Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gangland by Jerry Langton

Gangland: The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels from El Paso to Vancouver, Jerry Langton. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2012. 253 pps.

Gangland is the second book that convinced me not to migrate to Mexico. Jerry Langton goes into depth about the various factions in Mexico which are trafficking drugs up to the United States. He points out that there is a definite presence of these cartels in some cities in the U.S.A. already. The violence that is committed by the members of the cartels is not just a problem south of the Rio Grande. It is here in our cities and I suspect will increase. Where there are illegal immigrants, the presence of these cartels is higher than in communities where Mexicans who crossed legally are settled.

Jerry Langton accurately points out that even if the United States legalizes the use of marijuana, drug trafficking may not stop. Some will still obtain pot from the streets rather than from a legal "store." Taxes. Strength. Yes, those are two reasons why people will avoid acquiring it from sources that have a government stamp of approval. People up here don't just want pot. There is a demand for Mexican heroin, M.D.M.A., cocaine and meth which will not go away.

One thing unique to Gangland is the description of what is happening in drug rehabs throughout Mexico. Folks from cartels have broken in and either murdered everyone there or murdered the patients that they recognize there. Rehabs have also become a favored recruitment ground for the cartels.

sapphoq reviews says: Gangland is a scary book. It is worth reading for anyone who wishes to understand more about the violence associated with the Mexican cartels and their increasing presence in North American cities. Highly recommended.

El Narco by Ioan Grillo

El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, Ioan Grillo. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011. ebook, 327 pps.

El Narco gives the lowdown on the total FAIL of the United States' so-called War On Drugs and this country's efforts to strong-arm other countries into joining up. [note: The United States appears to have a sort of pattern of demanding that other countries get on the latest bandwagon. This aggravates me. As an American citizen, I cannot condone these actions. As a human being, I am against my country's politicians and presidents attempting to manipulate other countries into enforcing our "laws," especially if those "laws" are unjust]. There is also a very good description of devotion to the folk-saint Malverde. Jesus Malverde of Sinaloa is revered by many people, not just drug dealers. A shrine to him is popular in spite of the official non-recognition of his veneration by the Roman Catholic Church.

But what really distinguishes El Narco from other books describing Mexican "cartels"-- a term which is not entirely accurate and out of favor-- are the interviews with past and present narcos themselves. I found the interviews to be very informative. They put human faces on the information being presented.

sapphoq reviews says: It is because of this book and another one that I no longer wish to migrate to Mexico. Mexico will always remain special in my heart of hearts as a place that I have fallen in love with and as a spiritual home. Definitely worth reading for a more global understanding of the Drug Wars.

Marching Powder by Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden

Marching Powder: A true story of friendship, cocaine, and South America's strangest jail, Rusty Young and Thomas McFadden. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003. e-book, 378 pps.

Thomas McFadden was an international [sort of] distributor of drugs. He was living in England and had the misfortune to be caught holding at a Bolivian airport. After some time in a holding cell, he was sent to San Pedro. 

San Pedro at that time was a different sort of prison. Thomas McFadden quickly discovered that he was expected to pay some money to get in to the prison and then he was expected to buy his own cell. Another prisoner befriended him and promptly gave him the nic "ingles" which pretty much saved his life. The prisoners hated Americans. Bunches of folks were in the prison because of the so-called War On Drugs.

The prisoners were also expected to find their own jobs within the prison if they wanted to work. A prisoner could help make cocaine, sell cocaine, run a restaurant or grocery story, act as a courier or some other stuff inside. Ingles began conducting tours. The tours became widely popular among the backpacking set and then spread to other tourists.

Yes, Thomas McFadden did cocaine and quite a few other drugs and got drunk in San Pedro just like almost everyone else. There is a pretty woman, some rapists, a prison pool, and the families of the other prisoners in the story. Marching Powder illustrates the depth of corruption within San Pedro at that point in time. Reports differ as to whether or not things have changed there.

sapphoq reviews says: Thomas McFadden and Rusty Young have written a captivating [and true] narrative. I could not put the book down. Highly recommended.

a couple of news articles you can check out if you want to:




Winter World by Bernd Heinrich

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, Bernd Heinrich. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2007, 2003. 284 pps.

I love the writing of Bernd Heinrich. He is to the northeast what Ed Abbey was to the west. I have re-read Winter World and decided that this book deserves a review here.

Bernd Heinrich and I share a fascination with the woods. Unlike me, he is able to draw what he sees in the woods fairly well. [I have to resort to a camera. My drawings all look like cartoons]. Like me, he has spent much time in the woods listening as they tell their story.

Winter World addresses how various animals manage to survive the brutal temperatures of winter without freezing to death and stuff like that. From nests to dens to other shelters and from squirrels to birds to turtles to frogs and more, Heinrich satisfies my curiosity.

sapphoq reviews says: If you want to know what ruby-crowned kinglets eat in the wintertime, you should read this book. If you know what a ruby-crowned kinglet is, you should read this book. If you want to know more about nature, you should read all of the Bernd Heinrich books-- even the one about running. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hackers Anonymous by A.H. Wetherington

Hackers Anonymous, A.H. Wethering. city not found: Paper Lake Press, 2012. e-book, 43 pps.

This short story addresses what happens within a community when someone is cajoled into working for the perceived enemy. I've seen this happen. 

There is a certain former member of the hacktivist collective Anonymous who now is hiding under the 'ninja' umbrella on one social media site. I love ninjem and I love Anonymous but I don't love him.

This certain fake ninja plea-bargained his way into becoming a turncoat. I clearly remember him on the channels trying really hard to get people to incriminate themselves. Note to Feds: Please instruct your informants in the art of being not so frigging obvious. Supposedly, the man is currently in San Francisco making a living as a sort of painter of pictures-- I think he calls himself a street artist now-- and whatever else he does to hustle for a living I don't really know. The ego-fag in him attracted a certain amount of ill-gotten 'fame.' The Feds perceived of him as a sort of leader of Anonymous. He was willing to be a self-set up spokesperson which in itself is bullshit. And so he got sucked into the machination of social justice and is now working for the enemy.

There are other Anons who refuse to become snitches. For them I have the utmost respect. Contributing to their legal defense funds is one way to let them know that we appreciate their integrity. Writing to them in prisons and publicizing their plight are two other ways of letting them know that they are certainly not forgotten. Because they are not forgotten.

The short story primarily tells a tale of a teen hacker who is quite good at what she does and her parents who don't truly understand her. Dad is a detective in the local police agency. He wants to spend time together as a family. Mom wants teen to enlarge her social circle from two best friends to being a sort of social butterfly.

By and large, that sort of wish is frustrated by the hackers and aspies among us. Technology is for playing with in order to improve both the security and the product. I still remember the olden days when one could call up a company and point out their security flaws. But nowadays, all hackers have become vilified. There is no longer a distinction made by organizations or by law enforcement between hacking as a form of social protest and pen-testing a site without having been asked to versus the loose mafioso-like shadow
companies that are in the business to rip people off.

sapphoq reviews says: A.H. Wetherington has written a short story which is suitable for teens. It was okay. I'm not sure that the message it intended to portray [according to the advertisement blurbs] is the one that teens will get from reading this story. Mom and Dad seem a bit too typical-fifties for my taste. I liked the main character but not the dialogue. Neither recommended nor un-recommended. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ties That Bind by Phillip Margolin

Ties That Bind, Phillip Margolin. New York: HarperCollins e-books, 2009. [2003]. e-book, 339 pps.


note: Phillip Margolin is on twitter as @philmargolin but he does not tweet to date.

Phillip Margolin is a prolific writer of novels. Ties That Bind continues the story of Amanda Jaffe after an attack that left her with a raging case of p.t.s.d. She has difficulties with relationships, flashbacks, and hyper-vigilance. In spite of her symptoms, she continues with her day job. 

There is political corruption, some activities related to the sale of drugs, prostitution, and a bunch of dead bodies in Ties That Bind. Amanda Jaffe is the kind of attorney that I would want in the courtroom with me. She is sharp and committed to justice.

Jaffe is asked to defend someone that everyone thinks of as obviously guilty. The fellow is perceived of as a dangerous and violent bad ass. No, she does not fall in love with him. 'Nuff said.

sapphoq reviews says: The plots and sub-plots in Ties That Bind render this novel as a fine example of a legal thriller. Highly recommended.

various e-books by Stan Singer a.k.a. Squirrel

[A] Prisoner of Cell 21 also titled Con Game, Stan Singer. self-published, classics reborn or [an Amazon company] Create Space, 2011. e-book, 297 or 281 pps.

Squirrel's Guide to Surviving Jail and Innocent Inmate Stories, Stan Singer. self-published: classics reborn, 2012. e-book, 32 pps.

Sketches From Behind Bars, Stan Singer. self-published: classics reborn, 2013. e-book, 2 pps.

Stan Singer self-described as an inmate serving time in Orange County jail in downstate New York. [His bio from one site notes that he is out now and living in another state]. This is a man with an imagination and talent. He has written a variety of e-books [and at least one paperback]. Stan Singer writes both fiction and memoirs with ease. He also has some excellent drawings of dragons.

Prisoner of Cell 21 includes the same writing as Con Game. I will refer to the story as Prisoner of Cell 21. It is semi-autobiographical with some twists. Names have been changed and situations altered to protect the innocent from the criminal justice system.

In Prisoner of Cell 21, Singer takes on a persona by the name of Eli Epstein. Like Singer, Epstein was forced into a plea bargain for a crime that he did not commit. Epstein gets out and is soon bored by the flunkie job at a superette that the release counselor of the jail got for him. But he is not bored by Angela who is a very pretty young woman. One thing follows another and soon they are deeply involved. 

Epstein locates a variety of gigs and starts thriving. He's got associates, a hot woman, money, and fun going on. But his parole officer is not part of the fun. I will not give anything away here. I do have to say that the conversations between him and a hapless gentleman by the name of Hatfield [a.k.a. Hatface] are not to be missed.

The entire book is full of wit and action. I liked it a lot.

Squirrel's Guide to Surviving Jail and Innocent Inmate Stories is a series of tips and how-tos which are valuable to both the first time inmate and those friends on the outside with no experience in visiting someone in jails or prisons. He covers various topics thoroughly and is a must-read for new fish.

Sketches From Behind Bars is a collection of lined paper with pencil drawings on them done while serving time. The dragons are detailed. Each is unique in some way. If you are interested in folk art, raw art, self-taught artists, or inmate art then Sketches From Behind Bars is a good one for your collection. Guards are notorious for destroying creative works of prisoners during cell searches. I am glad that these drawings survived.

sapphoq reviews says: Stan Singer has an active imagination and the wit to make a story hum. People who watch those cop and detective shows on television will find Prisoner of Cell 21 to be better than those sorts of shows. Squirrel's Guide to Surviving Jail and Innocent Inmate Stories is a good short book with a realistic glimpse into life on the cell-blockHis artwork in Sketches From Behind Bars displays much creativity. I wish him the best in his future endeavors. Readers who like fantasy novels will be pleased by some of Singer's other works [not reviewed here].  I recommend Stan Singer as an up-and-coming Indie author.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? by Charles Bufe

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?, Charles Bufe. Tuscon AZ: See Sharp Press, 1997 (revised). 208 pps.

For those who are unfamiliar with See Sharp Press, the company self-describes as a "Publisher of anarchist, atheist, music, and science fiction books." Anyone expecting essays that are unabashedly 'pro-Alcoholics Anonymous' should look elsewhere for reading matter. Those in recovery who are willing to concede that twelve step programs may not be the only way to recover or the best way for all addicts to find recovery should consider reading this book.

A.A. does have some characteristics of a cult. And while A.A. has been successful some of the time, there are some alcoholics who do not recover in a 12 step program. Some atheists who come into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous [and other programs using the 12 steps] do find some sort of higher power. Others do not. A few believers who come into the rooms discover after a time that they no longer believe. 

While the rehab market has almost entirely bought into the "Higher Power" stuff, I suggest that a disservice is being done to two sets of their clients. There are some people who are atheist and/or agnostic in orientation. They have carefully evaluated a variety of religions and religious thought. They are sincere about their non-theism and ought not to be pressured by clinical staff into accepting a brand of spirituality that is not genuine to who they are as human beings. There are others who are marked by their beliefs and their religious practices as belonging to the label 'fundamentalist.' Fundamentalist Christians, the born-againers, and those who accept a literal interpretation of their holy literature-- whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish or other-- will find that the 12-step version of a Higher Power pales in comparison to what they are used to. Additionally, the emphasis by professionals and by folks who bring meetings into the institution on 'keeping an open mind' is something that neither the non-theist nor the fundamentalist will relate to. Are these people to be lost to their addictions?

New Agey 'feel-good' affirmations are not appropriate to offer to an atheist or to a fundamentalist in early recovery. The pop psychology brand of 'treatment' replete with New Age trappings like affirmations, yoga, showing of the film The Secret, lectures on The Course in Miracles or attendance at a Unity service, a strong insistence that 'there are no true coincidences and all of the rest are foreign to both groups. The interesting thing about James Christopher's S.O.S. secular sobriety groups is that both atheists and fundamentalists have found some common ground there. One set of members don't have any sort of gods or higher powers. The other set recognize a very specific God and don't want their religious beliefs or practices to be altered. The S.O.S. meeting in my town is a place where both non-theists and fundamentalists peacefully co-exist.

Addiction is fundamentally a behavioral problem. As such, we do not know enough about competent treatment of people who have it and who are looking for their way out of the mess. Instead, what we have is pretty much the entire recovery industry and 12 step groups who have jumped on the disease concept bandwagon. The practice of the twelve steps has saved many lives from the bondage of addiction. But there are more lives to liberate. 

Ideally, a treatment program ought to grant their clients access to a variety of options: A.A. and all of the other A's [Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Methadone Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Dual Recovery Anonymous, Double Trouble [a separate organization which currently has meetings in NY, NJ and PA], Alanon, Alateen, Alapup, etc...], Women for Sobriety, Smart Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, Red Road groups [for indigenous Americans], Overcomers Anonymous [specifically for fundamentalist Christians] and others. Non-traditional clients who are returning to hometowns that do not have anything other than the traditional twelve step programs around ought to be taught how to network with others in order to form a group that will help them. They should also be given information on recovery options which are available on-line. 

This cookie-cutter approach to abstinence must stop. If rehabs and drug courts are to offer true intervention, then the individual addict [which includes those who are addicted to the drug alcohol] must be considered in the intervention and in the services being offered. "Individualized treatment plans" which do not take into account that the customer of rehab services is a viable human being with his or her own life and way of being are worthless. Those good members of traditional 12 step groups who scream and yell about the evil inherent in alternative notions of spirituality or even of recovery are partly responsible for a perception that A.A. may in fact be cult-ish or a form of group-think.

This book has research and stats to back up its' conclusions. It offers hope to people who have not found A.A. to be the welcoming fortress that others have found. We are talking about people here. We are talking about people who will continue to die because of our shortsightedness. 

sapphoq reviews says: Kudos to Charles Bufe for the willingness to go against the grain. We need and deserve alternates to 12 step recovery. Although Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? is an older book now, it is worth reading. 

P.S.: Those who want examples of how to individualize the twelve steps can read Charlotte Kasl's most excellent Many Roads, One Journey. Those who are interested in on-line arguments pro- and con- twelve step programs can turn to http://www.green-papers.org/  and to http://www.orange-papers.org/  for starters.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, movie review

     A bit under the weather recently, I watched two movies at home. Both were strikingly different movies save that both had a character with the last name of "Patel" in them. Both were also out in the theaters in 2012 and had been adapted from novels. I had not read either book. The movies were The Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook.

     A writer looks up Pi who is residing in Montreal with his wife and child. Pi relates his story of the shipwreck:    

     The young Hindu boy in The Life of Pi shortened his first name from the French word Piscine [pool] to simply Pi. Schoolmates had callously teased him by pronouncing his first name as Pissing. Pi Patel had an older brother and parents. Pi was curious about religion. As a younger, he wanted to practice Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. His dad pointed out the folly of this. Pi's reply was that he wanted to be baptized.

     The family decided to migrate to the United States from India. They booked passage on a freighter for themselves and some of their zoo animals. A storm came. The ship went down. All of the humans died except for Pi who was unceremoniously dumped onto a lifeboat by some of the crew [before they died].

     Pi was not alone on the boat as it turned out. Several of the animals were also using it as their floating home, including the Bengal tiger. Pi made a floating dock and survived, finally washing up on the coast of Mexico. The Bengal tiger immediately headed for the jungle. Pi started a new life after some recovery time in a Mexican hospital and an interview with two Japanese men from the company that owned the downed freighter. 

sapphoq reviews says: Unlike other reviewers, I did not share the 'joy' inherent in Pi's argument related to the existence of a god. I found the part of the movie where Pi was sharing his ideas on the divine to the writer as clumsy. I think the movie would have flowed better without the intrusion of the visiting writer. The ocean scenes, the dream sequences, and the tiger were all quite striking. I would have thrown out the writer. I would have kept Pi as a young child curious about the different religions as well as Pi crying out to a god on the lifeboat. Then I would have had Pi getting married at a recognizable site in Montreal like St. Joe's Cathedral or St. George's Episcopal Church. Then he and his wife and child could have faded out walking through the big park overlooking Montreal at the end. I might have thrown in a few shots of the St. Lawrence flowing into the Pacific Ocean and down to Mexico superimposed over a blue Canadian sky.

     Silver Linings Playbook was an utterly different movie. It was set in Philly. Pat had undiagnosed Bipolar I. He came home one day from his teaching job at a school where his wife at the time Nikki also worked to find an unexpected guest in the shower with her. So in a rage, he offed the guest [also a teacher and a co-worker]. To pay for his crime, Pat was hustled off to an institution for eight months.

     He was released to his parents back in Philly. By then, his wife Nikki had moved away and Pat was ordered to stay away from both her and the school. But he was still obsessed with Nikki. He possessed limited insight into his actions.

     The character in this movie with the last name of Patel was Pat's shrink Doctor Patel. With grave difficulty, he kept Pat somewhat anchored into reality. Finally, Pat decided to take his meds. He started to level off with frequent glitches and lapses into manic or depressive modes.

     Pat met a beautiful but mixed-up woman named Tiffany. His dad, the neighborhood bookie having troubles, beat on Pat a bit. The cops showed up periodically and Pat frantically talked them out of shipping him back to the unnamed institution. He and Tiffany train for a dance contest. Tiffany was annoyed that Pat was still stuck on Nikki. At the end, Pat's dad got out of hock by the winnings from the dance contest and he told Pat not to let Tiffany get away.

sapphoq reviews says: The idea that beating someone to death in a manic rage would yield only eight months of punishment and forced therapy in a mental institution was a bit unbelievable. But then, so was Pat's being able to talk himself out of getting 2P'ed back into the institution. The nature of obsession was brilliantly portrayed. The most realistic scene was Pat's dad beating on him. Tiffany was quite an interesting character and I thought the acting of her part was top notch. The shrink was a typical shrink. Pat's mother was an Edith Bunker type without the frou-frou and thick accent. And I liked his dad being a bookie. I'm fond of Philly and so I enjoyed the setting. The movie moved a bit slowly for my tastes but I'm glad he wound up with Tiffany in the end.  

p.s. Both movies had some striking weaknesses in them. I liked Silver Linings Playbook better than The Life of Pi. I am glad that I did not pay cinema prices to see either movie. I suspect that many people will enjoy both movies better than I did. 

If you want info about the actors and stuff like that, here are the wiki entries for the two movies:



Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Delirium Trilogy by Lauren Oliver

Delirium, Lauren Oliver. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. 480 pps.

Pandemonium, Lauren Oliver. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013. 375 pps.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. 432 pps.

Lauren Oliver is on Twitter (tm) as https://twitter.com/OliverBooks

The Delirium Trilogy opens in Portland, Maine. It is a city that the author appears to have intimate familiarity with. I recognized it. That Lauren Oliver was able to re-create a Portland in her trilogy [albeit a dystopian Portland] made me warm up to the writing immediately. She displays the same knowledge of all of the geographical locations she uses in her books. And I like that. A sense of place adds depth to any story.

In the trilogy, love is a disease. There is big government, censorship, messing with brains, and dictates that must be followed on a very large scale. Some readers may only be interested in the love story. But there is much more here than that.

                 ~ Less Government, More Fun ! ~

sapphoq reviews says: Although the Delirium Trilogy was written for teens, there is much in these books for astute adults to love. Fans of Veronica Roth [yes, I am!] will love this very different view of a dystopian world. Highly recommended.

Sex Crime Monster?: Durham's Monster of the Century by Peter Cripps

Sex Crime Monster?: Durham's Monster of the Century, Peter Cripps. self-published via Lulu, 2011. 412 pps.

False accusations ruin lives. 

If you are making false accusations of a sexual nature against someone, this book has 412 pages of reasons why you ought not to. There are other ways to get back at someone which don' t drag others into your mire of lies.

The author has written a very compelling book. He is angry and he has reason to be. He suffered. His loved ones also suffered.

The author was consistent in his story. The truth of this book is a beacon which canno be denied. "Published writing is the best revenge." ~ Spike Q. 

sapphoq reviews says: Get this book.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell. [preface by Pat Conroy, 75th anniversary edition]. New York: Simon & Schuster/ Pocket Books, 2007 and 1936, 1032 pps.

Gone With The Wind is a true classic. I read it some years ago when I was younger and more idealistic. I missed a lot the first time through.

The book left me to wonder about how the slaves felt about the Civil War and about the origins of the K.K.K. I never thought about how a black slave might have considered himself or herself better than "white trash" or how field slaves had less status than house slaves.

I didn't remember from my reading of this historical novel in earlier years what a selfish and deplorable being Scarlette was. Nor did I recall what a tortured creature Rhett was. Gone With The Wind is often characterized as a love story. I really don't think it was that. There are a few people I know who borrowed Scarlette's life script whole and some others who borrowed parts of it. Scarlette was to me a gold digger. Rhett was a foreshadowing of a mafioso wannabe. I've known a couple of Rhetts also.

Most notable to me was Scarlette's ability to push away unpleasant thoughts and upsetting situations from her brain. Tomorrow never comes. Those experiences which we refuse to deal with today become true heavy-hitters later on in our lives.

sapphoq reviews says: I liked the ending of Gone With The Wind but I didn't like the preface written by Pat Conroy. Times were different then and life was harder for sure. There are some things that I am glad that I missed out on.

I am not sure of the suitability of this book for pre-teen readers. I suspect those in high school will miss many of the subtle nuances in this book unless there is the careful guidance of a teacher or other adults. There are some adult issues presented-- abortions and miscarriages, both mental and physical adultery, the politics of slavery and Reconstruction.

p.s.  To black readers (and others) who find the use of certain words and the existence of certain sympathies in the book, I can only understand bits of it. But I am sorry for those things on your behalf nonetheless. My relatives came to the United States some years after slavery so I have no "white person's guilt" for that. Had they been living in the south pre-Civil War, would my relatives been "owners" of other human beings? [If they had the money]. Probably. They were 'good Christian folk' and the 'good Christian folk' of that time period used the Good Book to justify their actions. We are but products of time and geography. It is the rarefied human being who thinks and evaluates on his or her own. Maybe that is not entirely true. Perhaps I am my own victim of a cynical day waiting for yet another foot or more of snow to dump itself upon us once again. Le Sigh.