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Michael P. Gallen "The Expatriate" RSS Feed (Pittsburgh)

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Newtown: An American Tragedy
Newtown: An American Tragedy
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $11.99

12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping but Flawed, December 10, 2013
Matthew Lysiak's book on the Newtown tragedy provides a gripping account of the lead up to the attack and the massacre itself. However, the final fifty pages of the book suffer from a meandering quality as well as an unwillingness to take a strong stand on the issues surrounding the killings.

The book is at its best when examining the background of Adam Lanza and his psychological makeup. Lysiak paints a chilling portrait of an isolated human bomb driven by forces that are still inscrutable. He also gives good insight into the behavior of Nancy Lanza. While not justifying her actions, it makes her much more sympathetic than previous depictions, demonstrating her repeated attempts to get help for her son. The book also features good accounts of the events from the perspectives of government officials, school employees, and the victims' families.

The book also benefits from being very well written. Lysiak does a good job of helping readers keep track of a large number of people while maintaining readability. I read the entire book in one day.

That said, the book falters in its final fifty pages. First, there is a rather pointless chapter giving detailed accounts of the funerals of each victim of the attack. These descriptions offer nothing to the narrative and often repeat details about the victims mentioned earlier in the book. The chapter goes through the funerals day by day, leading to a repetitive quality.

Furthermore, Lysiak's attempts to draw conclusions from the tragedy seem inconclusive at best and at times downright wrongheaded. For example, in one chapter, he discusses the dearth of mental health care in the United States, only to deny that Lanza was insane in the very next chapter. His analysis becomes particularly weak when it focuses on the diagnosis of psychopathy, which he acknowledges is not recognized by most mental health professionals.

His conclusions border on the laughable when it comes to the matter of video games. He repeatedly tries to lay blame on violent video games, never bothering to consider the fact that millions, if not billions, of people play the same games without turning into homicidal maniacs. He even ignores issues that would undermine his argument, such as the fact that Lanza was apparently obsessed with the non-violent game Dance Dance Revolution, which he made the last game he played before he committed the massacre.

Even as he excoriates gamers, Lysiak dances around the issue of gun culture and its influence on Lanza and his mother. Although he correctly faults Nancy Lanza for giving a mentally ill young man access to firearms, he never really considers the gun culture that made this seem reasonable to her. He only briefly mentions the fact that Nancy Lanza came from a family of gun enthusiasts, including a Green Beret brother. His discussion of the issue is limited to one chapter in which he trots out a gun industry apologist.

Finally, although this is a good account of the facts, it is far too early to give a definitive account of the massacre. For example, Lysiak never mentions the fact that authorities found websites calling for the legalization of pedophilia on Adam Lanza's computer, suggesting that an even darker motivation for targeting children may have lurked in his subconscious.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2014 10:19 AM PDT

Stephen King Don't Know Squat
Stephen King Don't Know Squat

195 of 223 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars And Rick Carufel Knows Even Less, February 1, 2013
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Rick Carufel's essay is one of the most embarrassing pieces of criticism I have ever read. Although Carufel blasts King for "rambling" about subjects that have little to do with gun control, one could not think of an apter description of Carufel's own book. While King produced a well-researched essay with a cogent argument, this is simply a meandering diatribe, stumbling from advertising to SSRIs to revolutionary fantasies.

The essay's most glaring flaw is its poorly sourced conspiracy mongering about SSRIs. Ignoring the fact that people in other countries use these drugs without going on shooting rampages, Carufel tries to portray the recent tragedies as simply drug side effects. His evidence is apparently taken from a non-peer reviewed, self-published essay by one Jay Cohen. In the end, he insults the millions of people who take and benefit from these drugs, poo-pooing depression and anxiety disorders as merely responses to advertising and the media.

His treatment of the Second Amendment is simply laughable. He opens by quoting Benjamin Franklin, never bothering to reflect that the writings of people who lived two hundred years ago are not necessarily the best guides for governing the country today. To put it bluntly, the founding fathers are dead. Buried. Worm food. They lived in an eighteenth-century slave holding society with values completely alien to the twenty-first century. More practically, his vision of disenchanted Americans overthrowing the government with AR-15s is hilarious. One envisions Carufel and his fellow revolutionaries scattering in panic as they learn the true meaning of Predator drones and Hellfire missiles.

Although it in the end has no bearing on the essay's message, it is worth noting that the writing comes across as amateurish, with poor spelling and punctuation. It looks like it could have been put together by a junior high school student.
Comment Comments (31) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 26, 2013 8:09 AM PST

Guns (Kindle Single)
Guns (Kindle Single)
Price: $0.99

7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Essay, January 25, 2013
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Guns is a well-written although not groundbreaking consideration of gun violence in the United States. It examines both the guns themselves and the so-called culture of violence in the United States. It makes some excellent points and is well worth reading.

King makes a convincing case for focusing on the gun end of the equation. Although he is not a journalist, he brings together a wide range of examples to support his case, digging up some facts I was not familiar with. He also convincingly argues that America's culture of violence is exaggerated by the media, analyzing the most successful movies and television shows of the past year to prove his point.

The essay has some weaknesses. Most of the ground it covers is rather pedestrian and will not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the issue. More to the point, he never really squares his examination of the culture of violence with his actions regarding the novel Rage. It might have been better for King to examine the issue more in depth. Still, this essay is informative and persuasive, well worth the cost of admission
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2013 8:23 AM PST

Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D Manga, Vol. 2 (Vampire Hunter D Graphic Novel) (v. 2)
Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D Manga, Vol. 2 (Vampire Hunter D Graphic Novel) (v. 2)
by Hideyuki Kikuchi
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.95
53 used & new from $0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting But Has Flaws, July 17, 2012
Volume 2 of the Vampire Hunter D manga offers all the action we would expect from the series, but has some notable flaws. This episode of the saga focuses on a group of vampires who are able to walk in the daylight. What follows is an exciting but not easily discerned plot.

This is a promising story that never really comes together. There are a lot of things introduced that never get built up, such as an incest subplot. Furthermore, many of the concepts could be explored more deeply, such as genetic engineering between humans and vampires. These experiments, central to the plot, are never explained in much detail.

Furthermore, although most of the artwork is beautiful, Saito Takaki's action sequences are difficult to follow. They are overcrowded with Japanese writing and sound effects, making it hard to see what is going on. Often, I had to infer the results from later panels.

On the whole, I liked it, but you'd be better off getting it from a library if possible.

Lights Out
Lights Out
by David Crawford
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.96
27 used & new from $9.61

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, But Has Lots of Flaws, July 15, 2012
This review is from: Lights Out (Paperback)
Note: This review is based on an earlier, online version of the novel and may not reflect changes in the final published version.

Lights Out is an interesting disaster novel that suffers from too much editorializing and bad characterization. It traces the fortunes of a small Texas community in the wake of an EMP attack. It paints a disturbing picture of America's vulnerability to such an attack, but weakens its case by loading the narrative with right wing talking points.

The characters often spout conservative rhetoric on gun control and government authority. For example, the main characters are outraged when the federal government declares nationwide martial law several weeks after the attack and starts making people go to FEMA shelters. Considering that the country had plunged into chaos at this point, I would be more angry that martial law had not been declared sooner. The FEMA shelters would also make sense under the circumstances, given the difficulties of distributing food and water without electricity.

Furthermore, characters who express liberal opinions are treated with contempt by the other characters, as in the case of one character who expresses support for gun control. The people listening act as though he had suggested a return to divine right monarchy. Later, when the liberal character has a psychotic break and murders a group of rapists, the other characters treat this as an improvement, even though he acted against their orders.

The book does benefit from a fast paced plot and some exciting action. Crawford has the sense not to load his narrative down with too much technical information, unlike some However, even this suffers from a certain level of predictability. You'll be able to figure out pretty early on from whom and where the threat comes from.

Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good
Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good
by Kevin Smith
Edition: Hardcover
69 used & new from $0.75

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Humorous, Self-Deprecating Autobiography, July 10, 2012
Tough Sh*t is an extremely funny look back by Kevin Smith over his early life, films, and podcasts. He brings his trademark crude humor and sarcasm and applies them to himself, all the while giving some great insights into his career. Tough Sh*t succeeds as both humor book and autobiography.

Smith formats the book as essentially a self-help manual for slackers, explaining how he went from a Quick Stop clerk to a famous director / writer, all the while acknowledging his mistakes along the way. What makes the book so compelling is that Smith is careful to share the credit for his achievements, even with people he has since fallen out with. At the same time, he draws hilarious, if not necessarily flattering, portraits of Hollywood figures such as Harvey Weinstein and Bruce Willis.

The only real flaw in the book is that Smith tends to go off on tangents, such as a five page long gushfest over Wayne Gretsky. Similarly, he devotes three chapters to the making of Red State, while giving only passing attention to his relationships with Scott Mosier, Ralph Garman, and other podcast collaborators. As someone who became interested in Smith through his podcasts, I would have liked more detail about them.

Still, this is a great, funny book that will have you laughing out loud.

25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom
25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom
by Alan Moore
Edition: Hardcover
39 used & new from $6.14

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars At Times Interesting, But Could Benefit from More Detail, June 8, 2012
25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom has some interesting insights, but it does not provide anywhere near enough detail to make a persuasive argument. It goes through a huge amount of history in less than ninety pages (really less than fifty when you consider the amount of photographs in the book), leading to paragraph long overviews of major figures such as the Marquis de Sade. This leads to a great deal of over simplification.

Furthermore, the book is poorly organized, with pictures just distributed willy-nilly throughout, with no real relationship to the text. For example, a discussion of nineteenth-century erotic art is accompanied by pictures of fourteenth-century paintings.

25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom is at its best when it examines erotic artists in some depth, as it does with the author of The Yellow Books. Furthermore, it has some interesting arguments about the role of pornography in society, providing an all too necessary counterbalance to the arguments of religious and feminist fanatics. However, these arguments would have held more weight if they had been strengthened with more detail.

VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever
VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever
by Jim Craddock
Edition: Paperback
46 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lexus of Movie Guides, February 24, 2011
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I have been purchasing and using the Moviehound Guides for over ten years now, and have always found them to be among the best movie guides. The selection, for the most part, simply cannot be beat. The book combines reviews of the old greats with the latest cinema of today, making it a ready reference for any movie fan.

The main weakness of the work is that its treatments of genre and direct to video fare can be lacking at times. For example, major direct to video releases such as Hatchet remain unreviewed. That said, the book is still a good source for little known genre fare, including reviews of some of the more well known Category III releases from Hong Kong. Those interested in the more obscure stuff would be better off going to more specialized guides.

Also, the reviews themselves are rather sparse, as is necessary in a book of this nature. Given the availability of reviews from prominent critics such as Roger Ebert online, this is not a particularly major flaw, and should not deter people from purchasing it.

2011 Playboy Cartoon A Day - Box Calendar
2011 Playboy Cartoon A Day - Box Calendar
by NMR
Edition: Calendar
13 used & new from $46.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Adult Desk Calendar for the Lads, January 9, 2011
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The Playboy Desk Calendar features the sophisticated, adult humor that Playboy cartoons have become famous for. The cartoons themselves range from the wry to the raunchy, although never delving into the tasteless.

Obviously, this is not a 'work-safe' calendar, or something the average father would want out for his children to see. Nevertheless, it would make a great addition to any man's study.

American Judaism, 2nd Revised Edition
American Judaism, 2nd Revised Edition
by Nathan Glazer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $32.00
79 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Good Intellectual History of American Jews, January 9, 2011
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Nathan Glazer's American Judaism is on the whole a good if dated history of Judaism's history in the United States. It focuses heavily on the intellectual end of the subject matter, with a major emphasis on how the religion has evolved in response to the American environment.

The main focus of the book is on the emergence of Reform and Conservative Judaism, with somewhat less attention paid to Orthodox and the Hasidim. A writer for Commentary magazine, Glazer at times seems to overly favor Conservative Judaism, though not to the extent that it becomes a screed. Furthermore, in the final chapter, he overemphasizes the importance of support for the state of Israel to a 'truly' Jewish identity. This is a faily minor point in an overall good book.

If I had to make one criticism, it would be that Glazer's vision of Judaism focuses exclusively on rabbis and thinkers such as Mordecai Kaplan. It does not give enough attention to lay members of the Jewish community, let alone specific sub-groups such as women. Nevertheless, it is a good introduction to Jewish American history.

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