Posted by Scott Holstad on December 11, 2013
Posted by Scott Holstad on December 9, 2013
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was another crazy book (in a good way) by Philip K. Dick. It’s more lucid and centered than many of his other (later) books. This was written in 1965, but is set in 2004. In this book, the Cold War still exists, seemingly, between Wes-bloc (us) and Peep-East (the Soviets). There is a weapons race between the two sides, and each employs “weapons fashion designers” to design their new weapons. The thing is, a peace treaty had been agreed upon years ago between the sides and these weapons don’t and won’t work. They’re not designed to. After the designs are made, they go into production and fake weapons are then filmed doing significant damage to the other side so that society, the “pursaps” (pure saps), will continue to think they’re being protected by their respective governments in an evil world.
The protagonist for this book is Lars Powderdry (another great Dick name), the western weapons fashion designer. His eastern counterpart is an attractive young “cog” named Lilo Topchev, and does Lars have a thing for her. Even though he has a mistress in Paris. Yep. Dick and his cluttered relationships are at work again. Heh.
Both weapons fashion designers use hard core secretive drugs to induce a trance state during which time they sketch their weapon ideas. Upon waking, they see what they’ve sketched and the sketches are off to the lab. This situation works out well for everyone — until alien satellites appear in the sky and apparently start to take entire cities (starting with New Orleans) captive for slave labor in the Sirius system. It’s at this point the weapon fashion designers are brought together (in Iceland, I believe) to pool their resources in the hopes of making a real weapon to defeat the aliens.
One interesting sub-plot occurs when Lars picks up a pulp comic at a magazine stand and recognizes some of his weapons in the comic. Lilo does too, when he shows it to her. The tricky thing is, these are weapons they just concocted this week, while the comic has been on the stands for one or two months. So, are they stealing their ideas from a schizophrenic comic book writer?
Another major part of the plot occurs when some soldiers in DC happen upon a doddering old man talking about a major battle he helped win 60 some years ago — in 2005. He’s from the future. Time travel. Yep. (You also get androids in this novel too. Sci fi all the way, baby!) Klug, the old man, is taken to the authorities where they come to believe his story and set up Lilo and Lars to work with him to try and get a design for the real weapon that defeated the aliens all those years ago. Lilo is ineffective, but Lars “connects” with Klug while in his trance and finds the answers to his questions. The answer lies in a toy. I won’t give it away though.
Yet another sub-plot involves Surley G. Febbs, one of the funniest characters I’ve seen out of Dick. A severe narcissist with a plot to rule the world, he plays a role at the end, after you think the book has been tied up nicely. The thing that makes this work is, this actually ties the ending up nicely. It’s a fresh perspective for me, because one of my major complaints about Dick is that his endings always seem so rushed, so not-quite-finished. This ending works for me.
There’s sex, there’s a suicide, there’s hilarious terms Dick makes up for nearly everything, and underneath it all is the running satire of the real life arms race that people were frightened to death of during the time of the book’s writing. This isn’t Dick’s best book. In fact, some people don’t like it all that much. But I really enjoyed it and finished it in less than a day. It was that gripping. Recommended for all!
Posted by Scott Holstad on December 6, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This wasn’t a bad book. In fact, it was fairly engrossing. It was fast paced and I read it in a day. The narrative is written so that it’s like a series of very short stories, mostly about the action Brennan encountered in Vietnam, where he served for four years. He signed back up for extended tours of duty twice because he couldn’t readjust to civilian society. Kind of sad.
He was with the 9th Armored Air Cav, in a unit called The Blues, which he paints as some kind of super-macho, better than Special Forces unit, which didn’t sit well with me. He was an artilleryman, an infantryman, and he wasn’t part of Special Forces. Still, he claimed to have taken part in over 419 battles of varying sizes, most recon or rescue missions.
Funny, but he seemed to think we were wiping the NVA/VC off the map until Tet, when he finally seemed to get a minor clue. His unit was near Hue during the fighting, but he didn’t actually engage them too much. Hue seems to be the turning point for him.
When he went back to the States for the second time, he was confronted with hippies and war protestors, which shocked him. Apparently, he wasn’t exposed to what America was going through while he was in the field. When he went back for his third tour, the men had changed to poorly trained, racist, dope smoking losers who he had no respect for, and by the time his tour was up, he’s anxious to get out. Of course, by this time, the NVA had real weapons and was using them to pound the American positions, something that finally got to his nerves.
He details accounts of bravery, but also of atrocities that should have been prosecuted. It’s a good book — it really is. The only reason I’m downgrading it from five stars to four is with the way he described his unit and their fighting prowess, America should have never lost the war. These platoons (platoons!!!) allegedly killed hundreds and thousands of NVA/VC all over the place and the killing never ends until the very end of the book. With soldiers like Brennan and his buddies, how could we have possibly lost this war??? Pretty hard to believe. Perhaps he enjoys taking license with the facts, I don’t know. It was just hard to swallow, knowing what I know. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting read and if you want a perspective from a grunt’s view in Vietnam, this isn’t a bad place to start. Cautiously recommended.
Posted by Scott Holstad on December 6, 2013
We never beat San Jose! This is an awesome victory. Now we’re leading the Eastern Conference in points. That’s fantastic! And Sidney Crosby continues to lead the league in scoring with Evgeni Malkin in second place. This is shaping up to be a really good season, injuries permitting.
Posted by Scott Holstad on December 4, 2013
Sidney Crosby scored an amazing goal between three defenders on a break away to win it in OT. He leads the league in scoring and Evgeni Malkin is second, one point behind him. Way to go guys! Way to go Pens!!!
Posted by Scott Holstad on December 3, 2013
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Gosh, there’s so much to say about this book, I hardly know where to begin! I turned over so many pages to go back and see citations or quotes that I can’t possibly list a fourth of them here.
Ricks did a great job of presenting the build-up to the Iraq war and through the first three years. Since this book was published in 2006, it feels very unfinished and I would appreciate a 2013 second edition, but oh well. Ricks seems to lay first blame at some Iraq hating, war hawks in Bush’s administration, notably Paul Wolfowitz, to take advantage of 9/11 to go after Iraq by suggesting its association with terrorists. (There was none.) We first heard about WMDs, which was the ploy used in the decision to preemptively invade Iraq. (There were none.) Cheney backed Bush into a corner during a speech in Nashville in August, 2002 I believe, in which he said there was “no doubt” that Iraq had WMDs and that “We must take the battle to the enemy.”
Let me back up to something interesting first. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush and Cheney said that they thought that “Bill Clinton had used the military too much in his foreign policy.” Of Gore, Bush said “He believes in nation building…. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders.” OK — first, what a damn lying hypocrite!!! Second, what a damn lying scumbag. I guess it should come as no surprise, then, that a pre-presedential politician who goes on to steal an election goes on to lie to the world in order to preemptively invade a sovereign country. Amazing.
Other evil dudes in this book are Rumsfeld, the most arrogant, opinionated, self righteous prick of the 21st century; Paul Bremer, the ambassador who was always at war with the military and who was a bumbling fool, Iraqi exile Chalabi, who may have been working with the insurgents even as we tried to make him president, and military officers Sanchez, Franks, and Meyers. All incompetents who blew things to hell and back.
There are many narratives throughout the book of military men and women fighting hard to win an unacknowledged, unwinnable war — soldiers both brave and cowardly, such as the ones who blew our integrity at Abu Grahib and the others who blew away prisoners who posed no threat whatsoever, and who received 45 day jail terms slaps on the wrists. Mind blowing.
There’s a lot of politics in the book too, as well as musings of the highest military officials around. There was a lot of criticism and disagreement, but since soldiers are taught to follow orders and since orders were being given by stupid Bush-loving civilians with no concept of what was going on over there, disasters naturally occurred. Petraeus, however, is portrayed almost worshipfully, which I don’t think is good. Face it, there were just too many problems between the Department of Defense and the CAP (Coalition Provisional Authority), the ones giving the orders in most cases.
Another problem with this war was we had intentionally forgotten the lessons of Vietnam about fighting insurgencies. We attacked with major divisions and battalions, didn’t mingle with the people and learn about them and their customs, thus trying to win them over, didn’t provide essentials such as water and electricity, set up large isolated base camps from which to operate and so much more — all of which go against counter-insurgency tactics. Special Forces tried to warn them and some conventional units had some success, notably the 101st, but it was basically a war where we turned friendlies into enemies with our blasting into houses at 2 AM, roughing people up, taking the men away to prison, taking other family members “hostage,” turning houses into rubble, and generating ill will to the US. Where Bush and the others thought we would be viewed as liberators, we quickly became occupiers and it really hurt us.
I had so much more I wanted to say about this book, but I won’t. I had a small surgical procedure yesterday and the anesthesia still hasn’t worn off, so I’m kind of tired. The book claims that by 2006, over 200 billion had been used in the war. That figure is way off. Earlier this year, I finished a book called The Three Trillion Dollar War, which admittedly is more recent, but which gives hard evidence to the fact that we have yet again been lied to as to the actual costs involved with this war. By the end of this book, the politicians remain in denial, the military is disenfranchised and demoralized, and the Iraqi insurgency is here to stay. Again, I’d like to see a more recent book detailing what’s happened since. I don’t know why I’m not giving it five stars. It might have been worth it. I think I’m actually downgrading it a bit because it was just TOO packed with information. It was almost too much to digest, hard to remember all the names, places, people, events. Still, it’s recommended. Just be prepared to become even more disillusioned with the Bush administration, if you’re not already.
Posted by Scott Holstad on November 28, 2013
A great come from behind win, and much needed, for the Penguins!
Posted by Scott Holstad on November 27, 2013
I’m the poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review and I’ve been a professional poet for about 25 years. Over time, you learn — or should learn — various magazine submission rules, but lately some of the people submitting to RRR have been so boneheaded, I thought I’d mention a few here.
First, read the submission guidelines. They’re there for a reason. If a magazine doesn’t take simultaneous submissions, don’t send them any. You’ll get blacklisted if you get something accepted elsewhere and have to pull your submission or worse yet, if it gets published in multiple magazines. How hard is it to read the guidelines? Apparently, if you go by RRR’s submissions, it can often be pretty hard.
Second, don’t send a book manuscript for the editor to page through, pulling pieces out to gloriously publish them, thanking you the whole time. I had someone do that to me this week. They sent me their book manuscript and expected me to read it — when I have dozens of submissions to read — and choose something. I deleted it. It’s just rude. We accept a maximum of six poems, as stated in the guidelines. Why do you think your book is so damn good that it’s above the rules, that an editor is going to take their precious time to read it and choose something? Cause it ain’t gonna happen!
Third, if you’re sending out simultaneous submissions, don’t include the email addresses of all the magazines you’re submitting to in the To email line. An amateur does that. I got a submission this week which was submitted to 22 magazines, probably arbitrarily, and I got to see each and every magazine this person sent their submission to. Delete. I promise none of these magazines will publish him. It’s just rude. Don’t be a moron.
Fourth, if you get rejected, don’t email the editor and berate them. That will get your nowhere. I had a person email me yesterday wanting to know what the hell was wrong with his poems and that he wanted to resubmit. Well, the poems sucked — not one came close — and sure, resubmit, but I’ll remember you and the submission better be damn good. I normally read submissions two to three times, sometimes four, but this person will get one read. And look — everyone gets rejected when submitting, even the best writers. It happens to everybody. Don’t take it so personally. Find another market to submit to and keep honing your craft.
Fifth, going back to guidelines, if a magazine wants rhyming poems, send them rhyming poems. If they don’t want them, don’t send them any. It helps to read several issues and see what and who they like to publish. If your stuff is similar, there’s a decent chance you might have something accepted. If you’re a nature poem writer submitting to a gritty underground zine, you might want to rethink your strategy.
I guess that’s it for today. Submit your work, yes, but do so intelligently.
Posted by Scott Holstad on November 26, 2013
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Let me begin by saying I’ve liked the Ramones for a very long time. Since roughly 1980. And while I’ve enjoyed their music, I never thought they were musical geniuses or lyrical geniuses the way Lennon and McCartney were or even Trent Reznor. It was just fun, fast music. This book is about the music, but I’m downgrading it a couple of stars because the author thinks the Ramones are the world’s greatest band, for all intents and purposes. He’s a real fan boy. But since this is an authorized biography, I guess you would expect that.
The band started out in New York in 1974. Four disaffected young people who couldn’t play a musical instrument to save their lives. They couldn’t even imitate their musical heroes, the way Bowie or McCartney did. But they did get instruments and learn a chord. Their first show was a disaster, but soon the new club, CBGB’s, found them and nothing was ever the same again. They’d come on stage and rip through 17 songs in 15 minutes or 23 or 24 songs in 20 minutes. The object seemed to be to get through the songs as quickly as possible, with as much loudness as possible. The chiefs at Sire, a new outfit, heard their demo and signed them, and all of a sudden they had a record. And it got great reviews! All of a sudden, they were the founders and leaders of a new punk movement, and they influenced the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and many, many other bands. They toured a lot and continued putting out records. That’s pretty much the book. A couple of lineup changes, the only one of which — when bassist and song writer Dee Dee quit — was big. There’s mention of drugs and alcohol, but just barely. This is a PG rated book, unlike other rock biographies I’ve read. A lot of the songs are quoted in the text, or snippets of songs, but it serves, in my opinion, to show just how insipid their lyrics were — not how great they were like the author asserts! While the Ramones never sold many records, they did tour a lot, and I guess that’s what prompted the author to write, “Everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones today.” Huh? They made $400 for their shows. Their albums sold in the 25,000 to 40,000 range. Obviously NOT everyone in the known universe loves the Ramones…. One weakness of the book is that it was written in 1993, before three of the four members had died. I’d love an updated version, just to see what the author would say about what happened to them. It was a decent rock bio, but I’ve read many better. One nice thing about the book, though, was all of the photos of the band and various fliers that would be put up in various places. Nice touch. Recommended for punk rock fans and fans of the Ramones, but probably no one else….
Posted by Scott Holstad on November 23, 2013
I know, I know, I haven’t actually blogged here in a long time. It’s been mostly book reviews. But that’s what you people like, right? So anyway, this week was the 14 week anniversary of my dad’s death. And I finished up a grief support group I had been in for eight weeks. I’m not sure how helpful it was. Some of the people were there who had loved ones die years ago. I honestly think I’m handling this much better than many of them. And mine was the most recent. Of course, I miss Dad a lot. But I’m moving forward. It’s the only way to go. Meanwhile, Mom’s going crazy on the weekends, which is when she and Dad used to do things together. She’s very lonely. She’s considering moving back to Knoxville, where she has hundreds of friends and where her home church is. We had all talked about moving together, but Gretchen and I like the house that we’re in and we’re not that keen on moving, so Mom might go on her own. Which would make me worry and feel guilty. *sigh*
Our cat, Toby, has been having some problems. I took him to the vet three weeks ago. He has kidney damage. He’s overweight at 21 pounds and drinks water incessantly. Of course, he is a Maine Coon, and they like water, but still, it’s amazing to see how much he drinks. He actually gets in the shower with us, gets in the sink to drink from the faucet, drinks from my wife’s bath water. It’s crazy! We’ve put him on some kidney food the vet prescribed. This is actually the third one. The first two, neither cat would eat. They went on two three day hunger strikes before I caved and fed them their old food. The vet said don’t let them starve — if they don’t eat the “right” stuff, feed them their old stuff. Fortunately, this third type of food they are eating. I don’t know how this will help Toby, but we want him around for awhile. He’s only six.
My Steelers have won two in a row and play the Browns tomorrow. I really think we’ll win that one. My Vols play Vandy tonight and it’s a must win game. If we win this and beat Kentucky next week, we should get to a bowl game. If we lose, the season’s pretty much over. And Vandy’s no longer a pushover. They’re pretty good. So, I don’t have high hopes. Still, go Vols! Meanwhile, my Penguins have won three straight and are now 15-8 and leading their division. Sidney Crosby is leading the NHL in scoring, which is cool. I hope he wins another MVP this year. He deserves it. Of course, he has to stay healthy, but hopefully he will.
I was having trouble with my car seat. It wouldn’t move forward. Instead, it turned to the right, thus twisting my body right and making it impossible for me to see. Therefore, I had to put my seat all the way back at its lowest position and couldn’t see over the steering wheel. In any case, it was dangerous, so I took the car into the garage. I also asked them to check a window and to replace my two windshield wiper fluid jugs, both of which had cracked (for an astronomical price). Turns out they wanted to charge me a fortune just to take my seat out and apart because it was so complicated. It’s a Nissan dealer, but I have a BMW (which I’ll never buy again). They told me it was either a motor or a track issue and the part to replace it from the BMW dealer would be about $1,000 and all the work together would come to almost $2,000! I was astounded. Still, I had to have it done, so I said go ahead. I’d just have to put it on my credit card. So I was elated to get a call from them a couple of days ago telling me they could fix the front to back tracking and the recline, but not one other thing, but if I was okay with that, they wouldn’t need this extra part and it would save me a grand. Naturally, I jumped at that! When I picked it up yesterday, it was considerably less than I expected it to be, so I was overjoyed. Still, I’m never buying another BMW as long as I live.
In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been reading the usual sci fi. I’ve been reading biographies. They’ve been pretty interesting. I’m in a zone.
This poet I met in Atlanta a few weeks ago — Cliff Brooks — and I have exchanged some books we’ve written. I got an email from him yesterday saying he really thought the books I sent him were awesome and wouldn’t mind featuring me on his radio show. That’s pretty cool. I was once interviewed on Air America for 30 minutes, but that was years ago. Still, it was a national show and that was neat. Who knows?
Gretchen and I live in a nice middle class neighborhood, but there’s a shocking amount of crime here, and that’s disturbing. You may recall that our house was broken into in August and some things were stolen. They kicked in our front door, which was wooden. We subsequently got a metal door. And an alarm service, which makes us feel a lot safer. It’s possible we may have a handgun for emergencies, but we really wouldn’t have much need for it, other than target practice. I found out a couple days ago, I’m going to be getting my old .22 rifle (with scope) I used when I was young pretty soon. It was a great rifle and it’ll be fun getting out on a range again with that. And it can be used as home security too. Can never be too safe. We also each have pepper spray. We carry that with us all the time. The crime really is worrisome. And the cops don’t seem to care very much. They care about the rich areas of town, but the rest of us can go suck it, right? *sigh*
Ending on a positive note, there’s a large likelihood I may be selected to serve on our church’s vestry in a few weeks. If so, it would certainly be an honor and a responsibility I wouldn’t take lightly. I might even attend church more frequently. LOL! Gretchen’s in the new bell choir they just started. She’s also in the flower guild, and I serve as the church’s webmaster. We’re fairly active there.
I guess that’s all for now. Cheers!
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