Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Killed Scheherazade by Joumana Haddad

Joumana Haddad photo
Tsunamis have their origins at the point of the earthquake or volcanic eruption, seemingly coming out of nowhere.  Always unexpected, they carry with them the potential of changing the landscape in dramatic ways by destroying what is old or ungrounded in its path.

Joumana Haddad, an award-winning poet and journalist, kicked off the first erotic cultural magazine in the Arab world in 2008, JASAD (Body), for which she made international headlines as "the Carrie Bradshaw of Beirut."

Born in Beirut to Christian parents, Haddad was a lover of books.  As a young child, she took advantage of her father's frequent absence from the home to climb to the top shelves of his library to read Marquis de Sade whom Haddad says, "changed (her) irrevocably."  Other authors with whose works she became intimately familiar at a young age were Dostoyevsky, Sallinger, Gibran, and √Čluard.

I Killed Scheherazade is a rapid-fire literary, often poetic, attack upon the enemies of full, thus explicit, feminist expression, both the covert adversaries and the obvious ones, that hits the bullseye time after time.  With the precision of a sniper and the tenacity of a pit bull, Joumana Haddad turns over all the rocks to expose the life beneath them: Western feminist ideas about Arab women, Arab hypocrisy in literary criticism, and Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.

Autobiographically weaving her interaction with the literary giants she has known since her childhood through her consumption of the forbidden books, she constructs a journal of thought that has the intellectual markings of a manifesto. It is solid, perceptive beyond the norm, and has a forward-leaning push that will generate ample force to resist the social pressures to marginalize or to quieten her.

I Killed Scheherazade is not for those readers who must have their philosophies written as a "system" of thought.  Rather, it will suit well those curious readers who want the windows flung wide open to all the possible objections, thus opening the possibilities for deeper, more serious conversations, with their cultures.

A force this strong has the potential to become a tsunami, given time, circumstances, and audience.  As a young author living in a time of revolution and liberation, Haddad's ebullient expression is a foretaste of the broader vision that will surely be realized, one which her own voice has inspired.

160 pages, Lawrence Hill Books, September 1, 2011

Highly recommended

Article first published as Book Review: I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman by Joumana Haddad on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi

The next time you hear someone suggest that a politician is crazy, you might want to consider the benefits of keeping her in office! In the book, A First-Rate Madness by Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director Nassir Ghaemi photoof the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Ghaemi sets forth this thesis: The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.

Sure to raise all kinds of eye-bulging arguments between otherwise friendly people is the notion that our best interests are sometimes served best by those who could be diagnosed as manic depressive, bipolar, or clinically depressed.

Dr. Ghaemi's thesis is based on his study of the psychological history of some of the most effective leaders during times of crisis.  Included in his survey are Civil War general, William T. Sherman, FDR, Ted Turner, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, and in a different sort of way, Adolf Hitler.

He uses four areas of analysis: realism, creativity, empathy, resilience.  These four characteristics of leadership, Dr. Ghaemi argues, are also characteristics found in large supply among the depressed and manic during times of crisis.  He explains that the type of thinking and courses of action required to navigate people through tough times are usually unconventional and would not normally occur to those who are mentally healthy. 

When creative thinking is needed, it is not a matter of intelligence that is required; rather, it is the ability to assess reality in its deepest and most honest sense.  Then, the effective leader must initiate bold actions, sometimes unorthodox, that respond to the right issues at the right time. Kennedy's response to Kruschev during the Cuban missile crisis is an example of this creative leadership and risky action, culminating in a meteoric rise of a nation's confidence in its president.

Only those who can synchronize with reality are able to know what the right issues are at the right moment.  This "depressive realism," Ghaemi argues, is one of the benefits of depression just as creativity and resilience are beneficial characteristics of the manic phase of manic-depressive illness.

The arguments put forth by Dr. Ghaemi are based on a controversial method of studying history, that is, with the purpose of gleaning psychological evidence of mental health or illness.  He dismisses critics somewhat convincingly in the introduction to his book by pointing out that historical perspective is more accurate than that of the present.  He says we see the past much more clearly, making more precise judgments about it, than we are able to see and do in the present.

In applying this method he is dependent on anecdotal evidence, and upon documents written by people, such as spouses, whose assessments can be too subjective at times.  The reader can never be quite sure that all the pieces have been pulled together, though Dr. Ghaemi offers multiple sources in his evaluation.  The stories match up beautifully with his propositions, sometimes, perhaps, too beautifully.  Still, the crux of his argument is convincing and worthy of much deeper exploration in future works.

Perhaps, in Dr. Ghaemi's next book, which I look forward to reading, it would be helpful to take his thesis to the next step and describe it in relation to common everyday people, such as civic leaders and entrepreneurs.  He is onto something in this book, and it merits more attention.

I would also like to see what Dr. Ghaemi has to say about the implications of his thesis for psychiatric practice and for those living with manic depressive illness.  Is there a way to "coach" depressed persons, or those with manic episodes, into greater creativity, and ultimately productivity?

A First-Rate Madness to be insightful and extraordinary.  Readers will see the soft spots in the thesis, spots, I believe, that Dr. Ghaemi also acknowledges.  He is, after all, placing before the reading public the notion that mental illness has benefits that are sometimes only available to those who suffer from it.
I don’t mean to claim that it always takes a disturbed person to have a nuanced and humble view of life and the world. Many probably mentally healthy leaders are also complex and insightful.... My claim is that mental illnesses, like depression, do not detract from such abilities, but in fact can enhance them. (p. 260)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Kindle Single Review: A Predator Priest, by David Margolick

David Margolick, an accomplished writer and contributor to such outstanding publications as Vanity FairNewsweek, and the New York Times places on his own shoulders the burden of telling a story about another pedophile priest and the deafening silence — some would argue "collusion by default" — of the Catholic church in its practice of moving problem priests to remote unknown territories only to inflict more abuse upon parishioners in uninformed communities.

The burden borne by Margolick is not his telling of the story but his doing so in a way that respects the objective distance a journalist must keep from his subject. Margolick is not shy about the details of Father Bernard Bissonnette's lifetime of abuse and the church's scandal of keeping his trespasses secret for over thirty years. The reader however is left to make the judgment for himself regarding Bissonnette's actions.

The story of Bernard Bissonnette (pictured below) begins in his home parish of Grosvenordale, Connecticut, where he was known even before his ordination, having spent his Bissonnette photoearly years there. In retrospect, community members noted that his early tendencies were odd as he seemed more interested in very personal sexual behaviors among his peers, such as the frequency of their masturbation, rather than the typical interests of teenage boys.

The church would later speculate that had they known of some of the things he was reputed to have done, Bissonnette would never have been ordained in the first place. This hindsight however fell far short of being a satisfying response to the men and the families victimized by Bissonnette's crimes.

The story centers on one particular victim and his family. Tommy Deary was one of many children in the Deary family, an athlete and an altar boy, who belonged to a prominent Catholic family in nearby Putnam. Deary was devoted to his faith, the church, and to his priest. Like many victims of sexual abuse, Tommy Deary would not turn against the perpetrator, Bissonnette, who had explained to Deary that God was pleased with his sexual actions. Bissonnette, many years later, explained to Deary's family that he had done nothing wrong and that he had only helped Tommy to become a man.

After a troubled marriage, numerous cycles of depression, and finally revelation to his family, Tommy Deary took his own life by connecting a hose from his car's exhaust into the back seat of his idling car where he waited to die with the Bible on his lap. He was found dead a couple of days later by one of his sisters.

Tommy's younger brother, Gene Michael Deary, found Bissonnette in a remote town in Southern New Mexico. He and two of his brothers traveled to the state to confront the retired priest who was then in failing health after his lifelong abuse of alcohol and his diabetes. Bissonnette explained to the Deary brothers only that the family's accusations had ruined his life as a priest, and he showed no remorse nor an admission of his guilt.

This Kindle Single is said to be 54 pages in book page length. Margolick manages to keep the scope of his story on Bissonnette and Deary, and it is covered well. He is successful in engaging the reader from the outset and maintaining a high level of interest throughout the book. The only distraction in the book is the dozen or so editing errors such as misspelled and repeated words or phrases that any careful reader would notice. These were not distracting enough to cast a shadow upon this story which needed to be told, and it is told well.

Article first published as Kindle Short Review: A Predator Priest by David Margolick on Blogcritics.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi

Article first published as Book Review: Wiseguy: Life In a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pileggi on Blogcritics.

One of the largest heists in American history occurred in December of 1978 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York when an informant, Louis Werner, tipped off Martin Krugman, a bookmaker and member of the Lucchese crime organization to whom Werner owed a large sum, that millions of dollars in cash and jewels were due to arrive on a Lufthansa flight and would be stored over a weekend in a particular vault on the grounds of JFK. Jimmy Burke’s mob, a sub-organization of Lucchese’s took an estimated $6,000,000 in cash and jewels.

Goodfellas movie poster
The Lufthansa heist has been the subject of three films, including two made-for-tv movies, The 10 Million Dollar Get-Away and The Big Heist, and one major motion picture, Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas which had an all-star “bad guy” cast of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta.

Wiseguy, a book written in 1985 by journalist Nicholas Pileggi was the primary source material Mug shot of Henry Hillfor the movie GoodFellasWiseguy traces the history of Henry Hill beginning in his youthful days as an errand runner at mobster Paul Viori’s cabstand in Brooklyn through his tumultuous days as a chief operative in Jimmy Burke’s organization.

Born into an Irish working class family, young Henry Hill was tantalized by the glamour of the criminal world which he observed at Viori’s place of business. As a dependable foot soldier, Hill was quickly given adult responsibilities, including parking mob limousines though he could not see over the steering wheel without the aid of a telephone directory for a booster seat. As he grew older, Hill participated in countless criminal enterprises including illegal cigarette sales, loan sharking, arson, and point-shaving schemes involving Boston College basketball center Rick Kuhn and some of his teammates.

It was the Lufthansa heist however that eventually forced Henry Hill’s destiny. As the case unfolded, a law enforcement informant put the finger on a number of Burke’s gang of characters, including Hill. Many of the crime’s participants were whacked by Burke’s men before the FBI could arrest them. Henry Hill was the lucky one.

Convinced that he was within only a few hours of becoming Burke’s next victim, Hill entered the witness protection program with his wife and children. For several years Henry Hill became a major informant to the government, successfully bringing many of his former friends to justice, including his old mentors Paul Vario and Jimmy Burke.

Wiseguy is a story told in the language of the insiders, primarily Hill, his wife Karen, and Hill’s girlfriend. It is quick-paced and detailed, giving readers a microscopic view into the criminal world of contrasts: of loyalty and betrayal, of steel-eyed determination and impassioned rage.

Coming in September is the new Amazon release of Wiseguy in Kindle format which can be pre-ordered for $12.99.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Rise: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution As Written Shortly Before It Began by Tarek Shahin

Tarek Shahin is a brilliant cartoonistPicture of Tarek Shahin with his friend Sarah El Sirgany with a lot to say.

I made a strong connection with Shahin when I read the first strip in Rise: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution As Written Shortly Before It Began.

On page one, under the title of "Epilogue," and dated 4 February 2011, a female reporter with what can only be called an "appropriately serious" facial expression, styling a million-dollar hairdo, showing a slight hint of cleavage, standing in front of the mob scene in Tahrir Square holding a microphone, informs her viewers, "I'm standing in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo where millions of Egyptians are demanding an end to authoritarian rule. After fighting the protesters with tear gas, live ammo and weaponized camels, the ruling regime is now offering concessions but to no avail."

Cutting to a politician, who looks a little like Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoons without the hamburgers and hat, we see him with arms raised pleading with the crowd, "We promise change. But we need time for a smooth transition!"

Pulling back to catch the reaction of the crowd, Shahin shows the politician as he continues to plead, asking rhetorically, "What part of stability are you against?!"

Hidden in the crowd is the face of someone, with fist raised, shouting, "The 'stab' part!"

The Epilogue is just the Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarakintroduction to Rise. It marks the end of the Mubarak regime. What follows in the book are two and a half years of comic strips originally published in The Daily News Egypt under the title of "Al Khan."

A cast of characters deliver high impact satiric blows to the media mouthpieces from whom the news of such dramatic change of state is heard around the world. Al Khan is the fictitious news publisher in Cairo for whom the main characters work.

There is Omar, the grandson of the publisher, coming back to Egypt after a raucous lifestyle in Europe where he had lived with full abandonment of the cultural mores of his upbringing. Frustrated with Egypt's cultural restrictions, Omar is less concerned about freedom than he is about enjoying his lifestyle. With a heavy Narcissistic tendency, Omar is naive about the purpose of the revolution, failing to see what all the big fuss is about. But, he plays along, trying his best to get a grip on what is taking place out on the streets.  

The zealous editor, the beautiful Nada, knows what all the fuss is about. In fact, she knows more than anyone else. Just ask her. Fully engaged in the pursuit of justice, Nada marks her enemies with broad strokes of red. Her flowing black hair always in place, she never looks up from her work to notice that the revolution is lagging so far behind her. The perfect antagonist to Omar, she is the boss even though Omar is the grandson of the publisher. This duet is brilliantly captured by Shahin.

There is one person in the cast of "Al Khan" to whom Nada listens for advice, "The Big Falafel." Nada's Obi-Wan Kenobi sits hour after hour on the streets of Cairo in Ghandi-like attire, but with a lot more meat on his bones.

There is Yunan Salib, the Coptic photoblogger and friend of Omar, forty years old and still living with his mother. He struggles to find love, though love is irrelevant. He straddles tradition and progressive ideals, rarely escaping the expectations of his parents. This is why he takes pictures, I suppose. He can see what's important, but he cannot seem to put words to his frustration.

Dr. Anwar, a conservative Muslim, lends the traditionalist's voice to the mix. Not particularly introspective, to Anwar tradition is, well, just tradition. His conversations with the spiritual leaders give readers a glimpse of the struggle between pragmatism and traditional values. Shahin uses these dialogues as commentary on traditional Muslim values, juicy stuff for the contemplative mind.

There are others, many of whom have convenient bit parts in the drama that Al Khan both reports and creates in Egyptian society.

Rise is political satire at its best. The caricatures match the characters beautifully. Nothing is left untouched. From religion to love, gang rape to premarital sex, Ramadan to prodigalism, Tarek Shahin covers the gamut.

Near the surface at all times is what amounts to a fair warning to heads of state in countries like Syria where regime change is inevitable. VolatileFlags waving in revolution topics are portrayed satirically with much at stake for the creative voices like Shahin. With no holds barred, while recognizing the power of graphic creations accompanied by selective words, state's do change, and people do win their freedom.

At about 30 years of age, what does Tarek Shahin have in mind for his next project? No doubt, it will be rich, funny, and truthful, so pay attention.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

Article first published as Book Review: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World by Jay Bahadur on Blogcritics.
Armed Pirate
Far from being a romanticized history, The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur is a new (July, 2011) and important book about the pirates themselves, giving readers a full-color view of their origin, their clannish culture, and their motives.
Bahadur explains through his bold interviews with financiers and respected leaders that the piracy we currently see in Somalia is a result of an evolutionary process.

Early on, in the mid 1990's, in absence of a coast guard, Somali fishermen vigilantes, determined to protect their livelihood, began seizing the assets of small commercial fishing boats, in essence levying on them a tax of sorts for the offender's intrusion into their national waters.
Puntland map
By the mid-2000's, as Bahadur explains, these same operations became big businesses. No longer a defensive measure alone pirating became profitable and drew attention from other sectors of Somali culture.

In the "third wave" opportunism matured, attracting among others "disaffected youth from the large inland nomad population." This group, while echoing the "worn-out mantra" of the legacy they inherited, has lost the "brooding introspection" possessed by the older fishermen vigilantes who chose the route of piracy as a means of forcing justice in absence of a government authority. It is this third wave that has extended their reach into the high seas targeting large commercial trade ships for multi-million dollar ransoms.
pirate boat
In the conclusion of his book, Bahadur proposes actions which the international community might take to offer a "pragmatic mitigation" of piracy, a term he uses instead of "elimination." Among them are measures of prevention, enforcement, and intelligence. It is a problem, he says, that must be solved on land as well as on the sea.

The Pirates of Somalia is a daring book which invites readers into a world that challenges both the romanticist as well as the view of the noncritical consumer of television news.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-pirates-of-somalia/#ixzz1UjSqRgmq

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rapes, attacks up against Somalis fleeing famine - CBS News

Rapes, attacks up against Somalis fleeing famine - CBS News

A good report about a tragic situation in Somalia and neighboring Kenya. Videos available by CBS reporter Scott Pelley.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Next up for review: Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

Next up on the review board is a new book about pirates, The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur.

I'm enjoying reading this one on my Kindle and should have it finished by Thursday. I hope to have the review posted by Friday night.

Don't forget that I also post other articles on Blogcritics.  Here's the link to my articles there.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: Uncaged by Paul McKellips

The horrors of 9-11 ten years ago introduced many Americans for the first time to the real truth about devastating destruction and our national vulnerabilty. Over the ten years since 2001, we have learned more about the fragile relationship of politics, ideology, power, and money. Now, few things seem impossible.

McKellups photoPaul McKellips is the Executive Vice President for the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington D.C. He is a motion picture and television producer who served as a State Department war correspondent in Iraq. During his tenure in Iraq, McKellips traveled with army veterinarians throughout the war-torn country, observing the U.S. effort to restore conditions necessary for the proper care and treatment of large animals.

In a 30-minute interview on Pet-Life Radio McKellips provides a full and informative description of the work of the FBR. I recommend this audio interview to the reader in order to understand the experience and knowledge which informs McKellips' perspective in the book.
Uncaged is a work of fiction. It is however an entirely plausible, if not likely, scenario in which the devastation of 9-11 would unspeakably be dwarfed in size.

If the perfect storm of politics, activism, science, greed, and ideology were brought together in a single moment in history, an apocalyptic event could be unleashed (uncaged) all over the world in a matter of days, not years. It is chilling, but as McKellips aptly applies the perfect storm scenario, it becomes not just plausible, but believable as well.

The political trigger is pulled when a clandestine animal rights activist group creates a widespread public health scare by causing severe illness and death among the nation's meat consumers. This fear forces the U.S. president to declare a full one-year moratorium on animal research of any kind.

Simultaneously, a South Korean pharmaceutical company, funded by private Russian investors, violently obtains farm livestock in the United States in which advanced testing has been done, giving the new company the fast track for producing a vaccination and treatment for possible future outbreaks of Ebola.

Working with Al-Qaeda, pirates seize commercial tankers bound for American ports. The pirates perpetrate some relatively minor theft and then send the ships on their way. Their purpose was not to enrich themselves with a ransom, but to uncage infected rats. The rats, more precisely the fleas from the rats, begin claiming victims within hours of their presence at port.

The story's main characters, a veteran male military doctor nicknamed "Camp," and a military expert in infectious disease, a woman named "Leslie," are teamed up to gain the necessary intelligence to counter the impending threat. In their travels to Algeria, Yemen, and finally Costa Rica, they encounter the enemies. Suffering several brushes with death, they emerge from a combative personal relationship to one which is implicitly one of love. The relationship between Camp and Leslie gives the story the necessary character depth to keep Uncaged from being a one-dimensional military special-ops novel. The relationship is far from distracting to the reader and serves the fundamental story expertly.

Uncaged raises many issues about the use of animals in medical research.Laboratory rat Among medical researchers and animal activists a great chasm of perspective exists, though the work of the Foundation for Biomedical Research is seeking to close that gap. Extreme positions on both ends of the issue's spectrum are brought to this book in a hypothetical situation in which the question of the value of human life vs. the value of non-human animal life, is raised. It is a question that is not resolved easily.

Uncaged is a thought-provoking and thrilling read.  McKellips' obvious personal credibility allows him to raise right issues, and he leaves the reader with perhaps a broader understanding of the dilemma posed by biomedical research and the treatment of animals.  

Americans, no longer doubtful about our vulnerability after 9-11, hear whispers about bioterrorism from time-to-time. After reading Uncaged, the whispers will become shouts.

Next Up For Review: Uncaged by Paul McKellips

Next up for review:

Uncaged is a novel written by Paul McKellips who is the Executive Vice President for the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington, D.C.  McKellups is a journalist and has covered action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His credits include 5 motion pictures and numerous television shows.  Working for the humane treatment of animals in biomedical research, McKellips is intensely involved in public education efforts.

My review of Uncaged: A Thriller will be posted on Blogcritics during the week of August 7, 2011, and reposted here for my readers.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Story of Human Achievement and a Psychopathic Killer at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago

Article first published as Review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson on Blogcritics.

In 1889, American architects and engineers witnessed, as did the rest of the world, the sudden ascendancy of France to the highest of heights in material humanEiffel Tower achievement. The Exposition Universelle, the world's fair in Paris, had succeeded with overwhelming glory and praise.

At the heart of the Paris exposition was a tower of iron, one thousand feet high, designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, sealing forever in the minds of most people, the supremacy of the French architectural vision. However, the Americans would have the last say.

The Devil in the White City is an extraordinary accomplishment by author Erik Larson. It is a comprehensive and fascinating telling of the Daniel Burnhamhigh stakes gamble by American architects, engineers, and inventors, to regain the admiration of the world by hosting the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The driving force behind the effort was Chicago's architect Daniel Burnham (pictured left). His beloved business partner, John Root, assisted Burnham in the early stages of the project, but Root died shortly after it was underway. City leaders credited much of the inspiration for the fair to the deceased Root, an opinion not shared by Burnham. With an enormous well of good will from which to draw, along with his personal enthusiasm and tireless cajoling of his naysayers, Burnham succeeded in assembling many of America's architects and engineers to cooperate and to commit to the exposition's success.

Larson's rich details are invaluable. Readers enter into the tedium of bringing this extraordinary vision to material fruition. Ferris wheelThe politics, money, the egos of geniuses, the weather, labor unions, not to mention the short calendar, serve as major antagonists in the story, underscoring the significance of the remarkable achievement.

The "Devil" in the book's title is the charming Mr. H. H. Holmes (below). Born as Herman Webster Mudgett, Holmes had a voracious appetite for scams and murders. A respected business owner who could talk his way out of thousands of dollars of debt was equally adept at winning the trust of women.

The mysterious disappearances of several women known to have been friendly with Holmes did not raise eyebrows in the beginning. However, with each successfully executed murder Holmes' lust grew. His hotel, referred to as the "Castle," was patronized by fair-goers aplenty. Holmes himself determined who stayed at his hotel and who did not. His preferred customers were women traveling to Chicago alone, especially those whose personalities presented him with the best opportunity for domination.

Holmes pictureAs the Columbian Exposition met with popularity and success, an estimated dozens of women met their gruesome fates. Tortured, gassed, dissected, and incinerated, most of Holmes' victims simply vanished.

This extraordinary juxtaposition of the improbable success of the Chicago fair with what could only be called the impossible suspect, the serial killer hiding in plain daylight, is a complex and ambitious structure for Larson's book. The contrast between the glory of human achievement and the horror of the psychopathic mind is an uncomfortable consideration for the reader.

In this aspect, much is required. Larson does not use much ink on the killer's psychological profile. Unlike other true crime books, the labor of making sense of the juxtaposition belongs to the reader. This is a quiet and intelligent compliment by Larson. There is plenty of imagery and description, but the author deftly stops short of saying so much that there is nothing left for the reader to think about.

Erik Larson is nonfiction's John Updike with a rich and precise use of language. He teases the story out of its tangled web in a masterful fashion. The Devil in the White City deserves and receives my highest marks.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Preseason Look at the 2011 Dallas Cowboys

Article first published as A Preseason Look at the 2011 Dallas Cowboys on Blogcritics.

Fans of the Dallas Cowboys annoy a lot of folks.  I'm not sure of all the reasons, but some of the things I've heard over the years are complaints about arroganceJerry Jones, and a garden variety of other things, some of which are quite entertaining.

I am a fan, and I have been since the Cowboys first came to town in 1960, hopefully without the annoyance.   

This year, I'm going into the season with the same level of enthusiasm I've had for several other years. Like going on a blind date, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Dallas has never been short of local bashers in the media when the subject is the Cowboys.  During my commute every day, I tune in to local ESPN radio, and I've made some observations about this year's complaints.  

Tony Romo 

Many fans believe this is the "fish or cut bait"* year for the Dallas QB.  When he first relieved Drew Bledsoe in 2006, under head coach Bill Parcells, Romo was viewed as the second coming of Troy AikmanTony Romo picture.  The biggest criticism of Romo over the past few years has been his lack of leadership.  Some optimistic local pundits cite as evidence of a different Romo this year his offseason role in getting the team together for practices during the lockout.  I don't buy the validity of this argument.  It was a role thrust upon him by circumstances, not by an innate and effective leadership style.  It's still wait-and-see.

The Offensive Line

The O-Line of the Cowboys allowed 31 sacks in 2010, and locally, they drew the ire of the "chicken-fried nation"* for the loss of Romo for the season early in the year.  They successfully signed two of their best linemen, Doug Free and Kyle Kosier.  Salary cap issues were the more publicized reasons for letting go of Leonard Davis and Mark Colombo, but certainly their performances on the field made them more expendable than perhaps others.  The line will have a better season than they did last year, barring injury.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/sports/article/a-preseason-look-at-the-2011/#ixzz1UABN2tnx

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Security Technology; How Much Do I Need? And, Why?

Article first published as Security Technology; How Much Do I Need, and Why? on Blogcritics.

About 25 years ago, I was showing off my new red 1987 Camaro to a good friend of mine who was an entrepreneur.  He was fascinated more with my enthusiasm than he was with my new “dream car”, but he withheld his sarcasm while I showed him all the cool gadgets.

It was the first time I had owned a car that had a push-button device to lock the doors and arm the security system.  This was my favorite toy.

My friend, the entrepreneur, was already ahead of me, thinking about how we could cash in on this kind of technology.  He asked, “Do you think people would buy a system to allow them to control their home lighting and door access from the same keychain they use for their car keys?”  I said something like, “Sure they would, but good luck with that!"  This was a comment right out of 1987 by someone who had no vision of the future. 

I haven’t kept up with that friend over the years, but I imagine him to be sitting in some island paradise in the Caribbean, sipping on umbrella drinks, spending the money he earned from being much smarter than I.

Now that I find myself in the business of offering security solutions for schools and businesses, I have thought many times aboutcamera graphic the motivating factors which drive the security market

These factors range from personal safety to the buyer’s desire for a more convenient lifestyle.  Sometimes, security and technology blend with vanity, and it makes for a very powerful motivational factor.  After all, it’s a fact in the home entertainment world that the Super Bowl can be watched on an old black and white television with “rabbit ears” for an antenna, and it can also be watched on a 65” LED television in the comfort of one’s own living room.  The line between necessity and convenience is sometimes hard to identify.
What are the potential threats I want to prepare for?

Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself when considering the purchase of security solutions:

  • How likely are the undesirable events to occur?
  • What are the potential costs, financial and personal, associated with these threats?
  • How much money do I have to invest in the solutions?
  • How much will the solution improve other factors such as convenience, time management, and “lean management” of human resources?
  • Is the solution one which is scalable and open to future developments in technology?
  • Can the solution be integrated with existing systems?  If not, how important is integration, and what are the costs and benefits of replacing what you already have? 
Above all, do some research in the fields of interest to you, and look to consultants and manufacturers reps to supply the best solution for your needs and “wants", the more independent the better.  If the solution to your concerns does not currently exist, be patient, but ask the experts, who make more things possible in the security industry every day.  Or, better yet, become an entrepreneur and reserve your place at a beach resort in the Caribbean!

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/scitech/article/security-technology-how-much-do-i/#ixzz1U4kD1mXM