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Randal

Randal

David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient - David Tanis

A wonderful cookbook, chock-full of easy to prepare dishes. Loaded with beautiful photographs.
Personally, having just recently returned from Italy, I was thrilled with the "Pasta Cacio e Pepe" (pasta, cheese and pepper), and the "Pizza Bianca". Upon making them both, my wife and I felt like we were back in Lombardy! A big fan of Asian food, I was happy with the simplicity and deliciousness of the "Spicy Peanut Noodles". And, being confronted with a barrage of fresh tomatoes from our garden, the tomato recipes will be very fun to experiment with.
This is a fun, unpretentious cookbook. Perfect for anyone who just wants to prepare simple, fresh, and delicious food!

The New Wild West: Black Gold, Fracking, and Life in a North Dakota Boomtown - Blaire Briody

Briody's book documents the rise (and fall) of America's latest "gold rush", fracking. The newfound ability to unlock formerly unattainable (financially and technically) oil reserves. She does this through telling the story of the Bakken oil field in North Dakota. The perfect place to explore this new technology, a relatively poor, unpopulated, and somewhat isolated area of the country. A place that really needed the financial gains that would be provided by the business. A place that wouldn't be readily under the eye of environmentalists or conservationists. A place where it seems a little money spread around would appease any government officials who grew concerned about the effects on the environment.
Briody explains the reasons why the newest "gold rush" was welcome. They are eerily similar to former get rich quick schemes in our past. Following the economic problems created by the housing collapse, there were a lot of "blue collar" workers who found themselves out of work, unable to find new jobs, or to afford the homes they were living in. As she points out, "manufacturing lost 6 million jobs between 2000 and 2009, and the construction industry shed another 2 million during the recession...the oil and gas industry, particularly in western North Dakota, emerged as a shining mecca". A large migration of these people began to the North Dakota oil field.
In her book, the author concentrates on the Williston, ND, area. Part of my territory in my career had been spent covering North Dakota. The Williston area, while having wonderful people living there, was not a booming metropolis. It was ill prepared for a large influx of people, most of whom were young men. It did not have housing, shopping, roads, hospitals, sanitation facilities, etc, etc, for an overnight influx of people. Yet, suddenly, there they were. Men were forced to live in camping trailers, tents, or worse. Suddenly confronted with a group of young men with no outlets for "recreation", Williston found itself inundated with strip joints, bars, drug use, and prostitution. Locals found themselves forced out of their housing because of astronomically rising rents. The author discovered that statewide, homicides were at the highest level in 20 years. Rapes were at the highest level in 10 years. Drug related arrests were up 64 percent since 2002. And alcohol was a factor in more than half of the deadly traffic accidents in the state in 2012.
Yet, the social impacts were not the worst of the problems Williston found itself facing. Environmentally, fracking was destroying the area. Oil and chemical spills abounded. Water quality went downhill. And no one was acting to protect the environment. As the author pointed out, "Back in 2005, when fracking for natural gas was growing rapidly, the Bush-Cheney administration passed a bill that exempted fracking operations from the Safe Drinking Water Act". Contracts were structured so that if any accidents happened on site, the big oil companies were insulated so that small companies were stuck with any fines or legal proceedings. State agencies, responsible for enforcing rules regarding spills and other violations, dropped the ball. In a three year period, the state issued fewer than 50 fines for all drilling violations, including thousands of spills. And the Federal Government was hamstrung. The EPA could only investigate spills on federal lands, it had to refer incidents on private property to the (nonexistant) state regulators.
As with all get-rich-quick schemes, eventually the boom crashed. Oil prices plummeted. By 2016, the price per barrel of oil was under $35, down from the peak of $145 eight years earlier. Some 10,000 jobs were cut over 2015 in North Dakota. For the most part, thousands of blue-collar workers were back where they started, struggling to survive.
The author pointed out an interesting side-note. "The worry and uncertainty oil workers felt during this time coincided with the rise of Donald Trump's popularity during the 2016 election. Trump campaigned heavily in oil patch regions and tapped into people's anger. He blamed the struggling oil industry on President Obama's regulatory policies and promised to use his business prowess to unleash a U.S. energy revolution". (Yeah, how's that working out for you?)
Please don't get the impression that this is a book filled with facts and figures. The author illustrates the issues by concentrating heavily on characters she meets in the oil fields. Middle-class people working in the area. She explores the effects of working the industry has on these people, their families, and their friends. She covers a 50-ish woman working the area, an alcoholic drifter, a young family man and his family, and a priest, amongst others.
If I had one issue with the book, it is that I wish Briody would have covered a larger segment of people in the area. Perhaps some people actually involved in the oil industry (above the common working people). Maybe some more of the people who were from the area prior to the boom, and their feelings and experiences. Some of the state representatives, and explored their opinions. I think the book would have been much better if the author had explored a wider range of characters.

Hmmm....maybe?

Cannabis for Chronic Pain: A Proven Prescription for Using Marijuana to Relieve Your Pain and Heal Your Life - Dr. Rav Ivker

I have to admit, this was a stretch for me. After 28 years in law enforcement, my experience with marijuana was of a whole different world. Strictly against it.
Enter retirement, and a major stroke in 2014. One that left me paralyzed for weeks. Finally, after 3+ years of hard work, I'm almost completely recovered. Except for my left leg, which is going to be messed up. The limp isn't so hard to reconcile, but the nightly spasms and pain are a different story. I've tried everything....exercise, PT, massage, and a whole range of medications. The meds help, but only to a certain extent.
Enter my neighbors. I'm fortunate (?) enough to live in Washington State, home of "legal weed". My neighbor also has damaged nerves, and recommended an ointment that is cannabis based. Before I dive into the nefarious world of "devil weed" and become a drug-addled zombie (I'm kidding, a bit), I determined to research this area thoroughly. But where? It's not like I can go to my GP or neurologist and say "hey, thanks, but this isn't working, can you recommend some good pot"?
Enter this book.
Ivker, as you might guess, is a big proponent of the use of cannabis for chronic pain. And he makes a strong argument for it. Including many case studies. Through the reading of this book, I learned that I don't have to "light up a doobie" or anything like that. There's smoking, vaping (neither for me), edibles, drops, and tinctures.
And he explained the differences between THC and CBD levels. Basically, one is to get high (THC), the other for pain relief. And that you can get marijuana specifically tailored to what you are seeking. What a concept! I could take an edible with a high CBD level, little or no THC, and not find myself running naked through the neighborhood baying at the moon (okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but come on, 28 years law enforcement!).
Will I do it? Take the plunge? Not sure yet, but if the pain keeps getting worse, yeah, sure. Maybe I'll venture into one of the dozens of marijuana stores flooding Washington and see what it's all about. It's good to have an option!

The Best American Magazine Writing 2017 - Sid Holt, The American Society of Magazine Editors

"The Best American Magazine Writing 2017" is, just as it says, a collection of great magazine articles written in 2017. Duh! Now, how to write a review based on a wide-ranging selection of stories.....
I found some of the articles to be fascinating. Jeffrey Goldbergs "The Obama Doctrine", written for the Atlantic, was one. It really brings the sometimes confusing style and thinking of President Obama into focus. A thorough examination, it's not one based on the 30 second sound bites we received from the national news. Rather, it appears to get through the hype and really explain Obama's reasoning. I only wish Obama himself could have explained himself better, to a wider audience, in language they could understand. Then, maybe, people would appreciate him more.
Another great article was by Matt Taibbi, of Rolling Stone. "President Trump, Seriously and "Appetite for Destruction" and the Fury and Failure of Donald Trump. A serious examination of how we (America) got to where we are today. The failure of the two party system. I'm going to quote some of the article, but it really helps to get the gist of it. "Lie No. 1 is that there are only two political ideas in the world, Republican and Democrat. Lie No. 2 is that the parties are violent ideological opposites, and that during campaign season we can only speak about the areas where they differ (abortion, guns, etc) an never the areas where there's typically consensus.....Lie No. 3 is that all problems are the fault of one party or the other, and never both. Assuming you watch the right channels, everything is always someone else's fault." How true!
My favorite article was written for Mother Jones, by Shane Bauer. It was called "My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard". Bauer spent four months working for a private, for-profit prison. I, myself, worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 21 years. It was interesting to see the growth of Bauer as he worked as a correctional officer. I experienced many of the same emotions and questions, found myself at similar crossroads, and thought many times whether or not I was crazy for choosing this career. The author has a way of putting into words many disparate thoughts and ideas that he had. While his stint was for a pay-to-play company, and I think a much less "honorable" organization, he learned some valuable lessons about himself. There is one line in the article that really, really shows me that the author "got it". When he realized what an inmate told him was true, and could make his life in prison a lot easier...."Just know at the end of the day, how y'all conduct y'all selves determines how we conduct ourselves. You come wit' a shit attitude, we go' have a shit attitude". That ladies and gentlemen, is the one thing you need to learn is you want a career in corrections. Spot on!
There are many other articles in the book, some great, some good, some not-so-good. It all depends on your own perspectives. But there is something for everyone in here!

Miami Vice - The True Story!

— feeling amazing
Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami - Roben Farzad

What an excellent read! Hotel Scarface is the story of the "Mutiny Club", a hotel/club/restaurant in Miami. It's set in the 1980's, running up to the present day.
The Mutiny Club was the nucleus of the 80's cocaine scene, and of the "Cocaine Cowboys". Think "Miami Vice", "Scarface", and the "Godfather". Then add in anti-Castro patriots, the Marielitos from Cuba, the Columbians (including Pablo Escobar), the Iran-Contra fiasco, Manuel Noriega, Janet Reno, and a whole host of professional ball players, actors, and politicians. All of those frequented, or had connections to, the Mutiny Club.
It's just an amazing story. And handled so well. At times, just the amount of names and characters can seem overwhelming, but if you take a breath and think a bit, it's not hard to follow. You want to just keep plunging ahead, because it's such an exciting story, but you really need to slow down and savor it a bit to get the full effect.
Farzad fleshes out the characters well, so you get the sense that you are there with them (and that's a scary thought).
The story goes beyond the Mutiny Club itself, into broader settings, worldwide, but the author manages to keep tying the story back to the Club itself.
I was fortunate (????) enough to meet several of the characters myself, not on their level, but during my career in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The descriptions of the manner and bearing of the "drug lords" is spot on. As is his descriptions of the lesser players, and especially of the Mariel Cubans. I think I could write a book myself, just on my experiences with these people.
And, finally, the ending. Not to spoil it, but Farzad describes well the zeal with which the Federal government goes after these people in court. As they well learned, once the Fed's decide they want you, it's curtains for you. It's just a matter of time.
As you can tell, I really, really enjoyed this book. More than most of the other 60-odd books that I have read and reviewed this year. I highly recommend this one!

Hunter's Jumped The Shark!

G-Man - Stephen Hunter

Years ago, I was a huge fan of the author's "Bob Lee Swagger" series of books. I can remember my father-in-law and I devouring them, and having spirited discussions about them. Then, along about the time Hunter began the "Earl Swagger" series, the author's plot lines devolved, and his verbiage became unbearable. So many obscure descriptions and dialogue that, rather than adding to the story, instead overwhelmed them. So I took a break from the author.
Enter his latest novel, "G-Man". I wanted to like it. I really tried. I made it halfway through the book, before becoming so exasperated that I had to quit. It had the thinnest of plot, based around crazy, imaginary encounters of an entire whos-who of 1930's era gangsters, and the shoehorning in of the main character. And, where I thought Hunter had gone overboard in his verbiage in the past, he takes it to an entirely different level here. So much unnecessary language! What possible reason is there to spend a page detailing a minor character's choice of soft drinks? Or the color of a woman's dress? It just went on and on. At the end, I thought that perhaps it was just me, that my tastes had changed. So I read a bit to my wife. She looked at me like I was insane. "Why would you and my father read such drivel?" she asked. "It sounds like someone trying to pad a school paper with words to meet the teacher's minimum standard".
At that point, I had to realize. Hunter has jumped the shark. He has taken a wonderful character in Bob Lee Swagger, and ruined it. That's it for me. No more Stephen Hunter!

Funny!

Should the Tent Be Burning Like That?: A Professional Amateur’s Guide to the Outdoors - Bill Heavey

A collection of the author's articles written for Field and Stream magazine. If you love hunting and fishing, you will really enjoy this book. Heavey is a very entertaining and funny writer. 

In serious need of a major rewrite!

The Last Chicago Boss: My Life with the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club - Kerrie Droban, Peter 'Big Pete' James

I was looking forward to reading this book. My career required me to be aware of and fluent in different criminal gangs. I always found motorcycle gangs to be of the most interesting variety. Thus, a chance to get insight into the "Outlaws" appealed to me very much.
Unfortunately, this isn't the book for that. The writing is terrible. Hard to follow, disjointed, it reads like someone with ADD wrote it. The author will start one story, morph it into another unrelated story, or worse yet, just drop it midway through.
The book is seriously in need of a major rewrite. Disappointing!

Will make you dream

Garden Renovation: Transform Your Yard Into the Garden of Your Dreams - Bobbie Schwartz

The author has written an excellent text on gardening. Specifically, how to renovate your tired, old garden into the garden of your dreams. She does this by teaching you how to recognize what you have, how to know what needs updating, and how to begin your renovation. She explains to you about how to determine what your site can handle, be it the climate, soil, animals, usage, etc. The author then gives you ideas of what you can do with your site. She really likes to design interesting pathways in your garden. Schwartz doesn't give a lot of information on what plants to use, or how to plant them. For that, you might need a different book. There are many out there. The book concludes with some beautiful examples of what people have done.
The book is beautifully photographed. It's guaranteed to get you thinking about your own site, and how to improve it.

Must Have For PNW Gardeners

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest: The Complete Homeowner's Guide - Paul Bonine

An excellent reference for any gardeners in the Pacific Northwest. The first part of the book is about understanding the climate differences in the PNW, and how one area just a few miles away from another can have a radically different climate. It provides a much more in-depth explanation that I have found anywhere else. The book then dives into soil types in the PNW, how they differ, and how to use what you have effectively.
The next section is about plant diseases and bugs in the area.
Followed by a very, very extensive discussion of the plants that you can grow in the PNW, and where they do the best.
And finally, a section on design tips for you own garden.
The book is very thorough, easy to read, and easily understandable. The photography is awesome! You could buy this book just for the photos, and would not be disappointed.
I have already put into effect several of the ideas from this book in my own garden outside of Seattle. And will be referring to it for many years.

Chilling

Bounty Hunter 4/3: My Life in Combat from Marine Scout Sniper to MARSOC - Chris Martin, Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado has penned an excellent book about his experiences growing up in the Bronx, becoming Marine, a sniper, his experiences in Iraq as a sniper, and about becoming an sniper instructor afterwards. While he leaves no doubt about his alpha male status, he does not shy away from describing many personal experiences, even the ones where he feels he has failed.
Where the book really shines is in his telling of his tours in Iraq. From his gung-ho, supremely driven first days there, to his awakening to the horrors of the war and his part in it. The battle scenes were extremely vivid, fast moving, and made you almost feel you were there. And afterwards, you could really feel his pain.
While sometimes I felt uneasy with his macho take on the world, and how the Marine Corp really promotes this sense of invincibility, I am aware that it is a world I will never understand, and cannot fault it for it's success in creating "supermen" like Delgado. Other times, I really felt bad for him, when he had to face up to the fact that the rest of the world (his relationships, for one) did not subscribe to the same outlook.
All in all, an excellent book. I just cannot get over the horrors he faced in Iraq, in battles that we here at home never were even told about. And I thank him for his service.

Will blow away your House Hunters International fantasy!

L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home - David Lebovitz

Lebovitz is an American chef and cookbook author who moved to Paris to advance his career. I have read his previous books, and he is a talented and engaging author. This particular book is about his search for, purchase of, and renovation of a home in Paris. And what a great story it is!
I found myself surprised at the difficulty in even locating a property for sale in Paris (House Hunters International makes it look so easy and fun on TV!). Upon finally finding the property, the author experienced the infamous Paris bureaucracy in the purchase of it. And then, just when you think it should all be smooth sailing, the real trouble begins in the renovation stage!
I cannot believe what Lebovitz went through. His stamina and perseverance are amazing. I am sure that I would have gave up many times, escaping back to the safety of the United States. Kudos to him for his overcoming of all the obstacles thrown at him.
I found the book to be fascinating, and could not put it down. I literally devoured it in two evenings. The author is very engaging, writes extremely well, and manages to keep the reader "pulling for" him. I highly recommend this book, even if it does lay to rest my "House Hunters International" fantasy of moving to France!

Confidential Source Ninety-Six: The Making of America's Preeminent Confidential Informant - C.S. 96, Rob Cea

The author is a former drug dealer who, when caught with a large amount of drugs, "sees the light" and decides to become an informant. In my career, I've seen dozens of men like the author, dealers who, when caught and facing a long sentence, sell out to receive lesser sentences. This guy seems different. I found myself actually believing that he really changed, that he was disgusted with the drug business (and himself) and wanted to make a difference. Plus, he was actually a likable guy. (Or, maybe the older me is just getting soft, and wants to see some good in the world?)
The author describes setting up his former bosses. After that turned out successful, he found that he actually enjoyed this kind of work. Through different law enforcement agencies, he works to take down several other drug dealers. He claims to have worked for the next seventeen years as an informant.
There were some weak parts in the book. Things that set off my internal radar as falsehoods. In the beginning, he claims to have three children, who appear to be around 3-5 years old. Later in the book, it's two, or four. And towards the end of the book, he describes tucking the children into bed. After 17 years, wouldn't the "children" have been in their late teens or early twenties? He also claims to have performed his own extensive surveillance of a neighborhood in which he was going to buy drugs; what law enforcement agency would allow their informant to set up in this way? And, the author claims he would pick and choose what drug organizations he would work against, and the law enforcement agencies would welcome this? It stretches my imagination too far.
However, despite these issues (and they could all be a result of a bad edit, or of my own overactive imagination), the book is highly enjoyable. It is a fast read, and moves along very well. The writing is good. It makes for a good, enjoyable book. I can definitely recommend it.

Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table - Langdon Cook
An excellent read on the history, biology, and current struggles to survive of salmon. Cook offers views of the fish through the eyes of fishermen, fish biologists, and everyday people. It left me surprised that there are any salmon left in the world. Very interesting!
 
 

 

Hurray For Bob Schieffer!

Overload: Finding the Truth in Today's Deluge of News - Bob Schieffer, H. Andrew Schwartz

First, let me state that I have the utmost respect for Bob Schieffer, his work and his life. I feel that the country would be greatly benefited if someone like he were to return to giving the news. With that confession out of the way, and admitting that my opinion of his work may be skewed, let me review his latest book.
Overload is about the state of the media today. Of how we, as consumers of the news, are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there, and coming at us, nonstop every hour of the day. Of how, being overwhelmed and not able to process all the information, we tend to find news sources that agree with how we see the world. "Some folks get one set of facts from one outlet and other folks get another set of facts from another outlet, no wonder they come to different conclusions". How "Americans choose their favorite channel (or website) not to get just the latest information but to get the ammo to back up their previously formed opinion. And it's getting harder to separate opinion from fact".
Schieffer explains his theory on the reason Trump ultimately won, and why Clinton lost. (It has to do with the ability to utilize the media more effectively).
He covers the phenomenom of "fake news", and the problems of combatting it (A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put it's pants on). And the pattern it follows; eye-catching headline, interesting first paragraph, relevant photos (often taken off the internet), a few quotes (often not real people), and a format that looks like a typical news site.
The fall of the traditional media and the rise of the new media. And he gives examples throughout the book.
He covers conspiracy theories, and why people fall for them.
I loved the book. I only wish Schieffer could be given a bigger platform to share his ideas. We need it!

Alien Space Bats and Unicorns!

The Trial of Prisoner 043: A Novel - Terry Jastrow

An interesting premise. George W Bush is attending a golf tournament in Scotland, when he is abducted by, and held for a war crimes trial, by the ICC. If one is willing to suspend disbelief that this could actually happen, and that the United States would stand blindly by and allow the trial to continue, the story could be interesting. However, it is wholly unrealistic.
Bush, rather than having the best legal team the US Government could put together, instead decides to let some old friends represent him. And the ICC legal team is made up of obviously prejudiced people. The lead prosecuting attorney quite unstable.
But, I continued on....amongst the chaff, there were many interesting points raised, in Bush's defense, as well as against him. I was looking forward to how the trial would end up.
That was until the end.......it completely and utterly ruins the book. I won't spoil it for anyone who decides to read it, but you might as well as had space aliens and unicorns at the end.
WHOLLY DISSATISFYING AND A WASTE OF TIME!