The Shumblr

Mar 24

Goodreads: Book Review: Paying For It

Paying for ItPaying for It by Chester Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an autobiographical graphic novel about a guy who gives up on romantic love and instead decides to have sex with prostitutes. The book starts with being dumped by his last girlfriend, swearing off love. He then, eventually decides to start having sex with prostitutes because he doesn’t want to be celibate and he doesn’t have the social skills to pick up women for one night stands. The book follows his history of paying for sex. The last 5th or so of the pages are a series of appendices and notes. The Appendices contain a significant amount of time and space devoted to the authors arguments in favor of prostitution (and against romantic love.)

If you are looking for an honest account of prostitution, this is it. Unbiased, it is not. The author is a proud whoremonger, and this book is his policy piece for why.

I also would take a significant amount of umbrage with the authors arguments in favor of prostitution. And I say “in favor of prostitution” here, not “in favor of legalization (or decriminalization) of prostitution.” Because he, clearly, thinks prostitution is awesome.

Now, I would like to state that I am, actually, in favor of legalization of prostitution. For totally pragmatic reasons. I find it totally fascinating that prostitution is illegal, but so hard to control, that the police basically have no choice but to tolerate it. The current status of prostitution (legal but tolerated) in America is such that there are a large number of women participating in it, but who have all the downsides of working in an illegal field. Basically, I think that it is impossible to enforce prostitution laws, and also impossible to stop prostitutes and johns from participating in this trade, SO it should be made illegal to protect the prostitutes. However, I believe it should be regulated and taxed. I would like to add that I think prostitution is a sad thing, and it is against my personal moral beliefs. HOWEVER, I think that it is a personal choice and non of my business what other people do, so I do not judge them.

Chester Brown takes a completely different stance in this book, stating that he thinks prostitution should be decriminalized (not legalized.) Because it is none of the governments business if people are paying for sex. I’m not going to refute each of the authors points, point by point here, but suffice to say, I think his arguments are fairly delirious. At a high level, the author alternates between making pragmatic arguments in favor of one point, and arguing idealistic points (against pragmatic points that oppose his ideas.) But in the end, his argument just comes across as sounding like this: “I like prostitution, and I don’t want everything associated with it that legalization will bring (such as paying taxes.) So I want it to be decriminalized.” All in all, the author comes across as actually quite selfish in this book.

Furthermore, during his arguments, he says (numerous times) “This may be hard for people to understand, because they have not thought about it as much as I have.” To this, I can only say “F*ck You, Dude.” If he doesn’t understand how dismissive and condescending that comes across in a debate (or persuasive writing, as in here) he’s pretty hopeless.

Also, the series of arguments that the author puts forth against prostitution that he argues against are total strawmen. I’ll cut him some slack in that it is hard to present opposing arguments and then argue against them without falling into strawman arguments. But still, the appendices of his book are pretty much a strawman gallery.

Not only does the author argue for a change to the legal status of prostitution. He also argues for a change in the social status of prostitution, arguing that it should become social acceptable. Now, as I said before, I don’t judge people who engage in prostitution (Well, I do judge sex tourists who go to third world countries to have sex with prostitutes, but other than that…) I don’t think we should go around condeming prostitutes or their patrons. I don’t really think that is anyone’s business. And if you go around making people feel bad for that behaviour, you’re pretty much a dick. However, I do not think that prostitution should become socially acceptable. And I think that as I am tolerant of people who participate in prostitution. People who engage in prostitution should be tolerant of those who don’t and think it is morally wrong. We just should be accepting and not condeming, while we are free to define our own morale compasses.

The author also spends a great deal of space in the book devoted to arguing that romantic love is bad. He thinks that it is unrealistic and overly idealized. I agree with him, that in the west, this is the case. But I think he goes to the opposite spectrum, he overly demonizes romantic love, and that isn’t particularly useful either. I think people in the west need a more pragmatic view of love. but to say romantic love is evil, as the author does here, is just as bad as overly idealizing it.

The author portrays himself as a sensitive guy, but really he comes across as pretty creepy. The way he talks about women and their bodies is very superficial. On the one hand, I do applaud him for being honest, but on the other hand he does appear do be very into women and their looks (in the traditional sense) and unaccepting of nontraditionally hot body types.

All in all, the author seems like a very peculiar guy. He pretty much states this himself in his book. And his friend, who he let write a rebuttal, also states this. His friend states that Brown has a “limited range of emotions.” And if I had to guess (which I don’t but I will anyway) I would guess that the author falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. So, I think that prostitution works for this guy, and I’m not condeming him for it. I don’t think it would work for me. I’ll take some real human connection (sans exchange of goods or feduciary instruments) with my sex, thank you very much. But I think that in most cases, prostitution is not a good thing for the men and women to engage in. But I’m not to be the judge of that, and everyone has to make that decision for themselves. In actuallity this is pretty much what is going on right now, so we should just change the laws to allow this and let sex workers pursue their careers safely and legally.

I read this book because I saw it at Elliott Bay Book Company and I was buying some graphic novels to go on a trip with. Also, because I have a sort of morbid fascination with the phenomenon of prostitution and how it is illegal but basically tolerated.

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Goodreads: Book Review: The Architects of Time

The Architects of TimeThe Architects of Time by Etienne Schreder
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is some sort of corporate propaganda for Ebel Watches.

The book tries to draw metaphor between watch makers and architects. This is attempted by using a metaphor between Ebel’s, somewhat nonstandard and architecturally interesting, head quarters and the watch making business that they do.

The book was pretty much nonsensical and exceptionally hard to follow. At first I figured that it must have been written in another language and (poorly) translated into English. But, I think that it is actually just that bad.

The art was uninspired and the only cool thing about this book is that it did creatively use a mixture of colored and black and white panels. (Which I imagine were because the budget for the book could only include so many colored panels.)

This book sucks, don’t even bother.

I read this book because I got it on super sale, from Elliott Bay Book Company when they were moving from pioneer square to Cap Hill.

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Mar 22

Goodreads: Book Review: Cicada

CicadaCicada by Josue Menjivar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Plot Synopsis, basically sans spoilers, old guy with a washed up life checks into a Motel amidst the emergence of the 13 year Cicadas. He checks into a hotel room, begins popping pills to commit suicide. He reminisces about his life and mistakes. Calls and escort, all while Cidadas buzz around.

Ultimately, this is a short graphic novel and it is pretty clearly the author’s first attempt. I don’t know for sure that this is the author’s first published graphic novel. But it is the only work I’ve found listed anywhere. And, it is impressive for a first work. However, it leaves a lot to be desired. The portrayal of the main character and his personality shortcomings is way too ham fisted. His back story, wanting to be liked, is way to thoroughly explained. As is his complete fall from grace. Also, the “twist” is way too over the top.

Also, I’m pretty sure the Cicadas are a metaphor for something, but it is completely unclear what.

So, to concisely sum it up. The things that the author shows, such as character development, are way too clear, and the things the author doesn’t show enough of, such as metaphorical themes, are way not clear enough.

However, the Author does do some good, impressive stuff. The way that you feel about the main character, from sympathetic to plain pity at how screwed up he is. The ability to control your reader’s emotions this way shows good skill. Furthermore, the back story was explained pretty tersely, which shows good writing skill as well.

The art was not bad, but it wasn’t really anything to write home about. It would be more than sufficient if the author’s writing was a little better.

Ultimately this book shows quite a bit of promise, and if I see something else from this author again I’ll definitely give it a read.

I read this book because I got it on super sale from the old location of Elliott Bay Books.

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Goodreads: Book Review: Distrust That Particular Flavor

Distrust That Particular FlavorDistrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a big William Gibson fan. Even met the guy a few times, as my employer, in response to flagging stock prices has taken to bringing awesome authors in to do readings and meet and greets.

This book is a collection of Gibson's nonfiction and/or journalistic pieces, including speeches and forwards to books. William Gibson is a preeminently humble and and concscientous guy, albeit a total weirdo. And this comes through in this book. He wrote an introduction as well as a paragraph or two after each piece to describe it. Through out, Gibson is apologetic in the extreme for each piece’s short comings, and this is entirely unnecessary. Each piece contains clearly deeply thought out analysis written out along with Gibson's beautiful, almost poetic prose.

It is interesting to that even though Gibson clearly and thoroughly discusses the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction in this book, his writing style and use of language are actually quite consistent between the two. I found myself stopping while reading to just marvel at an amazing sentence that he has written.

The pieces in this collected work are:

African Thumb Piano - The introduction for this book. Where Gibson describes writing nonfiction and compares it to playing an instrument he doesn’t really know how to play, such as the African Thumb Piano.
Rocket Radio - Originally published in Rolling Stone. The rocket radio was a batteryless kit that he contstructed as a kid, that worked by attaching to large metal fences. He uses this as an example to show how old technology recedes into niche positions, but is never really replaced by the advance of technology. Gibson muses on how this can happen unpredictably. Reminds me of an article I once read by Andrew Odlyzko.
Any ‘Mount of World - Originally published in “Addicted to Noise”, this piece is a review of a new Steely Dan record. I’m not a Steely Dan fan, and hadn’t heard much of his music. So this piece was wasted on me. Though Gibson does point out, interestingly, that Steely Dan’s songs are about things like doing cocaine with underage girls, but because they have a lounge singery vibe they get played in elevators and grocery stores.
The Baddest Dude on Earth - Originally published in Time Asia, this piece is about Takeshi Kitano, a Japanese actor, type cast as a Yakuza Boss. This is the guy who played the Yakauza Boss in the film adaptation of Johnny Mnemonic. Apparently he got in a bad motorcycle accident after that movie.
Talk for Book Expo, New York - A speech that Gibson gave at the Book Expo in New York. Gibson talks about two recent scientific advances, quantum teleportation and synthetically creating bacteria and how these are two headlines that are real but seem as if they came from science fiction.
Dead Man Sings - Published in Forbes. They asked Gibson to write whatever he wanted, and he did. He wrote about how weird it is, in the history of the Human Species. That recording technology allows us to hear Elvis, a dead man, sing.
Up the Line - Speech given to the director’s guild of America. Gibson muses about how the origins of film came from our primate ancestors gathered around a fire on the savannah.
Disneyland with the Death Penalty - Originally published in Wired. Perhaps Gibson's best known journalistic work. Gibson went to Singapore and wrote about it, he was particularly critical of Singapore's totalitarian goverment. This article resulted in Wired being banned from Singapore.
Mr. Buk’s Window - Originally published at — This is about an antique dealers shop front in the Villiage and how the bizare objects displayed there have inspired him.
Shiny Balls of Mud: Hikaru Dorodango and Tokyu Hands - Originally published in the Tate Magazine, Gibson talks about three phenomenon in Japan and juxtaposes them: A self imposed period of self isolation that many men in their early 20s put themselves through, A specialty home improvement store (Tokyu Hands) and These shiny very smooth tiny balls of mud that little kids in preschools in Japan began making as a sort of fad.
An Invitation - Originally published as the forward to an english translation of Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths. Talks mainly about Gibson's relationship with Borges' workes.
Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities - Originally published in the Whole Earth Catalog. A book review on a history of London.
Modern Boys and Modern Girls - Originally published in The Observer. A discussion of Japanese youth culture, and how Gibson thinks it came about.
My Obsession - First published in Wired, Gibson talks about how he became obsessed with buying watches on ebay (and this was the first thing he really got into online.)
My Own Private Tokyo - First published in Wired, Gibson tries to explain why he is so fascinated with Japanese culture. Because they have so rapidly modernized in the last 160 (or so) years and how this has left the culture in permenant “future shock”.
The Road to Oceania - First published in The NYT - Gibson talks about 1984 and Orson Wells, on the occasion of Wells centenial. Very interesting take on what 1984 was really about. Also, Gibson takes this as an opportunity to talk about how science fiction really is a metaphor about the times when it is being written.
Skip Spence’s Jeans - First published in Ugly Things, Gibson talks about how he met the musician Skip Spence and how he had an immaculately tailored country music outfit. And how this made an impression and he didn’t actually here Skip Spence’s music until many years later.
Terminal City - Originally published as the introduction to Phantom Shangha a photo book of Shanghai.
Introduction: ‘The Body’ - Introduction to the book The Body, this is, I guess, a book about some performance artists who modifies his body.
The Net Is a Waste of Time - First published in the NYT, Gibson sort of rants on how the Net is a big time waster because people are currently in the phase of shuffling around trying to figure out how to use it. (This was published in 1996.)
Time Machine Cuba - First published in The Infinite Matrix, Gibson discusses H.G. Wells The Time Machine, and compares the end of the world described in that book, with other views, and juxtaposes this with growing up in the cold war and his memories of the Cuban Missle Crisis.
Will We Have Computer Chips in our Heads? - First published in Time, Gibson discusses if we will ever have silicon modifications to our bodies, as were in his earlier works. Gibson discusses this and speculates that this will not happen, as our computers will become more biological in nature, and anyway the trend in our technology is making it increasingly tailored to us.
William Gibson’s Filmless Festival - First published in Wired, Gibson discusses a digital film festival he put on and how he thinks that the “Garage Kubrick”, a DIY director will come about from complete digital film making (this character worked its way in some form to Pattern Recognition.
Johnny: Note on a Process - First published in Wired, Gibson write about working on the film of Johnny Mnemonic and how this process went.
Googling the Cyborg - Speech at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Gibson discusses how our conception of robots has changed and how the humanoid, or mobile robot is an obsolete idea, especially robots with human brains and robotic bodies (cyborgs) because technology, computers, robots and the nets are evolving and developing molded around us (humans) our minds and our habits.

A friend of mine once criticized Gibson's writing as “hypnotic.” Problematic only because once he has finished reading it, he can't remember it, he's only left with a feeling of satisfaction that he can't explain. I know what he is talking about. As I have experienced it also, and I frequently have to jump back a page or two, because I realized that I haven't been able to take in anything other than the language. Though, a little bit of back and forth is well worth the experience.

I read this book because I am a Gibson fanboy.

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Mar 20

Goodreads: Book Review: Jetlag

JetlagJetlag by Etgar Keret
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a collection of five short stories by Etgar Keret, each one illustrated by different artists. All the artists and the author are Israeli.

There are 5 stories in total in this book:

HaTrick: A magician’s favorite trick becomes a horrible surprise every time he performs it.
Margolis: A kid is given a piggy bank to save up for a toy. However, he becomes more attached to the piggy bank.
Jetlag: A surreal story of a transatlantic flight where a guy is being wooed by a stewardess while being seated next to a demented little girl.
Passage To Hell: A town in Uzbekistan houses the gates of hell, and every damned soul gets a day out every hundred years. This is the story of a woman who falls in love with one of these damned souls.
The Romanian Circus: A man falls in love with a clumsy tight rope walker.

HaTrick was quite disturbing, and it may be an effect of the translation but it came across as quite ham fisted. I liked the story, Margolis, quite a bit. When I was a kid, I remember feeling bummed out about having to break a piggy bank to get the money out of it. So I sympathize with the kid, and his overly sentimental tendencies. Jetlag was really weird and kind of disturbing. The passage to hell was an interesting story, but i only liked it a little bit. The Romanian Circus was kind of a cute love story, but I didn’t really like it that much. I only liked the art in Margolis story. The Romanian Circus had OK art. And I actively disliked the art in the other stories.

As a Jew, I feel some connection with Israel. As that is where most of the Jews in the world live. However, this book really underscores, to me, how different Israelis are from me culturally. Rarely, do books feel this foreign to me. Or, that may be Etgar Keret, or the translator. It is hard to say. Though, I may try to read some of his other works in translation, just to get an idea on if it is Israelis I feel alienated from, literarily, or just Keret.

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Oct 20

Stick Figure guide to AES

Oct 13

This American Life: Early Episode About Computer Hackers

Oct 06

All you ever needed to know about AES

Sep 18

Goodreads: Book Review: Selected Stories of Philip K Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a fairly comprehensive collection of PKD stories, included are:

Beyond Lies the Wub: The story of the “wub” a pig like alien native to mars. This story has strong vegetarian themes.
Roog: A story about what your dog is really barking at in the wee hours of the morning.
Paycheck: The story of a man who has his mind erased after a contract job, and instead of the paycheck he originally thought he was getting he only has a bag of tchotchkies. The basis for the Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman movie of the same name.
Second Variety: The story of earth after a devastating war between the Soviet Union and the West where the Americans let loose “blades” autonomous self replicating robots programmed to kill humans. The basis for the 90s movie Screamers.
Imposter: The story of a man, accused of being a robot imposter sent from an alien race from the beyond the solar system.
The King of the Elves: The story of a man who shows kindness to a lost group of elves, and ends up becoming their king.
Adjustment Team: In this story, god and the angels are members of a vast overworked bureaucracy busting their humps to make everything feel seamless for people. This is the story of what happens when they fail, just once.
Foster, Your Dead: A story of consumerism and cold war paranoia taken to their extreme. An America where people feverishly spend to keep up with the Joneses bomb shelter. This is the Story of a boy, Mike Foster, whose father isn’t buying into the new society.
Upon the Dull Earth: The story of a girl with the magical ability to call angels to feed on fresh blood. Similar in many ideas to teh story “Adjustment Team.”
The Minority Report: A story of a police force that uses psychics to catch criminals before they commit their crimes. The basis for the Tom Cruise movie of the same name.
The Days of Perky Pat: In a post apocalyptic America, where the human survivors are looked after by benevolent martians, the people occupy themselves by playing “Perky Pat”.
Precious Artifact: In this story a Terraforming engineer on Mars has doubts about how Earth has fared in an interstellar war. Possibly a complimentary story to “Imposter” and “A Game of Unchance”.
A Game of Unchance: In this story, settlers on Mars find aren’t sure if they cheated or were cheated when they try to use psychic abilities to cheat some interplanetary carnies.
We Can Remember it for your Wholesale: A man wants to go on vacation to Mars, but can’t afford it. So he pays to have memories of the trip implanted so that he thinks he went. The basis for the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall.
Faith of Our Fathers: This short story is what 1984 would have been like if it was written by Hunter S Thompson.
The Electric Ant: The story of a man who finds out he is actually an Android, and a fairly unadvanced one at that. Possibly takes place in the same universe as Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep (There is a throwaway line that Electric Ants are forerunners of the Replicants.
A Little Something for us Tempunauts: A group of time travelers goes a few days in the future, and finds that they were killed when they returned to their present (a few days in the past.) They have to solve the mystery of what killed them, before they go back to the past, and their deaths, in a few days.
The Exit Door Leads In: In this story a man wins admission to college from a fast food competition.
Rautavaara’s Case: Told as court transcripts of an interstellar law suit. Alien’s revive the brain of a recently deceased human scientist, and perform experiments on altering her perception of the afterlife.
I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon: In this story a man’s mind comes out of suspended animation, while his body remains frozen for transport on a long interstellar voyage. He lives through all his old memories for 10 years.

I read this because I wanted to read the actual short story version of “The Electric Ant” before I read the Marvel Comic Adaptation. And also, because I am a big fan of Philip K Dick.

Dick is often given the left handed complement of being “high brow” pulp fiction. He does have have amazing ideas, well thought out, but the execution, the tactical writing, his use of language, etc, is nothing spectacular. However, even in this regard he is a good deal more competent than average pulp science fiction. So, I do not totally agree with this criticism.

In my opinion the literary community does not take Dick as seriously as Kurt Vonnegut, who was ultimately a quite similar writer. Vonnegut often included Kilgore Trout, a fictionalization of his friend Theodore Sturgeon but who many take and interpret as a sort of foil to himself as the author. Trout is a down and out Pulp Sci-Fi writer whose talent and ideas went largely unrecognized because of his chosen Medium. However, Dick realized the essence of Kilgore Trout as much as any man truly could. Dick is as close as can be to the platonic form of the under appreciated, struggling science fiction writer who suffers for his art.

That said, Dick’s subject material, is undoubtedly the stuff of pulp fiction: Androids, psychics, secret agents, time travel, interstellar wars and the post apocalypse all feature prominently in his work. But within each of these banal sci-fi subjects, Dick explores deep literary themes.

In this collection, like much of his work, Dick wrote about religion and God’s relation with respect to humans, but not in any sort of static or dogmatic ways. He examines many angles of God: Such as a bureaucratic manager of the universe, modifying subtle coincidence to manipulate humans and our affairs. As a simultaneous benevolent and malevolent force cruelly destroying us in life, but ultimately redeeming our souls. Or as a mere spiritual engineer, who engineered our realm and then passed on from the Angelic realm, as we will eventually pass on this realm, up some infinite ladder of transcendence.

In addition to religion, Dick focuses on the more ever present probem of perception. The theme of how we can never truly trust our senses runs through our work. For example, how do we know that any thing is as we left it? After all, if I’m on Mars, perhaps Earth has been destroyed by Alien invaders. The information that we are getting is so easily manipulated by others, perhaps we are unsuspectedly walking into a trap when we think we are doing the trapping. Or as the main character of “The Minority Report” finds himself trapped by information that he previously defended and promoted, when the psychics he uses to catch precriminals accuse him of future-murder. Dick also dives into the deeper problem of how do we know who we are or what we’ve done? If we are given false memories we could have been on Mars or we could be a Robot unexpectedly carrying out some other’s will.

Dick also laments the cruel nature of humans, in his stories about war, especially apocalyptic nuclear wars like “Second Variety, as well as Man’s inhumanity to animal, in “Beyond Lies the Wub” and “Roog”. I don’t know if Dick was a vegetarian or not, but his sympathetic stories and take on animals communicate some of my feelings about animals, better than any sort of Vegetarian propaganda.

Despite the fact that Dick had some serious literary themes going on through his work, he doesn’t come across as moralizing or overly pedantic. Rather, these themes flow from his work and seem natural within it. So, they remain entertaining. Furthermore, he has plenty of stories that are just plain fun and don’t dabble in high minded literary shenanigans.

I think the best way to think of Dick is as the Pop Artist. I have no doubts of his literary value or skill, however one must accept that his medium was in fact Pop art, or in this case, pulp fiction. Dick must not be judged for his choice of medium, but rather his execution within that Medium. And for me, there is no doubt that Dick is the master of this Genre. And what’s more, he has successfully demonstrated that this medium is in fact a valid literary form. Which, is of course, not an easy task given the wide spread disregard for it.

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May 25

Goodreads: Book Review: Kindle Shortcuts and Kindle-Friendly Websites

Kindle Shortcuts and Kindle-friendly Websites

Kindle Shortcuts and Kindle-friendly Websites by MobileReference

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This “kindle book” is really more of an ePamphlet advertising MobileReference’s ebooks. However, even so the eBook only costs $0.25, and at this price is well worth it. This is basically a users manual for many un- or under- documented features of the kindle, and I’m happy to have it for reference. The $.25 is even worth it to get the compendium of kindle friendly links.

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