wildfire’s base.  Unlike biological science, in which the basics stay the same, technology changes rapidly.  I don’t think it’s a wise choice to focus on in a scientific thriller, unless you are projecting plausible possibilities in technology in the future.  Or super awesome possible technology the government may already have.  Crichton does this really well in Prey, which is all about nanotechnology.  Science horror needs to take me into a world that is a bit more awesome than my own, not lamer.  Thankfully, Crichton figured this out in his later books.

If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, The Andromeda Strain is worth the read to see where he started.  If you’re new to him though, I’d recommend starting with some of his later books such as Jurassic Park or Prey.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought at Violet’s Book Exchange

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Banned Books Week

September 25, 2009 13 comments

Banned Books Week, the ALA’s yearly anti-censorship awareness campaign, starts tomorrow.  I hadn’t really thought much about it or paid much attention to it as I work in a special library.  We don’t exactly do the sorts of themes that public libraries do.  My GoogleReader had an opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal that raised quite a few relevant issues with the theme that I hadn’t thought about before.

Muncy points out that traditionally censorship is seen as the government prohibiting their citizens from possessing or gaining access to something within the borders of that country.  China’s censorship of the internet is called to mind.  He then points out that public libraries are technically branches of the government.  In addition he points out that most of the “banned books” being celebrated this week have in fact only been challenged by patrons, usually patrons concerned about their children reading/viewing these materials.

You know those moments when you suddenly realize you’ve been indoctrinated into believing something that doesn’t make sense?  Reading this article gave me one of those moments.  Muncy is completely right.  When was the last time the US government–any branch of it–banned a book from being in the United States?  Um….I can’t even think of a single time in the last one hundred years at least.

Don’t patrons have a right to express their opinion regarding library holdings?  It doesn’t mean librarians have to acquiesce to these opinions, but shouldn’t patrons have the right to express them?  Aren’t librarians supposed to cater to their community?  Clearly if only one patron doesn’t want a book in the holdings but many others do, we shouldn’t remove the book, but what would be the harm in putting some sort of parental warning sticker on the book?  The parent could tell the kid “don’t read books with that sticker,” then it’d be up to the kid to be obedient.  Like it or not parents actually do have the right to censor what their kids are exposed to.  Would any librarian complain about a parent preventing a child from viewing porn?  No.  So why do we get all upset when a parent doesn’t want their child reading a book that has the n-word or that has a gay couple in it?  It may go against our politics, but our politics are not supposed to come into play when doing our job.  We are here to serve our patrons whether we agree with their political opinions and manner of raising their child (within the confines of the law of course) or not.

Muncy is right.  Banned Books Week highlights censorship where there really isn’t any.  Why couldn’t Banned Books Week highlight actual censorship worldwide?  Books that have actually been banned by various governments, for instance.  For that matter, why couldn’t we have a Controversial Books Week?  That could show how powerful books can be ala the pen is mightier than the sword.  Books such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin that stir massively strong feelings in people would be such a wonderful tool for opening up dialogue.

Of course I am against censorship, but patrons voicing concerns about holdings isn’t censorship.  It’s their right as a public government-funded public libraries serve.

Your Job as a Librarian

April 1, 2009 5 comments

I’m a librarian, currently working on my master’s degree. Some people are concerned about technology being the downfall of libraries. Observing my fellow classmates makes me far more concerned that they will be the downfall of librarianship.

There’s the students who just cannot seem to properly research anything.
Idiot student: “What?! I couldn’t find the answer to that anywhere!”
Me: “Really? Cause it took me all of 2 minutes…..”

There’s the students who can’t write properly to save their lives, which is particularly a problem for academic librarians who must be published in order to stick around.

I could go on and on with my list, but I’ll get to my point. What I consider to be absolutely the worst idiocy is the students who just don’t get the ethics behind or the point in being a librarian.

Last night we were discussing working the reference desk and having a patron come up and ask for assistance in researching a medical issue such as diabetes or weight loss. (A pet peeve I have with this class is the idiot professor’s assumption that we are all going to be working in public libraries. *sigh*) A student piped up that she would first advise the patron to go to a doctor. I assumed the professor would inform her that it’s none of her damn business to go around telling people to go to a doctor. Imagine my surprise when she didn’t. I put in my two cent’s worth, which led to an epic debate.

Why do I have a problem with this?

Libraries are an essential element in democracies. If we as a populace are expected to actively participate in our governance and to keep an eye on our government, we must be informed. A library is a place where people can self-educate. They can fact-check. It’s largely about not believing everything you are told and investigating it yourself.

So a patron shows up to do just that and your immediate response is to tell them to go to some “authority” the culture has deemed appropriate and to just automatically trust them? See the problem here?

People are not complete idiots. They are aware doctors/lawyers/other authorities exist. If they are coming to the library to conduct their own research, there has got to be a reason.

Your job as a librarian is not to assume your patrons are idiots.
Your job as a librarian is not to reinforce the system.
Your job as a librarian is not to believe you can read people’s minds.

Your job as a librarian is to assist people in educating themselves.
Your job as a librarian is to help maintain (or, hell, produce) a questioning, educated public.

Librarianship is about being radical; it is not about reinforcing the norm.

The fact that my classmates simply do not get this core essence of librarianship makes me envision a Fahrenheit 451 type future where instead of firemen burning houses down, librarians only provide government-approved information and report questioners to The Man.

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