hankrules2011

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Posts Tagged ‘crime’

A Review of Fatal System Error

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 22, 2015

Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the InternetFatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet by Joseph Menn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fatal System Error is an absolutely scary as shit, totally frightening book about today’s hackers and their ties to the Russian mob and how billions of US dollars in terms of identity theft and credit card fraud make their way to the Russian Mafia through this new breed of hacker. The author is a technology journalist who is a decent writer and the book could have been good, and at times, is, but it has some major flaws as well. First through, Menn, the author, traces the lives and paths of new cybercrime fighters in America and Britain, Barrett Lyon and Andy Crocker, as they develop ways to defend against hacker attacks and ultimately carry the battle to them. What they find out and how they did it is shocking.

Lyon, a young California computer geek helped a friend’s company stop something called a DDOS attack (denial-of-service) in the early 2000s. This was fairly new and some hackers had figured out they could start using their computers and other people’s computers in what later became known as bots and botnets to flood a person or company’s single server with data requests, thus bringing it down and bringing it offline. They initially started doing this to offshore gambling sites, where there was majorly big money to be made, and they demanded “ransoms” of some $5,000, $10,000, $20,0000, and as time went by, as much as $200,000, payable in hours, or else these sites would be shut down on a big game day and these betting sites would lose many millions of dollars. One of these major gambling sites heard about what Lyon had done and hired him to quickly defeat a DDOS attack against its company, which Lyon did. The thing I don’t really understand, since this became Lyon’s thing and since the author made such a big deal about this for about half the book and made such a big deal about Lyon’s computer genius, is that it seems to me that Lyon merely obtained and later bought large server farms to build up bandwidth and capacity to defeat the DDOS attacks – and it worked. But that’s not genius! Anyone could figure that out! That’s just brute force defense. There’s no brilliant coding. There’s not even any brilliant networking. No virus traps, no Trojans, no sniffers, nothing. Just server farms. Okay, whatever. He started his own company, with the backing of a number of these gambling companies he was now working for, all offshore, and which he rather stupidly and naively didn’t realize were themselves criminals, er, US mobsters. So, he started his own business with mob money. At some point, he rats them out, loses his business, somehow survives, starts a new business, and discovers that the world of hacking has passed him by, as DDOS is a thing of the past and he has to catch up if he’s going to sell his security skills. Lyon at some point started tracking hackers though various networks, finding that many of them were Russian punks, just teens. As part of this investigation, he came into contact with an English policeman named Andy Crocker, who was doing the same sort of investigation, but on an official basis for his government. Simultaneously, though acting independently, the two began to move in on the “bad” guys, watching as they transitioned from basic hacking to DDOS ransom schemes, then to identify theft and credit card fraud, and finally to government-sponsored cyber attacks on other governments and multinational corporations.

Andy Crocker was a British policeman, former military, now working a national task force dedicated to eliminating Internet crime. As noted, he came across Lyon while researching these hackers who were also hitting British gambling companies. He traced them, like Lyon, to Russia and other Eastern European countries, such as Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Estonia. Like Lyon, he was able to trace the originators of some of these DDOS attacks to actual hackers and found out some of their true identities and locations. He actually traveled to Russia to begin a cooperative effort with the FSB and MVD to locate, arrest, and prosecute these Russian hackers. And although it took great effort and a hell of a long time, they got three of the prominent ones, all young kids who had done a hell of a lot of damage and were responsible for millions of dollars of theft and destruction. But they obviously weren’t the only ones, by far. There were thousands of others and these were low level hackers. They wanted to go after bigger ones. And to their dismay, they found they couldn’t. One they tried to get was the son of the province’s police chief and he was untouchable. The biggest, someone called King Arthur, who was allegedly making a million a day, was unknown and unreachable and was a god in the hacking world. They eventually found his country and he was also untouchable. Andy was told by everyone that no one could go after him. That no one could arrest him, sorry. Someone big was looking out for him. Crocker came to the conclusion that either the Russian mob and or, and more likely, the Russian government was using and protecting the big Russian hackers. It was depressing. In fact, after Crocker returned to England, the Russian prosecutor of these hackers who was so gung ho about prosecuting more Russian hackers was found murdered!

Another depressing thing was just how deeply into Russian society this world of hacking and cybercrime runs. Apparently, St. Petersburg is a monster crime haven. Apparently there’s a mob organization so big and so powerful and so feared that they brazenly run ads advertising their services and skills openly and offer a home to over 100 big league hackers, carders, virus makers, botnet owners, scammers, spammers, crackers, etc. It’s called the Russian Business Network (RBN), and although it’s theoretically merely a network provider, it’s widely thought to be a government-sponsored, mob controlled crime syndicate that is extremely violent, horrendously violent, and very dangerous. And there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. It’s completely protected. It seems that virtually everything seriously big, bad, and evil goes through the RBN. No one can penetrate it. It’s a god.

The book goes on to assert that the battle against hackers and cybercrime has essentially been lost. That those who argue that real-time, live use of credit cards is riskier than online use are insane and dead wrong (which is interesting, cause I just read a carding book by uberhacker and now-Wired editor Kevin Poulsen stating this very assertion the author’s denying). That over 30% of America’s credit card numbers, as well as Social Security card numbers and other forms of ID, are in the hands of the Russian mobsters. This book was written in 2010. I imagine if this was true then, it’s probably worse now. It’s depressing as hell. Still, the two times I’ve been victimized by credit card fraud and theft, it’s not been online; it’s been live use theft.

The thing that really irritated me about this book, though, was that the author relied virtually exclusively on these two “experts” (one of whom I question is actually even a real expert) to write the book. Shouldn’t he have sought out sources from CERT, the much maligned (in this book) FBI, Secret Service, FBS (since he went there), big name hackers (go to the source), white hat hackers, other security professionals, etc.? Why rely on two people who may have had five years of varying degrees of success in the mid-2000s, neither of which I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve heard of many major security professionals, when there are so many sources to choose from? It seems short sighted and it seems like you’re limiting your book and your readers’ educations and experiences. I don’t like it. But that’s what he chose to do, so that’s what I have to live with. Still, I dislike it so much, and I dislike the fact that he focuses so damn much of the book on one figure who focuses almost exclusively on a hacking technique (DDOS) that went out of style even before the mid-2000s, that I’m knocking the book down from four stars max to three max. This could and should have been a much better and broader book and it wasn’t. I think the author did the reader a grave disservice. Not a great book with unusual sources, but slightly recommended if you want to wake up sweating in the middle of the night.

I found a number of interesting reviews, one of which impressed me so much, that I’m going to print it here without the author’s knowledge or permissions, but while giving him full credit and hoping he approves. I think he makes some excellent points about the book and they’re worth reading.

Joe White rated it did not like it · review of another edition
Shelves: on-shelf, techread

One star

Thank goodness for Goodreads reviews and bookswap. Reading the prior reviews I had low expectations for this book, and through swap I only wasted money on the postage.
The book can almost be divided into 3 segments. The author seems to only have interviewed two main participants against internet crime, and came away with an incomplete and incoherent understanding of any details of the problem. He almost attributes all the evil on the internet as having a denial of service as the source. Even during the second part of the book, which included the topic of identity theft, he was attributing most of the theft activity to DDoS. I think he just like to bring up the acronym.
Some of the problems I had with the book :

1. There were 90 pages attributed to crimes of US mafia figures, in which the dollar amounts of each occurrence were laboriously spelled out like a Bob Cratchet accountant listing personal losses and moaning about the inability of the FBI to pursue the Gumbas and delegate justice. Literary style could have been extended to a two-page spreadsheet report detailing the who, how, and how much figures. This segment of the book generated the feeling of watching a Godfather marathon movie session, and I felt really diverged from the intent of discussing internet crime in terms of how the internet is the enabling tool. I already suspected that mules carry money, people get killed, and identities are just handles to hide behind.

2. The swashbuckling crime fighting DDoS buster had a girlfriend to whom a few pages were wasted on. Since she was irrelevant to the overall topic, she could have been mentioned once for background, and not introduced as what might have become a significant character (but never did).

3. The mechanics of defeating a DDos attack were never detailed. The server farm set up in Phoenix had the bandwidth and number of servers to defeat an attack, but there were no details provided as to why it was specifically set up in Phoenix, what its components were, and how a direct attack defense was managed.

4. Because the author seemed obsessed with DDoS, he mentioned bots and botnets at least once on every 3rd page. He never described a bot to the laymen. He never made it clear whether a bot could consist of a virtual machine created for a purpose, or whether it had to be an independent 3rd party box belonging to an unsuspecting bystander. The author never fully explained the mechanics of a trojan horse implant, and didn’t clarify the difference between a virus and trojan horse. He also never explained what can be done at the individual user level to fend off trojans and viruses, except in a short subject dealing with phishing emails generated by spam during — DDoS attacks. He never clarified that DDoS isn’t necessary for phishing, and neither are bots.

5. Only once was it mentioned that one group switched to Macs because they seemed less susceptible to attack. He mentioned at least twice that you can’t sue Microsoft for providing a faulty OS combined with a poorly updated integrated browser, because purchasing a machine with Windows provides only a license to use the software and provides no firm sale transaction in which a person owns the software running on the hardware that they do own. He did mention the Microsoft monopoly on the OS, but failed to mention that Microsoft was prosecuted in conjunction with monopolistic powers only related to installation of a browser. It was never mentioned that Microsoft to this day controls hardware vendor access to Windows, and if the hardware companies dare install anything else but Windows or MS products, they will be heavily penalized in regard to being able to install Windows. If anyone says the Dell sells Linux, I must say that I’ve only ever been able to find minimal hardware boxes in the very basic desktop configuration, and in selecting one of those choices, there is a radio selection button for the OS that would full form advance to a Windows selection. Phone inquiries were even worse at the individual customer level. Only institutional server customers could purchase equipment with Linux pre-installed. Same story at all vendors except Lenovo, and then only through individual providers.

6. The author in the last 50 pages provides a conglomerated synopsis of headline events and trends regarding contemporary internet warfare across national borders. China is mentioned as a war opponent in cyberhacking, but it is never mentioned that China manufactures a significant volume of the circuitry used in electronics and could very easily, using the subversion techniques described by R.J. Pineiro, hide logic bombs and covert data skimmers within circuit boards and components. This could happen to Apple and all the phone manufacturers, so that their equipment could be subverted despite the installed software. Of course the title of the book was “the hunt for the internet crime lords”, so hardware subversion might have been beyond the scope.

7. Since the title was the “hunt for the New Crime Lords who are bringing down the internet”, some credit must be given to the author for remaining in the hunt venue, and not providing the extraneous technical details that readers might be led to expect by the book-cover blurb adulations such as “A fascinating high-tech whodunit”. The high tech here would be synonymous to an interstate highway providing speeders the ability to go faster.

8. The middle segment dealing with a physical legal pursuit presence in Russia, was in my opinion the redeeming revelation of the book. Life in Russia has never been painted as a Disneyland experience, but the adverse conditions both politically and physically presented here, really underscored the futility of pursuit of Soviet area bad guys in their home territory.

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2014 in Review

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 31, 2014

At the end of the past two years, I believe, I’ve written about what took place during that year, so I’m doing so again. Here’s the synopsis, as best my memory can recollect.

In January, my mother celebrated her 84th birthday, so we spent a little time with her. The month was otherwise uneventful.

In February, we put our old house on the market and moved to our new house. We’re pretty grateful for the trade. Our old house was in what looked like a nice neighborhood, but it was actually nearly a ghetto. It was very loud and had a lot of crime. Now, we’re up on top of a mountain in a quiet neighborhood with no crime. We feel good about that.

February also saw the death of our beloved cat Toby. He was only six and it didn’t seem fair. He essentially died of kidney failure, although we sadly had to put him to sleep (which seems to me to be a pansy way of saying we killed him). We had him cremated and keep his ashes with my late cat Rocky’s ashes. We still miss Toby a lot.

We also got a membership to a good shooting range in February and have enjoyed that a lot.

March was pretty uneventful.

In April, I got a new car. I traded in my lemon BMW 530i for a 2011 Toyota Camry and couldn’t be happier. I found it on Autotrader at a dealer in Atlanta and went down there, beat someone else coming to buy it — barely — test drove it, and left with it to come home. It’s been a great car.

Sometime around April also saw the return of my head pain that I’ve had since 2010. I have trigeminal neuralgia, so I have to take a lot of pain pills and have had a number of procedures to try and combat it.

Additionally, Gretchen’s birthday is in April, so we went up to Baltimore to celebrate it with her friends and family. We had a very good time. It was great to see everyone and we got to go to an Orioles game, a museum, some good restaurants and even saw some friends in Virginia on the way.

Finally, we celebrated our one year anniversary in April. It was pretty low key, but we had a good time remembering our wedding and honeymoon to the beach the year before.

In May, I got a SCCY CPX-1 9 mm through an online auction site for a very good price and a Beretta PX4 Storm at a gun show. Neither gun has turned out to be my favorite — a Ruger SR9c is — but I was happy to have them. Meanwhile, Gretchen turned out to be a pro with our Marlin .22 rifle.

I believe it was May, too, when Mom moved from here back up to Knoxville, her old home. It was sad to see her go, but it was good for her to be back with her many friends and at her old church, which she had missed. She got a nice one level condo and is living on her own. We do worry about her though.

In June, we thought we had a buyer for our old house, finally. We had had to lower the price three times and it was going for practically nothing. We were about to take an $18,000 loss on it. However, the financing for this buyer fell through, so we were back at square one.

In June, I also had a disability hearing. It was my second time in court for it and I was denied for the fourth time. However, my lawyer appealed. And the judge left open the chance that he might rule in my favor if my orthopedist provided appropriate information.

July was the one year anniversary of my father’s death. That was very sad. We went to visit his gravestone in the cemetery where he’s buried in Knoxville. In July, I also had the first of three neurological procedures for my head pain. It didn’t really work, so that was disappointing.

We also had a new buyer for our old home in July. They were doing FHA financing though, so it would take awhile. They agreed to buy the house at very nearly the price we were asking. The closing was set for October.

I think August was pretty uneventful. I had been doing a lot of traveling back and forth between Chattanooga and Knoxville to help Mom out with things. That got old. We also started looking for a new church, even though I was on the vestry of our old church. It was simply too small and too old. We were the youngest people there and people were dying off and no one new was joining. It was a dying church. So we started going to other Episcopal churches, as well as Methodist and Presbyterian.

In September, I celebrated my 48th birthday and tried not to get too depressed.

During that month, I also had two more surgical procedures for my head pain, but neither helped. It was discouraging.

October came around and the financing for our house’s buyer fell through the day before the closing. We were livid and so were they. However, our realtor worked the phones and found a new lender within two days, so they were approved and a new closing was set for about two weeks away.

I also had my third court hearing for my disability. My lawyers prepared me for disappointment. They said everything would hinge on what the medical expert would say and they didn’t expect much. When the judge started questioning the expert, though, I was shocked to hear him say my back was too bad to work and that, combined with my trigeminal neuralgia and other assorted things, meant I couldn’t work at all. So the judge finally ruled in my favor and I got disability. I was shocked and elated, because I had been trying for this for over three years and now finally I got it.

During this time, my insomnia had gotten worse and I was consistently getting up between 2 and 3:30 AM, which was frustrating.

We did something pretty fun in October. For my birthday, Gretchen got me Penguins tickets to go see them play the Predators in Nashville. So we went up there, went to Bridgestone Arena, which was nice, and saw the Pens win 3-0. It was very fun and we had a great time. We also had a fantastic meal at a nearby restaurant before the game. Oh, and there were a ton of Pens fans there too!

October is also the month for Halloween. We never had kids come to our house at our old place, but we had about 25 kids come to our new house, so we were tickled about that.

In November, we traveled to Saint Simons Island GA, where I used to live, to go to the beach and take a nice vacation. The weather was still good and we had a nice time. We also went to Savannah and Jekyll Island. It was a great vacation.

In November, we also finally sold our old house and with the money I was able to pay off all of my old student loans, which was a sizable sum, so that was great. However, we discovered a water leak in the kitchen the day before the closing. The buyers still bought the home, but we went through a nightmare getting repairs to the floors and cabinets done while these people got impatient waiting to move in. I don’t blame them, but they drove me nuts.

Additionally, we had a new addition to the family this month. Ace, a three month old tabby cat, joined, per Gretchen’s strong wishes. He’s a bundle of energy, but he’s been fun.

This month, in December, I finally got my disability award letter and a lump sum for my back pay. I also got my Medicare card, even though I’m retaining my Obamacare insurance cause it’s frankly better.

We also found a new church we’re joining next week. It’s Rivermont Presbyterian Church, which is a UPUSA church. It’s bigger with more people of all ages and has a number of Sunday Schools to attend, so we’re excited.

We celebrated Christmas last week and had a great holiday season. We sent and got a lot of cards and exchanged some great gifts and had a good time. Of course it’s also bowl month, so that’s good.

In sports, my Steelers have made the playoffs, so I have big hopes for them. My Pirates made the playoffs for the second year in a row, but didn’t get anywhere. There’s always next year, right? My Penguins made the playoffs, but got bounced out in the second round by the Rangers, so that was disappointing. They’re playing now and even though they have a TON of injuries, they’re still having a good season. Meanwhile my Vols made a bowl game for the first time in four years and they’ll be playing Iowa on January 2. I’m hoping for a win.

So, it was an up and down year. I still have head pain. I still have insomnia. Gretchen was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and lupus. That’s bad. But we got a new house, a new car, paid off my student loans, and I got disability, so that’s all good. We’re hoping for a great 2015 and we hope all of you have a great 2015 too. Cheers!

 

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Snippets of 2013

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 5, 2014

Last December 31st, I wrote an End of the Year Post where I wrote about highlights (and lowlights) of each month. In fact, I did so for the previous year as well. Well, obviously I didn’t this year. However, I thought I’d take some time to write a few snippets about some things that happened in 2013.

In April, Gretchen and I got married. We had a lovely wedding and an awesome reception attended by a number of close friends and family members. Then we headed for the beach at Gulf Shores, AL, where we had a blast. The weather was perfect, we did a lot of fun things, went over to Pensacola FL for a day trip, and returned home feeling good.

However, on July 28, my father died while mowing my grass, completely unexpectedly. I was at a meeting and had returned home just in time to hear him stop mowing. Minutes later he was on the ground moaning, and as Mom and I tried to give him CPR, he died. Ten minutes after we were at the hospital, the doctor came in with the bad news. It was devastating.

Three days later, our house was broken into while Gretchen was at work and I was on my way home from Knoxville with Mom. These thugs had kicked in our wooden front door and took our big screen tv and my iMac. We felt very victimized and we couldn’t get anyone to come replace the door, so I sat up all night watching the door with my Glock to make sure we weren’t invaded. The next day, we had a metal door installed. Days later, we had an alarm system installed. We felt a lot safer, but not completely safe.

On August 8th, Dad’s funeral was held in Knoxville TN. About 1,000 people attended. I spoke, as did two others. Afterwards, Gretchen, Mom, and I had to stand in a receiving line for about four hours as everyone tried to speak with us. Many of my friends came, even from as far away as Nashville and Virginia, and I didn’t really get a chance to talk to them because we were crushed with people. Family came from all over and that was nice. Sad circumstances, but good to see them.

I spent much of August and September traveling back and forth between Chattanooga and Knoxville with Mom to deal with funeral directors, pastors, financial advisers, lawyers, insurance professionals, and more. Mom has gotten increasingly flustered over the course of the year and relies on me a lot for things that Dad used to do for her, which truthfully doesn’t make me entirely comfortable. But she’s old and lonely and needs help, and I’m the only one there for her, along with Gretchen.

On a different note, I  had only two very minor surgical procedures last year — one in October and one in December, both on my back. I don’t think they’ve helped and am looking at major surgery or living in constant pain. Neither option seems good.

In sports, my Penguins nearly made the Stanley Cup last year and are doing well this year, while my Steelers recovered from a horrible start to nearly make the playoffs. The Pirates did make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, and the Vols football team had a rough year, but with a new coach and decent recruits, so I have high hopes for the future.

A few months ago, Gretchen joined the bell choir at church, and last month, I was voted onto the Vestry. I am to be installed today. It’s a weighty responsibility and I hope I do well.

A few weeks ago, there was a shooting with a fatality at our only local grocery store about a half mile from us. And there is so much crime in this neighborhood that even though we love this house, we’re looking for a new one in a crime free neighborhood, probably closer to Mom — although she’s thinking about moving back to Knoxville. We have found three good houses so far, with one being on top, so now we have to seriously clean our house and pick it up before we can put it on the market. The main problem is even though we live in a nice middle class neighborhood, the general area isn’t too good and there’s so much crime, that property prices are severely deflated and we’re not bound to get very much for this awesome house and will have to pay a lot more for the next one. That blows.

On an unrelated note, after two months of trying, we were finally able to sign up for Obamacare last month! We’re getting a great deal with Blue Cross with a $1,000 deductible for the both of us and a subsidy, making our payment only $35 a month! That’s sweet. Last week, I paid our first premium. Gretchen’s been without health insurance for over a year and desperately needs to see a doctor, and I’ve been on COBRA, which is about to run out, so we have high hopes for this. The only hitch is that it doesn’t cover all of my meds, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do about that, but hopefully something will work out.

Finally, on New Year’s Eve, we spent the evening and the night on the Delta Queen riverboat hotel, celebrating with a bunch of people we didn’t know, listening to a covers band that ranged from horrible to decent, depending on the song. We had champagne and kissed at midnight, and we had a good time, although our cabin room was tiny. Heh.

I guess that about covers it. Hopefully 2014 will be a good year. 2010, 2011, and 2012 were horrible years for me, while 2013 was mixed, so I’m hoping 2014 will be the best of the bunch. Cheers!

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Bad Week

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 8, 2013

Today, we’re going up to Knoxville for Dad’s funeral tomorrow. It’s going to be a very long day tomorrow. We have 27 family members driving and flying in from all over the country. It’ll be good to see them. I’m going to speak. I hope I do well. I hope I don’t break down in front of 1,000 people. I really do miss Dad. I just got back from my doctor and he was shocked. He gave me a bear hug, which was nice. He’s an emotional fellow.

However, Tuesday afternoon, I was driving home from Knoxville with Mom when Gretchen called. She asked if I’d left the front door open. Of course I hadn’t. She then discovered it had been demolished, smashed to smithereens by some thieves. She called the police who filed a report, but didn’t even dust for fingerprints. All they took was our 46″ RCA HDTV, a fancy surge protector, and my critically important iMac. It could have been much worse. They left the new PC, as well as Gretchen’s laptop. The cats were somewhat traumatized, especially Toby. He wouldn’t come out of Gretchen’s closet for hours and he was jumpy all night. We were pissed!!! What assholes. And I have my resume on there, my books, my RRR stuff, my work, everything. Software. I hope that when I get a new Mac, my backups will work, or I’m totally screwed. Mom called the insurance company to get the homeowner’s policy working. We should be reimbursed for the TV, the computer, some software (MS Office), and the front door. Meanwhile I had to stay up all night long to guard the house because we couldn’t close the busted door and no asshole would come install a new one! I sat up all night! A friend called me at 4 AM and we talked for an hour and a half, which was nice. Helped keep me awake. I talked with contractors and Home Depot, etc., yesterday morning and most couldn’t get to this EMERGENCY for another day or two, which wasn’t going to work for me, and the others wanted to charge like $800 plus parts. I found a contractor through Home Depot who charged me $350 for parts and labor, which is awesome. He did a good job too. I guess we won’t get a new TV or computer until next week, since we’ll be in Knoxville for Dad’s funeral for three days. Oh well. Guess we’ll read a lot. Still, we feel unsafe here. We feel violated. Gretchen wants a big dog and I want ADT — an alarm service, which statistically cuts down on breakins. We just can’t afford them right now. I may talk to Mom about it and we may get one anyway. It’s that necessary. We live in a fairly decent neighborhood, but there is so much crime here, it’s not funny. And this robbery was in broad daylight! How brazen. You’d think a neighbor would hear our door being kicked down.

So, what’s next? That’s my big question. Things come in threes. We’ve had Dad’s death last week, our house robbed this week. What’s going to happen next week? Gretchen wants to do a house cleansing. I’m not opposed to the idea, although I don’t know how helpful it would be. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers these days. It’s pretty rough.

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A Review of Hell’s Angels

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 30, 2013

Hell's AngelsHell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book was Hunter S. Thompson’s first book and I think you can tell. No real sign of “gonzo” journalism here, other than traveling with the Hell’s Angel’s on runs for a year. It seems very much like straight journalism, like he’s right out of journalism school.

I couldn’t finish this book, because in one word, it’s BORING! Yes, that’s right. A book about the Hell’s Angeles is boring. It shouldn’t be. The problem is, Thompson goes so far overboard, so out of his way, to portray this motorcycle gang as the biggest menace America has ever faced, that it’s ridiculous and repetitive. And annoying. Okay, these guys are slugs. Big deal.

Hell’s Angels, written circa 1966 — before Altamont — describes America’s total fixation and fear about this perceived menace. And reading it now in 2013, it just seems somewhat quaint. Almost silly. Motorcycle gangs? We’re talking about maybe, maybe 500 motorcycle gang members. Want gangs? Try L.A., where there are tens of thousands of gang members. Want a real menace? Try the punks with guns that are killing the hundreds of people dying each year in cities like L.A. and Chicago. The most trouble a Hell’s Angel ever got into was a bar fight or two, with few exceptions. The subtitle is “A Strange and Terrible Saga.” Frankly, it doesn’t seem very strange and terrible at all. Try terrorism. That’s strange and terrible. I guess the nuclear family going into the 1960s was scared to death of people who weren’t straight laced, but it’s kind of pathetic and the book drones on and on about how menacing these guys were, when they were just big punks. Big damn deal. Get over it. Now I assume if Thompson were still alive and he decided to re-write the book, it would read quite differently, but it’s a disappointing book without much allure to it and I just couldn’t finish it. Pity.

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The Dead Can Dance Concert

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 6, 2012

[Caveat — I can’t get the darn pictures to line up correctly with the type, so I’m sorry for the jumbled page.]

Last night was the big Dead Can Dance concert in Atlanta and it was amazing! My buddy Chris D, who drove down from Virginia, hooked up with me here in Chattanooga and we went down to our hotel in Atlanta late yesterday afternoon. After checking into our suite, we went to a local Italian place recommended by the hotel staff. It wasn’t bad. I had lasagna and I would give it a solid B grade. After dinner, we went back and changed into our Dead Can Dance t-shirts we’d gotten with the purchase of our tickets. Looking like concert twins, we left for the venue.

The concert was held in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, where the Atlanta Symphony plays. It’s a three story marvel, very tall and high. Fortunately, we were in the orchestra section, down front. When we entered the center, Chris insisted on buying us DCD concert t-shirts, even though we were already wearing DCD t-shirts. I relented, cause he was as excited as a little kid. T-shirts in hand, we hit the bar, where Chris got a beer and I got a pinot grigio.

Me, at the Dead Can Dance concert

Chris and I at the DCD concert

After a drink, we headed for our seats. We were elated when we were taken by the usher down to the second row, where our seats were practically dead center. It was virtually impossible to have had better seats! We giggled like school girls, knowing how close to the band we’d be.

Second row seats

An opening act came on at 8 PM, doing instrumentals to Arabic tambourines and Swiss drum-like instruments. Good world music. Finally, after a break, Dead Can Dance came on. Brendan Perry has aged, but looked great. He’s shaving his hair and his goatee is white now, but he sounds fantastic. And Lisa Gerrard was stunning! She wore a black outfit with a gold cape and she looked regal as she gazed out over the crowded audience, smiling the whole time. There was a backing band of three keyboard players, two percussionists, and a bass player, while Brendan played the guitar and Lisa played her odd instrument, the name of which escapes me — I think it’s a dulcimer. Since they’re supporting a new album — which is fantastic, and their first since 1996 — they did a lot of new songs. All told, I believe they did six songs from the new album and three other new songs I’d never heard before, one a Moorish song that was 800 years old and another a Greek tune from the 1930s. They opened with “Children of the Sun” from their new album, Anastasis, and it was pretty powerful. Here is a picture of the band.

Dead Can Dance, Atlanta 2012

DCD played several new songs to start the show off before going to one of their old ones, “Rakim.” Here’s a picture of Lisa singing “Anabasis.”

Lisa Gerrard

Here’s a picture of Brendan doing “Amnesia.”

Brendan Perry

The band continued mixing new and old songs, but they didn’t play many of my favorite old Dead Can Dance songs, like “Cantara,” “American Dreaming,” “Salterello,” and “Carnival Is Over.” Oh well. Here’s a picture of them doing “Yulunga.”

Dead Can Dance

One of the big highlights was of Lisa doing her classic, “Sanvean.” It always brings tears to my eyes, it’s so beautiful. It was an awe inspiring performance and I recorded it on my iPhone so I can always play it.

Lisa Gerrard performing “Sanvean”

Brendan & Lisa collaborating

DCD ended their show with another song from the new album, it’s closing song, “All In Good Time.” They then left the stage. The crowded roared to its feet and exploded. The ovation lasted a long time before they came out for an encore. They played a rousing version of “The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove” and another before leaving again. They got another standing O before returning for a second encore. This happened again, for a third encore, before the band gathered onstage to say their goodbyes and wave at us. Lisa blew the crowd kisses.

Goodbye DCD

It was a glorious concert and Chris and I were elated that we had gone, that we had such good seats, and I was particularly thrilled because I had waited some 25 years to see them live. Kick that off the bucket list, I guess.  I’ve seen a lot of good concerts, some very good. Morrissey was great, The Cure played until 1 AM, I saw the Bauhaus 15 year reunion tour concert in Los Angeles, Nine Inch Nails was amazing, but this one was perhaps the best show I’ve ever seen. I’m only sorry my beloved Gretchen didn’t get to make the trip with us. Perhaps another year.

Speaking of Gretchen, there was a sobering note to the evening. She called me while I was in the venue waiting for the show to begin, distraught. Her car window had been smashed out and her purse stolen, with everything in it. It was terrible, and we’ve spent the bulk of the day making the bank, DMV, credit card, and new car window rounds. What a hassle, and it was very worrisome. Chris and I contemplated going back to Chattanooga early in the morning, about 1 AM, but Gretchen went over to my parents’ house to stay, so instead we left around 6 AM today and got back at 8. It’s been a full 24 hours. It was an amazing show.

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