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

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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

Economic crisis worsens, KBR scoops up loot

Obama’s embracing his inner Dubya

From “The Poetry of Death: Patterns of State Terror,” an essay by Chris Floyd on the Obama administration’s continuities with and expansions of some of Dubya’s most dubious dirty deeds. Found at Floyd’s website, Empire Burlesque.

Where Bush was content with smirks and hints about his assassination program, Obama is bold, sending his security chief to declare openly before Congress that the president now has the unrestricted right and power to murder anyone, Americans included, in cold blood, by the simple expedient of declaring his victim a suspected terrorist of some vague description. Whereas Bush and Cheney usually resorted to backroom bureaucratic knife-twisting or bombastic but empty public threats to try to silence and cow officials who expose high crimes of state, the Obama Administration brazenly brings down the draconian power of federal prosecution against whistleblowers. Our progressives-in-power will not just take away your government job or bluster at your editors if you give your fellow citizens a glimpse of the blood-soaked sausage-making that goes on behind the imperial curtain; no, they will put you in the penitentiary, to rot away with murderers and child abusers, which is where they rank all such treacherous tellers of truth.

Doug Thompson has a similarly disturbing post at Capitol Hill Blue.

Recovery? We don’t got no stinkin’ recovery.

The housing implosion continues, as documented by Calculated Risk, one of the best indicators sites around.

The combined REO (Real Estate Owned) inventory for Fannie, Freddie and the FHA increased by 22% in Q1 2010 from Q4 2009. The REO inventory (foreclosed homes) increased 59% compared to Q1 2009 (year-over-year comparison).


Even with all the delays in foreclosure, the REO inventory has increased sharply over the last three quarters, from 135,868 at the end of Q2 2009, to 153,007 in Q3 2009, 172,357 at the end of Q4 2009 and now 209,500 at the end of Q4 2010.

These are new records for all three agencies.

Remember this is just a portion of the total REO inventory. Private label securities and banks and thrifts hold an even larger number of REOs.

Further evidence of the ongoing debacle, also from Calculated Risk: One home in four still ‘underwater’

CoreLogic reported today that more than 11.2 million, or 24

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LSD, the CIA, and the rise of the counterculture

The greatest event that never happened?

esnl’s pick would be the time a timely intervention by a senior spook spiked subordinates’ plans to spike the punch at The Company’s annual Christmas party with a generous dose of lysergic acid diethylamide.

Imagine being a fly on the wall at that party!

While the Central Intelligence Agency and LSD might seem an incongruous mix, there’s good reason for arguing that the CIA was directly responsible for the psychedelic drug explosion of the 1960’s and the rise of the drug counterculture.

The rise of the counterculture, while hailed as an event that threatened the existing political structure, may have instead blunted the edge of a radical movement that united large numbers of folks of all ages and backgrounds in a demand for a profound transformation of American society.

What can be stated with certainty is that many of the seminal figures of the counterculture were first introduced to LSD and other mind-altering drugs by scientists and physicians who were conducting CIA-funded research and attending conferences funded by CIA-front foundations.

esnl interviewed many of the researchers while working as a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, later as associate editor of Psychology Today magazine, then while writing his second book, Deadly Blessings.

I met the Menlo Park researcher who gave Ken Kesey his first dose of acid and the Los Angeles psychiatrists who gave the drug to Henry and Claire Booth Luce, Anais Nin, Alan Watts, Cary Grant, and a host of other luminaries. All were part of the CIA-enabled network.

It may seem strange to describe rock-ribbed old school publishing magnate Henry Luce as a seminal countercultural figure, but it was his Life magazine that first shone spotlight—brightly flattering—onto the realm of psychedelic drugs.

Sidney Cohen, a shrink at the Westwood Veterans Administration hospital in LA’s Westwood neighborhood, administered the then-legal drug to the Luces at their ranch home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Cohen told me he suddenly

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The Pentagon’s media spinners

While it’s common knowledge that the corporate lobbyists and political hucksters are adept at spinning the media—especially in these days of a radically downsized press corps—it’s a different matter when agencies of government do it.

Especially agencies devoted to death.

The Pentagon runs one of the world’s most sophisticated media-twisting operations, as witnessed during the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the coverage by “embedded” reporters.

But there’s another Pentagon campaign, one even more insidious—but it’s not aimed at journalists and editors. These “liaisons” are aimed at the entertainment media, producers of Americans films and television shows.

They offer a powerful incentive: Access to military equipment, bases, and even explosives. Producers who swallow the bait are asked only one thing in return: access to their scripts, so soldiers can take out their blue pencils to make certain there’s nothing depicted that could portray the American military as anything other than the incarnation of virtue and righteousness. Even if the events depicted happen to be true.

Two remarkable documentaries detail the spinning operations: Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon shapes and censors the movies [2004] and Hollywood and the Pentagon: A Dangerous Liaison, made a year earlier.

The first film, based on the book of the same title by David L. Robb, is based on tens of thousands of Pentagon documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Robb said his curiosity was tweaked by reports he’d heard during his decades of covering the film industry as a labor, legal, and investigative reporter.

As Robb discovered, even shows as seemingly innocuous as the venerable early television series Lassie were forced to change their scripts in exchange for use of stock footage controlled by the military. The problem with one Lassie episode was a plot device in which the canine star howled before the crash of a military plane, sensing a high frequency sound traced back to a defectively manufactured wing.

No defective equipment allowed, said the Pentagon. Because the military wanted to create a favorable impression among the very young to entice them into enlisting later on, the script was changed. Since no changes would mean no footage, the producers complied.

And movies do make an impact on potential recruits, with the Air Force-idolizing Top Gun leading directly to a surge of enlistments.

To win military cooperation for the film Windtalkers, which detailed the use of Navajo-speaking “code-talkers” in the Pacific Island campaign against the Japanese in World Wart II, producers were forced to cut a scene in which a

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Naomi Wolf on ‘The End of America’

A November 18, 2007 interview with Naomi Wolf, author of  The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, describing the parallels between developments in the United States and the rise of European fascist states. From the A-Infos Radio Project. A longer talk in lecture form is available here.

Hedges on the fate of journalism

Chris Hedges, who has appeared on these pages several times recently, casts his eyes on the future of American journalism in this review of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again, a recently published book by Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols.

While the authors of the book propose a $35 billion government subsidy program to support the dying craft, “paid for by new taxes on consumer electronics, advertising, and smartphones, among other things,” Hedges is much less optimistic, as is esnl.

Here’s some excerpts from Hedges’s review:

We are shedding, with the decline and death of many newspapers, thousands of reporters and editors, based in the culture of researched and verifiable fact, who monitored city councils, police departments, mayor’s offices, courts and state legislators to prevent egregious abuse and corruption. And we are also, even more ominously, losing the meticulous skills of reporting, editing, fact-checking and investigating that make daily information trustworthy. The decline of print has severed a connection with a reality-based culture, one in which we attempt to make fact the foundation for opinion and debate, and replaced it with a culture in which facts, opinions, lies and

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