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L. Feld "lowkell" RSS Feed (Arlington, VA)

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Capturing the Friedmans
Capturing the Friedmans
DVD ~ Various
Price: $6.68
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Black and White Thinking vs. Shades of Gray World, May 23, 2004
This review is from: Capturing the Friedmans (DVD)
Why do so many otherwise intelligent people maintain that life can be understood in simplistic black and white terms, when the truth is so patently obvious: real life is filled with nearly infinite subtle gradations of gray? One reason is that forcing everything to fit a predetermined, predigested view makes life easier, while rendering our complex, confusing, and crazy world at least somewhat more comprehensible, not to mention less scary. Religious fundamentalists and political fanatics have done this for ages. Doubt or confusion for these people is minimized or even eliminated; they know what and what not to do at any given moment, who their friends and enemies are, who and how they are allowed to love, what to eat, what to wear, and ultimately, what will happen to them after they die. It all sounds very comforting, even appealing.
The fascinating, disturbing movie "Capturing the Friedmans" illustrates this phenomenon. In this film, released several months ago, we meet the Friedman family of Great Neck, New York. The father (Arnold) and middle son are charged with multiple acts of rape and sodomy of boys who took computer classes in the Friedman's basement during the 1980s. The title of this movie is perfect, because although the Friedmans may be "captured" -- by eldest son David's video camera and ultimately by the police -- the truth, or at least the reality of what really happened in this case, is never captured with any degree of certainty. Arnold Friedman receives child pornography in the mail, but that doesn't prove that he and his son Jesse are both child rapists.
According to the police, the judge, and most of the Long Island community, the Friedman case is black and white, open and shut, even before the evidence is examined. By popular consensus, Arnold Friedman is no longer the respected and even beloved computer teacher everyone had thought he was, but a depraved and evil monster who must be guilty of these horrible crimes.
In "Capturing the Friedmans," the Friedmans' guilt is determined in the complete absence of physical evidence, with no credible experts or eyewitness testimony, or even a fair trial. Mainly, we have here, at best, questionable "repressed memories" coming from boys under intense and highly biased questioning by the police, as well as tremendous pressure by parents and peers to "remember" something. What we do not have are records of any abuse complaints filed by even one boy's family during the entire time all this rape and sodomy supposedly occurred. Apparently, out of dozens of boys and their families -- hundreds of people total -- nobody noticed anything amiss while all these horrors supposedly were taking place. So much for all that innocent until proven guilty stuff. Details, details.
As the movie points out, both Arnold and Jesse ultimately pleaded guilty, but what does that prove? A fair-minded person, one willing and able to allow for complexity, contradictions, and subtle gradations in life, might understand such pleas in the context of the situation. Great Neck, like much of the United States in the 1980s, was overcome with child sex-abuse witch hunts. Arnold understandably tried to sacrifice himself in to save his beloved son from jail. Meanwhile, Jesse, who was only 18 and an emotional wreck, was under tremendous pressure from the police and his lawyer to cut a deal and to throw himself on the mercy of the court. Given the community's hysteria and the near-impossibility of finding a fair and impartial jury, this may actually have made sense at the time, except for one small detail: Jesse almost certainly was innocent.
Sadly, because they pleaded guilty, the Friedmans never got a hearing before a fair or impartial jury of their peers. Well before that point, the judge, Abbey Bolkan, already had concluded that the Friedmans committed the crimes with which they are charged. As she says in the movie, "There was never a doubt in mind as to their guilt." So much for impartiality. These two are guilty and evil: lock 'em up and throw away the key.
What we have at the end of all this rush to judgment and community hysteria is a family torn apart, a community traumatized, and two possibly (probably?) innocent men's lives ruined. What we do not have at the end of all this is any sense of certainty, truth, justice, or emotional "closure." Perhaps an adherent to black and white thinking, self-righteous moralism, and the drawing of conclusions in the absence of solid evidence, can explain how all this happened in Great Neck, New York in the late 1980s. While they're at it, maybe that same person can also explain how intelligence information was completely distorted in order to justify launching a war against Iraq in early 2003. But for the Friedman family, for American soldiers getting shot at and blown up in Iraq, and for most people who see this movie, such explanations will likely ring hollow.

The Future of Life
The Future of Life
by Edward O. Wilson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.22
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Situation desperate but not completely hopeless, May 23, 2004
This review is from: The Future of Life (Paperback)
The Future Of Life is a great book and a perfect antidote to: a) unwarranted optimism about the state of the environment, which by almost any measure appears desperate; b) unwarranted pessimism or fatalism regarding man's ability to DO something about this situation; and c) the reams of misinformation, uninformed opinion, and ridiculously wild-eyed optimism on environmental matters that exists out there (i.e., "The Skeptical Environmentalist").
Unlike The Skeptical Environmentalist, which is written by a statistician, The Future Of Life is written by one of the world's greatest living scientists, Edward O. Wilson, author of 20 books (including Sociobiology, and Consilience), winner of two Pulitzer prizes plus dozens of science prizes, and discoverer of hundreds of new species. Dr. Wilson is often called, for good reason, "the father of biodiversity." Wilson is also one of the rare breed of scientists, like Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking, who can actually communicate their thoughts and findings to the general public. This is particularly important when it comes to Wilson's area of expertise, given that the environment is something which affects all of us and which all of us can play a part in protecting (or destroying).
Wilson's main theme can be summed up as "situation desperate, but not hopeless." Why desperate? Because humans--all 6 billion of them--are the most destructive force ever unleashed on Earth. According to Wilson, humanity's "bacterial" rate of growth during the 20th century, its short-sightedness, wasteful consumption patterns, general greed and rapaciousness, ignorance, and technological power have resulted in a mass extinction: "species of plants and animals...disappearing a hundred or more times faster than before the coming of humanity," and with "as many as half...gone by the end of the century." Americans in particular are an environmental disaster, consuming so many resources (oil, meat, timber, etc.) per person that, according to Wilson's calculations, "for every person in the world to reach present U.S. levels of consumption with existing technology would require four more planet Earths." Well, we don't have four more planet Earths, and at the present time, we are well on our way to trashing the one we've got. In short, Wilson concludes after chronicling the sorry, depressing, nauseating history of man's mass slaughter and destruction of the environment, our species richly deserves the label: "Homo sapiens, serial killer of the biosphere.''
Given all this, how can I say that Wilson's book is not hopeless? First, because human population growth is slowing (finally!), as women gain education, careers, and power over their reproductive choices. Luckily, when given this choice, women increasingly have opted for "quality over quantity," and average family size has plummeted. In most advanced industrialized nations, in fact, fertility rates have now fallen below replacement level (2.1 children per woman), meaning that populations in those countries will actually start to decline (barring immigration) in coming years. Wilson points that the worldwide average number of children per woman fell from 4.3 in 1960 to 2.6 in 2000. This is still far too high, and still means years more of absolute human population growth, but it's at least a bit of hope amidst the environmental carnage and constant drumbeat of bad news.
Second, there is some hope because many humans do love the environment and want to preserve and protect it. Here, Wilson uses the fancy, scientific-sounding term "biophilia" to describe man's "innate tendency to focus upon life and lifelike forms, and in some instances to affiliate with them emotionally.'' In this instance, I believe Wilson may be overly optimistic. When confronted with the choice of a Big Mac or an acre of rainforest, let's say, most people appear to choose the Big Mac. Or when given a choice of driving their gas-guzzling SUVs and living in sprawling suburbia vs. driving smaller cars, living in cities, taking mass transit, and helping to prevent disastrous global warming, most people choose the SUVs and suburbia. Still, much of this is undoubtedly a result of ignorance and skewed economics (i.e., billions of dollars per year in government subsidies doled out to agriculture, fossil fuel production, wasteful water usage, among other things), and these can be corrected--at least in theory. Also, there are undoubtedly millions of humans who strongly care about the environment--whether for aesthetic, religious, ethical, "biophiliac," or other reasons--and are volunteering, donating money, or altering consumption patterns in order to help save it.
This brings us to the third reason for not losing all hope: humans have the ability to save the environment, and Wilson lays out a clear, realistic, step-by-step plan for doing so. Ironically, one of the very characteristics of environment which causes it to be so vulnerable --its concentration of biological diversity in a small areas ("hotspots") --means that it is possible to target that land and save it. Wilson estimates that biological "hotspots" cover "less than 2 percent of the Earth's land surface and [serve] as the exclusive home of nearly half its plant and animal species." In Wilson's calculations, those "hotspots" can be saved "by a single investment of roughly $30 billion." Just to put this in perspective, the U.S. gross domestic product is over $10 trillion, or more than thirty times the $30 billion needed to save the "hotspots."
The Future Of Life ends on a note of cautious optimism: although right now we find ourselves in a "bottleneck of overpopulation and wasteful consumption," Wilson believes that the race between "technoscientific forces that are destroying the living environment" and "those that can be harnessed to save it" can be won. In order for this to come to pass, however, humanity needs to take action immediately along the lines that Wilson lays out. Ultimately, The Future Of Life is a passionate, brilliant, clarion call to arms by a great scientist, and a great man as well. If we don't hear Wilson's call, we will have only ourselves to blame. And whichever way things turn out, we can't say we weren't warned.

Bush at War
Bush at War
by Bob Woodward
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.13
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of unanswered questions, May 23, 2004
This review is from: Bush at War (Paperback)
What to believe; who to trust? Those were two questions that kept recurring as I read Bush at War by Bob Woodward. Simply put, something doesn't jibe here. Why would the super-secretive, hyper-political, control-freak Bush White House grant this kind of access to Bob Woodward of all people? It doesn't make much sense. Or does it? Well, maybe it does if we think for a minute about who stood to gain and who stood to lose by having such a book published.
For starters, how about George W. Bush, shown here to be (pick several or all of the following): firm, resolute, tough, courageous, compassionate, concerned (with humanitarian issues in Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iraq, for instance), engaged, secure enough to surround himself with strong people, and even possessing that elusive trait in the Bush family -- the "vision thing," as his father called it. Wow, this guy could be the next Abraham Lincoln if he's even half this good!
But don't reserve the space on Mount Rushmore quite yet. How do we know any, or even most, of this book is true? Well, we don't. In fact, all we've really got is our trust -- or lack thereof -- in Bob Woodward. We certainly don't have any footnotes, critical voices, or even any analysis to speak of. And that's where things start falling apart. In a book like this, at least for those of us not favorably inclined towards George W. Bush, we need more than blind faith in a reporter. All that does is raise our suspicions even further. And Bob Woodward just doesn't give us what we need.
Speaking of the author, why did the White House choose Bob Woodward, of all people, to produce this "Profiles in Courage" piece? Why not just get some Republican hack from Fox News -- Roger Ailes would have been glad to supply one (along with his own confidential advice on how to run the war, etc.) -- to do the job? Was Woodward chosen because he has enough credibility built up over the years so that the story might actually be semi-believable? Woodward's not telling.
Anyway, having chosen Bob Woodward, for whatever reason, to tell the story of Bush at War" (also known as "how George W. Bush saved freedom, truth, and the American way"), we really have no idea whether or not the Chosen One (Woodward) was: 1) independent and objective in his reporting here; 2) manipulated by Ari Fleischer and friends; 3) simply a conduit for the story the Bush White House wanted him (and the public) to hear; or 4) some combination of "all of the above?" Almost certainly #4 is the correct and final answer, but who knows for sure?
Another major problem with Bush at War is that "you don't know what you don't know," and all we've got to go on here is what the White House -- via its messenger-boy Bob Woodward -- provides us. And sorry Bob, but that's just not sufficient. I mean, seriously, why should we believe anything coming out of this White House: the same hyper-political, control-freak, super-secretive bunch that won't release records of who the Cheney energy task force met with, that has set up a secret group in the Pentagon (headed by convicted felon John Poindexter, no less) to spy on us, that has launched a frontal assault on the Freedom of Information Act, and that has locked up thousands of people without trial or due process? And now we are supposed to trust the Bush White House, to believe, for example, that slimy, smarmy Karl Rove (who comments admiringly at one point how an enthusiastic Yankees stadium reception for Bush was just like "being at a Nazi rally"), really had absolutely nothing to do with the Bush administration's decisions after 9/11? Does anyone out over the age of 10 there really buy this? Well, Bob Woodward -- the experienced, cynical, hardened, veteran Washington reporter -- apparently does. Again, what's going on here?
Maybe the most interesting thing here is that, in spite of all its propaganda efforts with Bob Woodward, the Bush Administration "A Team" (Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, etc.) really doesn't end up looking that great in "Bush at War." Don Rumsfeld in particular comes off as aloof, obsessive, irritable, and a weird control freak. Dick Cheney comes off somewhat better, although inscrutable, but still bearing a creepy resemblance to Dr. Strangelove. Colin Powell is depicted as on the margins, constantly doubting whether things will work, but basically always holding to his role as the loyal soldier. As a whole, the "A Team" -- at least as depicted here -- actually is not the smooth-functioning, well-oiled machine that Rove et al. would like us to believe it is. In fact, for most of the book these wise men and women seem to be almost completely "making it up as they went" along, hoping for a lucky break.
You've got to hand it to George W. Bush. He may not be very smart. He may not be very compassionate. He may not have "the vision thing." But he's certainly very lucky. And whether we like it or not, we could be stuck with Mr. Lucky for another four years.

War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning
by Chris Hedges
Edition: Paperback
286 used & new from $0.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War is a drug, and humans are addicted, May 23, 2004
There are many standard answers to the question, "why do people go to war": economics; ethnic/religious differences; conflicts between radically different secular ideologies or simply factions of the same ideology; political science theory; "Hegelian forces;" etc. These are all interesting, but ultimately unfulfilling on some level. The question still lingers, why do people have to actually GO TO WAR over land, or religion, or whatever? Why can't we work it out peacefully? Why can't we all just get along?
To all these questions, NY Times war correspondent Chris Hedges -- in his book, "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning" -- proposes some disturbing answers. To boil it down to its core argument, what Hedges is saying is that war is so common and durable across time, space, and dimension because, perversely, and in spite of its horrors, war actually can be highly addictive and alluring, at least as powerful as heroin or sex, but far more destructive.
According to Hedges, war appears to be almost hardwired into our species' DNA. Hedges particularly points to the force labeled by Sigmund Freud as "Thanatos," the urge to destroy, to kill, and to die. In addition to Thanatos, there's also that other powerful driving force for humans, what Freud calls "Eros" -- the urge to love, to fornicate, to procreate, to build. War, in Hedges' view, is exciting and alluring, bringing people of a particular nation together and uniting them in a heroic, mythical way that covers up differences and alone-ness. The combination of Eros and Thanatos results in what is, essentially, an addiction, a rush, an all-consuming high. War, like love (or sex), is a drug, and humans are most definitively addicted.
Hedges argues persuasively that war, "even with its destructiveness and carnage... can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living," has the power to obscure the "shallowness and vapidness of...our lives." Unfortunately, as Hedges points out, this "meaning" and "reason for living" come at the expense of a few many other important things -- individuality, truth, memory, and "honest inquiry," among others. And as if that's not bad enough, Hedges also notes (correctly) that war perverts language and culture, warps perception and social norms, and "breaks down long-established prohibitions against violence, destruction, and murder."
Sadly, despite all of its obvious flaws (as seen in the cold, dispassionate light of day), war -- not unlike a powerful narcotic such as heroin -- has amazing staying power. Hedges himself, a man who has seen more than his share of horrors, states that even now, ''There is a part of me -- maybe it is a part of many of us -- that decided at certain moments that I would rather die like this than go back to the routine of life."
How could ordinary life be so terrible, so dull, so empty, that war could seem a desirable alternative? Perhaps it has to do with another one of Hedges' main themes, that war -- as depicted in countless war movies -- is highly sexualized, even eroticized ("There is in wartime a nearly universal preoccupation with sexual liaisons"). Sex in war is not, however, a healthy expression of sexuality by any standards (recall the Rape of Nanking). In fact, Hedges views the combination of sex and war as nothing better than "necrophilia...[wiping] out all delicacy and tenderness" and leaving in its place "a frenetic lust that seeks...to replicate or augment the drug of war" (Abu Ghraib prison photos spring to mind).
This is all strong and depressing stuff, and Hedges offers only the barest glimmer of hope. Specifically, Hedges argues that when people actually EXPERIENCE war ("rotting flesh," "cries of agony," "froth-corrupted lungs," "blood and entrails seeping out of bodies") for long enough, they sometimes begin to realize that war isn't what it was cracked up to be. Eventually, there comes a point when all the killing and destruction becomes routine and boring, and then people sometimes tire of war. It is at that point that the chance exists for the myths to be exposed for the lies that they always were, after all.
Are there flaws in Hedges' otherwise excellent book? Well, sure, the evidence presented here is mainly anecdotal, based on Hedges' own particular experiences regarding war, and is by no means a systematic study of war across history and cultures. This raises the question: is it possible that Hedges' analysis is not applicable to all war, but just to certain types? This would harm the universality of Hedges' argument. A lesser critique is that Hedges doesn't offer us any practical advice stemming from his observations and analysis. Specifically, it would be helpful to hear from Hedges whether he is against any war at any time, or whether some wars (e.g., World War II) might be justified.
Despite its (minor) flaws, though, this is an excellent book which I highly and wholeheartedly recommend.

House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties
House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties
by Craig Unger
Edition: Hardcover
165 used & new from $0.01

37 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read the book, then take a long hot shower!, May 20, 2004
As I waded through the muck described so well by Craig Unger in "House of Bush, House of Saud," I kept thinking, "must take hot shower, must take it now!" Sadly, though, after 281 pages of slimy "good ol' boys" and corruption run amok; of crony capitalism gone hog wild; of stupidity and short-sightedness (failing to foresee the "blowback" from creating an army of Muslim fanatics in Afghanistan); of immorality (providing Saddam Hussein with biological agents, including "tissue that was infested with bubonic plague"), incompetence (letting relatives of Osama bin Laden leave the country after 9/11 without even interviewing them), and mendacity (linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11, while pretending that Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with it); I concluded that a hot shower would not be nearly sufficient to cleanse the moral and political stench from my nostrils. Just the cover photo alone (not to mention the one of Don Rumsfeld shaking Saddam Hussein's hand) smells bad enough to knock a buzzard off the proverbial pile of you-know-what.
Sound like a fun book? Well, no, it's not. But it IS an important and well-written book, as well as an entertaining one, in a twisted sort of way. Is "House of Bush, House of Saud" perfect? Far from it. For one thing, it's not that original -- lots of this material is already known (although Unger skillfully pulls it all together). More importantly, it's too focused on links between the Bush and Saud families for my tastes. The problem with personalizing things is that it runs the risk of missing broader issues and forces at work; in this case, America's addiction to oil and the country's long-standing relationship (starting with Franklin Roosevelt) to the corrupt, violent, oil-rich, fundamentalist, theocratic monarchy known as Saudi Arabia. I'm certainly no fan of the Bush family, but in my opinion Unger overreaches when he implies that President Bush essentially has divided loyalties -- between Saudi Arabia and America. If that's the case, then so did Jimmy Carter ("the Carter doctrine" springs to mind), Ronald Reagan (the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia in 1981), Bush #41 (his "buddy" relationship with Saudi Prince Bandar), and Bill Clinton (failing to punish the Saudis for their failure to cooperate in the Khobar Towers bombing investigation).
The bottom line is that our problem is not with any particular individual or family, it's with America's insatiable appetite for Saudi oil, and our unwillingness to cut that dependency even after 9/11. Let's face it, the Saudis are not our friends, and they do not share our values. Among other problems, the Saudis have used some of the billions in oil money we've sent them over the years in order to fund Islamic fundamentalist schools ("madrasas") across the world, not to mention fundamentalist Islamic groups (including terrorists).
So what the heck are we doing dealing with these people? Three words: oil, oil, oil. Given that fact, it's not exactly a big surprise that a Texas oil family like the Bushes would have close ties with the Saudi (r)oil family. The problem is not the Bush-Saudi friendship per se, but the overall thrust of U.S. foreign policy, driven by the desire for cheap oil (and other resources), regardless of the nasty regimes we have to do business with in order to get it. The answer, then, is to get off of imported oil once and for all. When that happens, the Bush-Saudi relationship will be irrelevant, while the Saudi royal family, along with its oil and influence on U.S. foreign policy, will fade like a mirage into the country's desert sands...

El Senor De Los Anillos / the Lord of the Rings: LA Comunidad Del Anillo (Spanish Edition)
El Senor De Los Anillos / the Lord of the Rings: LA Comunidad Del Anillo (Spanish Edition)
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from $13.71

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book; Spanish translation a little clunky at times, May 18, 2004
Let me just start by declaring my belief that JRR Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the greatest works of fiction -- not just fantasy, but ALL fiction -- ever. And I've read a lot of fiction in my life! Still, the main question here is whether or not the Spanish language translation does the original English book justice. Unfortunately, I'd have to say that from that perspective, "El Senor de los Anillos" has some serious problems.
The main problem is probably inherent to ANY translation of Tolkien from English into another language. Professor Tolkien, as a great student of language, chose his words, accents, and dialects extremely carefully. Unfortunately, many of these choices, such as Sam's working class speech patterns ("coneys," "Gaffer," and all his many idiosyncratic sayings and references), or the Orcs rough (Cockney?) accents, just don't really come across in Spanish. I have found the same thing in other translations, such as when I read "Tom Sawyer" in French back in High School. Same deal.
In addition, however, I also caught numerous instances of outright errors in "El Senor de los Anillos," which in the case of Tolkien and his care for such things, are truly egregious. For instance, on numerous occasions the translator said "East" when he meant "West" or vice versa. Not good, especially when these directions are fraught with meaning in Tolkien's conception of Middle Earth. Less egregiously, I found some of the literal translations -- "Bolson" for "Baggins" or "Comarca" for "Shire" simply to be annoying. Why translate proper names? Must be a translator thing; I just don't understand!
Finally, a problem both with translation into other languages as well as into film is the loss of much of Tolkien's poetry. In the case of the blockbuster movie trilogy, poetry was kept to a minimum in favor of a predictable (heavy) emphasis on action, action, and more ACTION! In the Spanish translation, the problem is that the rhyming schemes which Tolkien uses, which are critical (in my humble opinion) to a true appreciation and enjoyment of the poems, are basically demolished. Maybe it wouldn't matter so much with other authors, but again, in the case of Tolkien, where each word choice is given tremendous thought and care, alteration of rhyming patterns can only lessen the impact of what Tolkien is getting at and the sheer beauty of his poetry.
Having said all this, despite the frustrations mentioned above, I enjoyed reading Lord of the Rings in Spanish, which I mainly undertook as part of my studies of the language. Reading a familiar book in another language is not a bad way to improve your vocabulary and general command of that language. Still, I would love to see a translation of "Lord of the Rings" that comes without the sloppy errors and that rings truer in spirit to the original.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2013 4:16 PM PST

Bruce Springsteen: Two Hearts, the Story
Bruce Springsteen: Two Hearts, the Story
by Dave Marsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: $29.46
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but not enough new material after 1986, May 18, 2004
First off, the positives. 1) Dave Marsh is an excellent writer who clearly loves his subject -- Bruce Springsteen -- and is great at bringing the concerts to life; 2) Springsteen himself is a fascinating figure, almost too good to be true (except that he's not!); 3) Many of Bruce's songs are brilliant, and Marsh does an excellent job exploring the themes -- life, death, movement, stasis, hope, despair, love, loneliness/alienation, faith, emptiness -- that run like a river through them all; 4) Despite obviously loving Springsteen and his music, Marsh rarely if ever sinks into the hero worship and "hagiography" he has been incorrectly accused of.
Now, the negatives. The book claims to be "The Definitive Biography, 1972-2003," yet it barely covers anything after 1986. Hey, that's 18 years ago; has so little happened in Bruce's life and music since then? In addition, I found the book to be a little repetitive at times, particularly in the introductory sections. But the most important criticism I've got is that, with the exception of "The Rising," the book largely ignores Springsteen's post-"Born in the USA" career: "Tunnel of Love," "Lucky Town," "Human Touch," "The Ghost of Tom Joad." These are all basically glossed over in a rushed, short, final couple of chapters. As much as I hate to say it, this makes me suspect that the publication of "Two Hearts," and its release just in time for the Christmas shopping season 2003, was in large part an excuse (by Dave Marsh?) to make a few bucks and to cash in on the post-"Rising" surge of interest in Springsteen. OK, sure, this IS America and it IS a MARKET economy, but I thought the whole book was about how Springsteen -- and by extension, Dave Marsh, his #1 fan and biographer -- only put something out there in the marketplace when it was ready from an ARTISTIC point of view. From that perspective, this book, which is really two previous books plus one quickie update covering 1987-2003, wasn't quite ready. Still, it's great for what it is, and Bruce Springsteen truly is an American hero worth emulating. At the least, it made me run to my stereo to listen to "Nebraska," "Live 1975-1985," and the rest with a heightened awareness of what it's all about. Bruce Springsteen truly is one of the greatest American artists ever; a national treasure to be listened to, appreciated, and savored, not the least in these difficult, dangerous, and frightening times.

Eragon (Inheritance)
Eragon (Inheritance)
by Christopher Paolini
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.13
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice try, but why did this book get published?, December 28, 2003
This review is from: Eragon (Inheritance) (Hardcover)
On the one hand, it's kind of neat seeing a teenager writing a book and getting it published. On the other hand, it's not "neat" if it's a BAD book originally published by the kid's PARENTS, for god's sake! I agree with most of the 1-star and 2-star reviewers here, and will not repeat their points about how derivative, formulaic, uncreative, and frankly, embarrassing this book is.
I would just add that Eragon is an incredibly obvious -- and cynical -- attempt by Knopf to cash in on the Lord of the Rings phenomenon. Let's see, "Eragon"/"Aragorn", "The Spire"/"The Shire", a stone that can't be damaged when struck by a sword/a ring that can't be damaged when thrown in the fire or struck by a sword, elves/elves, dragons/dragons, etc. etc. Yawn.
Unfortunately, Christopher Paolini is no JRR Tolkien, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Tokien is probably rolling over in his grave right about now. Still, I will be curious to see what, if anything Paolini comes up with in the future. Right now, I've got to say I am NOT optimistic.

Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture and Eros (29 Interviews)
Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture and Eros (29 Interviews)
by Derrick Jensen
Edition: Paperback
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should be listening to Derrick Jensen!, August 30, 2002
If there were any justice in the world, Derrick Jensen's book, "Listening to the Land, " would be a best seller, the hot book being read and talked about by just about everyone. In such a world, what would - just for example - President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and other "drill, cut and burn" true believers think of this book? One guess? They'd probably arrest Jensen under the USA Patriot Act and have the book burned on a pile of old-growth firewood! How about all these big-shot CEOs now on their way to jail (hopefully) for corporate wrongdoing? They'd probably try to figure out how to coopt Jensen into their corporate advertising about how "green" they are! Don't forget the Catholic Church bishops, who shuffled pedophile priests around and protected them from any reprimand over the years; they'd probably say that Jensen and his friends are all just a bunch of nature-worshipping atheist witches! And let's not let good ol' average "middle Americans" off the hook either, since it's their consumption and waste (which apparently knows no bounds), their actions, and their apathy, which allow a few powerful people, companies, and governments to trash the planet, the poor, and the vulnerable (both human and non-human) for their own power and profit.
Unfortunately, in this far-from-just world of ours, most people -certainly not our political or corporate leaders -- have never even HEARD of Derrick Jensen, let alone read "Listening to the Land." And, also unfortunately, most of these people would probably just dismiss Derrick Jensen and friends as a bunch of "tree-hugging, left-wing, anti-establishment nutcases." Well, given the level of violence, destruction, and mass extinction humans are currently wreaking on our planet, I'll take the "tree-hugging anti-establishment nutcases" over Bush, the corporate CEOs, the Catholic bishops, and the SUV-driving American suburbanites -- any day of the week!
What Derrick Jensen has courageously done here is to bring together around 30 leading theologians, environmentalists, Native American philosophers, psychologists, techno-skeptics and others in a fascinating series of interviews ("conversations" really) which provide a much-needed fresh perspective while bringing to bear tremendous energy, passion and focus on some of our biggest and most urgent problems. These people may care passionately about things, but they're definitely not a bunch of wackos. In fact, the more you read, the more you realize it's OUR SOCIETY that's wacko, not the "tree huggers."
Jensen is excellent at asking penetrating question and getting his subjects to speak their minds, although at times I wish I could have heard more of his voice as well (have to read his other books, I guess). By the end of "Listening to the Land," the level of thoughtfulness, eloquence, compassion, and wisdom found here fills us with understanding, sadness, righteous anger, and a sense that the world as it is currently constituted is just not right. Specifically, Jensen shows us how a lack of connection and harmony within the human soul itself - a result in large part of organized religion's teachings regarding man's "specialness," separation from all other works of creation (i.e., nature), and hence "dominion over the Earth" -- has bred a potentially fatal disease for both humans and non-humans. Jensen's conversations also make clear that something must be done about this situation immediately, and it ain't drilling in the Arctic or blowing the tops off of mountains in West Virginia (as the Bushies would have us believe), I'll tell you that!
If, after reading "Listening to the Land," you don't feel at all angry, disturbed, or upset, perhaps you're a corporate CEO or the White House Press Spokesman or something. For the rest of us, though, many of whom care about both our own lives as well as the world around us, this book is indispensable and deeply moving. I couldn't recommend "Listening to the Land" more strongly to anyone who cares about the world they live in. I admire and commend Derrick Jensen for his honest and powerful work; and I greatly look forward to reading his other books!

The Demolished Man
The Demolished Man
by Alfred Bester
Edition: Paperback
76 used & new from $0.01

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Four, sir; three, sir; two sir; one -- go and get this book!, August 10, 2002
This review is from: The Demolished Man (Paperback)
"The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester won the first-ever Hugo Award, and it's obvious why it did. Extremely well written in a cyber-punk/comic book style, this book was revolutionary when it appeared in the 1950s, and remains fresh 50 years later. Fascinating idea, executed with style and panache, this book ranks up there among the best science fiction books ever, and a must read for anyone who likes that genre. Amazing. Still, having said that, I have to agree with another reviewer who points out that this is NOT Bester's best book, and that just about everything done so well in "The Demolished Man" is done even better in Bester's all-time classic, "The Stars My Destination."
As usual, Bester explores themes of power, the human mind, personal freedom and privacy (in a world where telepaths can read your thoughts and where crimes can be detected before they happen), politics, high and low society, money, the nature of truth and reality, sanity, and the grayness of morality. All this is even more impressive given that the book was written during the paranoid, good vs. evil, democracy vs. communism, Joe McCarthy red-baiting 1950s. In fact, "The Demolished Man" can be read on one level as a clever commentary on/"demolition" of that strange decade. As in "The Stars My Destination," Bester writes in a highly entertaining, creative, and unique way, with unexpected - and often subtle - humor, plays on words and language in general, and song lyrics which are guaranteed to drive any telepath far away from your thoughts ("Tenser, said the Tensor. Tension, apprehension, and dissension have begun.").
This is not a perfect book, with obvious flaws in the plot and a somewhat contrived ending, but these are relatively minor problems. Overall, this is a work of soaring imagination and style, and I highly recommend it to everyone. So, go out and get this book, before the countdown ends - "Four, sir; three, sir; two sir; one!"

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