Monday, April 13, 2009

68, 67, 66

Three this week.

City Dharma: Arthur Jeon - There are a lot of Buddhist-flavored self-help books out there. Some are good, some are bad, some are just confusing. This one is good most of the time, but veers occasionally into "what's the point?" territory. Jeon doesn't identify as part of any particular Buddhist lineage, something I like since I don't identify with any particular lineage as I find it a little pointless outside of countries where these lineages originate. He has some good advice on dealing with attachment and accepting the obvious sacredness of ordinary experience. He is also, evidently, a buddy of Damon Lindelhof, one of the producers of Lost, which makes him a-ok with me.

A Long Way Gone: Ishmael Beah -War is never pretty, but it's downright ugly when viewed through the eyes of children. Ishmael Beah's country, Sierre Leone, descended into chaos and civil war. Beah was only a boy, separated from his parents, who became a refuge after armed conflict between the rebels and the army destroyed his village. By almost accident, at the age of about 13, he found himself turned into a soldier. He was fed drugs, American action movies and taken out on long patrols into very dangerous places. Beah, like all the other boys, became a killer almost overnight.

What is remarkable is Beah doesn't shy away from what he did. He cut the throats of men and boys. He helped torture rebels. He burned, looted and murdered at the order of his company commander and by his own thirst for revenge.

Eventually, he and many of the other boys are rescued from their violent lives, taken to the capitol city and rehabilitated. The process is long, slow and difficult.

Truly, a remarkable story charting the malleability of the human condition and how someone can come back from a life of brutality.

Nothing is Strange with you : James Jeffrey Paul - Real Crime books tend toward the salacious and scummy. This one is one of the scummiest. Gordon Northcott was a monster. In the mid-1920s, he convinced his sister to let him take his nephew from Canada to California with him to start a chicken ranch. Northcott then proceded to horribly abuse the boy, turned him into a slave and regularly sodomized the kid. Northcott then went on to prey upon local boys, coaxing them into his car, bringing them back to his ranch, where he molested them before allowing them to leave. Eventually, this escalated into murder.

He was one of the strangest sexual predators this country has ever seen.

At the very least, Northcott kidnapped, raped and murdered three young boys and one young man. He forced his nephew and encouraged his mother to participate in at least one murder. Disposal of the bodies was grisly. He lopped off heads, dosed them in quick lime and moved the remains when he thought they might be discovered.

He was caught and tried in a bizarre trial where his nephew and niece damned him, his parents tried to defend him and Northcott's behavior just became plain weird. At one point, he took over the defense.

It was an engrossing story, though mostly because of the tale itself and not necessarily the presentation. Paul's narration dragged and he includes an unnecessary chapter about the future warden of San Quentin (Clinton Duffy), who met Northcott in prison and might (though he admits to it being unlikely) have been able to save Northcott from the gallows. Warden Duffy did, however, write a few books of his own, which did talk about Northcott and the futility of the death penalty.

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