Shade City

What happens when the dead refuse to leave behind the world they know?

Shade City: The Dead Side Blues views ghosts through an old-fashioned lens. Spirits aren’t formless apparitions that go bump in the night. Rather, they are souls of past lives that force themselves into human hosts.

Dante Butcher is our unlikely protagonist. A partier who goes to clubs in Los Angeles, he has a strange gift. He can feel the second shadows within possessed people when he touches them. He hunts them, tracking them down and singling them out for exorcism back to the Dead Side.

Shade City is hip and edgy. It offers an outsider’s inside-perspective of Los Angeles. And best of all, for a limited time the full novel is only 99 cents.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | GoodReads

The Road

I mostly wrote the draft of this post in 2008, when I first read the book. In trying to reference it in a recent post, I realized I never published it, so here it is with minimal clean up.

This is a great book, mostly because of the fact that it is casual reading for the cultured. It is one event leading to the next in a simple train of thought style but it works well for the subject matter. Meaning from moment to moment is not something Cormac McCarthy presses, evidenced by his other famous work No Country for Old Men. The Road is likewise violent, tragic, miserable, but next to all that is the beauty in caring and protecting a child. The novel is direct yet introverted, deep and shallow at the same time.

The writing style is composed in a way that would have made you flunk 7th grade English, but I love it. The disregard for syntax creates a dirtiness about the story that belongs in the world. It is as if no more educated people remain to properly document the sad struggle. While film directors use many camera techniques like desaturation and jumpy movement to convey form on the function, so too do McCarthy’s words frame the atmosphere of the dying world.

The Road is not a long read. I got through it in less than 6 hours. The movie, if you’ve seen it, does an excellent job capturing most of the scenes and desperation, and if that’s your sort of thing, you should read the real thing.

Who Stole the American Dream?

Who Stole the American Dream? – Hedrick Smith, 2012

I don’t much like politics. Dems are Big Government and Repubs are Big Business and we could all do with a little less of both. But with as polarizing as election time always is, it is natural for some curiosity to rub off, and as I unfortunately found myself listening to NPR one day and hearing about this book, I bit. Right off the bat I will say that this is a pro-Democrat book, with perhaps a moderate instead of a liberal slant.

Who Stole the American Dream? really resonates with me because it touches on all the creeping doubts I had with the modern establishment but could never intellectually voice. Corporate power and the use of stock price as a measuring stick of success, the influence of Wall Street in political power, the overpay of CEOs and the richest 1%- these are all problems that feel evil to the everyman and spawned the entire Occupy Wall Street movement. If you’ve ever found yourself at odds with any of these agendas then I’d recommend reading this book as it goes into detail with why these are bad trends and what changes in history led to this status quo.

"Two trends are primarily responsible for today’s hyperconcentration of wealth in America- the collective decisions over time by America’s corporate power elite to take a far bigger share of business earnings for themselves, and the increasingly pro-rich, pro-business policy tilt in Washington since the late 1970s."

At its core, Who Stole the American Dream? is simply a comparison between the success of the middle class in the 50s, 60, and 70s, compared to the turnaround in the 80s, 90s, and 00s. The middle class was strong and felt well represented in politics during multiple civil rights movements. In time, the balance of power shifted away from the individual and to the corporations who are less regulated than ever before. Tax advantages for the rich have improved dramatically over this time period. The author asserts that a series of greedy policy changes have led this country into the current depression and caused a Middle Class Squeeze, an enormous loss of wealth for the 80%.

"Exhibit number one showing that there is no direct link between low taxes and high growth was America’s dismal economic record following the massive tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush in 2001, 2002, and 2003."

The book attempts to present its facts in a mostly non-partisan format but at times does pick on Republicans a bit. Perhaps that is merely pointing out the problem as the party has been very pro-business of late. Combined with the fact that the opening prologue is very preachy and full of rhetoric, I could see it rubbing some people the wrong way. Also, this is a long book and some of the chapters nearer the end feel like excess bloat. A better editor with a smarter outline format would’ve done wonders with this publication. However, these faults aside, the real meat of the matter lies through the 10%-60% marks of the book and this should be enough to enlighten and enrage most casual readers.

"Our nation’s system of retirement security is imperiled, headed for a serious train wreck."

As to issues that I either disagree with or otherwise do not see eye to eye on, the author puts his full support behind unions and pensions. I am not one to think that unions need to be forced on workers or that 401ks are worse than pensions but I do admit to some pause after being more educated on the topics. Much of the anti-401k talk references older mismanaged plans and in this day and age one should never think of old fashioned pensions as a sure thing anyway. Still, the point is well taken that over the last 50 years employers have found ways to remove themselves from retirement responsibility, and while we may question where this responsibility should lie, it is nevertheless another benefit that has been lost to the middle class.

"The growth of these pyramiding bank loans and derivatives followed the policy prescriptions of Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, who credited this process with diversifying risk and having "contributed to the stability of the banking system….""

I don’t hold as much sympathy for ‘swindled home owners’ as most liberals do. Taking money from your own equity sounds like a bad idea upon immediate consideration and there needs to be some accountability of the home owners. They were, after all, written checks that they spent elsewhere. But again I welcomed the differing viewpoint, explained so strongly and convincingly that I have softened my stance. It is admittedly hard to make the correct decisions when the majority of financial experts and banking institutions are acting greedily, and the sheer amount of fraud that was happening opened my eyes. If you want a detailed narrative of the housing bubble, look no further.

"In this era of globalization, the interests of companies and countries have diverged."

As far as new causes to champion, this quote hits the nail on the head. Free Market is the wrong phrase- the focus needs to be the Free American Market. In a truly global free market, it makes complete sense to screw the American economy over to build gains, even for American companies. Our government isn’t set up to promote truly free and blindly equal capitalism, it is set up to protect our country. Sometimes that means forcing corporations to ‘stay home’ and treat Americans fairly even when technically not in their best personal interests. I don’t advocate unfair practices and taking advantage of other countries, and today’s world would better police itself against this, but I do think we should give tax breaks to the companies that are helping our economy as opposed to those helping build China.

"Powerlessness breeds cynicism and passivism, especially between elections, which is the crucial time when policies are forged, the time when the organized money of special interests exerts commanding influence."

Overall, Who Stole the American Dream? is a call to arms, a cry to make your voice heard. It is a narrative that is meant to outrage the middle class and is backed by many factual examples and citations with a healthy does of rhetoric and zeal. The book ends with several points to a solution but there aren’t any easy answers here. The power of the business lobby dwarfs anything else in Washington and that isn’t likely to change soon. But the knowledge of the countless problems provide some comfort, and if you were inclined to try and do something about them, this book would be a good launching point.

Dictionary-based Speeches

How familiar is this opening sentence?

“Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘blank’ as …” and then the author of whatever crappy article or book you are reading expounds on syntactical semantics for a paragraph or two.

It’s about time we throw this writing trope out with the trash (let’s include the entire Young Adult novel subgenre while we’re at it). This device may have been interesting at one time but it has lived far past its shelf life.

Listen, if the totality of your reference material is looking up one word in the dictionary then you might as well not even reference anything. You obviously did the minimum research necessary and it’s safe to say your thesis is on shaky ground.

The Rum Diary

I read this book last summer and didn’t feel like it was notable enough to mention here. It’s not bad by any means; I was entertained reading it but I did feel like it fell short of being noteworthy. Of course everyone is well familiar with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Johnny Depp is reprising his pseudo-role inspired by the depraved author in a film coming out next year. After reading The Road and regretting not talking about how excellent the book was before the movie was released, I decided not to repeat the experience and comment on The Rum Diary before it went mainstream.

First and foremost I should note that both Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rum Diary are fictional stories based on experiences in Hunter S. Thompson’s life. The Rum Diary is about a journalist that goes down to Puerto Rico in the 1950s to work for a B rated newspaper with unabashed alcoholism and not giving a fuck as the primary experiences offered. While mostly fictional I would believe that the collection of stories weren’t heavily embellished because the events fail to ever achieve the legendary status that Americans prefer in their tales. Indeed the story remains believable, moving from one exotic experience to the next, slowly building up tension while never truly delivering on what was hinted at.

For the academics looking for a concise narrative or critique of an unwelcome white-run newspaper in the developing state of Puerto Rico, the events fail to hit a satisfying climax and never attempt to teach a lesson gained from hard-gotten wisdom. For the partiers like myself who want a book laden with crazy examples of debauchery- well, aside from a pretty rough party I don’t think the depravity ever hits full steam. In fact, in my urban life it’s likely that I’ve been in comparable situations to anything in the book and I simply felt let down by the normality of it all.

That said, the novel is a fun read and it does romanticize a time and place that we are unaccustomed to today. Being a journalist working a fuck all job for a shitty newspaper in a third world country sounds like a fun romp. If the primary function of your job entails scamming free alcohol and being able to bail you out of jail then it’s safe to say that some interesting things do happen. At the same time I can pretty much guarantee that the movie will be ripe with embellishment to satisfy a modern audience. There’s a reason this novel wasn’t published for decades until 1999, after the box office success of Fear and Loathing. Still, it’s hard to think of Johnny Depp letting us down.

A Dance With Dragons

George R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series is not just a new phenomenon- all 4 previous entries have been New York Times bestsellers with the last hitting number one. The draw of the novels are without a doubt the many complex characters involved, the well imagined and far ranging world, and of course the intricate plotlines. Countless houses and families interweave across lands familiar and new, all inevitably tying together through the plots of kings and men.

That said, the lands of Westeros and beyond are a hot topic these days for a couple reasons. First, HBO created and aired a hit season based on the first book of the series, with more to come. And second, because the fifth book out of seven, A Dance With Dragons, was finally released after a wait of more than 5 years. Since I haven’t mentioned A Song Of Ice And Fire on Why I Hate Everything before, I will recap a bit before getting to the new book.

A Game Of Thrones was a great first novel that introduced a world and had specific plot arcs in mind. Westeros is a medieval land without all the fluffy magic that we are used to in the fantasy genre. Politics and bloodlines are the star of the show here. Since the tv season portraying this book finished airing and the novel has a bigger following now I may touch on a couple generic spoilers without getting to the big ones. A Game Of Thrones is about an honorable family in the north that gets embroiled in politics that ultimately threatens to be the ruin of them all. The novel tracks all the members of the family being split up to their own separate dangers and adventures. Some plotlines were tied up but most were left open ended with many a possibility and question unanswered.

Rightly so, the next couple of novels in the series had a lot of source material to lean on. Various characters across numerous lands provided many rich backdrops to explore. New characters who were previously footnotes became the focus of new plights as well. A Clash Of Kings and A Storm Of Swords relied on the first book to set the sequence of events and these books were somewhat a matter of simply letting the dominoes fall. But after (and maybe by the end of) these two entries some of the luster was lost. It became hard to ignore a pattern of random dangers presenting themselves and oft times leading to the worst possible outcomes. Martin is not known to be kind to his characters but this only stays refreshing as long as it does not become predictable. More troubling is that now a few books into the series, with some large notable exceptions, many characters were still more or less in the same place as where the first book left off.

Then we get to the fourth book, A Feast For Crows. This novel is the culmination of a wandering story, taking too long for anything to happen while focusing on characters that are difficult to care much for. A Feast For Crows was the worst book in the series by far. It was long and meandering for what little point it had. I’m not saying that there wasn’t good color to the tales told within but as a portion of the greater story it served little good. This book had so much fluff in it that it became too long. Aside from taking 5 years to be released it cut half the characters and story out- to be split into the next book. Essentially, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons cover the same time period but just focus on different characters. Martin assures us that the reason for this division was to tell the full stories of half the characters rather than half of the story of all the characters. Except near the end of A Dance With Dragons we start seeing characters from A Feast For Crows reappear as the timeline becomes recombined. So much for the characters having their full stories told in each book, huh?

Anyway, the deficiencies of the fourth entry became the strengths of the fifth. It was good to once again read about characters that were missed in the context of what had already happened. And when the timelines combine it was nice to finally know that all was right with the chronology once again. However, there was a notable change in A Dance With Dragons. Reading the previous book impressed upon me a sense that it was long, meandering, and unplanned. A Dance With Dragons, on the other hand, rushed forward to introduce some important new characters and undo some of the situations set up earlier.

It is said that Martin took some time between books to plan out the rest of the series and get a sense of how book 7 should end and work backwards. It is clear to me that there was a definite plan and need to get the cogs in motion in order to get A Song Of Ice And Fire back on track again. While there are still some chapters in the latest book that are nothing but fluff, it feels good to know that the momentum once again has direction.

A Dance With Dragons is not a perfect book by any means. It still mostly misses out on half of the characters, abandons others in awkward spots only halfway through the reading, and speeds certain events along to get them set up for what’s coming next. Still, a living, breathing world with a lot of colorful nations and traditions is discovered within. And most importantly, I believe it is serving the purpose of getting the A Song Of Ice And Fire train back on the tracks. Books 6 and 7, I expect, will be much more tight and satisfying when all is said and done.

I Am Legend

The familiar zombie apocalypse was dreamed up by Richard Matheson in a novel that everyone knows about because of the 3rd movie version starring Will Smith. I Am Legend is about a post apocalyptic modern world where bacteria has caused everyone to turn into vampires. Everyone, of course, except Robert Neville – the last man on Earth.

Reading through the book today you will encounter very common themes – hordes of undead, lone survivors, vampire myths explained- but what is most important is that when the book was written in 1954, none of these themes were widespread. This novel was a direct inspiration for Night of the Living Dead a few years later and is the father of the zombie apocalypse genre we are all familiar with. I Am Legend is one of the first real works to modernize vampires into what we think of them as today. At the time it was considered original to give scientific explanations to the supernatural affliction of vampirism and the idea of a bacteria wiping out humanity was fairly novel, but certainly the combination of them both was a fresh take on the end of days.

This is a good lasting legacy for the book because it received mixed reviews when it was first released. While short and easy to read, I’d say the first half of the book moves too slowly. The second half picks up the pace and the ending really ties the entire story into something worth remembering. While the author was a heavy Twilight Zone contributor, reading through I Am Legend somehow manages not to feel like the ‘Weird Science fiction’ of the years before, even though that was the audience Matheson was trying to appeal to at the time.

At 160 pages this novel is easy to get through. You won’t be blown away but given the significance of this book serving as inspiration for many stories today, it is well worth the time investment.

Download the ebook here (import this to your iPad to read in iBooks using email or otherwise).


FreakonomicsFreakonomics is a very interesting read on the economics of random topics. Describing it as disparate is not an exaggeration- the book jumps around from sumo wrestlers to drug dealers to cheating school teachers and breaks down trends with compiled statistics. It is not simply data analysis though- it actually makes analyzing that data fun. Before you think this book is all about numbers, its other author has his foundation in journalism and adds color and a stream-of-consciousness style to the writing that makes it sound conversational. And there are a good deal of funny jokes as well.

Economics in general is an interesting subject that caught my attention in college and even had me considering it as a major. But it isn’t necessarily the study of money that fascinated me, but the analysis of trends, what they mean, and how to read and control these factors to achieve a desired result. Freakonomics, likewise, abstains from discussing the conventional and instead focuses on social, financial, and moral incentives and how society has responded to them.

One of the earlier focuses of the book is how the internet has brought power to the people. Experts have long hoarded and used information to get the better end of transactions with the uninformed. Now, with information readily available online, it is easy for the layman to get facts or price comparisons and make a more well-informed choice. It goes into great detail and breaks down numbers to show why, for example, it is in a real estate agent’s best interest to sell their customer’s houses below cost than to spend the extra time and money to get a better deal. Personally, this is something I’ve long suspected since I sold a house years ago and felt like I was rushed through a bad deal as if just getting it over with was the primary goal.

Of course there are times when I found the facts to be lacking. A section of the book explains how a record of racism could be gleaned from looking at the statistics of who was voted off The Weakest Link. The authors claim that the optimal strategy is to vote weak players off in the beginning and strong players off in the end, so any behavior that fell outside this rigid guideline was defined as anomalous. With this study I would be much more lenient and accept that different players may have different strategies or just not be smart enough or have the wherewithal at the time to conform to what someone else deems is in their best interests. Still, even these *loose* sections, while they are not as factually accurate, are still intellectually stimulating. While I usually find myself hating topics with shaky foundations being forced down my throat, I at least found entertainment with these.

Freakonomics is a surprisingly short read. I found myself actually wishing for more random topics by the time I was finished, especially since the last few chapters of the book are unfortunately the worst. The Revised and Expanded Edition luckily includes a lot of web articles written after the book’s release, providing me with a fix for a short while longer. If you are in the mood to read about social science that will make you think, Freakonomics won’t do you wrong.