Friday, August 26, 2016

Nixon Then, Trump Now? The John Lennon Deportation Scandal

It is interesting to imagine what our current jingoistic culture would do with John Lennon, if he arrived in America today. A pot smoking hippie way back when, he was despised by Republican politicians, who sought to deport him. Young people loved him for resisting the Vietnam War and Nixon. Today, even after having never won a war since, instead of being shot by a lone gunman, Lennon might be called upon by Trump and others to be put in front of a firing squad for treason. A new audiobook, JOHN LENNON vs THE USA by Leon Wildes (a lawyer for an immigration related law firm) details the attempts to get the Beatle out so he couldn’t join Jerry Rubin in a “Dump Nixon” rock rally prior to the 1972 RNC. Strom Thurmond was in on it, as was John Mitchell (attorney general in charge of illegal alien deportation.) Nixon also listened to John Dean, and wanted (with expletives not deleted) to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono. But Lennon had an expert on immigration on their side: the author of this book. Wildes found a loophole in the law to grant an exemption for the couple, even after stays were denied and applications for “outstanding artists” were postponed for consideration by the INS until after they were gone. The slimeball in the Oval Office was not done killing young men for no reason, and wanted to get more blood on his hands. Lennon and Ono were in the way. So was Hunter S. Thompson, as revealed in FEAR AND LOATHING IN AMERICA. Both audiobooks are narrated by one of my fav voiceover artists, the always engaging and mellifluous Malcolm Hillgartner. Wilde’s book is an interesting look at how custody battles and the politics of greed worked back then, and they are both relevant to today…almost in lock step. What was at stake then is at stake now. Can we learn from history, or not? 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lost Republic and The Nix

With heartfelt urgency and a keen desire for righting wrongs, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig takes a clear-eyed look at how we arrived at this crisis: how fundamentally good people, with good intentions, have allowed our democracy to be co-opted by outside interests, and how this exploitation has become entrenched in the system. Rejecting simple labels and reductive logic-and instead using examples that resonate as powerfully on the Right as on the Left—Lessig seeks out the root causes of our situation. In REPUBLIC, LOST he plumbs the issues of campaign financing and corporate lobbying, revealing the human faces and follies that have allowed corruption to take such a foothold in our system. He puts the issues in terms that non-wonks can understand, using real-world analogies and real human stories. And ultimately he calls for widespread mobilization and a new Constitutional Convention, presenting achievable solutions for regaining control of our corrupted-but redeemable-representational system. In this way, Lessig plots a roadmap for returning our republic to its intended greatness. Narrated by the author. Lawrence Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of law and leadership at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Prior to rejoining the Harvard faculty, Lessig was a professor at Stanford Law School, where he founded the school’s Center for Internet and Society, and at the University of Chicago. He clerked for Judge Richard Posner on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.

THE NIX is a hilarious and deeply touching debut novel about a son, the mother who left him as a child, and how his search to uncover the secrets of her life leads him to reclaim his own. Meet Samuel Andresen-Anderson: stalled writer, bored teacher at a local college, obsessive player of an online video game. He hasn’t seen his mother, Faye, since she walked out when he was a child. But then one day there she is, all over the news, throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. The media paints Faye as a militant radical with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother never left her small Iowa town. Which version of his mother is the true one? Determined to solve the puzzle—and finally have something to deliver to his publisher—Samuel decides to capitalize on his mother’s new fame by writing a tell-all biography, a book that will savage her intimately, publicly. But first, he has to locate her and second, to talk to her without bursting into tears. As Samuel begins to excavate her history, the story moves from the rural Midwest of the 1960s to New York City during the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street movement to the infamous riots at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention, and finally to Norway, home of the mysterious Nix that his mother told him about as a child. And in these places, Samuel will unexpectedly find that he has to rethink everything he ever knew about his mother—a woman with an epic story of her own, a story she kept hidden from the world. Narrator Ari Fliakos is a voice and television actor. His audiobook narrations have earned several AudioFile Earphones Awards, and in 2014 he won the prestigious Audie Award for best narration.

Friday, August 5, 2016

OVERCOMPLICATED: Technology at the Limits

A new tech science book OVERCOMPLICATED details the qualities of randomness which are added to computer systems which are too large for upgrades to deal with…essentially, chips are so powerful now, and the algorithms which control mass media platforms so dense, that retrofitting new tech onto old produces quantum fluctuations in the results. There is simply no way to scratch everything and start over to produce reliable glitch-free use. Much of the “dark code” that lurks in systems interacts with new code in ways that no one expects. This is why so many fixes are needed by Apple and Android products. “Bugs” live in niches too deep to eradicate completely. It is written by math scholar Samuel Arbesman, and narrated by Sean Pratt. Also, the psychology book THE WORM AT THE CORE reveals why our fear of death motivates our obsession with money and fame. And a new scifi novel THE BIG SHEEP is out. Description: Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered #sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call. But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her—and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the #mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected—and both point to a sinister #conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer

The rise of hate politics may be to blame for many of the lone wolf attacks in America and abroad, a topic explored in THE MYSTERY OF THE LONE WOLF KILLER by Unni Turrettini. Roughly two-thirds of attacks are now described as “lone wolf,” and this is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Solo killers can easily hide, are difficult if not impossible to track or predict (as shown in the book “The Black Swan”), and their motives are legion (not just ISIS.) Given that fame is our culture’s #1 goal (with the viral rise of the Selfie), what faster way to instant fame than by killing people, knowing that the media will be all over it? If someone is dying of cancer, or depressed and angry, plus they are a sociopath (one in 25 are, read “The Sociopath Next Door”), suicide by cop may be appealing, radicalized or not. Psychologists often say that when suicides are publicized, the suicide rate goes up. Same is true of terrorist copycats. The more hype you see, the more of the same you will get. Network news is in competition for eyeballs, and must give us more of what we want, whether that be viral cat videos or explosions, in order to sell more junk food and the prescription drugs needed to treat eating junk food. (Watch any half hour news show, and you will see sensational news first, followed by drug ads with shorter segments to commercial break, “When we come back,” ending with an upbeat feel good piece to preserve viewership.) Every time, every network. Same stories, too. You have to read or listen to books to find out the WHY. “The Spiral Notebook” is another I recommend, along with my own political bomber novel “Postmarked for Death,” which gets into the twisted mind of a terrorist (and was endorsed by Clive Cussler as “mystery at its best.”)  Now for the publisher’s notes on Unni’s audiobook: July 22, 2011 was the darkest day in Norway’s history since Nazi Germany’s invasion. It was one hundred eighty-nine minutes of terror—from the moment the bomb exploded outside a government building until Anders Behring Breivik was apprehended by the police at Utoya Island. Breivik murdered seventy-seven people, most of them teenagers and young adults, and wounded hundreds more. Breivik is a ‘lone wolf killer,’ often overlooked until they commit their crime. Breivik is also unique as he is the only ‘lone wolf’ killer in recent history to still be alive and in captivity. Unparalleled research and a unique international perspective. The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer examines the massacre itself and why this lone-killer phenomenon is increasing worldwide. Based on true events. Unni Turrettini was born in northern Norway and grew up in Drammen, a city near Oslo, approximately twenty minutes from where Breivik was raised. As a foreign exchange student, she graduated from high school in Kansas City, Kansas, and she has law degrees from Norway, France, and the United States. She currently lives with her family in Geneva, Switzerland, and is at work on a second book, a behind-the-scenes examination of the Nobel Peace Prize. Narrator Pete Cross holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Toledo and an MFA in Acting from the California Institute of the Arts. Stage experience includes Alexander in Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, at Carnegie Hall. He has also acted in film, and served on faculty at Cal Arts and with Aquila Morong Studio in Hollywood. Pete has coached for film and theatrical productions, and continues to work with private clients all over the world.

Monday, July 18, 2016

CyberSpies by Gordon Corera

Back in the “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” days, the spy game was about hidden messages and microdots that spies carried across borders at personal peril, hoping not to be intercepted at airports. Today spies sit in offices or at various Starbucks, staring at computer screens. They hack into sensitive servers, download files in seconds, and then send them on wild electronic routes across the global internet. Or they put spyware on computers and wait for the info to be emailed back to them. In CYBERSPIES by Gordon Corera, the history of spycraft is examined, with particular attention given to Russia, the UK, and China, but also the NSA and characters like Edward Snowden. It’s not just military secrets that are targeted. Cyber big business crime is viral, as global technology in the U.S. and elsewhere is targeted for attack. Narrator Gildart Jackson has a deep English voice with a commanding yet pleasant tone to it, perfect for listening in the car or on an iPhone or iPod where there might be background noise. You will learn many things you may not have gleaned even by reading the NY Times, and certainly not by watching network news. Such as the personality of the NSA director, how the Cold War evolution of spycraft has gone from hundreds of millions to hundreds of billions in cost in a new arms (technology) race, and how the Chinese have become the biggest users of the internet with the most spies (including state-friendly tech companies working 24/7 to acquire both business and military advantage via espionage.) Many countries, particularly non-democratic ones, limit the internet, blocking out entire sectors of news and information, even as they hack dissidents or regime critics. So besides being a means for people to obtain information, the internet is also a tool to suppress citizens and to attack neighbors. Reminds me of the Star Trek episode in which two civilizations war with each other via computer, and those “hit” electronically must report to disintegration stations. The consequences of spying and information theft likewise includes victims. Spock would have found the audiobook “fascinating,” before a raised eyebrow indicated that humans never seem to learn from war as the Vulcans did. (The audiobook is available on CD, Mp3-CD, and download, or digital rental for $6.95.) 

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Michio Kaku is one of the best interpreters of complex science to the layman. Unlike some others, he seems more reasoned and balanced in expressing opinions while keeping his own ego mostly out of the equation. His new book is PARALLEL WORLDS: A journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos. Read by Marc Vietor on audio, the audiobook is a history of physics mingled with (and to set up) discussions of multiverse theories. Kaku tells why scientists must have a theory of everything in order to aid progress of the species (away from extinction due to war & ignorance, which is a 50/50 tossup.) In describing M Theory as part of string theory, he is cautiously optimistic that the ultimate answer may be a formula scarcely more than an inch long. Einstein’s E=MC2 was one such revolutionary formula. “And it will not solve humanity’s problems overnight,” he says. “Scientists in the past have often underestimated the length of time for progress to occur.” Science moves by increments, after all. It is a slow building process, rejecting bad ideas in favor of better explanations. (2001: A Space Odyssey may end up being 2100 before we go to Jupiter on manned missions with AI in control.) Kaku makes analogies like John Glenn being made of solid gold, which is how much it costs to put an astronaut into space. Going to Mars is a favorite obsession for NASA and physicists like Neil deGrasse Tyson, to say nothing of fans who know little about the dangers and costs. Kaku suggests that such a mission would not return much in real cost/benefit, and that it might be better to wait until the technology improves far more than it has. As a civilization, we are near zero in ability to harness energy efficiently. On an actual scale, we would be .07. A level 1 civilization would be a million times more efficient. A level 2 a million times more than level 1, and a level 3 still a million times greater. In order for an advanced civilization to be here on Earth (in UFOs) they would need to be at least level 2.5. What would be the odds that we could fight them, as Hollywood would have you believe (given that aliens would even possess our ego flaws)? Insert LOL. Or as Arthur C. Clarke put it, “a sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic.” Kaku describes the eventual fate of the universe, what is needed to escape that fate, (if such a thing is possible,) and he references science fiction stories to illustrate concepts. (For example, check out this link for a story on carbon nanotubes used in creating a space elevator.) This all makes for an entertaining overview of current cosmology science, with greater complexity and depth than one finds on TV shows like NOVA. Science satellite data and upcoming new instruments, the nature of the Big Bang (“which wasn’t big and didn’t bang,”) inflationary proofs, plus philosophy and religion…nothing is off limits to this excellent production with Vietor (who has narrated SF in the past) at the helm. Within the next two decades we may know the ultimate secrets of dark energy and dark matter, and so Kaku is calling this the “golden age” of physics. A must hear. Michio Kaku is the Henry Semat Professor of theoretical physics at the CUNY Graduate Center, a leader in the field of theoretical physics, and cofounder of string field theory. He is the author of several widely acclaimed science books, including Parallel Worlds, Visions, Beyond Einstein, Hyperspace, and Physics of the Impossible—the basis for his Science Channel television show, Sci-Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible—and the host of two radio programs, Explorations and Science Fantastic.