Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari, Paul Theroux.  New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.  e-book, 338 pps.

Paul Theroux travels from Capetown up through Namibia and Angola in this latest book.  I really like Theroux's writing because he ties history and literature into his travelogues.  The Last Train to Zona Verde also exemplifies the best of Paul Theroux-- a bit grouchy but amiable and clearly aging.  There are some intimations about age and the winding down that accompanies it.  I can only hope that he is wrong about this in his own case.  I want him [and Oliver Sacks and Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig and Sir Terry Pratchett] to live on forever-- or at least several more decades.

Besides the gloominess of advancing age, there is the hopelessness of the urban sprawl.  The cities are not clean.  They are crime-ridden, hopeless, and poverty-stricken.  A few shantytowns have become respectable neighborhoods but that is the exception rather than the rule.  The small towns and cities are full of despair.  That much is clear from this account.

I knew in a general way that Angola was a bit torn up by wars.  I didn't realize to what extent until reading about Theroux's journey through it.  The government of Angola itself is rich.  Many of the citizens of Angola are poor.  There are schoolchildren in Angola who do not even have a pencil to write with.  Angola itself is rich with oil.  Angola is a case of the politicos getting rich off the backs of the common people.  

Zona Verde, green zone, is another word for the Bush.  Theroux gets to meet some San tribal people, hangs out with them, goes on a walk through the Bush with them, only to discover that he's been trolled.  The whole glimpse into traditional life of a tribal people thing is staged for tourists.  After discovering his folly, Theroux bravely asks a question that I would not have thought to ask, "Who says they or other tribal people necessarily want to continue to live in hardship of the old ways?"  Having to walk several miles daily for water certainly is far less convenient than having running water available either in one's home or in a communal building.

Also in the Bush, Theroux meets up with a friend of a friend who has an elaborate safari camp for rich people.  Folks pay 4000 dollars or more a day to spend nights in little cabins overlooking a local watering hole.  They get to ride African elephants [something that the natives never ever do] and eat fancy foods [something else that the natives never ever do].  I think myself, I'd rather head upriver in a canoe or raft with a guide and camp out at night than spend time in the lap of luxury at that rich peoples' safari.  The safari is owned by an outsider.  The profits are not benefiting any local people.  The elephants themselves are problematic.  There is a reason why African elephants are not ridden around by the natives.

The train rides and bus rides, once they get underway, are descriptive and made me long to be on the road again.  There's something to be said for taking local transportation and mingling with the locals.  The border crossing that Theroux describes really sucked.  So does the food available to him after hiring out a car [with several other passengers] to get somewhere that there was no buses or trains.  In the end, Theroux decides that it is time to go home.  African Bush is beautiful if trecherous.  Urban sprawl in Angola-- a place of no trees and few animals-- is indistinguishable from city to city.

sapphoq reviews saysPaul Theroux's book The Last Train to Zona Verde is certainly worth a read by anyone who wants the real deal-- or as real a deal as a white privileged traveler can experience in foreign places-- about what traveling through parts of Africa is like.  If you are satisfied with standard template traveling fare, you really do owe it to yourself to read a real travel book such as the ones that Theroux writes.  Fans of Theroux of course will not be disappointed.  Absolutely highly recommended.    

Monday, June 24, 2013

Makers by Cory Doctorow

Makers, Cory Doctorow.  New York: Doherty, Tom Associates, L.L.C., 2009.  e-book, 547 pps.

You can download Makers for free at Cory Doctorow's site here: 

Cory Doctorow [@doctorow on Twitter] writes books for geeks, pirates, nerds, and other rads like me.  There has been bits of speculation that we are now in the period of post-work.  Makers addresses this in the form of we the common people doing it for ourselves.  Squatters down on their luck have known this for a long time.  They take over abandoned buildings-- I actually met a squatter from New York City passing through Pennsylvania once-- and make them into homes until the cops and city officials come to throw them out.  

The free download from Craphound include a wonderful essay on the anti-copyright activists, or Big Hollywood.  These people are to be despised by any decent citizen.  Once I buy a book, e-book or otherwise, it should be mine to gift to someone else, lend out, sell, scribble on the pages, write found poetry from or whatever.  

The other day I was in a major chain bookstore and a guy came by to ask the e-reader associates a question.  He said he was a teacher, and he wanted to copy a few pages out of an e-book that he had paid for in order to share them with a class that he was currently teaching.  The e-book associate hemmed and hawed and spewed forth some bullshit about D.R.M.  Teachers were always permitted to photocopy pages out of any book at the library for their students.  This man had more of a right to print out pages from an e-book which he had purchased than any of the rest of us do.  He walked away mumbling something about taking screenshots of the pages he wanted.  I wanted to shout after him, "You go, Teach!" 

Big Hollywood and the political idiots making digital laws would have us believe that we are buying a "license" to use an e-book.  As Cory Doctorow tells us, the book industry itself does not talk about the increase in licenses for e-books bought-- they talk about e-book sales.  Indeed, the lie is exposed by the button that says "buy" on my computer.  Due to perception problems and ocular-motor dysfunction from a traumatic brain injury, my e-reader has given me back the ability to read for more than a half hour at a time.  If I hadn't had my life-changing brain damage, I would have stuck with the printed pages of regular books.  No one is [yet] arguing about my right to do as I wish with those.

So Big Hollywood, ACTA, DRM, RIAA, CRAPTA and all you other fancy mancy pantsy morons, you can go away now thank you very much.  The beginning essay titled "About this download" should be required reading for all of the playahs who want to pry my e-book out of my possession.

After a nifty dedication on page 12, the serious story begins on page 14.  There are news reporters in Makers and a rich guy who figures into Makers.  The rich guy, one Landon Kettlewell, is speaking about how technology has killed off travel agents and record labels.  He says "Capitalism is eating itself."

I am a mall rat and have been that way ever since I was old enough to take myself to a mall on a bus.  There are malls in Makers.  There are old abandoned malls and pieces of land which folks begin to use in order to earn a living.  A couple of the heros in Makers have started their own industry in one such under-used mall.  And the people like it.Nearby is a colorful shantytown where some of the folks who work at the mall live along with some other colorful people.  Soon there are start-ups all over the United States.  Some folks fall in and out of love.  There are fat clinics-- folks who sign up for them are called fatkins-- for people who want to be thin.  So yeah, obesity treatment with a catch.  Like in present life, folks who opt for surgical treatment have to take vitamins and supplements.  Unlike today, the fatkins have to eat 10,000 calories a day in order to live.  Friendships are made, broken and remade.  The start-ups expand internationally, including into Brazil which is its' own delightful sub-story. 

A disgrunted fired employee from a large popular amusement park is taken in and that is where the trouble, serious trouble, begins.  This trouble is akin to the Girl Scouts no longer being allowed to sing the song about friendship and silver and gold because of copy-hog issues.  The copy-monopolists are in full-force but something happens and they don't quite get their way.  I won't give away the ending, sorry folks, but it was worth it.  There is something there about each one doing what their talents and interests lead them to do.

sapphoq reviews says:  I recently came across a review by someone who was not a techie, geek, nerd or rad.  The reviewer did not "get it" and confessed to not having been able to finish the book.  Cory Doctorow does not write for regular people.  Makers, like all of the other Doctorow books, is written for folks like me and possibly you.  If you understand that security is not the opposite of privacy, you should read Makers.  If you cheer on the folks with the masks at protests world-wide, you should read Makers.  If you know where the nearest local Makerspace is, you will love Makers.  Absolutely and highly recommended.  Makers is love.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Dead Man's Deal by Jocelynn Drake

Dead Man's Deal, Jocelyn Drake.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.  e-book, 333 pps.

Dead Man's Deal is the second book of The Asylum TalesAngel's Ink is the first.  There are also two shorts-- The Asylum Interviews: Bronx and The Asylum Interviews: Trixie.

Having read Angel's Ink and liking it, I decided to read Dead Man's Deal.  I can now declare myself a fan of the writing of Jocelynn Drake.  I liked Dead Man's Deal too.  A lot.  I am waiting for the third e-book in the series to be published.

Dead Man's Deal continues the story of Gage the tattoo artist and his buddies.  The first chapter starts out with the words, "They were killing pixies." [page 6].  It was a perfect beginning.  Gage was once again embroiled in a dilemma not necessarily of his own making.  Through his ingenuity, he and his troll buddy got out of that one.  Naturally, Reave [not a nice guy] was pissed off by this.  Naturally, Gideon [Gage's sort of guardian and his defender to the Towers] showed up to admonish Gage for his use of magic which was forbidden.

There is a steamy love scene in Dead Man's Deal between Gage and his hot elven girlfriend Trixie.  I don't enjoy many fictional love scenes but I liked this one.  The end result was another problem added to the list of on-going problems between Trixie and the Summer Court.

The last bit of the book featured some unexpected new characters and a dual to the death for Gage.  The new characters were refreshing to me and held my interest.  The dual was not entirely unexpected but was expertly described.

sapphoq reviews says:  If you don't mind a talking cat, an urban alternative setting, and non-humans in your fantasy tales, you should be reading Jocelynn Drake.  Dead Man's Deal continues in the most excellent tradition of The Asylum TalesReaders who like Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar Series [with talking horse-like Companions] will enjoy the writing of Jocelynn Drake.  [If you don't like talking animals, stay away].  Highly recommended.

Graveminder by Melissa Marr

Graveminder, Melissa Marr.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.  e-book, 338 pps.

Rebekkah returns to Clayville after the death of her beloved [not by blood exactly] grandmother Maylene.  She inherits Maylene's house and something else, much to the consternation of Maylene's natural grand-kids.

Maylene's death was a murder and rather mysterious.  A sort of animal had attacked her.  The sort of animal that has to be invited in, offered talk and sustenance.

And then there is Bryon.  Bryon the undertaker's son.  His father dies later on in the book.  Under rather, uh, paranormal circumstances.  Bryon gets the business.

There are some things about Clayville too that are mysterious.  Crime doesn't much happen there.  The citizens of Clayville are protected.  Safe.  Not necessarily in a bad way.  Still, the animal attack on Maylene is troubling.

Rebekkah isn't thrilled to see Bryon again.  They'd known each other in high school and a few other places.  She doesn't exactly care for him.

sapphoq reviews says:  Melissa Marr has written a pretty good book.  I liked Graveminder.  The characters were cool.  I even liked Rebekkah's cat.  Bits in the trailer scene made me chuckle.  And there is a whole other sort of world under a building in Clayville.  That in particular was most excellently done.  If you like the dark and mysterious and don't object to bits of paranormal thrown in along with a dash of romance, Graveminder fills the bill.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Brainlash by Gail L. Denton

Brainlash:  Maximize Your Recovery From Mild Brain Injury, Gail L. Denton.  New York: Demos Medical Publishing, LLC, 2008.  Third Edition.  e-book, 343 pps.

Brainlash is a book that is divided into 42 short, easy-to-read chapters interspersed with a journal kept by the author regarding her own brain injuries.  Although Dr. Gail L. Denton is a professional therapist, I encountered choppy and repetitive sentence structure in her book.  I was not expecting this from a licensed professional.  The book could have benefited from better proof-reading.  There were no grammar mistakes.  There was a certain lack of variety within the sentences which in my opinion ought to have been corrected.  Some crucial information was also missing.

Denton refers to m.T.B.I. [mild Traumatic Brain Injury] as an epidemic without accounting for changes in definition which renders an increase in diagnoses.  This "T.B.I. is an epidemic" refrain is one that is often heard in order to boost attention to the problem and hopefully garner more funding for an organization.  I could not help but note the similarity to the claim that "Autism is an epidemic."  The bottom line is that there are a bunch of diseases and conditions which need more scientific research so that best practices can be refined.  

It is "easier" for the State of Vermont to award the contract for all treatment of traumatic brain injury to an agency of visiting nurses than to figure that some brain-damaged people will wind up not getting services as a result of their lack of insight into the nature of t.b.i.  It is "easier" for the frustrated medical professional to latch onto the diagnosis of Post-Concussive Syndrome and treat those symptoms rather than to deal with the whole person and the nature of life-altering events such as brain injury.  It is "easier" for the New York State Health Department to contract the services of a man with a diploma mill PhD to treat t.b.i.-ers than it is to find out which providers actually have a real PhD and decide which one or ones might be best equipped to give effective neuro-cognitive treatment to survivors.  It is "easier" for folks to say to their friends suffering from brain damage, "Oh I get that too" or worse, "You were always like that."  It is easier to push people into the round holes rather than to pay attention to folks who don't fit into neat little protocols.  This whole "Oh noes, _______________ [condition of the moment] is a national epidemic!" thing ought to be put to rest.  All of us, regardless of disease, condition, or health status deserve scientifically-validated treatment protocols.  What doesn't work doesn't work.  Anecdotal testimonials are inferior to peer-reviewed literature.

I can tell you that some of the chiropractic treatments I received "worked for me" to relieve pain on a temporary basis.  I can tell you what they were.  A hundred or a thousand or a million people can tell you similar stories.  But the stories are only stories.  Alternative medicine is popular.  It's the latest buzzword.  People need hope.  Chiropractors, tarot readers, politicians and others sell hope.  But how well does the hope actually work?  I can tell you that I've improved but does my claim hold up under scrutiny?  Do I have test results and proper medical reports to back up what I am claiming?  Goals have to be measurable and results have to be measurable too.  Gail Denton didn't find satisfaction with traditional treatment for her traumatic brain injuries.  So she went elsewhere.   

To be sure, the western medical establishment and the individuals in it are not perfect.  And with concerns about costs, those of us who don't fit into a traditional mode are often discarded left to be in charge of our own rehabilitation efforts.  Insurance companies are designed to cover as little as possible.  No fault automobile insurance [for the states that have this] means "We ain't paying cuz it ain't our fault."  I've fought for medical treatment.  I had to get a lawyer.  Writing in a journal [something which Denton recommends and which I think of as an okay thing for those who want to do so] can be dangerous when it comes to legalities.  Consult with your attorney before deciding to keep a journal if you are a plantiff or a defendant in a lawsuit stemming from your accident.  Don't have a lawyer for your workers' comp case?  Get one.  Your employer has at least one lawyer.  That is almost a guarantee.

One of the things that is crucial in my view for brain injury survivors is neuro-psych testing.  The testing [in my case done by a neuro-psychologist at a rehabilitation facility] is necessary.  Neuro-psych testing pinpointed the areas of my greatest cognitive difficulties as well as my strengths.  I needed to know these things so I could develop work-arounds.  Work-arounds are strategies that I use based upon my strengths that help me in daily life.  With brain injury, battering on our areas of cognitive weaknesses in the name of remediation [in my non-professional opinion] doesn't work.  One of the symptoms of my brain injury is repeating the same mistake.  Attempts to train my way out of repetitive mistakes failed.  I had to find a way around making the same mistakes over and over.  I learned that any ability that I used to have at multi-tasking was pretty much dead.  To this day, it remains dead.  Forcing myself to multi-task in small steps did not work.  What worked for me was finding ways to avoid multi-tasking.  I had to do things in different ways.  Neuro-psych testing provides a roadmap of "where to go from here."  It is vital.  Get some.

The other thing that Denton neglects is testing for complicating conditions caused by the brain injury itself.  I remember these statistics:  
          80% of us have vision problems as a result of our brain injuries.  These vision problems are not limited to field deficits [something Denton does mention].  Vision problems may be expressed as double vision in one or both eyes, perception problems, the appearance of "ghost-lines" around the things we see, ocular motor dysfunction [the eyeballs not moving well], photo-sensitivity in varying degrees up to and including true photo-phobia, dry eyes because we don't blink as much as we used to.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  One of the things not on the list is visual acuity.  Visual acuity is the thing measured by the Snellen Eye Chart.
          20% of us have hearing loss as a direct result of our brain injuries.
          50% of us have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders as a result of our brain injuries and/or obesity occurring after a brain injury. 
         Up to 90% of us with left frontal temporal lobe damage develop [or have worsening problems, if there was a pre-morbid mental health diagnosis] Major Depression.  

What do these numbers mean for those of us with acquired brain damage?  Hearing should be tested.  How our eyes function [not just visual acuity] should be tested.  We should be screened for the existence of a sleeping disorder and some of us will be then referred to a lab for a sleep study.  Our mental health should be evaluated by a clinician who is familiar with traumatic brain injury.

The last piece of vital information missing from the pages of Brainlash is the idea that the categories "mild," "moderate," and "severe," denote things like how long a loss of consciousness was in the event that caused the brain to go bangity bang bang but those categories are not correlated with disability outcome.  In other words, a person who is given the diagnosis of mTBI [mild Traumatic Brain Injury] can wind up with more permanent disability that someone who is given the diagnosis of moderate Traumatic Brain Injury.  A person with severe Traumatic Brain Injury may be able to have gainful employment after treatment and someone else adjudged as mild or moderate may not.  Finally, "mild" does not mean that the brain injury is not serious.  All brain damage is potentially life-altering.

Brain injury survivors in the States ought to get in touch with their state Brain Injury Association.  These associations vary in effectiveness and aid offered to the survivor.  Some have support groups.  Some have scholarships for survivors in economic hardship to attend their state Brain Injury Conference.  Some hold informal discussions.  Some are involved in other talks and one day conferences which survivors may be able to attend for free or at a reduced rate.  Some have lists of medical providers who are familiar with t.b.i. and some refuse to provide any information about that.  If you don't contact your state B.I.A., you won't know if there is help available to you.  If you have contacted your state B.I.A. and found them lacking, you can look up your regional office of Independent Living Associations.  Folks who work for an I.L.A. often have disabling conditions themselves.  Many I.L.A.s provide informal peer counseling, disability advocacy, and benefits advocacy.  And yes, they do have lists of other agencies that may be able to help. 

sapphoq reviews says:  The book Brainlash has a lot of promise but does not deliver.  Although the chapters are short, the information provided is of the "nothing new here" variety.  Survivors who need support would do well to look for it via neuro-psych testing, a state Brain Injury Association, an Independent Living Association, and/or on-line via brain injury chatrooms and e-mail support groups.  Skip this book. 

this entry was cross-posted to sapphoq healing t.b.i. 




Friday, June 14, 2013

Ghost Whisperer "Slam" Season 3, Episode 11

The other night, I had the "opportunity" to watch the show Ghost Whisperer staring Jennifer Love Hewitt.  For reasons that escape me, Skeptic-of-the-Highest-Order housemate has become quite taken with the show.  Consequently, the other night was not my first "opportunity" to watch Ghost Whisperer.

Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as a woman who sees and speaks with dead people.  Live people wind up within her vicinity and they invariably have trouble with a ghostie.  The typical pattern of the show is that first she has to convince the live person or the dead person or both to allow her to help.  The live people are usually a bit put out by the woman who talks with spooks.  They become converts with a bit of "artful" persuasion and dialogue that sounds like a pamphlet for the local Spiritualist Church (albeit without the seances).  Sometimes the dead people are adamant that they are not going anywhere.  That changes of course by the end of the show.   Ghost Whisperer always concludes with the ghost being enchanted by and being absorbed by "the Light" of the new-agers.

The particular episode I watched the other night was called "Slam" [after "slambook"].  It was episode 11 of season 3.  "Slam" was notable because Jennifer Love Hewitt's character Melinda Gordon goes into a monologue about how anonymity on the internet turns everyone into big meanie poop-heads.  The speech is stilted and artificial.  One more reason to hate Big Hollywood as well as the push for everyone to give up their wallet info to the Watchers of the Web.  Hallelujah-- not.

"Slam" purported to be an online slam-book for kids in the local high school.  Even the popular kids were subject to written abuse left anonymously via entries under their names.  Of course, some vicious entries were left on pages and a kid died.  Since anyone could write anything on anyone else's page without leaving their own real names, golly gee willikers people die and stuff, m'kay?

I know that people have committed suicide based on what other people have said about them on-line.  That is not the issue I have with this particular episode of Ghost Whisperer.  The problem is that the issue of quasi-security vs. privacy is complex and multi-factorial.  In some countries, to expose one's identity is fraught with danger.  Social media has become one way in which radicals and dissidents can connect and fight for change.  Being an out atheist in Pakistan did not have the greatest outcome for one atheist in particular recently.  Sending e-mail to American relatives from a Vietnamese cybercafe has always been risky business.  Not to mention people who have had to escape domestic violence situations-- it's bad enough that our laws do not adequately protect them from battering partners and ex-partners.  For the producers to write in such blatant propaganda into Ghost Whisperer smacked of Big Hollywood advocating for Big Data.  NSA anyone?  Hello hello.

sapphoq reviews says:  The blanket statement that we should just hand over our wallet info and become part of Big Data in the name of quasi-security is not something that should have been interjected into a show about a woman who talks to dead people.  Recently, a popular business magazine published a piece on how business owners should jump on the Big Data bandwagon.  Since the NSA is so interested in our trivialities and what we say online, why shouldn't the savvy sellers of merchandise and commodities everywhere profit from the sudden move towards transparency on the part of everyone in order to benefit the shadowy Big Government?  Monsanto continues to poison the wheat and The Patriot Act has ensured that we as a country will continue to be insane and misinformed puppets.  Ghost Whisperer is not a show that I would recommend to anyone with two brain cells left to rub together.