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review 2015-08-26 15:02
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It - Marc Goodman

I don't usually read books (non-fiction or otherwise) over extended periods of time. And, if not for the limitations of library-lending, I might have inched through this one at an even slower pace (giving myself ample opportunity to rock quietly in the corner in terror). 

 

Things didn't start out this way. I tore into the first several chapters of Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It with my usual aplomb. But there's only so much risk one can absorb before declaring defeat. Author and former cybercrime cop, Marc Goodman, can't be faulted for the breadth of threats out there. However, by the time I got to the What We Can Do About It sections (the last 50 pages or so), I felt decidedly worn down. So, take this review with a grain of salt, because it's a good book with a whole boatload of information that's often ignored.

 

The Future Is Now

Goodman starts off by stating that he is well aware of and for the wonders of modern technology— and I'm with him on that (as noted in my review of Nation of Enemies). It's not about a showdown, but we need to face the changing techno-landscape with an attitude akin to that of Hawaiians regarding the ocean; one of respect and awareness that, while beautiful, it's more powerful than you can imagine, and can have brutal consequences.   

 

Malory Archer Krieger Girlfriend Staredown

 

Furthermore, we need to be thinking about Moore's Outlaws* now (and also yesterday, and the day before that), which will require effort, since we're not used to thinking in exponential terms. Also, said outlaws (and their corporate equivalent, which he refers to as “Crime Inc.”) are already outpacing us in a serious way (the whole Silk Road affair is barely a sneak peek). 

 

Archer Asymmetric Onion Router Cryptocurrency

 

Opening Pandora's Virtualbox*

Things get overwhelming quickly. As nefarious as the DarkNet may be, cryptocurrency and onion routers seem like reasonable precautions once Goodman starts discussing just how little privacy we have, given the digital exhaust we produce just tooling around the regular old interwebs on the daily. With the Internet of Things, we invite more and more connected devices into our home, all of which are apparently quite hackable (though I'm not really ready to start worrying about pedophiles storing illicit images on my Nest just yet). 

 

Thermostat Becoming Sentient

 

‘Bots & ‘Borgs

First things first — robots. Though no definition of the term satisfies all parties involved, robots are basically machines that can be programmed to carry out tasks (with varying levels of autonomy). The world is already chock full of ‘em, though not necessarily in a “rise of the machines” kind of way. However, just because the machines aren't thinking on their own, doesn't mean they're not dangerous. Malware and malicious actors aside, the human error and our “in screen we trust” attitude has been and will continue to be a problem. There are plenty of examples, but I think the recent Robot Grabs, Crushes Man To Death incident at a German Volkswagen factory sums it up pretty well.

 

Cheryl Tunt Chokebot

 

My only beef with the Goodman's treatment of industrial robots is that he kind of neglects Bayesian counterfactuals. It's been awhile since I've read The Jungle, but I'm pretty sure that factory safety was a problem long before Roomba came along. But, the remote threat is new(ish), and, as robots become increasingly autonomous, we've got some serious thinking about Asimov's Laws ahead of us. 

   

Cyborg is another somewhat ill-defined term, though I'll go with the definition that doesn't include glasses and/or peg-legs. Goodman's bionics section, “Hackable You,” does discuss the advantages and opportunities presented by these technologies. The problem, as suggested by the title, is that these computers inside of us aren't all that secure— a problem compounded by the fact that updating the hardware involves cutting people open. 

 

Barry Dylan Is Sy-Berg

 

And then, of course, there are the big fears that could potentially make “Surviving Progress” a tricky feat. Whether we're talking 'bots or 'borgs, a lack of foresight could doom us all. 

 

Barry Cyorg Spine

 

The Final Frontier

I can't blame you if your first inclination is to throw your hands in the air and declare defeat. Goodman suggests practicing better “cyber hygiene”— a public health approach that actually makes quite a bit of sense. After all, you can't unilaterally protect your information if your friends are running around giving Candy Crush access to their address book, while posting and tagging photos of you on facebook willy nilly (though my advice would be to ditch that friend).

 

This book's probably better than I'm giving it credit for, an easy 7/10 stars, and maybe more once I wrap my head around it all. But the look on Krieger's face, below, pretty much captures my feelings upon finishing.

 

Krieger Dancing Bear_________________________________

* Goodman's super into wordplay, so brace yourself for that. 

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review 2015-08-09 13:21
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood - William Mann

Self-righteous parents blaming the media for society's moral decay; young starlets vying for the attention of the same man; a once-beloved comedic icon falling from grace following revelations about his sordid past; celebrities suspected of committing murders most foul; stints in rehab being kept on the DL; overbearing stage mothers; and a news-hungry public with“sanity and sympathy” in short supply watching as it all unfolds. Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood has all the makings of an issue of US Weekly (though William J. Mann's writing is, I would argue, of a superior quality).

 

Unbeknownst to me, the 1922 case around which the book is centered has been famous for quite some time, with a dedicated following of armchair sleuths obsessed with each and every aspect of Taylorology (yes, that's a thing).

Who Killed William Desmond Taylor

As the headlines suggest, the victim in this case was none other than Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor

William Desmond Taylor young and as in 1922

Of course, none of this would be half so intriguing without a lineup of suspected celebrity murderesses, namely: Mabel Normand, Margaret “Gibby” Gibson, and Mary Miles Minter.

Mabel Gibby and Mary

Each character has a story all their own– secrets, sordid pasts, weaknesses for an illicit substance or two. Like poor little Gibby, who was driven by a promise made to her mother that someday that would “have nice things.” But, it would seem, that (at least as far as “the Church Ladies” were concerned) all of this was pretty par for the course for young starlets in the den of sin known as Tinseltown. After all, they couldn't risk being cast aside for a newer, younger model by gentlemen of loose morals. 

 

This is Why I Cant Have Nice Things OC

 

All of this indignation ties into the larger story of the fight for the very survival of Hollywood, and the men (yes, they were pretty much all men) involved. For me, these pioneering movie moguls (primarily Adolph Zukor and Marcus Loew) weren't all that compelling. However, my heart did go out to poor Will Hays, who was charged with the near-impossible task of “cleansing” the movies of their corrupting content to the satisfaction of producers and censorship advocates alike. 

Will Hays disinfecting movie business 1922

As a Serial fan, I found myself impressed by just how much information has been compiled and assembled about the case over the years (see the map of the who, what and where in Alvarado Court the night of the murder, below), all done without the luxury of a single pinging cell phone tower.

Alvarado Court Taylor Murder Map

A lack of time precludes my giving a more comprehensive tour of all the intrigue involved, but suffice it to say, that if “the Dawn of Hollywood” piques your interest, you won't be disappointed.

 

Bonus Archer gif:

Archer Burt Reynolds Back to Tinseltown OC

 

 

[Sidenote: This belongs in a series of what I will refer to as “half-baked reviews.” There are more than I care to admit (some from so long ago that I barely remember where I was going with them), but, at this rate, by the time I actually finish them, books probably won't even be “a thing” anymore.]

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review 2015-05-09 15:52
Uprising: Understanding Attica, Revolution, and the Incarceration State
Uprising: Understanding Attica, Revolution, and the Incarceration State (Kindle Single) - Clarence B. Jones,Stuart Connelly

On September 9th,1971, when the inmates of the Attica Prison took control of the facility, a committee of prisoners drew up a list of demands that were included in their Declaration to the People of America read aloud by L.D. Barkley. Item five included the presence of certain witnesses and observers, including this book's author, Clarence B. Jones (below). Word of this request reached Jones by way of what was effectively an APB on the radio, and, after a brief call from a phone booth with the then Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller, was flown to Attica to meet with Commissioner Oswald and his fellow drafted committee members. 

Clarence B Jones 1963

The book itself is brief (a “single” in Kindle parlance), and is meant to be more of a meditation on the meaning of Attica in the present and what has and has not changed in our modern "incarceration state." [For an outline of the events leading up to and during the riots check out “Attica Prison Uprising 101: A Short Primer” by Mariame Kaba, Project NIA which is both illustrated and free!]

Attica September 9 1971

Jones is well-aware that Attica is often remembered more as a result of its reference in Dog Day Afternoon than anything else. I actually watched good old Charlie Day, of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, shouting ‘Attica man!’ outside of Paddy's Pub  before I ever saw Pacino's performance as Sonny Wortzik. However, just knowing that Clarence Jones was on the prisoners' list of demands says a lot, since Attica would not be Jones' first time emerging from a jail to act as a mouthpiece for an inmate.

Martin Luther King Jr w Clarence B Jones behind Birmingham 1963

In addition to having Jones as a speechwriter, Martin Luther King Jr. entrusted Jones with his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Whatever Attica became, or how the list of demands morphed and grew over the four days that the inmates held control over the facility, Jones' presence tethered the riots to something larger. 

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review 2015-02-15 14:53
A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power
A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power - Paul Fischer

This book is a strong 3.5 stars, maybe even tilting toward 4. If you're interested in it—read it. It's fun, short, and fascinating. My star-docking is more of a content critique, but (attention spans being what they are these days) I wanted to get that out of the way.

 

Development

Kim Jong-Il was not always “Dear Leader.” As a child, he was called “Yura.” Though he was the son of Kim Sung-Il, “The Great Leader” and founder of North Korea (aka Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK), it wasn't always a given that he would one day take his father's place. It's hard to parse the varying stories of his birth/ancestry (check out Time's Kim Family Tree if you're curious). Jong-Il was passionate about cinema from an early age and when (taking a page from the Soviet playbook) Sung-Il formed the Propaganda and Agitation Department, Jong-Il soon made a natural and eager Cultural Arts Director.

Young Kim Jong-Il With Parents

As with almost all aspects of society after the Korean War, there was a race for supremacy in the film industries between the North and the South. Together, director Shin Sang-Ok and actress “Madam Choi” Eun-Hee were seemingly unstoppable. 

Shin Sang-Ok Choi Eun-Hee Movies

Shin Films became a juggernaut—with the combination of Choi on screen, and Shin behind the camera, their films were met with acclaim in South Korea and abroad. 

Choi Eun-hee and Shin Sang-ok

Shin and Choi (above as happy, young newlyweds) embodied the success of South Korean films. Few people (if any) would have been as acutely aware of this as Kim Jong-Il. His obsession with movies was so great that he set up Resource Operation No. 100 (a fancied-up term for what was essentially film piracy and dubbing at DPRK embassies across the world) so he could study the work of all the greats. 

 

Pre-Production 

By the late 1970s, however, Choi, Shin, and Kim Jong-Il were confronting challenges in their respective lives. Though Choi had tried to ignore Shin's infidelities, the two divorced after Shin had a baby with a younger actress. Shin had a penchant for pushing the limits of what was considered acceptable in South Korea at the time. After ignoring the censorship board one time too many, the Office of Public Ethics revoked Shin's license to make films.

Kim Jong Il On Set 1979

Though the first films made in North Korea (e.g. Sea of Blood and The Flower Girl) were successful, with a quite literally captive audience of people who were exposed to no other media, Kim Jong-Il was not satisfied. Furthermore, given that the DPRK was a “closed country,” Jong-Il was effectively isolated from foreign talent. 

 

Both Shin and Choi were essentially foiled by their desires to succeed and pursue their passions. Abductions/kidnappings across the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) were by no means uncommon. Fishing boats were regular targets (which will come as no surprise to those who have read The Orphan Master's Son), and many were skeptical as to whether or not South Korean “defectors” were truly acting under their own will.

 

Choi became a “guest of the Dear Leader” by way of Hong Kong in 1978, enticed by an opportunity to direct a film (which would help her to achieve her dreams for an acting school in South Korea). Though the two had divorced, Shin was concerned when his ex-wife went missing. He spoke out to the press about his suspicions of political conspiracy, and was also questioned as a suspect in Choi's disappearance. 

 

Meanwhile, Shin was still trying to resurrect his company, and was having passport/visa problems. With nibbles, but no bites on various foreign deals for film distribution or directing opportunities, Shin was growing desperate and was running out of cash. When told that he would be able to get a South American passport in Hong Kong, he went for it, only to find himself traveling on the same freighter that had taken Choi to the People's Republic.

 

Production

Though Shin and Choi were “special guests,” this did not save them from all of the horrors of North Korea's detention and reeducation camps, nor were they immediately reunited. The conditions of Shin's detainment were particularly bad—similar to those described both in The Orphan Master's Son and Escape From Camp 14.

 

It's difficult to describe my impression of Kim Jong-Il based on this book. To say that he was well-intentioned seems naive, and it's impossible to imagine what the world looked like through his eyes given his bizarre upbringing. However one sees him, though, Kim Jong-Il was undeniably eager to earn the approval of Shin and Choi, and, in his own way, tried to make them happy (even re-marrying the couple in 1983, below). 

Choi Kim Jong Il Shin 1983

The title of the book reflects Paul Fischer's ongoing depiction of Kim Jong-Il as the producer of his country and its narrative.

“Between the late 1960s and the end of his [Kim Jong Il's] life he created one vast stage production. He was the writer, director, and producer of the nation. He conceived his people’s roles, their devotion, their values; he wrote their dialogue and forced it upon them; he mapped out their entire character arcs, from birth to death, splicing them out of the picture if they broke type.”

Accordingly, there were ways in which “working” for Kim Jong-Il was familiar to Shin and Choi.

“Shin and Choi had both met men like Kim Jong-Il, on a smaller scale: talented but not quite talented enough, powerful, jealous, insecure, and boastful; with an overinflated sense of their own importance in the world, a short temper, and an obsessive need to micromanage. Kim was, they thought, the archetypal film producer.”

Likewise, for Shin especially, Jong-Il's unilateral power made his life easier. Need to blow up a train? Sure thing—sorry, you'll have to do it in one take, because it's a real, running train. However, lacking the incentives inherent in capitalism, the same could not be said of the cast and crew. 

Kim Jong Il Pulgasari

So, did it work? Were Shin and Choi everything Kim Jong-Il ever dreamed of? In some ways, yes. Movies in North Korea did get better. The people of the DPRK began to share Jong-Il's enthusiasm for film (in part because the films became something more than pure glorifications of life North Korea).

 

Post-Production

Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun-Hee, however, were not truly happy. Though they had many of the comforts of “the good life,” they were prisoners. Also, they were pawns in the propaganda game that got this whole thing started. Luckily for them, their roles as spokespeople for the DPRK required some of the trappings of freedom which proved crucial for their escape.

Shin and Choi 1989

Critical Review

While this was a fascinating story which seems well-researched (though I'm no expert), Fischer seemed a little overly determined to layer on all of the mystery and “weirdness” of North Korea and its leaders. While I'm not planning on overthrowing our democracy any time soon, I think that there's always value in trying to see things from other perspectives. One of the things I enjoyed about The Orphan Master's Son was its references to how America might look or be portrayed in North Korea—a land of “illiteracy, canines, and multicolored condoms.”

 

I became acutely aware of this while reading Fischer's descriptions of the death and funeral rites of Kim Il-Sung.

“Kim Il-Sung’s body was embalmed and put on display for his people to see. The process involved removing all of the Supreme Leader’s organs before bathing his hollow corpse in a formaldehyde bath and injecting liters of chemical balsam, a cocktail of glycerine and potassium acetate, in his veins to keep his flesh lifelike and elastic. Finally makeup and lipstick were applied to Kim’s face to restore the illusion of youth.”

I'm no mortician, but that doesn't sound all that different from what goes on at open-casket funerals here in the U-S-of-A (I think it involves formaldehyde and methanol).

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review 2014-11-11 15:44
Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death
Frozen: My Journey into the World of Cryonics, Deception, and Death - Larry Johnson

People are weird about death…which, I suppose, means that being ‘weird about death’ is actually quite normal. So, in some ways, having people dole out money to have their bodies frozen on the off chance that future technology will be able to resurrect them in a couple of decades isn't all that different from your workaday televangelist imploring ‘true believers’ to send in checks in order to ensure their place in a city in the sky. Author Larry Johnson's exposé isn't a condemnation of the concept of cryonics, or the viability of the science – it's about the bizarre (and often times super shady) inner workings he observed while working at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

 

The semi-journalistic aim of this book felt like sort of a mashup of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank, and Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (both of which I happened to read earlier this year). However, in style and content, it was inferior to each and/or both—and this is the reason for my 2.5/5 star rating.

 

Why tell you this at all? Well, because there's quite a bit of controversy around the legitimacy of the book, its author, the criminal allegations…the list goes on. However, not being an expert myself, and feeling insufficiently interested to dig deeper into the book's veracity, I'm not equipped to give this truthiness score.* Long of the short is that this is a he-said/she-said corporate whistleblower case with the added allure of celebrity affiliation (primarily Ted Williams, but there are others to be sure). 

Hixon filling dewar at Alcor

Of Anesthetic Drugs & Butt Plugs

Larry, a veteran paramedic wasn't a delicate flower when it came to the death business. He'd spent the last several years on-call in Vegas (where insanity often reigns), and was even on-hand as a chopper paramedic for the Branch Davidian debacle in Waco. And yet, pretty much from day one he was a bit surprised at what he found kicking around the Alcor compound.

 

In addition to the expired paralytic drugs (why would you need to paralyze a dead person?), the butt plugs (umm...maybe those come in handy), and a diaspora of pizza boxes and tuna cans (turns out tuna cans make excellent pedestals for frozen human heads), the cast of characters he met seemed a bit off. Examples?

  • A woman who wears a bicycle helmet while in her car to protect her brain (not exactly sound science there)
  • A CEO (Larry Johnson) and COO (Charles Platt) constantly sniping at one another (in battles dubbed ‘cryowars’ by Alcor staffers) via company-wide emails
  • Oh, and a lurking hunchbacked computer scientist who inspired the observation made by Charles Platt below

“I suppose the most curious thing about Michael Perry,” Charles continued, “is that he removed his own testicles with a razor blade.”

Jerry Lemler Alcor Patient Care Bay

For my money, the most egregious things Larry observes deal with bad lab protocol (e.g. removing Ted Williams' head when he was supposed to be a full-body patient), and the kind of gross environmental and worker-safety negligence that occur when an industry lacks any form of oversight (e.g. if a body pretty much decays in a van, you shouldn't just hose the thing out before returning it to the car rental company).

 

Yes, referring to death as the end of a patient's “first lifecycle” is a little odd, and helping a patient to reach that end point is (in most states) illegal, but it also doesn't sound like that was the norm. Threatening Johnson's life is definitely not cool, but there's just not much to say about that. 

 

As far as Ted Williams goes, it sounds like Alcor (at most) aided and abetted Williams' greedy scoundrel of a son, John Henry Williams. I haven't been able to find the full-length piece on this that Johnson wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2003 (you can get the gist from ESPN's coverage of the saga), but what likely made for a fascinating magazine article was just too drawn out in book form.    

______________________________________________

* So, if all that death threat business from the cryo-fanatical fringe turns out to be true, feel free to just blame Larry.

† As for the obvious questions as to why Larry wouldn't make an immediate b-line for the exit, he chalks this up to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. But, yes, I too was confused about this aspect of Larry's tale.  

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