The Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

August 29th, 2016 — 11:23pm

Category: FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

           Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.16.41 PMThe Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

This book must be meant for readers deep into science fiction preferably with a good background in astronomy. I am only a causal student of the above so early on I found myself mostly at a loss what the dialog was all about. It was as if I were immersed in a place where another language was spoken and I only had taken an introductory course  in that language many years ago. However, because I chose to live for awhile in this land ( in other words I was going to continue reading the book although the people were speaking a foreign language) eventually I began to catch on what was going on as is often the case with immigrants settling into a new country

What was going on was quite fascinating and mind boggling One day people on earth looked up at the moon and noticed that it had become split into 8 discrete pieces. Scientists on earth soon realized that as a result of this event there would be a gradual but exponential increase in the number and size of meteorites crashing into earth They confidently predicted that in 20 years there would be a “Reign Of Rocks” that would destroy everything on the face of the earth. The only chance for any humans to survive would be those residents of the space station circling the earth.There was a great effort to expand the space center with numerous small “arklets” attached  to a massive structure floating in space where a  relatively small number of humans could live . There was a worldwide “Casting of the Lots” to choose representatives of all the peoples of earth. There is an attempt also to bring genetic samples up in space and futuristic understanding of genetics is an important part of this story.

This book follows the plight of these humans  and their descendants in space as it takes 5000 years for the surface of the earth to be cooled down where it can be  safe explored  There is character development as a good novel should offer but also an opportunity to follow the various characters  and characteristics of their descendants. There are plots and subplots. Science is an important part of this book and the author stretched our imagination in physics , aeronautics, biology and  robotics. In the epilogue we are told that several scientists in different fields have read drafts of the book and made various suggestions.

I would be very surprised if this book becomes a best seller.  I do think it will make a great movie. There are vivid descriptions of futuristic structures as well as varied human appearances with the passage of time and evolution. These would make  great visuals for a film.  I believe  a creative script based on this novel should be able to capture the futuristic  human interaction described in this piece  and could also highlight  some of the interesting plot developments. For most of you,  wait for the movie rather than struggle through the book.

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

July 21st, 2016 — 10:45pm

Category: MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 5.00.55 PMThe Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton

Kevin Dutton, the author of this book is a PhD research psychologist at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford. His principal research interests are persuasion and social influence, and the psychopathic personality. This is his 4th book and 3 of them also clearly deal with psychopaths

This book is all about the Psychopathic Personality. While all aspects of this interesting entity are discussed from many view points, I don’t believe a clear definition was put forth- probably because there are some disagreements about many of the fine points. For the purpose of this review I will go by the definition of Psychopathic Personality as being a personality disorder characterized by amorality and lack of affect; capable of violent acts without guilt feelings. In the psychiatric literature the term was superseded by “ sociopathic personality ” which then evolved to the  “antisocial personality”

In the latest Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 ( DSM-5), the term antisocial personality is used and defined as “ A persuasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 as indicated by THREE (or more) of the following:

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deceitfulness as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another

The individual also must be at least 18 years of age, there has to be  evidence of the disorder starting before age 15 and it should not exclusively occur during the course of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

The author describes, to my mind, fascinating research by various authors about this entity. Often various scales are used to define the psychopathic personality that incorporate different aspects of the above criteria. Some would appear to emphasize some criteria and others would favor different criteria. Some researchers used very extensive tests and others would just ask a few questions. Before I go further, readers might was to take an 11 question test to see where they fit in on the psychopathic scale as determined by this short questionnaire.

Another test that he uses is a variation of the classical moral dilemma of the overcrowded lifeboat. Either some people have to be thrown overboard and die in the icy waters or they all will die. Various subjects are asked this question and how fast they answer, what their answer would be and perhaps what part their brain was shown to be active while they were deciding, all might be studies and the results would also be analyzed according to their scoring on a psychopathic scale of one type or the other.

Various components of the psychopathic personality are broken down and studied. For example, the author was interested in the fact that college students are trending to be less empathic and more narcissistic in various research studies.

The author is very interested in epigenetics, which is the change in how a gene is expressed without changing the DNA sequence. This would appear to be looking at how environmental factors influence how the gene is going to be expressed. This could occur to the fetus during pregnancy or I would suggest the same definition could occur by experience in childhood but all impacting on some genes that perhaps had a tendency to produce psychopathy. The author considers also how such things as child abuse might even produce an enzyme that in a susceptible individual might make them more aggressive.

The book is a hybrid between an interesting non-fiction discussion of the psychopath and a scholarly textbook. as would be the case in the latter many references are cited but not in the usual scholarly form but rather by an asterix(*), which leads the reader to the appendix where the topic is superficially discussed. Not knowing the research, we are left with the author’s conclusion about it without any critical analysis. For example we are not told the degree of statistical analytic support (or if there was statistical proof or just a trend) nor are we told if there might be other explanations that might shed light on a particular research finding.

There are many interesting questions raised by the author about the psychopath and various characteristics, which make up psychopathy.

For example, the psychopath often has ability to remain calm and objective under stress with razor sharp focus which might be useful in sports as a quarterback under pressure, a fireman in a dangerous situation and maybe even as a Navy Seal. You might want one in your foxhole unless of course there were a situation where only one person could survive.

There are many unexpected angles that the author uses to approach the analysis of psychopaths. He even makes the case that Saint Paul was a psychopath and that there could be a thin line between Saint and a psychopath. After all isn’t mindfulness an altered state where one is present, open, and alert with all judgment and interpretations suspended?

There is a discussion about empathy, something of which we might imagine that the psychopath would be in short supply. However in the riveting discussion about some sadistic serial killers, it was that exquisite ability to feel their victim’s pain, which was converted to pleasure and drove them to their numerous twisted murders.

So whether you are clinician or a layperson that has been fascinated by the characteristics often defined by the term psychopath, this book will hold your interest and even get you to wonder if deep down you have some of these traits.

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11/22/63 by Stephen King

July 14th, 2016 — 11:18pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 9.09.58 AM11/22/1963

By Stephen King

The main character of this novel is Jake Epping, a school teacher in Maine, who is introduced to a “rabbit hole” in time. That is, if he steps through an opening in a pantry and finds an invisible but palpable small staircase, he will come out on the other side on a particular day in 1958. No matter how long he stays at this new time when he steps back to his original time, it will be that he has only been gone for two minutes. He is introduced to this unusual situation by Al, an acquaintance who is an older man dying of cancer who has made several excursions back to 1958 and lived there for a while. As indicated in the title of this book, “11/22/63” is an important date in this story. As any American knows this was the date that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Old dying Al was planning to stop the assassination of JFK and now hopes that Jake will take on this task and he provides him with some preliminary observations on Oswald that Al has made during his several visits back in time.

As you can imagine this can be a complicated process. How would this presidential assassin be stopped? What about the lingering question whether Oswald acted alone? Also, if you are going back in time even for such a worthy cause might you also try to change the course of some other events perhaps prevent an innocent child being murdered or scarred for life? But most important, what are the implications of traveling back in time and altering history?

Who better to take on these questions than Stephen King, one of the most successful, prolific contemporary authors of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, fantasy and science fiction? This novel published in 2011 was approximately King’s 52nd novel which doesn’t include his very numerous other writing endeavors such as novellas, short stories, movies, television programs and many other projects dating back to 1974 when his first novel Carrie was published. King has established himself as one of the creative writing geniuses of modern times. Not only is he original and very imaginative but he builds these ideas within insightful character development. King also does extensive research on all aspects of his subject matter. In this case, as discussed by the author in the epilogue to the book, which included interviews with him, he has read extensively about the history of JFK and his untimely death. This included numerous books written about all the circumstances, details and cast of characters of the events that occurred on 11/22/63. He also spent time visiting and studying Dallas and The Book Depository where Oswald was perched to shoot Kennedy as well as other places mentioned in the book.

Perhaps the most stimulating aspect of this book to me is the intriguing so called “butterfly question”. If one could travel back in time and change anything, how would that alter future events which would impact on other subsequent events? Would the slightest flutter or minute change in the course of history cause other changes which might cascade to unexpected major events? Would seemingly insignificant changes lead to more meaningful changes? Even if one could alter the course of history, can we be sure it would ultimately be for the better?

As Jake, the main character of this book, immerses himself into the past, readers cannot help but be on the edge of their reading seats whether we are flipping pages or pushing buttons. We find ourselves wondering what would we do and how would we do it if we found ourselves being able to go through that rabbit hole in time? There were surprises, moments of elation and disappointments. I could not wait to find how the story would end and I was sorry when it was over.

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The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

July 1st, 2016 — 8:58pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical, FM - Fiction Mystery

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat KhanScreen Shot 2016-07-01 at 8.48.54 AM

This is a convoluted detective story which ultimately reflects the history of the 1992 Genocide in Bosnia. My reaction and experience to this novel was to be so overwhelmed with the truth and the harsh reality of this modern day horrific set of events which occurred under the watchful eye of the United Nations and the entire world, that I had little interest in the fictionalized story that was being weaved. The appendix at the end of the book which documented numerous such examples stood out in my mind as much more significant than the fictionalized, interspersed chapters in italics, which were supposed to be accounts of people related to the characters in the novel who were killed and tortured. Nothing in the book was as real as the accounts in the appendix at the end of the book. My response to this may be related to the fact that while I knew about the events in Bosnia I had little familiarity, previously, with the details.

If this fictionalized story stimulated any special thoughts in my mind, it would be identifying with a dilemma of one of the main characters in the story. That is, if I knew for sure that I were face-to-face with a horrible murderer of many people who had personally brought about death, rape and torture of many friends and family – and if the authorities had failed to act and bring him to justice despite my efforts to provide documented information about what he had done and his availability to be captured, and if I had the ability and the opportunity to push him over a cliff to his death and never be found out to be the killer, would I do it?? I suppose that is a no brainer. The book did suggest the question also, should the police arrest me if they believed I did it.

 

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Blood Flag by Steve Martini

June 14th, 2016 — 6:51pm

Category: FM - Fiction Mystery

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 8.37.43 AMBlood Flag by Steve Martini

Not too long ago, I read Compelling Evidence, the first of 14 novels written by Steve Maritini ,which features private detective, Paul Madriani. This book was published in 1992 and I found it a terrific read and enjoyed the courtroom insight and intrigue. So now, I jumped to his latest novel in this series titled, Blood Flag. Perhaps my expectations were too high as I eagerly looked to see how the author had elevated his game after a quarter of a century.

Paul Madriani, the lawyer, was there with Harry, his trusted partner. There also was his special private investigator, Herman, who has a team of his “guys” to dig up information to further the plot. I thought these guys were overused to provide information for the story line.

The story begins as Madriani takes on a new client, an old woman who is accused of killing her hospitalized husband with an insulin injection in a mercy-type killing, which she denies. The deceased husband is connected with his World War II buddies who were in Berlin at the end of the war when Hitler committed suicide. They become linked to “Blutfahne” also known as the bloody flag, which is purported to have been designed by Adolf Hitler. (Remember, he was a struggling artist before the war). This flag was believed to have been first flown in Munich at the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 where Hitler was arrested and put in jail (where he wrote Mein Kampf). There are supposed to be various keys to a safe deposit box where this symbolic, historical, iconic object is said to have been hidden.

Rather than being an exciting courtroom drama, which characterized his first novel in this series, this latest one in the series seems to me to have turned into a convoluted detective story. I didn’t believe that the characters were that well developed so I didn’t really care about most of them. Certainly, the author still has his touch in writing a dramatic moment or a confrontation, which occurred near the end of the book. I may have to give the author another chance by reading one of his earlier novels but I can’t recommend this latest one.

 

 

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Moving Images: Psychoanalytic Reflections of Film by Andrea Sabbadini

June 10th, 2016 — 4:12pm

Category: MHP - Mental Health/Psychiatry, Uncategorized

The following is a book review which I wrote and  appeared in Psychodynamic Psychiatry Volume 41 Number 3  Fall 2016 p 162-166Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 3.49.26 PM

Moving Images: Psychoanalytic Reflections of Film, by Andrea Sabbadini, Routledge, London and New York, 2014, 140 pp.

While reading this book, I kept pondering the question of who would be the best audience for it. The author, Andrea Sabbadini, is a psychoanalyst who is extremely knowledgeable about film, especially classic European movies. His stated goal for the book is to offer discussion of films from a psychoanalytic perspective and in the process of doing so, to use the films in order to illustrate a number of psychoanalytic ideas and to convey a sense of what analytic work consists. Anyone who is familiar with many of the movies discussed in this book and understands psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory would be the ideal audience for it. However, even knowledgeable psychoanalysts with out having seen these films would find it difficult to relate to the book. Similarly, students of cinema who may have seen the films mentioned, would probably get lost in the erudite psychoanalytic discussion presented in this book. Unfortunately, that would seem to leave a very small audience for this book. However, I do see an important value for it which I will discuss at the conclusion of this review.

This 140-page soft-covered book has six chapters which I will list below with two of the several movies discussed in each chapter.

Chapter 1: “A Young Profession: Films on Psychoanalysis” Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945)
Il Postino (Radford, 1994)

Chapter 2: “…and the Oldest One: Films on Prostitution” Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
Belle de Jour (Buñuel, 1967)

Chapter 3: “The Young Ones: Films on Children” The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice, 1973)
German Year Zero (Rossellini, 1948)

Chapter 4: “…and Slightly Older Ones: Films on Adolescents” Heavenly Creatures (Jackson, 1994)
City of God (Meirelles, 2002)

Chapter 5: “Between Eros and Thanatos: Films on Love” A Pornographic Affair (Fonteyne, 1999)
Amores Perros (Inarritu, 2000)

Chapter 6: “Watching Voyeurs: Films on Scopophilia” Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)
Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)

The book opens with a discussion of films about psychoanalysis in which the author touches on how the psychoanalytic profession has been depicted in numerous movies, including a mention of the television series In Treatment (2010). There are several flms discussed in this chapter where Freud himself, and other well known analysts, were depicted. We also learned that Freud showed very little interest in the movies of his day and stated in a letter that he did not believe psychoanalytic ideas could be represented by cinema. Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is described in this chapter as perhaps the most famous of all films about psychoanalysis. Sabbadini spends five pages discussing this film and how this whodunit movie included discussion of dream analysis, anxiety inducing situations, psychopathic devices of amnesia (repression), and guilt complexes. There is also a discussion of how the camera work, light effects, sound track, and editing create the dream-like psychological atmosphere that the director wished to achieve. In the movie Il Postino, Sabbadini justifies that while it is not actively about the psychoanalyst or analysand, the close relationships that gradually develop between Marino, the postman, and Neruda, the poet, shared many features with what normally takes place in our psychoanalytic consulting rooms.

In the chapter about films and prostitution, the author reviews the social complexities surrounding the selling and buying of sexual favors for money. He even considers a common fantasy that there is a close association between prostitution and psychoanalysis. He uses Fellini’s movie, Nights of Cabiria, to discuss the concept of a rescue fantasy. Fetishism and masochism are also analyzed in this chapter in some detail. Catherine Deneuve’s character Severine in Belle de Jour is examined and at one point the author even postulates that the house of prostitution is the metaphoric antithesis of marriage and has the unconscious function of keeping the latter alive and with it the normality it symbolizes.

Chapter three is the longest chapter and discussed fillms about children, which should not be surprising coming from a psychoanalyst who appreciates the importance of early life experiences. The Spirit of the Beehive was an internationally acclaimed film which was described as dealing with innocence, illusions, and isolation. It focuses on two young girls growing up in the Spanish countryside. This movie deals with the fantasy that they have of monsters which occurs after they see the classic horror movie Frankenstein. This certainly can be related to contemporary young women who are constantly bombarded with such horror films. The author examines how the two children’s fantasy world and magical thinking is skillfully explored by this movie movie. The film Germany Year Zero approaches children in a completely different manner. Rosselini visited postwar Germany in 1947 apparently without any story to tell but trying to answer his own troubled question, “The Germans were human beings like everyone else. What could have led them to this disaster?” Sabbadini describes how this film develops the answer to this question from the point of view of children as they find themselves forced by circumstances to behave like adults.

It is only natural that the author progresses to the next chapter and discusses films on adolescents. He tries to put a perspective on child development theory by noting that it is only in the course of the last 30 or so years that a radical shift has taken place in relation to our understanding of adolescence. One of the films which he focuses on in this chapter is Heavenly Creatures where two adolescent girls, when not immersed in their fantasies, would become obsessed with a plan to murder the mother of one of them. This movie is actually based on the diaries of a person in a real life event which took place in New Zealand. Sabbadini describes how the film attempts to show the conflict between adults and adolescent children. The Oedipus complex and “passing phases of homosexuality” are some of the themes analyzed in this movie. Another film discussed in this chapter is City of God which is also based on an actual event that happened in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and 1970s. It looks at the role of young people in the Brazilian slums and is described as a “part tender Coming of Age film and part Gang-Warfare Epic.” The author uses this film to further expound on Oedipus theory.

Chapter 5 tries to look how the cinema often tackles issues of love. The author notes how films have explored most variations of this theme often throwing new light on the more bizarre and unusual aspects of it rarely considered anywhere else. He also states that psychoanalysis has done likewise focusing more often on the pathological deviant or perverse side of it rather than the so-called normal one. Sabbadini uses A Pornographic Affair and the relationships of the two characters Elle and Lui to study the deeper emotional meaning of their liaison. He discusses psychoanalytic constructs to understand them such as triangular constellations, regressive tendencies, voyeuristic fantasies (of the audience), and the unseen pornographic components of the main characters’ love affair. Sabbadini returns to the concept of the rescue fantasy as he then analyzes the Mexican film, Amores Perros. This movie consists of three stories which he tells us involve transgressive passion and almost intolerable violence as well as profound humanity. He breaks down each story and explains and interprets the fantasies involved. He explains how he feels that there is a universal fantasy and an important emotional complex both in the conscious and unconscious and that it is often related to primary narcissism.

In the final chapter titled “Watching Voyeurs, Films on Scopophilia” perhaps the most interesting chapter in the book. Sabbadini recognizes the cinema goer or film lover as a voyeur and he quotes Freud stating that the scopophilia drive is autoerotic. Therefore the movie-going experience is a source of both voyeurism and exhibitionism. By bringing the viewers into the equation, he is in a sense recognizing one of the analyst’s most powerful instruments and that is a recognition and utilization of our countertransference. One of the examples that he uses is Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In this film, through one of the main characters played by James Stewart, we watch through his rear window, what goes on in an apartment house opposite his home. Sabbadini discusses that what we see through the voyeur’s eye is a projection of our own desires. He also describes this movie as a dream. He goes on to use Freud’s essays on the theory of sexuality to analyze the movie and also brings in the witch hunts of the McCarthy era which were occurring when the film was made and he believed may have influenced it. There is no shortage of films for Sabbadini to use to further explore this topic. He analyzes the film Peeping Tom which allows him to discuss an array of different forms of deviant sexuality, psychopathology, scopophilia, obsessions with pornography, and sadism, not to mention a further description of the presence of a deep depression underlying everything else.

I believe that the real value of this book will be as a textbook for the study of the cinema from a psychoanalytic point of view. A group of psychoanalytically minded people could choose one of the films mentioned in this book for each group discussion and view it individually or together prior to a discussion of it. They could consider the observations and the thoughts of Sabbadini as well as their own reactions and interpretations of the film viewed. One person could lead the discussion of each film. Since most members of such a group would likely not have previously seen most of these films, this would enable them to now view them and participate in a study of them. I am sure these films are readily available on Netflix.

A second group that may want to use this book as a guide to understanding the films discussed in it might be film students or people who enjoy classic films. Assuming that most of these people who join such a discussion group would not be psychoanalytically trained, the leader or guide for such a discussion group could be a psychoanalyst who is skilled at explaining these concepts as they apply to this film, to a lay audience. The students in such a class would already have a keen interest in how movies convey psychological issues and would value seeing this film again (or for the first time) and would most likely be very receptive to having the meaning put in a psychodynamic and psychoanalytic context. Once again this book would be a marvelous textbook for the leader and the group to use after they have seen the film under discussion.

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

June 4th, 2016 — 12:30am

Category: FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 3.01.52 PMThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

If there is any book that has greatly contributed to my understanding of the bravery and resilience of victims of Nazi, Germany it was The Diary of Anne Frank. That book was written by a teenage girl who was hiding in Amsterdam for two and half years until she and her family were betrayed and she was killed. There have been many subsequent books about World War II and the Holocaust. Yet none of them has done it better than The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, an American novelist who was a lawyer turned writer. She did not go through any horrendous experiences as did Anne Frank and others in her own life but she obviously is a thorough researcher and a very skilled, sensitive writer who has written many successful novels prior to this number one bestseller.

Ms. Hannah has told the story how she came across the account of a Belgian woman, Andrea DeJoneg who was part of the underground resistance during World War II and guided many downed Allied pilots across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain at the risk of her own life. Based on her research and her insight into the human psyche, Ms. Hannah was able to create the characters of this book. She recounted the acts of tremendous bravery that were shown by her protagonists and she was empathically able to describe their emotional experiences in a very believable manner.

The author focused mainly on women, particularly two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac who were not Jewish and lived in Carriveau, a small French village that was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The reader comes to understand the backstories of these women. Isabelle, the rebellious one, ultimately becomes a very brave woman who shepherds downed British and American pilots across the rugged mountains to safety, risking the severe repercussions which she knew would happen if she were caught.

Her sister Vianne became a heroine in her own right, hiding Jewish children when their parents were taken away by the Nazis. Her actions reawakened questions that we have asked ourselves over the years. Would we have taken in a child (or an adult) to hide or disguise them, when to have been discovered would not only endanger our lives but those of our children? There was another point in question raised by this book when at the end of the war Vianne is faced with the prospect of now having to give up her five- or six-year-old child that she has raised for the past few years when her Jewish friend was taken away to the concentration camps. Now after the war was over, relatives of the deceased Jewish parents want to take this child to America so family there can raise him. But perhaps the most challenging question that the characters in this book face is whether Vianne should tell her husband, who returned home after being a POW held by the Nazis, that the pregnancy with the child that he now feels is his child, but was actually conceived shortly before they reunited, is really the pregnancy of the brutal rape from the German officer who made her house his living quarters before he retreated with the Nazis when the Allies liberated France. Should she have told her husband the truth and should she now more than 40 years after the end of the war tell the truth to the now grownup child who is a successful surgeon and very attentive to his mother.

It is these stories as well as the vivid description of life in occupied France as well in the concentration camps, which are part of this novel that makes this book so unforgettable. It well deserves the acclaim that it is receiving and I’m sure it will be made into an unforgettable movie.

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Dark Money by Jane Meyer

May 7th, 2016 — 12:16pm

Category: E- Economic, P - Political

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 5.48.04 PMDark Money: The Hidden History of Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right By Jane Mayer

Jane Mayer is an award winning investigative reporter who writes for the New Yorker Magazine.

This book is long and somewhat repetitious but it presents a clear undeniable exposition that shows how our free democratic government, founded on checks and balances is being corrupted by a small group of very wealthy individuals. Multi-millions, if not billions of dollars are being used, often secretly, often with the pretense of tax-free donations, all which are funneled to individuals and organizations with the main purpose of supporting the interest of the super wealthy people who control these funds. This is a clear evasion of existing tax laws with the goal of lowering tax rates for billionaires and multi-millionaires, who often believe they should be paying lower tax rates than the middle class. There also is a campaign to change government regulations to favor their business holdings.

The undisputed leaders of this calculated, spending of “dark money” are brothers, David and Charles Koch, two of the richest men in the world who continue to expand their wealth through their massive holdings in fossil fuel and chemical industries. They lead a group of extremely wealthy men including Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon Banking and gulf oil fortune, the Coors family who founded Amway, John Owen and his family also from the chemical industry and many others. It is not surprising that this group also denies and disputes the established scientific reality of climate change and the threatened dangers to our planet. This well-documented book, with extensive references and bibliography exposes the nefarious actions and manipulations of the relatively small group of very rich people who have a radical conservative agenda.

The Citizens United ruling by the United States Supreme Court, allowed the Koch brothers and other ultra conservatives to make unlimited contributions to independent expenditures. This meant that these groups could support political action committees that were officially not tied to particular candidates in any way. The Citizens United, Supreme Court decision also allowed that there could be unlimited spending for candidates, as long as the candidate was not involved with how the money was spent. This ruling sent a message to the wealthy and their political operatives that when it came to raising and spending money for political candidates, they could act with impunity. Soon, hundreds of millions of dollars from Koch and his wealthy colleagues were flowing to support their favorite candidates. This opened the floodgates for all special interest groups, mainly from the ultra right, including foreign corporations, to spend money without limit in the US elections. The details, including names, secret deals, etc. are all documented throughout this book.

A further example of how this group of wealthy conservatives scammed and manipulated government elections throughout the country is how they use the federal law pertaining to the IRS tax code known as 501(c)(4). This regulation allows tax-free donations to organizations that are exempt from paying federal taxes if they are listed as a civic group or are operating exclusively for the promotion of social welfare or they are a local association of employees with limited membership. These organizations are allowed to engage in unlimited lobbying as long as it pertains to the organization’s mission. Sometimes, the organization would be set up as a charity and it would be able to receive tax-free donations. Other times, when the donations were not deductable, the donors would write them off as business expenses. Many of these organizations received the funds under the guise of having honorable, civic concerns but actually closer examination showed that many of them were non-existent as a functioning organization but were rather just a post office box run by a few individuals well-connected to the Koch brothers and their friends who would furnish huge amounts of money through these organizations in support of political candidates in state elections and in the House of Representative, who were pledged to advocate for the needs of their donors.

One of the really eye-opening subjects covered in this book is the description and documentation of how conservative donors have tried to influence and gain control of higher education in America. The seminal event, which precipitated and motivated these actions, was the famous show of “Black Power” during an uprising at Cornell University in April 1964. As some of you may recall or may have read about, 80 black students marched out of the student union with their clenched fist held high in the Black Power salute and several of them were brandishing guns. The pressure brought on university officials because of this action led to the acceleration and planning to establish undergraduate black studies programs at Cornell and then subsequently at other universities. In response to these actions and in order to counter them, one of the wealthy billionaires, John Owen set up a mechanism to begin to funnel funds to various universities throughout the country, often hiding the exact source of the money. Funds went to universities to establish think tanks, special studies departments, endowed professorships, all geared to the ultra conservative agenda. Part of their goal was to establish courses in universities that would teach conservative economic theories, lecture students about the “climate change myth”, teach theories and write books that expounded lowering taxes for the rich and reducing financial support for the poor. All of these one-sided ideas would have caused benefit for donors of these huge funds. This was a secret agenda and millions and millions of dollars were brought into universities throughout the United States. This movement, plus the pouring of money into the election process began to allow conservatives to develop an increasingly large constituency, which gained strength in the state government and also allowed the ultra right to gain seats in the House of Representatives of the US Congress. The subsequent Republican congress limited President Obama’s ability to develop his agenda and is now also expected to play a major role in the 2016 election.

This book review has just touched upon a few of the highlights or should I say low points of what is documented in Jane Mayer’s book. It is ongoing and actually is quite depressing. However, it is really very important that every American citizen should be aware of the corruption of our political system with the behind the scenes, hidden history of secret deals with dark money.

 

 

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Compelling Evidence by Steve Martini

March 31st, 2016 — 11:56am

Category: FL - Fiction Legal, FM - Fiction Mystery, Uncategorized

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 8.40.10 AMCOMPELLING EVIDENCE  – by Steve Martini

Published in 1992

A friend of mine mentioned that he is a big fan of Steve Martini who has written 13 bestselling novels in which the main character is a lawyer and has some very exciting courtroom scenes. Since I have enjoyed a few of John Grisham’s novels and I am always drawn to a movie or a TV program with a good courtroom action, I decided to explore this series. I chose Martini’s second novel and the first one in the 13 published books that has this main character, attorney named Paul Madriani.

Compelling Evidence was published in 1992. It did not disappoint me. The author opened the story with a detailed and what appeared to be a very knowledgeable description of a prisoner being executed in a gas chamber as a death penalty was being carried out.

The story progressed as the reader was introduced to Paul Madriani. It was through his eyes that we view this captivating story. It puts the legal profession front and center as just about all the characters are lawyers. The victim of the current case in point is Ben Porter, a honcho of a large successful law firm. His wife, Talia is his accused murderer of him. We learn early in the story that Mr. Madriani had once worked at the Porter Law Firm and even had an affair with Talia. Mr. Madriani ultimately becomes her chief defense attorney and so the plot develops.

All the characters and details of this story are woven together quite skillfully. Although there is a lot of “lawyer talk”, the readers’ knowledge and background is never taken for granted. Through the narrative and the dialogue, we are always kept in the loop and are well-educated. We meet the district attorney and his staff and we clearly understand their role as well as the role and obligation of the police who had investigated the crime. When we are introduced to the judge, we not only appreciate his role and obligations but also get insight into his personal issues (he does not want anything to go wrong because a mistrial would reflect badly on him). We are not only given a good description of what is happening when there are various motions but we gain insight into the various opposing forces of this legal battle and what they are trying to accomplish. We come to understand the basic legal tenets of why no one accused of a crime is expected to take the stand to testify and how a jury is strictly instructed not to hold such a refusal against them.

Reading this novel is like taking a class in law school except we are caught up in the plot that rivals a TV courtroom or movie story. I must admit that we also were given a dose of cynicism from the author’s experience. For example the statement that popped up at an appropriate place threw me for a loop. Cases are won or lost not on the truth but in the predominance of perjury attended by witnesses on the stand who lie with impunity and then walk away. Shortly later, the author stated The law is no instrument for divining the truth.

In the end, I had a very enjoyable and educational experience. This 1992 novel was Steve Martini’s first novel in this series and I understand the fourteenth book is due out in May of 2016, I cannot help wondering if the author may have even raised his game with additional novels under his belt.

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

March 17th, 2016 — 1:01pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.02.31 PMFate and Furies by Lauren Groff

Apparently, people either love or hate this book. If I hated it maybe that would have meant it had some special emotional meaning to me, which I don’t believe was the case. I certainly did not love it.

The main protagonists are a married couple, Lotto and Mathilde. They are seemingly very much in love but as often is the case there  is much more than meets the eye. Lotto was an actor turned into a successful playwright. In such a situation it would be expected that we might better understand him through his plays. We are presented with many pages of his plays which don’t really provide any great insight into him. We understand Mathilde as we learn more things about her earlier years, which gradually unfold throughout the book.

The author’s style reminds me of my early encounter with the classical writers which I did not  particularly understand and was not especially moved to figure them out. Perhaps this is my shortcoming. Another way of describing the style of the author is to say it is very pretentious. There were many metaphors which where not decipherable and seemed “cutsie”.  Sometimes while I was trying to figure them out, I felt I lost to some of the story line. Many authors successfully jump back and forth into different points in time, but usually there are some reference to where the particular chapter is taking place as well as the time period. This was not so with this book. I found that the time and place were not immediately obvious and therefore the readers may be  trying to figure them out rather than focusing on the plot.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the presence of “secrets” in the lives of the characters. Often these secrets when they are present contain something about their biological origin and/or secret sexual encounters. Why these secrets are so meaningful in a particular narrative is that they are often the doorway to some interesting psychological dynamics. I believe that with this book, the author would  knock on the door but then not clearly deliver on this possibility. Overall, I would say that this book was not my cup of tea.

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