Sunday, February 02, 2014

superbowl Prediction

Seattle by a field goal. Monday morning is spent talking more about the commercials than the game itself.

Saturday, February 01, 2014


This is the documentary released to much fanfare to netflix a couple of weeks back.  Supposedly an inside look at the Romney campaign.  Instead it's much more smaller and superficial than I had expected.  There are several sequences which are simply the Romney family hugging and or praying together.  Instead of getting any real emotional connection with the candidate there's him looking pensive or cracking jokes.

As far as the politics side goes there are one or two telling moments.  A snippet from the 08 campaign where he says if he's labeled as a flip flopper are he's a flawed candidate.  There's no explanation of what in the four years between that and the 2012 election they did to try to deal with that charge.

We also get a chunk of the 47% video than Romney in debate prep trying to deal with the fallout but that's it.  The same with Benghazi though it is possible to hear one of the family members saying that it was a mistake and that they were wrong.  Which is interesting considering the attempts to revisit the story by some on the right.

All and all happy this came with my netflix subscription and I didn't pay any extra for it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Time Will Tell by Donald Greig

A musicologist Andrew Eiger discovers a manuscript of a new piece of music by Ockeghem.  Before academic kudos are his he has to convince an ensemble to perform the work.  The narrative switches between his point of view and the the conductor of the group.  Interspersed are also chunks of a fictional memoir of a compatriot of Ockeghem.

Unfortunately most of the characters in the book are simply unlikable.  Eiger comes off as Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory unable to figure out even basic social cues.  Blundering into situation after situation.  It's not funny just irritating.  There's plenty of over analysis of simple dialog and pages of description.  When finally there is action in the last two chapters it comes out of left field and has nothing really to do with the agency of either of the two main characters.

Not recommended.

This was received through LibraryThing's early review program.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Good German: Adam Von Trott Zu Solz by Giles MacDonogh

Something different to start off 2014.  This is a biography of a member of the German resistance to Hitler during world war two.  The son of German nobility educated at Oxford Adam Von Trott Zu Solz state in Germany deciding he could do more for the German resistance by becoming a member of the bureaucracy and joining the NAZI party.  Something that many of his friends in England didn't forgive him for.

What could have been a fascinating look at the intellectual side of the plotters is unfortunately hamstrung by MacDonogh's thesis mainly that the Allies have some of the responsibility for the war continuing and therefore the casualties and destruction.  Since they demanded unconditional surrender.  Curiously MacDonogh does it knowledge that the reason for the western Allies at least unwillingness to give terms involved the fear of the "stab in the back" myth after world war one repeating itself.  MacDonogh has no counter argument for this and Trott who apparently didn't either.

The book is far too detailed and too long.  Often giving hour by hour descriptions of whom he met with this isn't just world war two it covers his time at Oxford.  Occasionally with comments from one of the participants.  On one hand and impressive amount of research on the other boring and tedious.  Often having no bearing on the larger narrative.  The Oxford section spent a lot of time pointing out that yes famous people in government and academia went to Oxford in the thirties. That the same people who criticized his actions during the war [staying in Germany and joining the NAZI party] were being vindictive.

When we get to the war it doesn't get much better.  There's very little here about just what any sort of settlement would look like.  So it's hard to judge that if negotiations had taken place after a successful assassination of Hitler whether it would have worked.  The infighting between the groups as well as the inability when the time came for decisive action of the plotters suggest that even if Hitler had been killed it would not have been as smooth the transition as the plotters believed.

I think there is an interesting story in here somewhere.  It's just buried under all the backbiting and daily diary stuff.

Not recommended.

Did This Last Year

So another year has come and gone with far less blogging than I should be doing.  For the record 82 books last year which was better than 2012.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tom Clancy

 Sad news today that Tom Clancy has passed away. There was a time in the mid 90s where I pretty much just reread his books repeatedly. Creating my interest in espionage fiction which pretty much lasted up into the disintegration of the genre around 9/11. Yes sure he wasn't much of a stylist and as the series continued Jack Ryan became far too all-knowing and powerful in spite of that he could tell a story. Even with the tendency to make the villains into whatever cardboard cutout the GOP was currently angry or frightened of [lesbian KGB agent?] I would put Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and Without Remorse up against just about everything else in the genre. Particularly "Remorse"as a tour de force revenge plot.  I drifted away when he just stamped his name on others work and when all of the Ryan relatives came out of the woodwork. Now I'm worried since these always seem to happen in sets of three.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by Cathryn Prince

Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff
by Cathryn Prince

What a mess of a book. Okay where to begin? The jacket copy trumpets eyewitness sources but they're not really long enough to fill out this short book. In many places this thing reads like a stretched magazine article. The length is padded with superficial  background material. Instead of providing context and often just got in the way.

The book is about the sinking of the  Wilhelm Gustloff Prince points out repeatedly that the loss of life was worse than the Titanic. Yes it's the largest ever maritime disaster. Curiously the actual sinking takes just one short chapter. We hear more about the individuals lives during World War II than anything else. There's also repeated statements that the history has been buried or somehow suppressed. No to my knowledge there have been at least two English-language books on the sinking although admittedly not in the last 30 years. Also the idea that the government would suppress discussion of it after the war seems strange.

The terrifying thing is that the book has some hilariously bad errors. That 5 seconds on Google should have obliterated from the text. This says something both about Prince and Palgrave Macmillan who really don't care at this point. For instance Regina is in Saskatchewan not Ontario. Contradictions between the eyewitness accounts aren't dealt with. Either pointed out or balanced. For instance just how many torpedoes hit the ship? At one point it says there were 69 people in a lifeboat but some of them fell off before they could be rescued. However several pages later it says that 70 people were rescued from the same lifeboat. So which is it? I understand this is a chaotic event that's being remembered 70 years on but at least try to deal with the contradiction. Part of the historians job is to come to a determination on these things.

The book concludes with a very abbreviated discussion of whether or not the sinking was justified. Considering that this was still during wartime where the ship was carrying at least some military personnel as well as sailing under blackout conditions. I am left completely baffled as to what exactly the Soviet submarine captain was supposed to do instead.

Not recommended avoid.

This was received through LibraryThing's early review program. Just think how much I would've hated it if I had to pay for it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans by Lewis L. Gould

Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans
by Lewis L. Gould

This is as the title would suggest a history of the Republican Party from its roots as an abolitionist group of Northerners who constructed it off of the wreckage of the Wig Party.   That supported a tariff and internal improvements to the modern anti-government low taxes, Southern strategy using party we know today. Gould constructs his narrative around the presidential of ministrations he views to be the most important in describing the party. They are Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Reagan. Perhaps the most surprising of those is Eisenhower. The case is made rather convincingly that he caused a break between the leadership of the party who wanted a more "East Coast" Republican as opposed to Southern/Midwestern where the parties base was. The bass taking their revenge by nominating Goldwater and Nixon. Unfortunately the other sections of the book often turn into fights with other historians as well as lists of individuals that he'd concedes have been forgotten today. Unfortunately he rarely explains why we should remember them. Only that they were important at one time or another.

What I found most interesting was the discussions of the various campaigns. How in the 1860s presidential candidates were actually looked down on if they gave public speeches. Which just wouldn't work today. Also that mudslinging isn't a recent development by any means.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Dear Idiots at Shaw

It is unlikely for the person who pays the TV bill to be at home at 2 PM on a Monday afternoon. If they are there probably sick and don't want to discuss TV channel packages.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming

 Curiously looking back on my reading particularly when I was a teenager there are a few gaps. One of those are the Fleming Bond books. I do have a vague memory of reading one of the later novels written by someone else. Though I can't remember the title and looking through the list it doesn't really jump out at me. In any event due to a sale of Kindle books I was able to pick up the original series of 14.

This is the first, Bond is sent to a French casino to defeat a French Soviet agent. So that the Soviets would then kill him off for them. The book is plotted strangely at least two modern sensibilities. The storyline ends about half of the way through then we were on to something else dealing with Bond's relationship with a female agent sent to help him. They're such a violent break I almost wonder if this was written as two separate short stories originally but I haven't been able to find any evidence of that.

Unlike the Bond of the films he is frequently outwitted and make some simplistic errors. That if this was being written today I can't see them not being questioned by an editor. I can't decide if this is idiot plodding or more that the plot devices used were fresh and new half a century ago where now they would be tired and hackneyed.

Bond really is a miserable excuse for a human being. Which I was expecting it still a bit jarring. Often criticized for his views towards women it should be noted he doesn't think much of most of the men he comes in contact with as well. With the possible exceptions of M and the American agent.

Recommended as background reading on the genre.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Stuart Britain: A Very Short Introduction by John Morrill

Stuart Britain: A Very Short Introduction
by John Morrill

Sometimes I'll go out and grab a short synthesist study just to get caught up with recent research. Then again this thing is from 2000 so maybe so not much with the whole up to date thing. In any event as the title suggests it covers the Stuart control of Britain and the Civil War.

It's mostly done in sections based on the Monarch at the time. Leading off with a Section that covers economics and demographics. Which in many respects was the most interesting part of the book. The discussion of the slowdown in population growth and stresses that put on the economy.

Perhaps surprisingly for a book written at the beginning of the 21st century mostly holds onto the big man view of history. As far as discussion of social movements go it's pretty much limited to the religious controversies that popped up. More space is given over to the monarchs and their leadership styles.

Coverage of the Civil War is brief but brings up a few points that I hadn't considered. The fighting was limited geographically. That many areas pretty much stayed neutral even if they officially endorsed one side or the other.

Is typical for these volumes there's a further reading section of a couple of pages.

Recommended though it's probably out of date.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Hollywood Economist 2.0:The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies by Edward Jay Epstein

The Hollywood Economist 2.0:The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies
by Edward Jay Epstein

This is a collection of articles that discuss the movie industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. The topics all have to do as the title would suggest with the economics of filmmaking. How the studios make their money and all of the creative bookkeeping that make sure they keep most of the profits. There are smaller sections on movie theaters as well as TV and at that time the beginnings of digital downloads.

I did find the information useful especially the breakdowns of contracts for different stars and positions. I had heard the old saying how Star Wars had never officially broken even but now understand how it's done. As well as the contortions that the studios will go to on paper at least lose money.

This being a collection of previously published pieces sometimes a concept will be mentioned and not exactly explained until 20 pages later in a completely different section. I would've preferred a little more work done to even out the rough edges.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home by Matthew Pinsker

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home
by Matthew Pinsker

This is an unusual book about the American Civil War. Unlike most which show focus on a specific individual, unit or campaign this looks at a location and how interactions around it shaped the wider war. This is the Soldiers' Home a collection of buildings originally created to house disabled veterans of American conflicts on the outskirts of Washington DC. In the summers Abraham Lincoln and his family lived there in the evenings to get out of the heat of the White House.

Buried in the back of the book is the information that this was essentially a work for hire job to promote the building which recently received historical site status. If I had known that I would've been a bit more leery about purchasing it. The biggest problem is there often isn't any context. For instance much is made of Lincoln meeting with visitors who just showed up unannounced. The question is how unusual was this compared to the behavior at the White House? We are never really told.

The narrative is pretty much linear covering each of the summers that they stayed there. The major decisions that were made and dealing with any primary sources that talk about meetings or appointments that took place at the home.

Pinsker goes to great pains pointing out that different and unusual sources are being used to use as documentation. However frequently after analyzing them for a page or two they are discarded as being unreliable. This seemed to be more like padding than anything else.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information is Lincoln's view of his personal safety. How he had to be encouraged to have a cavalry unit stationed with him. As well as the friendship he had with some of the officers from the unit.

Mildly recommended for the novelty value.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hind

Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch
by Richard Hind

Russell Wiley a middle-aged corporate drone with a failing marriage and miserable work environment navigates the office politics of his newspapers sales division. Everything seems to be going wrong for him. Surrounded by fellow employees who are burned out or incompetent. Management that is more interested in protecting their own well-being then the business. While at home his wife is showing zero interest in him.

This is solidly in the modern workplaces are horrible The Office or Dilbert vain. Even though this is well trod territory at this point Hind manages to inject humor and some humanity in his characters. Even ones were not supposed to like we can at least see where they're coming from. I was already to recommend this with a highly recommended that was until the ending.

I won't give it away but it manages to break from an completely ignore much of the argument made in the first 90% of the book. It's too cleaned to neet. I don't believe that it would happen. It's also too jarring if it had been a gradual change I maybe would've gotten behind it more.

Mildly recommended I'll be looking for the authors next book.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

This was written by the not so obscure author J. K. Rowling. I like most people only heard of it when it came out a few weeks after it was published that it was her writing it. Naturally I ran over and picked up the Kindle edition which meant that I haven't had to deal with any delays involving the supply chain. I would've figured that the publisher would've had stock on hand for when the word leaked out.

In the opening scene a model falls from a balcony. The police assume it was suicide. Her distraught adopted brother calls in a private investigator to look again at the case. In the best hard-boiled tradition Cormoran Strike is a hard drinking down on his luck guy with some ghosts in his past. Surprisingly he actually manages not to check the womanizer box although I suppose that's a bit debatable.

In fact the whole book is very much solidly in the hard-boiled detective novel tradition. There are flourishes which do show it's Rowling. Unusual character names and head scratching figures of speech though they're not as distracting as they were in "Vacancy". For the most part the characters are actually likable which is something else I did enjoy about it.

Apparently there's a sequel already planned. I suspect that I'll be ordering it as soon as it comes back out. This certainly isn't to the heights of Harry Potter but it's much better than I thought it was going to be when the story broke.

Highly recommended!