An okay overview of the artistic side of Trevor Paglen’s work. If you were interested but hadn’t already read his other books, Torture Taxi and Blank Spots on the Map will tell you a lot more about the black world of espionage, secret aircraft and weapons development, and international kidnapping and torture undertaken in the name of the citizens of the United States.
Claire Connelly hasn't consumed anything recently.
135 entries have been written about this.
Unlikely to convince anyone not already inclined against religion, but a fairly enjoyable rant collecting a broad swath of legitimate criticisms of religion in its various forms.
A story about "Transition" — 4 years ago
Although Transition is not an “M.” book, suggesting that it’s not science fiction, it really is SF.
A review of "Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life" — 5 years ago
Although I agree with Reich’s argument that we, as citizens, have the duty to force our politicians to pass laws to mandate social and regulatory changes that we desire, I also think that he lets corporations off the hook.
Reich is correct that corporations have an obligation to maximize profits for their shareholders and minimize costs of all sorts, and that they must do so by attempting to obtain “the best deals” that they can on both sides of the equation. He’s also right that corporations have no obligation to do anything to help or protect the communities that they work in or to do anything for their workers that isn’t mandated by law. I’m even willing to accept that any efforts they might make to be more “socially responsible” are only sensible to the extent that they “buy” public opinion or dissuade or provide cover for a government that is unwilling to pass the laws needed to legally impose that social responsibility.
But I’m more skeptical of his argument that corporations that do behave in socially responsible ways necessarily open themselves up for competition by other, less virtuous companies. For some goods and services, especially those needed by or in demand from the largest group of people (food, oil, basic clothing, telephone or Internet service, television), socially responsible behavior may, indeed, be a dangerous gamble or only a cynical way to cover their less noble activities, but for “luxury brands”, socially responsible behavior certainly can be imposed as a cost of doing business. Once you get beyond the lowest-common denominator, corporate behavior is part of brand identity, and a corporation can and likely will be held responsible for its shortcomings in those areas by consumers.
Similarly, while I agree that depersonalizing corporations, and, in the process, stripping them of the “rights” they are extended that should belong only to real people, would be a good thing. But I’m not sure that Reich’s plan to drop corporate income taxes in favor of distributing those taxes to the shareholders who actually make the profits is a workable one. He argues that this change would discourage corporations from hoarding profits that are later used to conduct corporate takeovers and other aggressive market moves, and while I agree that such a goal is laudable, I’m not sure I believe that it would be possible without an extremely dramatic shakeup in the way that government and business interact.
His argument that government representatives, especially members of congress, have a powerful interest in maintaining the status quo because just as corporations benefit by contributing to political campaigns through lobbying efforts, the politicians benefit by “extorting” money from corporations in exchange for not imposing regulations or even passing legislation that directly benefits contributors, strikes me as true. But I don’t see American consumer citizens getting upset enough about this corrosive situation to be able to force their representatives to actually vote against their own best interests.
Larry Lessig’s Change Congress movement represents one of the few organizations that’s trying to organize both citizens and political candidates to reform the corruption that is endemic to our current system. Perhaps Reich and Lessig should get together and see if Change Congress’s goals are compatible with Reich’s arguments, and to work together to help make government and citizens step up to tackle the hard work needed to make government responsible to citizens rather than corporate money.
A review of "The Age of American Unreason" — 5 years ago
Jacoby makes some excellent points in her dissection of American anti-intellectualism. She ably covers the history of anti-intellectual movements throughout America’s history.
At the same time, though, parts of the book read like she’s bemoaning the changes in American culture as personal losses more than as serious threats to the American enterprise. Many of the “middlebrow” cultural activities and interests of the particular intellectual world in which she grew up have changed considerably over the years. Interest in attending and reading about “literature”, classical music, and other “traditional performing arts” have decreased, and new forms of art and music have taken an increasingly prominent role in our society. But at times Jacoby’s despair about these losses turn into a savage attack on newer forms of communication and information dispersal, in particular television and the Internet.
While I agree that television definitely feels like it has become increasingly degraded throughout my lifetime — with even PBS replacing serious documentaries about history and science filled with interviews with experts in their fields with reality shows meant to compete with the lowest-common denominator of network and cable television, I have to say that her near dismissal of any positive aspects to the Internet, and, especially, the World Wide Web, seem naive at best. Yes, much of the material available on the Web is, frankly, crap. Yes, many, maybe even most, blogs are merely places for people to talk about their own boring lives and deeds, as well as the latest television craze. But there are certainly many sites that feature exactly the sorts of community and conversation she sees as dying out, and there are also sites that do a better job than the mass media at analyzing current events and calling out the media for their sloppy or nonexistent reporting.
When reading Jacoby’s previous book, Freethinkers, I was struck by how much blogs and other Internet-based sites acted to resurrect the culture of letter writing that formed such a huge part of the early American intellectual world. The net allows people without presses to express their opinions — some more informed than others, but still often valuable for the insight into where the nation or the world stands on a particular issue.
The Age of American Unreason is worth reading for Jacoby’s recounting of historical trends and her passionate call for respect for and improvement of American intellectual rigor. Just be prepared to skim through some of the sections that might seem more like nostalgic longing for a former world than wholly useful criticisms of today’s culture.
A review of "Matter" — 6 years ago
Some reviewers have complained that Banks takes too long getting the story started, but they’re missing the point. Matter can be seen as a bridge between Inversions, which takes place through two alternating, and perhaps connected, stories, one in a nation similar to those of Dark Ages Europe, and the other in a culture similar to the Islamic world of the same time, but with hints of Culture activity, and a full-blown, in-the-midst-of-it book such as Consider Phleabas or Use of Weapons.
In Matter, we’re introduced to Shellworlds, multilevelled world-sized machines built by a long-since disappeared race for some mysterious purpose. In more recent times, some members of a race of powerful aliens have taken up residence at the cores of these worlds, and various levels have been converted to provide homes for a variety of different alien species including vacuum-dwelling Starseeds and, happily for us, some human-like peoples.
And so we are introduced to the Sarl, a “human” race living on the Eighth, the eighth of fifteen habitable levels of one of the remaining Shellworlds. They had been living at a roughly medieval technology level, but have, with some hints from a Culture Special Circumstances agent achieved some significant advances in artillery, smaller firearms, and steam-powered vehicles. They are at war with the denizens of another level, and the battle takes a surprising turn, pushing two sons of the royal family in very different directions.
Meanwhile, back in the Culture, we’re introduced to their sister, who has left the Shellworld to live in the Culture and learn about them, and has spent some time in Contact before being invited to join Special Circumstances. Events on the Shellworld call her home for what are initially personal reasons, but which evolve into something much more complex and demanding as the story moves forward.
As with most of Banks’s Culture stories, we see the Culture through the eyes of outsiders. In Matter, we’re also introduced to a number of other “Optimae” — very powerful groups of aliens with their own complex desires and interests — as well as several “client” species, who also have complex and frequently conflicting desires and interests. Through Anaplian, we learn more about the Culture, how it recruits and trains its agents, and how it chooses to project its power in the universe. Her brother Ferbin and his servant cum companion Holse learn more about the race that considers them a client culture, as well as those alien Optimae who oversee those races. What they see and learn is not all good — despite, or perhaps because of, their power, the Optimae choose to meddle in the affairs of “lesser” species (as well as each other) to different degrees; they are also more than willing to exploit these groups for their entertainment value.
As the story moves on, we learn a great deal about the various races involved. Oramen, the second prince, keeps us involved with events on the Shellworld itself. As we approach the end of the book, events build rapidly to tragedy, space-opera drama and excitement, and even surprising heroism and sacrifice.
The universe within which the Culture operates is fantastically diverse, and despite the often epic sweep of Banks’s novels, we are still always left understanding only a small piece of the full history and drives of this powerful conglomeration of people and machines. Matter is a fine addition to the compendium.
A review of "Everybody's Favorite Duck" — 6 years ago
What if the three most evil geniuses the world had ever seen declared a truce and opted to work together instead of interfering with one another’s plans? Only one man could possibly stand a chance of understanding their plot, let alone defeating them. Gahan Wilson’s Everybody’s Favorite Duck explores this most dire situation using copyright-protected parody versions of some of fiction’s best known characters, with America’s most megalomanical cartoon empire and its creator taking an important role in the plot and providing a memorable setting for its denouement.
A review of "Fantomas (Penguin Classics)" — 6 years ago
The introduction is largely positive about the popular appeal and long-lasting influence of the Fantômas stories on French and European fiction, film, and culture, including the fascination of many artists in the Surrealist movement. At the same time, the writer is adamant about didrsbcing himself from the actual novel, repeatedly pointing out the authors’ pulp origins, denigrating the quality of the writing, and sneering st the coincidences that the plot hinges on.
But, at least in this newly tuned-up translation, the book is a shining example of a pulp mystery — shocking murders occur, scandalizing society and devastating families. Our hero, Inspector Juve, appears and disappears, trying to understand the pattern of events and draw together the seemingly independent threads to knot together a net to capture the evil mastermind that only he seems to truly believe in — Fantômas!
As we’d expect from the first in what came to be along series of books, films, and other realizations, all is not what it seems, and seeming triumphs may not be all that we might hope for.
The novel’s Fantômas is really quite tame compared with the reputation the character builds over the ensuing tales. Evil, yes, but some of his motivations are quite pedestrian (illicit love, greed). Still, the crimes he seems to have committed in pursuit of these goals show the beginnings of truly dangerous psychopath.
If you like pulp fiction, reading Fantômas is a must. Knowing a bit about the character’s cultural influences might make the task appealing even if the prose were not an enjoyable read, but for me, at least, I enjoyed every minute I spent on the book, and would gladly read more if the translations were available.
A review of "The First World War" — 6 years ago
A good overview of the war itself — that is, the strategies, tactics, and battles of the war, despite a lack of useful maps (better maps are available from
http://www.firstworldwar.com/maps/). But Keegan seems to be clueless about most everything outside of the battles themselves. At the end of the book, he’s still pondering the “mystery” of the war — why it was fought, how it was that soldiers sustained themselves in the face of the horrors of trench warfare, largely, as far as I can tell, because he elected not to explore those questions in his own research.
Keegan’s book provides a good overview of the war, but to really understand what events led up to the war, how individuals dealt with the nightmare, how people not serving in the various militaries lived their lives, and even much about the details of any particular battle, you’ll have to look elsewhere.