Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Crusading Spirit in Modern America



The Crusading Spirit in Modern America:
George W. Bush and the Radical Conservative Elite

by Richard J. Bazillion

(BookSurge / 1-439-22944-9 / 978-1-439-22944-6 / May 2009 / 410 pages / $20.99)
Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

If you want to have a better idea of what is going on in American politics, Crusading Spirit is an important book, not only because of the author's anger but also because of the evidence used to support that anger. There's a reason why America's two major political parties are polarized. Crusading Spirit provides another piece to the puzzle for those who want to unravel the misinformation used to mislead voters.

Reading Richard J. Bazillion's book caused me to do a bit of research where I learned that in 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that about ninety-six million Americans over the age of eighteen voted. One hundred-twenty-four million old enough to vote did not. Of those that didn't vote, forty million were registered. I will address this tragedy later in this review.

I've read two disturbing, but "necessary" books this year. The first was Murder of an American Nazi by Tim Fleming—a book that convincingly connects the far right, radical conservative movement in America to Nazi fanaticism. The Crusading Spirit in Modern America is the second book, and Bazillion's specialty is the history of modern Germany. The main reason I find these books disturbing is that only a few people may read them. Neoconservatism, like Nazism and Communism, also supports and pushes dangerous ideas.

Irving Kristol (mentioned on four pages in this book) is considered the godfather of American neoconservatism. While speaking at New York University, the professor once said, "I'll put it bluntly: if you care for the quality of life in our American democracy, then you have to be for censorship." He has also said, "What rules the world is idea, because ideas define the way reality is perceived." After his recent death, he was described by The Daily Telegraph (a British paper that has been politically conservative in modern times) as being "perhaps the most consequential public intellectual of the latter half of the 20th century": great praise from the conservative media.

What did Kristol say about truth? "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults; and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."

The godfather of neoconservatives said that telling people what you want them to hear is okay. After all, Kristol was up front about his belief in the "noble" lie. Today's neoconservatives claim they are not telling lies, but how can we believe them? Before you decide for yourself, read the AARP Bulletin for September 2009.AARP published a piece on the hype, lies and facts regarding health care reform revealing one lie after another coming from the political right and their allies.

The Crusading Spirit is a disturbing book because it reveals dangers to the American way of life that are real. Here's a quote from page 346. "So-called 'dominionists, (not demonists)' who occupy the far right fringe of Christian fundamentalism, are the vanguard of a fascist movement in the US."

This is a powerful claim supported with compelling evidence. Two men are mentioned often in the book, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss. Schmitt joined the Nazi party in May 1933, and is sometimes referred to as "the crown jurist of the Third Reich." He has had a powerful influence over neoconservatives. Crusading Spirit maps the connections in convincing ways linking these dangerous Straussian ideas to the George W. Bush Whitehouse and many of his influential advisors, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Abram Shulsky, Stephen Cambone, Elliott Abrams, Stephen Hadley, and Douglas Feith (page 65) explaining in detail why America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan and how these wars were botched and why.

It is a tragedy that this book will not reach a wider audience. Like most books written by PhDs spending decades lecturing to students in universities, Crusading Spirit bogs down with a reading level far above the average American. I had to treat this book like the textbooks I studied in college by highlighting and underlining important passages to keep the connections straight.

Although this process was painful (like walking slow on a bed of hot coals), the reason why I kept at it was because I know someone that matches the description Bazillion uses to describe the characteristics and beliefs of the average far-right radical neoconservative/evangelical. That description matches a friend of mine, who, like George W. Bush, was born again.

Before I go any further, I recommend that you read Bart D. Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. After all, radical evangelicals are part of the unholy alliance between neoconservatives and Christians, so it is a good idea to understand them. If you research Ehrman's book, you will discover that he stirred up a controversy and that evangelicals scrambled to defend their beliefs.

Recent discussions with my born-again friend taught me that evangelical neoconservatives only see good and bad, black and white, no gray or in-between. It's as if they lost the ability to reason and are more of a cult than a religion. Biblical scripture, as literally interpreted by them, is their guide (read Ehrman). You either agree with them or you have been brainwashed by the so-called liberal media. Strong evidence supports the fact that the liberal media is an invention of the far right to confuse and influence America's non-reading millions. Consider that Rupert Murdoch, a known neoconservative, owns Fox News, along with News Corp, a media empire. (To learn more, read Ann Sanner).

Neoconservatives and their allies believe there is one way to rule the world, and they have a loud voice. The loudest comes from Rush Limbaugh, mentioned on page 331 in Crusading Spirit. This talk-show king of neoconservative radio has a listening audience between fifteen and thirty million people making his show the number one radio talk show in America. Rush often says that his audience, referred to as "ditto heads", does not have to think because he will think for them. It's scary when you consider that there are that many willing, easy to influence people in America, and they vote.

The second loudest mouth is Ann Coulter, who calls liberals and Democrats godless. There are others that belong to this mud-slinging, fire breathing, right-wing political mafia besides Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter: Glen Beck, Sean Hanity, Dennis Prager, Mark Levin, Michael Berry, Hugh Hewitt, and Mike Gallagher.

If you have swallowed the right-wing propaganda that the media is liberal, you probably do not trust anything you hear unless it is from a one-hundred-percent biased neoconservative pundit who may believe it is okay to tell a "noble" lie.

Now, back to my earlier statement about eligible voters compared to the numbers that did vote. To make this American experiment in democracy work, people must be involved and be literate enough to understand the issues. They have to read, too. Literacy plays a vital role in democracy, so let's learn a few things about literacy in America.

Truthdig.com says, "There are over 42 million American adults, 20 percent of whom hold high school diplomas, who cannot read, as well as the 50 million who read at a fourth or fifth-grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population is illiterate or barely literate. In addition, their numbers are growing by an estimated 2 million a year. But even those who are supposedly literate retreat in huge numbers into this image-based existence. A third of high school graduates, along with 42 percent of college graduates, never read a book after they finish school. Eighty percent of the families in the United States last year did not buy a book.”

"The illiterate rarely vote, and when they do vote they do so without the ability to make decisions based on textual information (unless someone like Rush Limbaugh tells them what to think). American political campaigns, which have learned to speak in the comforting epistemology of images, eschew real ideas and policy for cheap slogans and reassuring personal narratives. Political propaganda (mostly misleading lies and half truths) now masquerades as ideology."

In 2003, the government center of national assessment for adult literacy reported the
number of adults in each Prose Literacy Level. The Prose Literacy Levels are defined as:

Below Basic: no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills – 30 million Americans (14% of the adult population)

Basic: can perform simple and everyday literacy activities – 63 million Americans (29% of the adult population)

Intermediate: can perform moderately challenging literacy activities – 95 million Americans (44% of the adult population)

Proficient: can perform complex and challenging literacy activities – 28 million Americans (13% of the adult population)

Consider that Rush Limbaugh has an audience of thirty million (probably below basic) and a book like Crusading Spirit will be fortunate to find a few hundred and most if not all of those people will be "proficient" readers. To find a larger audience, Bazillion should slim down his book by cutting about a hundred pages (due to repetition), and simplify the language. However, the odds are that even if Bazillion rewrote his book so someone with a sixth-grade reading level could read it, they wouldn't be able to understand the importance of the information.

That's why a neoconservative voice like Rush Limbaugh wins with his "noble" lies, and the majority of Americans will eventually lose. Pundits like Limbaugh know how to reach intermediate, basic and below basic readers and control the way they think and vote. This explains why America ended up with George W. Bush in the White House for eight years. Liberal authors like Richard Bazillion should learn how to communicate from right-wing pundits to get his message out.


See Also: Richard J. Bazillion's Amazon Page
The PODBRAM review of Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Honest Sid


Honest Sid:
Memoir of a Gambling Man

by Ronald Probstein

(iUniverse / 1-440-14187-8 / 978-1-440-14187-4 / May 2009 / 208 pages / $17.95 / $12.21 Amazon / $27.95 hardcover / $19.13 Amazon / $9.95 Kindle)
Reviewed by Donna Nordmark Aviles for PODBRAM

Sid Probstein lived the life of a gambler and bookie in and around the area of Broadway in New York City during the post WWI and Great Depression era of the 1920’s and 30’s. Sid lived by the motto, “If you’re going to live outside the law, you’d better be honest.” Friendly and well liked, as well as a master of impression, Honest Sid (as he came to be known) was skilled at covering up his shortcomings, creating the guise of success and accomplishment while in fact, he was often just one bet away from financial ruin. Ever the optimist, Honest Sid was quick to find the silver lining in every cloud that darkened his path. He lovingly pursued his wife-to-be, Sally and doted on his only child, Ronald, whom he came to view as his one big success.

Author Ronald Probstein provides for us, in Honest Sid: Memoir of a Gambling Man, a peek inside the social scene of two important decades in American history through the daily life and experiences of his father. Much more insightful than a typical history textbook outlining the facts and figures of a generation, memoirs such as Honest Sid serve to reconstruct the fabric of daily life for which written evidence is often scarce and would otherwise be lost to those of us who have not lived it.

Ronald Probstein left his father’s world of illegal gambling after graduating from high school in 1944 and enrolling at New York University where, during his sophomore year, he was offered a paid research position and awarded an academic scholarship to continue his studies. Probstein went on to become an eminent scientist and is now Ford Professor of Engineering, Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although they came to lead dissimilar lives (My father neither knew nor understood anything about science or engineering), the father-son bond remained strong until Sid’s untimely death. Mr. Probstein’s book is a loving tribute to his father’s life and is of greatest value to both his family for generations to come, and to those of us who savor the opportunity to step back and experience life in a different time.

Technically this book is very well done with a uniform, visually appealing layout and only a few errors in spelling and punctuation – easily overlooked by the engaged reader. I would have enjoyed the addition of some period photographs not only of the book’s characters but also of the NYC landmarks mentioned in the book and the family’s various living and workspaces. I enjoyed reading and learning about Honest Sid and can readily recommend Mr. Probstein’s book to anyone with an interest in the memoir genre or life during the pre-depression and Great Depression era.


See Also: Ronald Probstein's Wikipedia Page
Ronald Probstein's MIT Page
Amazon Listing of the Author's Nonfiction Works

Monday, October 19, 2009

Success Story: Donna Nordmark Aviles


Good Morning!

Thank you to everyone who has supported my books and Oliver's story. Whether you are a teacher, a family member, or a friend, I value each of you and appreciate your interest and enthusiasm in support of my efforts to bring back the history of the Orphan Trains and their riders.

I was very excited to wake to the news this morning that the audiobook version of Fly Little Bird, Fly! and Beyond The Orphan Train, which was read by voiceover actor Drucilla Nordmark and produced at SubCat Studios in New York, was named the WINNER in the Non-Fiction Narrative Audiobook category of the National Best Books 2009 Awards sponsored by USA Book News. Peanut Butter For Cupcakes was named a FINALIST in the Non-Fiction Narrative category of the same Award Contest. Books entered in this award contest were from all types of publishing houses - both traditional and independent.

Additionally, for those who have not heard, I will be traveling to Salina, Kansas, for two weeks in April for a Book Tour sponsored by the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission. I will speak to over fifteen schools and many community groups, as well as participate in a fundraiser for the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, Kansas. Many thanks to Sara Gault of the Salina School District for making this Book Tour a reality!

And finally, In November I will be in NYC at the First Annual Self Publishing Book Expo representing my books and Wasteland Press.

Many thanks again for the blessing of your continued support, without which this story would likely still be sitting on my shelf!

Donna

Saturday, October 17, 2009

God's Money


God’s Money:
A Novel Based on Actual Events

by Tad Hutton

(Foremost Press / 0-981-84189-9 / 978-0-981-84189-2 / August 2009 / 134 pages / $11.97)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

In my previous review for PODBRAM, I observed that since books are food for the soul, then one might think of a particular book in terms of specific dishes. That tactic is useful with the present book. Take several nicely fried Filipino lumpia, a Vietnamese spring roll, a small saucer of Japanese sushi, some Chinese moo goo gai pan, and a bowl of steaming jasmine rice. Add a bottle of fish oil, Chinese mustard, plum sauce, a good soy sauce, chopsticks, and an American fortune cookie. The result: a small, exotic pan-Asian feast, highly satisfying and perhaps leaving you in good humor but wanting more. That's not a bad extended metaphor for God's Money, by Tad Hutton.

If the book is based on actual events, as is claimed, I have no knowledge of them, but they're not needed to enjoy the story. Basically, pirates sink a freighter, and a fortune in American money floats off, to be found years later by humble fishermen who must decide what to do with it. If you are thinking that the former owners of this money might get wind of the find and try to get the money back, you would be correct: thereby hangs our tale.

That bare outline could suggest yet another conventional boilerplate thriller, but that is not the case at all. Set among the thousands of islands in the South China Sea, the story is staffed with a marble cake of cultures, most of the representatives thereof qualifying as "characters" whatever their culture. The author seems well versed in the details of those cultures: of daily life, religion, bureaucracy, politics, and languages, all of which add to the sense of authenticity and local color. As for the characters themselves, start with a former Peace Corps volunteer/former financial manipulator, who got a little too clever in his dealings and decided to retire in obscurity to a small village on the South China Sea. Add a small group of poor but generous Christian fishermen and villagers, one timorous, bibulous Catholic Father, a boy who seldom speaks but who has a compass in his head and can commune with dolphins, a Filipino police lieutenant who has eyes for the village babe, comically grasping church officials, and an abandoned WWII Japanese soldier who has become a hermit and turned to meditation and the martial arts. Crown all with a truly scary pirate, and you have the makings of a juicy yarn.

The blurb says the story is unforgettable. This is a common claim for novels, but in this case it is justified. The writing and editing are pristine. My only complaint is that this "meal" (at only 134 pages) amounts to a working lunch. It could easily have been a banquet.


See Also: The Author's Website

Special Note: This is Tad Hutton's fifth book. His first two, published in '92 and '93 respectively, are out of print, but his third and fourth are available at Amazon alongside God's Money.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Recipe for Murder


Recipe for Murder: A Patrick and Grace Mystery, Book 2
By Janet Elaine Smith

(Star Publish / 1-932-99348-7 / 978-1-932-99348-6 / August 2006 / 160 pages / $16.95 / Amazon $13.22)
Reviewed by Dr. Al Past for PODBRAM

Patrick O'Malley is a retired New York City cop. Grace Johnson, a recent widow, does volunteer work as a cook at a homeless shelter. Though they have a bit of difficulty admitting it to anyone, the two are an item. In this second of three (so far) Patrick and Grace Mysteries, the duo, no longer young but as inquisitive and determined as ever, are perplexed by a letter from their gentle friend Walter, who has unaccountably disappeared from the homeless shelter's kitchen days earlier. Walter writes them he has returned to his childhood home in Albany, Nebraska, because of the death of his father. He adds that he needs a favor. He has found a “recipe for success”, but someone doesn't want him to have it, and in case anything happens to him, he is enclosing the key to his safety deposit box, the contents of which could make them millionaires.

Worried about their friend, they call his mother only to learn that Walter has died and his death was ruled a suicide. His mother, however, believes that cannot have been the case. Patrick and Grace decide to travel to Albany and investigate the matter.

What you have there, obviously, is a recipe for a murder mystery, one with detectives who call to mind the television show Murder She Wrote, which is in fact referred to in the story, since the characters themselves realize the parallel. Once in Albany, they encounter a number of citizens of the tiny town, leery of outsiders, and many of whom are worthy of suspicion. A gratifying number of complexities and reversals ensue before the guilty party is nabbed.

Recipe for Murder comfortably fits the classic definition of a cozy, light detective story with well-educated protagonists and little explicit violence. The title stayed in my mind as I coasted through the story, meeting the various odd characters of the town and pondering the mystery. Books are indeed food for the mind. Some amount to roast beef and mashed potatoes. Others might recall a hamburger and fries. An exotic, international volume might bring to mind General Tso's chicken, or even spigola arrosto alla ligure. Not a cozy, however. A cozy, to me, would be a dessert: a strawberry tart, pistachio gelato... or, in this case, applesauce and oatmeal cookies. Yes, that's it! How can I be so certain? It's easy: not only do applesauce and oatmeal cookies figure in the plot, the recipe is included at the back of the book. It's a fitting finish to a sweet mystery.


See Also: Interview with Janet Elaine Smith
Review of A Lumberjack Christmas
Review of A Christmas Dream

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Above the Fray


Above the Fray: A Novel of the Union Balloon Corps, Part One
by Kris Jackson

(CraigsPress / 1-607-48002-6 / 978-1-607-48002-0 / May 2009 / 304 pages / $19.95 / Kindle $3.99)
Reviewed by Malcolm R. Campbell for PODBRAM

Thaddeus Lowe said, “The sun’ll not rise today, Nathaniel. You and I shall have to rise to meet it.”

And so it is that a fifteen-year-old telegraph operator from Richmond inadvertently helps Professor Lowe direct a Federal artillery barrage by transmitting air-to-ground telegraph messages about the range and direction of fire. Lowe is pleased with the results, for the test further demonstrates the viability of aerial reconnaissance in the Civil War. Nathaniel Curry is conflicted when he realizes the target wasn’t a land formation but a secessionist battery at Falls Church, Virginia.

Kris Jackson’s protagonist in Above the Fray is in Washington, D.C., to help with the telegraph equipment while fellow operator Charlie Spence makes the ascent with Lowe. At the last minute, Charlie backs out, telling Lowe, “I’ll not go up in that thing again. I was scared to death the last time.” Charlie refused to reconsider even after Lowe tells him the test depends on him. Nathaniel suddenly blurts out, “I’ll do it.” Destiny, it seems, has called him into the war against the Confederacy— his family, his friends, his country.

In July 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Thaddeus Lowe Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps. Kris Jackson’s meticulously researched and well written novel brings to life a little-known civilian contract organization that supported Federal troops during the Civil War with real-time information and maps based on observations made from hydrogen balloons.

Part I of Above the Fray follows the battles of the Peninsula Campaign while Lowe’s Balloon Corps is assigned to General George McClellan. Mainstream readers will enjoy a dramatic story, while civil war enthusiasts will also appreciate Jackson’s attention to battlefield detail, balloon handling and equipment, and the highly credible interactions between the novel’s fictional characters with historical figures.

Service in the Balloon Corps represents a rite of passage for Nathaniel. Ballooning not only widens the physical horizons of his world, but plunges him into a role that exposes him to the ugliness of war and the condemnation of his brother who supports the South. Nathaniel’s sweetheart’s family is also fighting for the Confederacy, but she cautiously suggests that the Union cause might also be just if it brings an end to the immoral institution of slavery. Jackson has created a likeable character who questions why he is doing what he’s doing while learning to rely on spunk and grit to survive the war on a diverse team of aeronauts. For Nathaniel Curry, being above the fray does not mean being out of danger.

In addition to Lowe, the novel includes aeronauts John Wise and John LaMountain as well as the visiting Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Since most readers aren’t familiar with these individuals, the novel would be helped by an introduction or an author’s note that separated fictional characters from the obscure historical figures. The count’s presence foreshadows future developments in aviation while LaMountain’s presence brings another fine element of tension into the novel by illustrating differences between aeronauts. LaMountain was critical of Lowe’s reliance on tethered (secured to the ground with ropes) flight; Lowe thought LaMountain’s untethered flight made communication with the ground more difficult while adding control problems and other risks.

POD Book Reviews and More was sent only Part I of Above the Fray for this review. We don’t know why Above the Fray was split into two volumes or why those volumes are being offered as standalone books rather than a boxed set. Part I ends with a cliffhanger soon after the September 1862 Battle of Antietam. History tells us that Lowe resigned from the Balloon Corps in May 1963 due to continued pay and logistics disputes with the army. With Lowe’s absence, the corps folded up by August. This review, then, is provisional since we only considered half of the novel. If Part II measures up to the standards of Part I, then Kris Jackson has created a wonderful and informative story about a young protagonist who comes of age under fire at the same time the military’s use of balloons comes of age under fire.


See Also: Above the Fray, Part Two in Amazon Kindle
Kris Jackson's Authors Den Page
Kris Jackson Design
The March of Books Review
The Goodreads Review
The Amazon UK Review
The PODBRAM Review of Above the Fray, Part Two