Category Archives: Books

Thug Notes: The classics in another voice


Take a trip to Thug Notes.

The first thing to catch your eye is the slogan: Thug Notes: Classical literature. Original Gangster.

And then there’s the greeting:

Welcome to Thug Notes, your main hookup for classical literature summary and analysis. I’m your host, Sparky Sweets, PhD. Join me each week for a new episode.

The site’s only been up a short while, but it’s a helluva trip

Here’s a taste:

Thug Notes — 1984

Other episodes include:

Spark Sweets also has a Twitter feed.

This just might save the humanities.

MediaWatch: Pay for play in the world of reviews


Back in the 1960s when esnl was a cub reporter and newspapers employed lots of scribes, reviewing was a major part of the medium’s functions.

These days, reviews are few and far between, and websites have taken over the function, sometimes superbly [as in the case of cameras] and sometimes miserably [as in the case of books].

But opening up the reviewer’s craft to all has carried a pernicious side effect: The paid reviewer who doesn’t disclose that the contents are subsidized by folks with a direct financial interest in seeing the product praised or panned.

Two recent stories have brought the seedy reviewing underworld to light.

Google versus Oracle and a judge’s questions

The question of play for pay emerged in a San Francisco courtroom during a landmark legal battle between two software giants, resulting in a controversial judicial order.

From Richard Chirgwin, writing for The Register:

An unknown number of bloggers and hacks are feeling a little sweaty around the collar today, with a US judge ordering the disclosure of financial relationships that might have affected published articles and comment in the Oracle-versus-Google lawsuit.

The order follows FOSS Patents’ blogger Florian Mueller’s voluntary disclosure that he had a consulting relationship with Oracle.

Read the rest.

Here’s the money quote from the order [PDF] by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup, a jurist who’s also skilled in writing his own computer programs:

The Court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case. Although proceedings in this matter are almost over, they are not fully over yet and, in any event, the disclosure required by this order would be of use on appeal or on any remand to make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel. Therefore, each side and its counsel shall file a statement herein clear identifying all authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have reported or commented on any issues in this case and who have received money (other than normal subscription fees) from the party or its counsel during the pendency of this action.

Some background on the case, reported Monday by Brandon Bailey of the San Jose Mercury News:

Oracle did confirm that it has a consulting contract with Florian Mueller, a  prolific blogger and commenter on patent issues who has written sympathetically about Oracle’s position in the Android case.  Both Oracle and Mueller said his contract  – which Mueller disclosed in his blog last spring – was unrelated to his commentary on the legal dispute.  (Mueller also notes that he’s been critical of Oracle in the past.)

Google, for its part, said it had not paid anyone to pontificate on the dispute. But the search company acknowledged it has given money to a variety of trade groups and other organizations, and added:  ”Google is aware that representatives of some of these organizations have elected to comment on the case.”

That wasn’t enough for Alsup.  Oracle has accused Google of maintaining an “extensive network of influencers to help shape public perceptions” on the dispute, and the judge apparently wants to know more.

Alsup issued second order on Monday, saying Google had “failed to comply” with his first instruction.  The judge clarified that he wasn’t just  looking for people who were paid directly to comment on the case.  He also wants to hear about any commenters who received any compensation at all.

Read the rest.

Here’s an RT interview exploring the pay-for-media-play controversy with Georgetown University journalism professor Christopher Chambers:

Another pay-for-play venue: Book reviews

As the Los Angeles Review of Books notes:

The great tradition of the American comprehensive book review, in magazine and newspaper form, has been in its death throes for years. The disappearance of the newspaper book review supplement (papers in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Des Moines, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington and elsewhere have shuttered or radically shrunk theirs) has been accompanied by an explosion of titles in the book market. The net result: twenty times as many titles are published each year than were a quarter century ago, and we have one twentieth of the serious print book reviews. They have been replaced in partial ways by web-based reviews, many of them crowd-sourced or user-generated forums for book talk.

So what about those web-based reviews? How reliable are they?

New York Times scribe David Streitfeld offers a fascinating look at another venue where cash can buy a good review: Self-published books.

His story focuses on Tulsa “review entrepreneur” Todd Rutherford, who made his living writing reviews for self-published authors looking for blurbs to punch into the websites where they sell their ebooks.

Rutherford’s service offered a menu of offerings, starting with $99 for a single Continue reading

GWB Roundup: Obama guy, war crimes, prank


We’ll go from the ridiculous to the visceral, then on to pranksters.

First the ridiculous: Bush would’ve endorsed Obama

Really, this is not a joke, but a report from The New American’s Thomas R. Eddlem. The question we have here at esnl is who the hell are the “they” he talks about?

And, second, what does it have to say by the American political system?

President Bush told British officials in the heat of the 2008 presidential election, “I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me,” according to a November 9 blog entry by Financial Times of London correspondent Alex Barker. The Financial Times is the chief British financial newspaper, a newspaper that corresponds roughly to the New York-based Wall Street Journal.

Barker observed that his two sources for the quote note that Bush had been asked by British officials in a private meeting that included British Prime Minister Harold Brown what Bush thought of McCain and the U.S. presidential election. According to Barker, his two sources said Bush responded:

“I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present. “I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”

Barker exclaimed: “Endorse Obama? Cue dumbfounded look from British officials, followed by some awkward remarks about the Washington weather. Even Gordon Brown’s poker face gave way to a flash of astonishment.” Barker added that his two eyewitnesses to the meeting have continued to wow friends at dinners in London society. “Some of the witnesses still dine out on it,” he wrote.

The quote goes a long way toward demonstrating the lack of difference between the ideology of the leadership of the two major political parties in America. Indeed, President Obama has only continued and expanded the bailouts, “stimulus” spending increases, and deficit culture that Bush encouraged during his presidency.

Amnesty International: Investigate Bush

Here’s a press release from the organization, released yesterday:

US must begin criminal investigation of torture following Bush admission

Amnesty International today urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US President George W. Bush and other officials in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in secret US custody after the former president admitted authorizing their use.

Amnesty International today urged a criminal investigation into the role of former US President George W. Bush and other officials in the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against detainees held in secret US custody after the former president admitted authorizing their use.

In his memoirs, published yesterday, and in an interview on NBC News broadcast on 8 November 2010, the former President confirmed his personal involvement in authorising “water-boarding” and other techniques against “high value detainees”.

“Under international law, the former President’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough to trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,” said Claudio Cordone, Senior Director at Amnesty International.

“His admissions also highlight once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA.”

In his memoirs, former President Bush focused on the cases of two detainees held in the secret program.

Abu Zubaydah was held at various undisclosed locations from

Continue reading

Texas school board urges new textbook purge


As expected, the Texas Board of Education passed a resolution Friday decreeing that their states textbooks should be purged of references to Islam. By law, the board couldn’t adopt a binding resolution about existing texts, so the measure does little more than prove the obvious: Texas has a bad case of the crazies.

Seems they think the American publishing industry is a hotbed of Islamofascism or some such.

From April Castro of the Associated Press:

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a resolution Friday that seeks to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, as social conservative board members warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.The board approved the one-page nonbinding resolution, which urges textbook publishers to limit what they print about Islam in world history books, by a 7-5 vote.

Critics say it’s another example of the ideological board trying to politicize public education in the Lone Star State. Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which advocates for religious freedom, questioned why the resolution came at a time when “anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country has reached fever pitch.”

“It’s hard not to conclude that the misleading claims in this resolution are either based on ignorance of what’s in the textbooks or, on the other hand, are an example of fear-mongering and playing politics,” Miller said.

Future boards that will choose the state’s next generation of social studies texts will not be bound by the resolution.

“This is an expression of the board’s opinion, so it does not have an affect on any particular textbook,” said David Anderson, the general counsel for the Texas Education Agency, when asked by a board member what legal weight the resolution would carry.

Kurt Vonnegut: ‘How to Get a Job Like Mine’


Between the smiles and the laughter, Vonnegut reveals himself as a latter-day Luddite: “I need a typewriter. There is no longer such a thing, anywhere.”

Such a pleasure, seeing and hearing the writer his 80th year, and five years before his death in 2007.  The talk, “How to Get Job Like Mine,” meanders like the Mississippi, the river that so dominated another great American writer Vonnegut grew to increasingly resemble as the years passed.

It’s a wonderful ride, and at just under 52 minutes, it’s much too short a journey through the witty insights of a passionate curiosity joined to a quietly powerful, humorous voice.

Recorded at a lecture at Albion Collage.

A favorite line: “If you really want to upset your parents but don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, at least you can take up the arts.”

Another: “We are here on earth to fart around, and don’t let anyone else tell you any different.”

H/T to Metafilter.

Roots of the surveillance state lie in imperialism


In this fascinating look back through history, Alfred J. McCoy [previously] traces the rise of the modern snooper state to the nation’s first overseas colonial war, the brutal suppression of Philippine rebels following the Spanish-American War. He also plied his trades against Cubans unhappy with Americans lording it over their island in the wake of the same war.

McCoy, who first documented the corrupt ties between Southeast Asian heroin barons and the Central Intelligence Agency, is an expert on the history of the American surveillance state.

Latter-day viewers might be surprised to hear McCoy’s account of the first great struggle against federal domestic spies came not from the left but from conservative Republicans in the 1920s, who forced a radical reduction in homeland [to use the modern term] espionage .

The massive spying efforts which today vacuum up our phone calls, emails, and countless other facts about each of us have their roots in military intelligence. Today’s massive data bases were born in the military’s collection of intelligence on Filipino citizens, which included, for example, separate files on the majority of Manila residents.

After the end of World War I, Ralph Van Deman, the creator of the military intelligence program, targeted radicals, African American activists, the Industrial Workers of the World, and other allegedly “subversive” individuals and organizations.

An old source of esnl‘s said that after Van Deman’s retirement to San Diego, he eagerly provided extensive information to police department “red squads” in California and other states, much of it assembled in the course of his military career. J. Edger Hoover was another beneficiary of Van Deman’s generosity.

Another legacy of that long-ago war is targeted assassination, which Barack Obama’s bunch has taken to a new low by authorizing the extra-judicial murders of American citizens.

Obama’s move was foreshadowed, McCoy reveals, by Sen. John Kerry during his failed 2004 presidential bid, when the Democrats abandoned any stance on torture because focus group reports showed that American’s were tired of hearing about those murderous misdeeds committed in their name.

McCoy also touches however briefly on another theme of deep concern to esnl: the coming “war over water.”

It’s a fascinating talk by an expert — he’s on the University of Wisconsin faculty — who has been charting the troublesome course of America’s spies and spymasters for 40 years. A review of his latest book, which focuses on the subject of his talk, is here.

Surveillance State: Philippine Pacification & the Making of the U.S. Internal Security Apparatus, 23 April 2010, 1:16:44

A deadly stew of acronyms: When CIA meets LSD


Investigative writer H.P. “Hank” Albarelli Jr., an, attorney, and former Carter administration official, has written a devastating expose of Central Intelligence Agency drug experiments, with his focus on the death of intelligence and chemical and biological warfare  scientist Frank Olson, killed in a fall from the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel in New York City in 1953.

The official explanation for Olson’s death was the claim he’d acted out of depression following he was covertly dosed with LSD by CIA officers, but Albarelli officers evidence that Olson may have been murdered out of fears he would blow the whistle on secret experiments, including the secret dosing of a French village with a powerful psychedelic [previously].

esnl heartily recommends Olson’s opus, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments, a compelling, well-documented, and convincing account of one of the darkest sides of America’s intelligence world.

Albarelli talked about his discoveries May 10 in a Manhattan bookstore. He’s introduced by Mark Crispin Miller, media studies prof at New York University and creator of the blog News From Underground.

Albarelli also offers interesting insights into the connections between CIA scientists and the eugenics movement, the agency’s long involvement with heroin producers, and the Iran/Contra/Coca connection. In another interview posted here, he contends CIA covert drug ops are continuing.

Hank Albarelli—A Terrible Mistake 64:11