Perfectly Legal

If you own stock in an American company, you should read this book. If you pay taxes in America, you should read this book. Obviously, I think everyone should read the book.

Here’s my quick review. I’ll call out more detailed examples later:

David Johnston, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter for the New York Times, describes what is wrong with our tax system. It taxes the poor and rewards the rich. It allows the rich and their decendents to continue getting richer while leaving middle class and upper middle class salary workers less and less to save.
Johnston covers a multitude of topics from:
– how the richest Americans are getting richer,
– to how the richest Americans pay the least percentage of their income in taxes (not the least because most of their income is not a salary),
– how executives abuse corporations, gaining huge incentives using such things as the corporate jet to defering income which allows them to pay less tax and gives the company less right offs,
– to how corporations aren’t honest with their stockholders on where the money is going,
– to how corporations report one set of profits to their shareholders and another to the IRS,
– to how corporations are paying less and less tax at the cost of the middle and upper middle class,
– to how Bush’s tax cuts won’t really benefit anyone making less than $500,000/yr because of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and he knew that,
– how the repeal of the “death tax” is really a “how to make the really rich richer” but doesn’t affect most of the US, including farmers, not a one of who has lost a farm to the estate tax,
– how Congress continues to pass tax laws and funding that meet the needs of the people that contribute to their campaigns, the rich,
– how the IRS polices the working poor and middle class to meet quotas instead of the really big scams that they know of that would bring in billions of dollars,
– and so on.

In conclusion, he says we all need to be well informed, talk to everyone we know, pay attention to the tax bills being passed, and push for more transparent tax law changes as well as a cleaning up of the tax bill and more funding to pursue the big time tax frauds.

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition is a science fiction book by William Gibson that’s not science fiction. Everything in the story is current, deployed technology, but Gibson describes it a way that we see how different our culture is becoming because of technology. The main character, Cayce Pollard, is a brand specialist; she’s a contractor that helps corporations determine if their brands will work or not. She also has a very different way of observing the world, and although it took me a while to appreciate it, Gibson’s style of describing everyday occurences through Cayce’s eyes really grew on me. Cayce starts the book out working on a contract in London and is soon traveling around the world to solve the mystery of the “footage”. The “footage” is a series of film clips being released on the web that has gathered a following, almost a cult, that is obsessed with figuring out if the footage is from one film, if the film is finished or not, and who is the producer. It’s a good mystery as well. I enjoyed this book immensely both as a mystery and as a not-so-science-fiction book.

Off with Their Heads by Dick Morris


Ordinarily, I would never comment or rank a book that I didn’t finish, but this one bugged me enough to make an exception. “Off with Their Heads” is well ranked on Amazon.com, but a closer look shows that people either love it or hate it. I hated it – or at least I hated the first chapter. Dick Morris’ book is supposedly what happened to our sense of unity and determination after 9/11. He blames a number of organizations and people for “sidetracking” us and devotes a section to each of them. The first section was about the New York Times. Morris claims that the NYT’s is now extremely liberal and that they slant their poll numbers (that was interesting) and pick their stories to align with their beliefs. While I personally believe every newspaper picks stories that align with their beliefs, and I have no problem with it, I just like to know about it, so I was looking forward to hearing his NYT story. However, other than the issue of the poll numbers, all I heard was rants. Morris was very upset that any front page space was given to the civil rights of prisoners, the number of dead in Iraq, etc.
If the New York Times slanted their polls or weighted them inappropriately, then that’s wrong. If they gave titles to news stories that weighted the news towards one side or another of the story, then I agree they are biased but not necessarily wrong.
If the New York Times decides that the civil liberties issue as manifested by the lack of prisoner rights granted to prisoners in Guantanomo Bay is a front page issue, then I think they have the right to put the story on the front page. I think it is front page news. I don’t think it should be withheld because it might detract from our support of the Iraq War. I think it’s atrocious that we don’t give our prisoners captured during time of war (not those captured on the battlefield, but those captured in civilian places, like the Chicago airport) the same democratic process and “innocent until proven guilty” as every other citizen. We need to practice what we believe in. That is a separate, although not unrelated, issue than whether or not we should support a war in Iraq.

Electronic Textbooks

Yahoo! News – Short on Books, Texas School Uses Laptops. There’s a school in Texas that plans to hand out laptops with electronic copies of all the textbooks (plus 2000 other books) to every 5th and 6th grader. I think this is great! I always wanted electronic copies of my textbooks for several reasons:
– It would weigh a lot less. Imagine being able to cart around all 5-10 textbooks and all your reference material in a laptop that weighs 2-10 pounds! You’d no longer be tied to the library nor your dorm room. (And in this case we won’t be hurting the backs of 10 year olds.)
– You can take notes right on the book.
– You can search both your notes and the books, extremely easily.
I hope more schools and universities follow this trend!

Downsize This! by Michael Moore

At the recommendation of a friend, I read “Downsize This!” by Michael Moore. I found it a funny and provocative book about the state of business and politics in America. Be warned! – Nobody will be able to read this book without being offended by something. At the same time, nobody will be able to read this book without finding at least one issue that they think is important. If even half the facts in the book are true (and Moore says they all are), then there are a lot of things wrong in America right now. My favorite chapters were the ones on corporate welfare (he tells about how many millions of dollars in aid some large corporations receive from our government and how they repay our tax money by laying off people) and the ones on loyalty that a company does (or doesn’t) owe to the city or state that gave it tax breaks and incentives to do business there. He gives examples of companies that receive $100,000s in tax breaks from a city and turn around and move their plants to other cities.

I guarantee that something in the book will make you stop and think. Something else in the book will probably upset you too. It’s a comedy – mostly satiric – but with a point.

Persuader

If you’re looking for that thriller to curl up with by the pool, then I would suggest Lee Child’s Persuader. Although it’s what I call a “guy’s book” or a “guy’s movie”, meaning that the protagonist single handedly manages to fight his way through everything, it was a good book. The plot had some good twists, lots of suspense, the violence wasn’t too graphic or gratuitous and the characters were well done. One of those books that you can’t put down and you wonder how in the world it got to be 2am, but not something that will tax your brain too much if you’re just looking to be entertained.

Sunshine

I’m not a big vampire fan, but I am a big Robin McKinley fan, so I read her new book Sunshine, and I really enjoyed it. She tackled vampires from a whole new perspective. The setting is the near future in an alternate reality. The reality is pretty close to ours but vampires, werewolves and demons exist as well as half blood humans with magic. Humans, as we know them, are fighting the other races but the real war is passed and it’s kind of in the background when this story starts. The vampires are the real bad guys and they plan to take over the world.

Robin McKinley does a good job of developing the main character, Sunshine, a baker who works in a coffee shop, and the protagonist, who may or may not be a good vampire, if something like that can exist.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game is an excellent science fiction book. The setting is a world in the future where Earth has been attacked once by an alien race. Earth expects the aliens to come back again, and in order to prepare the best and brightest to fight the next invasion, they set up a military school … for children. The most intelligent and mentally capable children are selected at a very young age to attend the military academy. At the academy they train using “The Game” – a sports game in no gravity that prepares them for war.
Orson Scott Card does an excellent job of character portrayal, and his children, while geniuses, are very believable.
I’ve read the print edition of this book and recommend it. However, I recently listened to the audio version of this book and it was excellent. It’s done in several voices.

Last Juror

I really enjoyed listening to the Last Juror by John
Grisham. (I listened to it on my Otis from Audible. Tell them
“storming” sent you if you sign up.) It’s a book about a
young man without much direction in life who moves to a
small Mississippi town and ends up, almost by accident,
buying the town newspaper. We meet the town through him
and hear about many topics affecting small southern
towns in the 1970s such as racial integration, Vietnam,
department stores, etc. All of it chronicled through his
friendships and his ownership of the newspaper. The book
does have a murder mystery in it, so it is more like
some of John Grisham’s legal thrillers than Bleachers
was, however it is really a story about a small town and
the people in it.

Innovator’s Dilemna

I had a chance to hear Clayton M. Christensen, the author of Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution, speak today. I enjoyed his first book, Innovator’s Dilemma, and it was really interesting to hear him apply his ideas to current technologies. Clayton talked not only about distruptive technologies that companies miss, but disruptive technologies that they are not able to take advantage of in the markets they serve. For example, he argued that solar power will not develop into a mature technology in the United States because we will not be forgiving of an immature product – we expect 24/7 uptime from our electricity. On the other hand, people living in Mongolia are excited to have solar technology – they don’t depend on electricity 24/7 and are ok with it going out often. He gave a couple of similar examples and ended up having an interesting conversation with Tim O’Reilly who was in the audience.