Review: Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War

Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order: The Final Years of the Vietnam War by Dan Dane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. When civil attorney, Bill Blake is drafted into the army, he leaves his wife and children behind to go to Vietnam. Once there, he does not fight a war, but is placed in the JAG Core—the lawyers who deal with justice within the military. They act as prosecutors or defense to military personnel who have committed various crimes. These crimes often mean court martial being in violation of “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order”.

The audiobook gives an account of the ten months Blake serves in Bien Hoa, dealing with his cases, his comrades, his superiors, and his evaluation of the war. While the book does have a beginning and an end (Blake arriving in Vietnam; Blake leaving Vietnam), the middle of the story is filled with a series of snippets of the various cases Blake must handle and other events during his time. The middle section reveals a panorama of issues that Blake must contend with which include drug abuse, corruption in the army, racism, and attacks by the enemy.

Blake is your typical “everyman”—trying to do his part in the war, survive, help his fellow soldiers, and get home in one piece. Through his eyes, we see how the good intentions and high hopes of many Vietnam soldiers slowly ebbed into depression, sadness, and dissolution, and how these soldiers sought escape both physically and mentally.

In the courtroom, he plays both the prosecution and the defense, depending on what he is assigned. But he approaches each side with just as much ferocity. He defends one marijuana dealer just as intensely as he prosecutes a heroin dealer. He does his job to the best of his ability like many of his fellow lawyers. Much of his frustration does not come from the enemy, but from his own side—his corrupt superiors and an incompetent co-worker. These people cause the source of much of Blake’s misery—not the enemy. He rationalizes and understands the enemy—though he rarely has to face them—but it’s those people around him, that make him really question what Vietnam is all about.

This dramatized audiobook is superb in its presentation. The sound effects are stunningly real. Often, I found myself looking around for a helicopter, and turning down the volume to see if the "whomp whomp whomp" was a helicopter in the book or a flat tire. The sounds, when incorporated are smoothly intertwined with the story, providing another element of reality to the production, without overdoing it. The sound effects such as the helicopter are very low and then slowly become prominent. Most of the sound effects are gently sounded but believable—even the gunfire manages to be unobtrusive—a difficult feat for any sound engineer. At the end, the same song is played on each CD serving as an indicator to put in the next disc. The music both style and lyrics seem to blend naturally with the atmosphere of the audiobook.

Ross Ballard may be a newcomer to the field of audiobooks (prior work includes his first official audiobook, “Irreparable Harm” by Randy Singer), he is quickly becoming a favorite to my ears. In “Conduct to the Prejudice of Good Order,” Ross Ballard nails all his cues. The book is written in the first person—a style that compliments Ballard’s accent and smooth deliverance. His natural Virginian accent blends perfectly well with the book. His twang gives a bit of warmth and sincerity that improves the quality of this audiobook tenfold. While it is hard for him to break his drawl, it was not necessary for this audiobook. Being told through the eyes of Bill Blake, it seemed actually more real that all the characters had a hint of Blake in them—as if directly seen through his eyes. After all, it is Blake’s story. Ballard’s smoothness cannot be underrated either. His aptly applies gentleness where needed and yet can hold to the firm tone when required—and can change from one to the other with great ease.

If you are looking for a “war novel”, with lots of explosions, fights, and gore, this audiobook should not be on your list. However, if you are looking for one man’s experience in the Vietnam War and the lessons he learned during his ten months in Bien Hoa, you should consider this. The range of emotion Blake faces from elation to depression is a truthful emotional evaluation of what war can mean to men and women who leave their homes and represent the US across the world.

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The PhD Chronicles: Click...

Something definitely clicked this summer while working on a set of papers for my course in globalization in higher education.  The course was a very powerful and thought-provoking course that had my mind running in a million different directions. As the discussions continued to make me think critically about what higher education is and it's roles throughout the world, it led me to reconsider my work on open educational resources.  
Word Cloud of Blog Post on HigherEd

In the course, we were tasked with two papers:  a reflection paper and a term paper.  Though that is what I set out to do, it's not exactly what I ended up doing.  When it was all said and done, I had a paper discussing the potential global value of using open education as a means of reinventing higher education's mission to be a public good and a paper discussing that the open education movement is or at least can be understood in some ways as a part of a coercive practice of neoliberal capitalism.  It was a fun time to say the least.

Ok, some of you probably doubt that last statement, but it is true in part.  The professor, in his infinite kindness and patience, gave me the (unpressured) time to really sit with the ideas and flesh them out well after the course was over.  In having time to sit with, further research, and reflect about what we learned in the course and my various thoughts on open education, things began to click into place and I found myself in both papers making more complex arguments that I had previously not considered or was just able to better articulate.  All of which is to say that things really clicked.  I've enjoyed different work that I've done throughout the program but I feel like this is one of the first pieces of work that was authentically "mine" or an alignment of evidence in a unique and compelling way.  I'm glad to have experienced this and hope that I will continue to have these moments as I continue my journey.  

Want to catch up on my previous reflections about being in a PhD program?  Check them out:
  1. Acceptance
  2. Orientation
  3. Day 1
  4. Week 1
  5. First 2 Courses Completed
  6. First 2 Courses Finished
  7. Semester 2, Here We Go
  8. The Existential Crisis of the Week
  9. The Balancing Act
  10. Negotiating Privilege in Higher Education
  11. Zeroing in on Research
  12. Completing the Second Semester
  13. Dissertation Journal #1
  14. Dissertation Journal #2
  15. So Starts The Third Semester
  16. My Educational Philosophy...for now
  17. Dissertation Journal #3
  18. PhD'ese
  19. And Sometimes, You Feel It
  20.  Semester's Endgame
  21. Year 1, Officially Done
  22. Year 2, Week 1, Day 1
  23. Year 2, Week 1 Done!
  24. 1/3 Complete!?!?!


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Review: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason by Helen Fielding
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. Bridget Jones is that dear friend that we all know who manages to somehow just mess things up, without even trying. A social klutz to no end, but you can’t help but to smile and love the poor girl. For those who read (or listened, or watched) the first book, Bridget Jones Diary, you’ll remember the story ends with Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy in a typical “Happily Ever After” scenario. “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” picks up shortly after that and asks “What does happen in happily ever after?” The couple gets together in the third act, but what happens in the fourth act? Helen Fielding answers this by showing the listener that happily ever after does not always work out the way we expected.

We find dear Bridget still working away at her diary in the new year and dancing on cloud nine now that she is currently going out with Mark Darcy. Her elation doesn’t so much fade but morphs into a bit of neurosis as she and her single friends (singletons) analyzed every word and action of Mark Darcy with the assistance of numerous self-help books. In fact, these self-help books bring about Bridget’s demise, for some many different books professing often conflicting philosophies and how to achieve “happiness”—that her actions resulting from said influence, almost always backfire.

Within a few months, the couple has gone its separate ways due to a series of miscommunications and mishaps on both ends. So Bridget returns to the world of singletons, still deathly scared of dying alone in her flat only to be found half-eaten by wolves. So it’s back to the world of self-help books and her fellow singletons, all of which preach different “must do” tactics to happiness and yet they have not achieved such happiness either.

It almost seems that since the previous year, nothing has really changed for her. She still looks the same, weighs the same, smokes the same amount of cigarettes, drinks the same amount of alcohol, and is still single. But this time, she knows she wants Mark Darcy, but getting him back become quite the problem.

Bridget faces many challenges and new exciting adventures such as a botched remodeling attempt in her flat that does nothing but leave a large gaping hole in the wall for the rest of the world to see and an interview with Colin Firth in which she obsesses of his part as Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”. Her mishaps are on a grander scale this year—including several run-ins with the police, a death threat, and involvement in an international drug ring. It doesn’t spoil the end to let your know that she does find her way back to Mark Darcy—that’s inevitable—however, the adventure getting there is the real joy of this audiobook. The height of which leaves her in a Thai female prison singing Madonna songs in her undergarments for the other inmates.

There’s one point in the book that puts a whole blur on reality and art is the actor, Colin Firth. Numerous times, Bridget refers to Colin Firth and how she loves the scene in “Pride & Prejudice” where he leaps into the pond. In the book, she is given an opportunity to interview him. Now, in the movie “Bridget Jones Diary”, Mark Darcy is played by none other but Colin Firth. This put a tint of irony to the whole situation for those who have seen the movie, because Colin Firth is held to be the ideal man by Bridget and her singletons.

At some points in the book, where Bridget goes over each minute of her day (usually as part of some joke the author is plotting), the listener might get annoyed to hear the time read out five to six times in a row: 12:01AM, 12:02AM, 12:03AM, 1204AM, 1205AM. The repetitiveness can wear on the listener because often, the joke is predictable at that point and therefore, the humor doesn’t play out as well. Regardless of this, the book still plays out fantastically. The diary format lends itself well as an audiobook.

Barbara Rosenblat is sensational! There, it’s been said. She magnificently narrated this audiobook; I can’t imagine it being done any better. Her vibrancy and accent are simply smashing. She maintains the liveliness that permeates from Bridget’s diary, even during the low times. Her narration is like seeing right into the mind of Bridget Jones and directly listening to her thoughts. Her talents at understanding and properly voice the feeling of text is more than impressive—it’s perfect.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is not great work—but it is a great source of entertainment—poignant, funny, and very enjoyable. Bridget is an endearing and sweet woman, whom we can all relate to. Helen Fielding has produced another gem of a novel that keeps the readers and listeners deeply entertained and laughing.

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My Current Bookshelf - May 2017

May was a much more active month as it relates to reading because, well, the semester was over and I had a whole lot of downtime to which I filled it with reading...mostly because, I like busman's holidays!  There were so many good reads this month so I've got a lot to talk about!


The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal


We all carry with us various myths about what willpower is, our relationship with it, and how to do better with it.  However, so many of our assumptions about willpower are often wrong in total or problematically applied because of a failure to understand what willpower is and its different forms.  McGonigal's provides a fantastic foundation to exploring and articulating willpower by breaking it into three different forms (I will, I won't, I want).  She guides readers through the science it has taken to better understand it from our historical or often racially, culturally, classist views of willpower to one that highlights just how willpower works in many different ways with cognitive, physiological, and mental tricks that humans fall prey to quite often.  One of my favorite parts of McGonigal’s work is that she provides small challenges for readers to test out with each new idea she introduces.  While it is inevitably something she, herself, has developed, I can’t help but think, her sister, Jane McGonigal has helped or advised in as it has a strong gamification element to it.  What I appreciate most about this book is that it reminds the reader that willpower is often a moving target and that one cannot necessarily conquer it but rather just better understand where and when one is most likely to succeed or surrender to short-term desires that are at odds with long-term goals.


Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely


This short but intriguing book will be useful for not just leaders but really for anyone who is looking to understand his or her own sense of motivation as well as those of others that someone works with.  It's a fairly short book and one that you can get the gist of from Ariely's TED Talk.  Known for conducting a range of curious tests with humans to better understand human nature (previous works include The Truth about Dishonesty and Predictably Irrational), Ariely takes this book to explore how we tend to profoundly misunderstand how motivation works and therefore regularly fail to achieve the outcomes we are expecting in others or severely cramping the possibilities.  He unpacks some rather strong misconceptions about how extrinsic rewards (e.g. more pay) can fail to increase or even decrease productivity or how purpose and meaning on behalf of the individual drives more productivity.  This book has a lot of potential for everyone as it makes the reader more aware of how to make outcomes more beneficial for both parties involved.  

The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

Dobelli works his ways through some 98 different biases and faulty thinking practices that he has witnessed and experienced in his life as an author and businessman.  With each, he introduces the concept in clear and easy to understand prose with some great examples to illustrate how each works.  While the format remains largely the same, the text is still lively, fun, and helpful.  I enjoyed learning about and realizing the different fallacies that I have regularly stumbled with and ways of trying to get around them.  He smartly emphasizes that we cannot use a list like this all the time, but when we are pressed to make the big decisions in life, it is useful to go through such a list to make sure we're not missing something in our thinking.  The one strong critique I have of the book is that his final chapter, labeled, "Why You Shouldn't Read the News: News Illusion" entails many of the fallacies to which he has discussed.  He argues that there is no value to the news and that it's distracting in most people's lives.  He claims to rely on his friends and associates to filter news of relevance to him and that ultimately, people should read books and forgo news.  Of course, this seems to be a blatant case of the man with the hammer or as he says, "if you take your problem to an expert, don’t expect the overall best solution. Expect an approach that can be solved with the expert’s toolkit."  That is, the book author is telling the reader the fix is more books rather than more strategically engaging with news.  Besides that one issue, the book is a solid collection of wisdom and food-for-thought when making big decisions. 


On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder


Snyder's book is short and sweet.  It's kinda like a TED-Talk or highlights real.  However, the book is straight and to the point, providing specific details, historical examples, and things to consider about tyranny in the 21st century, with particular attention to the US President Trump and the tenuous and problematic elements of his election and administration. I found there was practical advice about being involved and active but equally important was the smaller stuff that on some level people might disregard but are also central to keeping society a community.  For instance, his advice to make eye contact and be friendly with others is something that we don't realize its prominence and importance until it's gone and by that time, we are in serious trouble.  In total, it's a solid short read that helps the budding activist or reminds the experienced one of the importance of the work.  

Making Gumbo in the University by Rupert W. Nacoste

Nacoste's book is an enjoyable read in many regards and a look at the problems that those involved in diversity work often come up against.  Nacoste relates his experience as a chief diversity leader on southern US university and the walls he came up against while trying to create a more effective and meaningful approach to diversity at the institution.  For me, I liked how this book captured the fact that diversity is not milk-warm acceptance of one another but is embedded in the tension of recognition of differences while trying to move forward in different directions.  That is, diversity is not blind acceptance but respectful dialogue of differences that at times will be hard or unlikely to be reconciled.  He also provides a good frame for institutions to rethink diversity as housed in a particular place or position and more embedded throughout the different areas of an institution; what does diversity mean for the different areas and how do they foster?  Where I was less interested and impressed with the prose was the interweaving of his family life and his earlier life.  Both are important to include but sometimes, the details (relevant though they were to his personal experience) distracted from his discussion and analysis of his work.  Also, as a self-published book, it had a significant amount of grammatical and spelling errors.

A word cloud of this blog post in the shape of a coffee cup on a saucer

Check out other reading recommendations from 2017 (and you can always look at all of my books that I've read on GoodReads):

BOOKS

  • An Introduction to Qualitative Research: Learning in the Field by Gretchen Rossman
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  • Making Gumbo in the University bu Rupert W. Nacoste

AUDIOBOOKS

  • Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  • Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
  • Printer's Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History by JP & Rebecca Romney
  • Certain Dark Things: Stories by M. J. Pack
  • The Collapsing Empire (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi,
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
  • Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations by Dan Ariely
  • The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli 
  • The Chessboard and the Web: Strategies of Connection in a Networked World by Anne-Marie Slaughter
  • Finding Gobi (Main edition): The true story of a little dog and an incredible journey by Dion Leonard
  • House of Names by Colm Tóibín

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Briggs Land Vol. 1: State of Grace (Briggs Land, #1) by Brian Wood
  • The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long

What about you reader?  What book recommendations do you have for me?

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Review: Nina: Adolescence

Nina: Adolescence Nina: Adolescence by Amy Hassinger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note:  This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe.  This review addresses both the book and the audiobook. This audiobook is an endearing story about a young girl emerging into womanhood and the many expected and unexpected dilemmas that come with that growth. Most young women wage war with their self-image, but Nina not only battles with her own inner demons, she faces additional pressure with her naked body being publicly displayed. Her mother, a painter, has cataloged Nina's transformation from child to adult in a series of nude portraits that are being shown in a gallery. Nina also carries a burden-the guilt for the death of her younger brother, four years prior to the beginning of the story. Her lost brother is detrimental enough for her to become quite introverted. She does not have any friends in school-until she meets Raissa, a friend from her dance class. In addition, as her mother's acclaim grows, a personal friend and renowned art critic, Leo takes a very deep and dangerous interest in Nina.

Nina's two primary relationships (Nina and Raissa, Nina and Leo) comprised much of the book. From Raissa, Nina learns about friendship and redevelops her youthful exuberance, which was lost with her brother. Their relationship is the typical teenage friendship but it is completely new to Nina who has not had friends. They fight, they laugh, they play "Truth or Dare". The two friends find themselves in a slew of teenage predicaments and remain friends through it all.

The intricate relationship that develops with Leo is another beast altogether. Leo, who was close to Nina's mother, takes a sexual interest in the fifteen-year-old, seducing the innocent Nina with cunning and guile. Amazingly, the talented author is able to deliver this part of the story in a believable manner. Her writing does not pass judgment-rather the author provides keen insight into Nina's mind to find that Nina's actions are a result of a combination of her confusion, her budding sexuality, and Leo's advances.

Another strong aspect to this story is Nina's relationship with her parents. While she does love her parents-she jumps back and forth with them in regards to how she feels towards them. They frustrate her one moment and are the best parents ever in the next moment. Her parents are present throughout the book, but much like everyone's teenage years-they may be there, but in many regards they are not there. They are no longer completely involved in their daughter's life and they begin to understand that Nina is becoming an adult with her own life.

This story captures the nuances of a female's emergence into womanhood. The author is able to freeze those memorable events of youthful discovery that many reminisce over delightfully. In addition, the realism of the story makes it that much more compelling-all elements of the story are so believable that one never really thinks, "Oh that couldn't happen."

Mia Barron does a fantastic narration of this book. Her tone was perfect for the exuberance, youthfulness, and energy of Nina. Mia captivated Nina with superb precision, however, there was one fault. This reviewer happens to be from the Boston area-where the story takes place. Knowing that the Boston accent can be a bit obnoxious, I can understand doing a flat accent for a dialogue, but the narrator delivers much of the dialogue in an accent resembling the Wisconsin/Minnesota region. Being distinctly familiar with the accent, I did find this a little disrupting. But her skill is not to be underrated-her depiction of a teenager emerging into womanhood is right on key.

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