Friday, September 29, 2006

Book Review: "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair

I read a couple of books recently that kept referring to Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle." Those books were "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser and "Don't Eat this Book" by Morgan Spurlock. These books were mainly books about the corruption and "unhealthiness" of the fast food industry. They all referred to the Meat packing industry where corruption still runs unchecked. "The Jungle" spurred some reaction from government when it was written because of the exposing of corruption and "unhealthiness" of the meat packing industry. The public outcry that resulted from this novel led to the 1906 Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. It also, however, led to a report issued the same year by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Husbandry that refuted the worst of Sinclair’s allegations. The public’s perception at this time was that the meatpacking industry feared these Acts. What was unrecognized, however, was the fact that meatpackers knew they were viewed with contempt, and facing substantial losses, the industry actually supported the Acts. They just did not want to be the ones to pay for the implementation. These Acts allayed most fears, and ironically, actually favored big business, which was the opposite of Sinclair’s intention.

Knowing that a novel could have such an impact, I had to read the book.

In "The Jungle" we follow a family of Lithuanian immigrants as they leave their country and set out to live the American Dream. Soon that dream is realized to be a nightmare. They are robbed by corrupt police upon their arrival in New York City and finally make their way to Chicago and to the stockyards where the main Character, Jurgis Rudkus has a friend that he has heard has "made it" in America. The friend runs a deli just outside of the stockyards where the families in the area all work at the stockyards. In order for any family to survive, as Jurgis finds out, all members must work, including children. They are taken on a tour of the stockyards all the way from the killing floors to the packing rooms. At first Jurgis is impressed by the speed and efficiency of the process. But once he begins work on the killing floor he sees and experiences all forms of corruption.

Jurgis and family are constantly followed by disaster, from Jurgis hurting his back and missing work to the death and disappearance of several family members. We follow Jurgis's plight as he is optimistic and willing to work to support the family, to being blacklisted from the stockyards, to "hoboing it," to a life of crime, to assisting in political graft and finally to becoming a voice for socialism.

Throughout the book nothing good ever seems to happen to Jurgis until (spoiler alert) he discovers Socialism. At this point the book becomes more of primer on Socialism and starts to become a series of philosophical discussions on the same.

Up until the discovery of Socialism the book is a heartstring tugging insight to the working man's world of the turn of the 20th century. The constant battles, struggles and disasters are enough to make the reader want to give all his earnings to the poor man. And serve as a great reminder of where this nation was 100 years ago.

I would normally tell you at this point to either enjoy the book or not to bother. It's hard to enjoy the hardships, but I think this should be a book to include in your must read list.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:31 PM Comments: 0

Friday, September 22, 2006

Book Review: "Abadazad: Book 1 -The Road to Inconceivable" by J.M. DeMatteis Illustrated by Mike Ploog.

What do you get when you cross a couple of comic book guys with a great idea for juvenile fiction? You get the latest series based book craze that'll keep the kids reading, the Abadazad series.

Before the Abadazad series found its way to book format, it had a cult following as a comic book in the comic book world. The comic that told the story of 14-year-old Kate and her search for Matty, her missing little brother who is trapped in a world with a queen with three eyes and a dream thief.

The publishers of the original comic book—CrossGen—went bankrupt and the Abadazad saga came to an end. But that ending didn't last long! Disney Publishing brought Abadazad back to life. The first two books in the series—The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief—cover the original story told in the comic, but in book form.

The new Abadazad book series stays true to the original vision of the writer/artist team, D.C. Comics' J.M. DeMatteis and Shrek illustrator Mike Ploog. The first book in this series, The Road to Inconceivable, opens with Kate trying to come to terms with the disappearance of her little brother, Matty. After 5 years she still misses him, and her relationship with her mother offers no comfort. Just when Kate's about to accept that she will never see him again, meets the neighbor across the hall who has some strange stories and and "artifacts" from a mysterious world called Abadazad. After The death of her neighbor Kate receives a strange package which contains a glowing crystal ball. This ball then stransports her to Abadazad, where she finds out that her brother is being held captive. Now Kate has to make a brave choice: Risk everything she's ever known to try and find him or ... For Kate, there is no "or." The choice is easy. What follows is anything but.

I will tell you that the ages listed on the book are for 9 to 14...but since there is no time in Abadazad, I recommend you read it with your kids. I thought it was a great read. In fact, I could not put this book down and read it in one night. Now where is book 2.

To know the book it is great to know the author and illustrator. At least in this case. I'm a huge comic books fan and J.M. DeMatteis has worked on my favorite, Spider-Man, so I was drawn (pardon the pun) to this book.

Eisner Award winner J.M. DeMatteis was a professional musician and rock music journalist before entering the comic book field. He has extensive experience writing comic books where his work has won both popular and critical acclaim. His projects have ranged from Spider-Man and Superman to The Justice League. He has also received great acclaim for his groundbreaking personal visions, such as Moonshadow, Seekers Into the Mystery and the autobiographical Brooklyn Dreams. He lives with his family in upstate New York.

Mike Ploog has created art for a wide variety of comics, books and movies. He began drawing for Marvel, where he was involved in many of their best-known titles and cult favorites such as Ghost Rider, Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing. He was a designer and storyboard artist on dozens of major motion pictures—both animated and live-action—including Shrek, The Lord of the Rings, Disney's The Black Cauldron and Little Shop of Horrors. He lives and works in Devon, England.

Books #1 and #2, The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief, are the first two books in this series. Book #3: The Puppet, the Professor, and the Prophet will be available March 2007. Book #4: Historcery will be available Summer 2007.

Check out their cool website

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posted by Gil T. @ 1:34 PM Comments: 0

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Book Review: "The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness" by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

The idea for individuals to be nice to each other and the rewards will come has been out there for a while. There's the "teachings" of Deepak Chopra, the movie "Pay it Forward," "The Power of Positive Thinking" (although this one is more on an individual level), Chicken Soup for the Soul and Random Acts of Kindness. These are simple ways of living in which we can be nice to one another and "karma" or the universe will see to it we get our just rewards.

Well now the business world can take heed. "The Power of Nice" has a business approach to being nice that can help your business grow faster than dog-eat-dog. The authors have cited their own examples of how this has worked for them and have gathered real-life examples from others in the business world. You will read examples from Donald Trump (yes he can actually be nice) to Jay Leno.

Now, the really interesting part of this book is not the examples but they have exercises at the end of the chapters, which they call "Nice Cubes" that can help you actually put it into practice. They have also created "The Six Power of Nice Principles" which are a great way to refresh your self and your co-workers on how to be nice in the business world.

Here are the 6 Principles:

1. Positive Impressions are like seeds.

2. You never know.

3. People change.

4. Nice must be Automatic.

5. Negative Impressions are like germs.

6. You will know.

For further explanation of the principles check out this great book. You might even do good giving your boss or sales force gifts of the book.

Also check-out their Website.

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posted by Gil T. @ 8:02 PM Comments: 0

Thursday, September 14, 2006


This Friday, ONE and EDUN will launch a special edition ONE T-shirt, made by local artisans in Lesotho -- one of the poorest nations in the world. The workers who produce these shirts can earn enough to provide for their entire family. In part, this factory, along with others just like it, is the result of a historic bi-partisan effort by the United States to help 37 African nations develop their industries and rise out of poverty.

But this amazing accomplishment is now in serious danger. If Congress doesn't act in the next few weeks, a critical provision of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will expire -- jeopardizing tens of thousands of jobs and the future of the entire African clothing industry.

If we act quickly, we have the power to stop this. That's why today we're calling on Congress to renew this provision without delay. To really turn up the heat, we'll publish the name of ONE members who support this extension in a full page ad in Roll Call -- the Capitol Hill newspaper that every member of Congress reads.

Please add your name to ONE's full page ad in the Capitol Hill Newspaper, Roll Call.

AGOA is a win-win agreement where American businesses invest in developing African industry. In return, African industry provides American consumers with high-quality low-priced goods. It would be crazy for Congress to let this important provision expire.

Failing to renew it would be disastrous. As the Wall Street Journal put it, "The bottom line is that if the provision on using outside fabric dies, so will Africa's assembly industry, which is a particularly important source of jobs for women."

When it comes down to it, for these workers voices to be heard in American politics, they need your voice. And this is a moment when they simply cannot afford for any of us to remain silent. When you see the ONE T-shirt on Friday, you'll know you did your part to ensure apparel workers in Africa can keep right on working.

Please add your name to ONE's full page ad in the Capitol Hill Newspaper, Roll Call.

Thanks for your voice.

P.S. Learn more about AGOA and the provision that will expire if Congress doesn't act.

Take action now at

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posted by Gil T. @ 10:17 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Review: "Water for Elephants: A Novel" by Sara Gruen

"Water for Elephants" has got to be one of the most beautifully and creatively written books from this century. Sara Gruen introduces us to Jacob Jankowski at the age of 90 (or is it 93?, he's not sure) and Jacob at the age of 23. The book is written as though the elder Jacob's memories are jostled back as a circus is setting up the big top next to the nursing home where Jacob now lives.

The flashbacks happen throughout the book as Jacob is sleeping or rambling to a nurse. The book opens with a stampede in a menagerie of a circus and some man with a top hat and cane is either trampled or beaten to death. It only comes clear in the unraveling of the story. And the rest of the book we spend jumping back and forth from the nursing home to Jacob's life during the early years of the depression.

The young Jacob is about to graduate from Cornell with a degree in Veternary Science. He will then go home and go into practice with his dad as the town's Vet. Then the bad news hits. Jacob's parents are killed as their car is run off a bridge. He then has to go back and identify the bodies and put things in order. When he arrives at his home he finds out his parents mortgaged the home to pay for his college. Being the Great Depression, Jacob's parents owe more than their estate is worth and the bank possesses the home and family practice. Jacob returns to school just in time to take his final exams but walks out when he realizes he has no home, no parents nothing. He ends up jumping a train just to leave.

The train he jumps on is a circus train. The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth is a roving fleabag ensemble of "cooch tents," "kinkers," and "hay burners," whose tyrannical m.c, Uncle Al is always on the lookout for "born freaks." Uncle Al is also wanting to be the next Ringling Brothers. After some wrangling Jacob becomes the circus's veternarian, after all Ringling has their own vet. Jacob falls in love with Marlena the Horse Trainer/Performer. The problem is Marlena is married to August the paranoid schizophrenic. August is the circus's animal handler. And is often prone to outbursts of violence which most of the time he takes out on the animals. Especially when the circus gains ownership of Rosie, the elephant. Jacob's love of Marlena and the animals gets him to hate August, but needing the job he stays out of August's way. The anger of August and the love between Jacob and Marlena bring this book to a very exciting climax.

One of the best parts of the book is when we are with Jacob 90 (or is it 93?), the wry look at life and humor in the character creates some really great "comic relief."

Enjoy this book, I did.

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posted by Gil T. @ 3:44 PM Comments: 0

Review: "Deception Point" by Dan Brown

WOW just wow. I have just completed reading my 3rd book by Dan Brown, and I am still out of breath. "Deception Point" is a thrill a minute. It is like watching a season of "24" but all at one sitting.

I guess I should tell you about the book. First you have a very close presidential campaign. One candidate, the incumbent,President Hearny, is a huge NASA supporter. His opponent, Senator Sedgwick Sexton, bases his campaign on the issue that NASA is a losing venture and should be privatized so taxpayer money could be used for other endeavors like public schools. Senator Sexton, may be ahead in the polls and could win the election hands down, isn't playing fair. First he is under suspicion of accepting enormous illegal campaign contributions from private aerospace companies who have billions to gain from the privatization of NASA. And has already been under the thumb of the press of a sex scandal with his lead campaign aid.

Then the world changes. A NASA satellite detects a large, high-density rock buried 200 feet below the Milne Ice Shelf on Ellesmere Island, high in the Arctic Circle. NASA scientists determine the rock to be a meteor containing fossils proving that life exists elsewhere in the universe. This looks great for the President, but he even finds it a little "convenient" in the timing. So he brings on 4 independent, civilian scientists to prove the meteor is for real. And to help further the proof, he brings on intelligence analyst Rachel Sexton, the daughter of Senator Sedgewick Sexton.

The excitement begins when the scientists start to doubt the authenticity and then start dying. The race begins back to Washington D.C. from the Arctic Circle to stop the President from announcing the meteor to the world. And all along finding further proof the meteor has been faked. The scientists will "parasail" across a glacier in the Arctic Circle, ride an ice berg and then ride a submarine in the Arctic Ocean. Then fly by helicopter to a research vessel sitting on top of a volcano about to blow off the New Jersey coast. Oh yeah, and this vessel is surrounded by deadly hammerhead sharks. All this time being chased by the military elite "Delta Force." Oh, wait, did I tell you that before all this Rachel rides an f-14 to the Arctic Circle?

It's non-stop action and science and espionage in "Deception Point." Make sure you have some time set aside for this page turner you won't be able to put down.

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posted by Gil T. @ 1:20 PM Comments: 0

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Review: "The Frog King" by Adam Davies

"The Frog King" by Adam Davies

Harry Driscoll is "The Frog King." This freshman book by Adam Davies is yet another one of those young guy having a rough times trying to succeed in NYC stories. Once I started reading this book I had to go out and rent that 80's movie with Michael J. Fox, no not "Back to the Future", "Bright Lights, Big City." "The Frog King" is the same sans wild cocaine use and sans Michael J. Fox. Okay I guess it is only similar in that both main characters are assistant editors for a publishing company and both characters have a love interest that was the greatest thing in the world but they both are selfish "smart asses" and lose the girl.

Okay "The Frog King" is actually no comparison. This book while having some similarities to the movie & book "Bright Lights, Big City" it presents a new fresh view. Harry, or "Hairball" to his girlfriend Evie Goddard, is struggling to make ends meet. He has a low salary despite his Ivy League education and has to share an apartment with a strange roommate that has strange affinity toward knives and says never let the superintendent see you. So as you can see, that's a bit sneaky. As an assistant editor he has taken it upon himself to rid the world of cliches. And In relationships he's a typical guy unable to make a commitment and cannot allow himself to use the word love. Oh yeah and he has this manuscript that he just can't seem to write.

Enter his "E" girlfriend, Evie. Harry claims to have problems with "E" girls like; Candi, Jenny, Laurie, or any other girl whose name ends in the "E" sound. And now he has Evie. Evie and Harry have a very intellectual relationship and at the same time very childlike. Evie has endometriosis and has lived with the pain all her life. She cannot have sex due to the pain. But for Harry, she has a very risky surgery so they can share that experience. Throughout this book Harry, talks about her as if she is the only thing in his life. With one exception, he cannot use the word love. Harry in order to further his career starts sleeping with a famous editor, he thinks he's keeping it from Evie but she knows.

So there we have the ongoing battle between a man and his love. Throughout the book we are introduced to some of the book's side characters. There is Keeno, an artist that is Harry's voice of reason. Birdie a homeless girl, that pops up to show Harry's "human" side. And Jordie, the dictionary editor, who Harry wishes he had Jordie's life of a loving wife and family. All the characters in this book are beautifully written and definitely multi-dimensional. Although we learn to love/hate Harry at least we know why.

Although Harry is selfish and never tells Evie he loves her he does come up with some very romantic ways of showing his affection. Like when they couldn't afford to go to Jamaica for vacation, Harry decorates his apartment in a Rasta fashion, although the sand is simulated by the dirt & grit on the linoleum floor. Hey, he tries.

I will warn you this book does not have a happy ending, nor does it have a sad ending. It's is a very real book in that it really doesn't have an ending. In this book the ending is not what the reader seeks, in fact I didn't want it to end. The storytelling is captivating. Another feature is the constant wordplay and even the logomachy between Harry and Jordie. If you don't know what logomachy is read the book and it'll be fun.

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posted by Gil T. @ 6:42 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Keep Propaganda Off The Airwaves


The ABC television network -- a cog in the Walt Disney empire -- unleashed a promotional blitz in the last week for a new "docudrama" called "The Path to 9/11". ABC has thrown its corporate might behind the two-night production, and bills it as a public service: a TV event, to quote the ABC tagline, "based on the 9/11 Commission Report".

That's false. "The Path to 9/11" is actually a bald-faced attempt to slander Democrats and revise history right before Americans vote in a major election.

The miniseries, which was put together by right-wing conservative writers, relies on the old GOP playbook of using terrorism to scare Americans. "The Path to 9/11" mocks the truth and dishonors the memory of 9/11 victims to serve a cheap, callous political agenda. It irresponsibly misrepresents the facts and completely distorts the truth.

Join me in telling Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger to keep this propaganda off the air.


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posted by Gil T. @ 4:24 PM Comments: 0