Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Obit watch: February 14, 2018.

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

A little late on this, but here’s your obit for Vic Damone.

After winning on the radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” in 1947, he recorded some 2,500 songs over 54 years. He had his own radio and television programs, made movies, survived rock ′n’ roll and its noisy offspring and became a mainstay of the Las Vegas Strip, and nightclubs where audiences were so close he could almost reach out and touch them with his voice.
Along the way, he made millions, entertained presidents and royalty, refused a part in “The Godfather,” married five times, had four children and underwent analysis. He also survived a brush with the mob, four divorces, a custody fight over his only son and the suicides of two former wives. And he was still working as the millennium turned, with a voice that critics said had not lost its mellow subtleties.

Marty Allen is dead at the age of 95. He was most famous as half of the comedy team Allen and Rossi, who were big in the post Martin/Lewis era. (Steve Rossi apparently died in 2014: I don’t seem to have noted his passing here.)

Victor Milan, SF and fantasy author. I read Cybernetic Samurai not long after it came out, and kind of liked it.

Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

Monday, February 5th, 2018

Charles Dickens, call your office, please:

It seems fair to say, 11 years after James Brown’s death, that his estate planning has failed in its major mission: to distribute his wealth efficiently.
Not a penny has gone to any of the beneficiaries of his will, who include underprivileged children in Georgia and South Carolina, to whom Mr. Brown sought to donate millions, perhaps tens of millions, of dollars.

(Subject line hattip.)

Random notes: February 1, 2018.

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

There’s a really good profile in The Guardian of Mary Beard, Cambridge professor of classics and noted historian.

The timing on this amuses me, as I just finished SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome earlier this week. (And Amazon now has the paperback for a shockingly low price.)

The early history of Rome, the era of its fabled seven kings, is notoriously difficult to untangle. There are few, if any, contemporary sources. The whole story slides frustratingly away into legend, with the later Romans just as confused as we are about how an unremarkable town on a malarial swamp came to rule a vast empire. One way of handling this material might have been simply to have started later, when the historian’s footing among the sources becomes more secure. Instead Beard asked not how much truth could be excavated from the Romans’ stories about their deep past, but what it might mean that they told them. If the Romans believed their city had started with Romulus and Remus, with the rape of the Sabine women – in a welter, in other words, of fratricide and sexual violence – what can we learn about the tellers’ concerns, their preoccupations, their beliefs? According to Greg Woolf, “One of the things Mary has taught is to look at the window, not through it, because there isn’t really anything behind it.”

I’d love to meet Dr. Beard and spend some time talking to her. I suspect we’d disagree on a lot of contemporary issues, but I think she’d be a fun person to talk history with. One of the things I loved about SPQR was how much time she spent on things other authors don’t talk about: the daily lives of the poor, middle class, and other people who didn’t write long letters to their friends, to take one example. For another example, her discussion of the ancient bar in Ostia, with pictures of the “Seven Sages” and their profound advice. Or the discussion of early Roman dice games.

And some of Dr. Beard’s views on contemporary subjects are a bit surprising, at least to me:

She doesn’t feel damaged by scenarios that would plainly be unacceptable today, she said, though “on the other hand you’d have to be blind as a bat to see it didn’t work like that for everybody”. One of the great problems of today, she said, was deciding how far current rules of behaviour could be projected back on the past. This question also informs her academic work: she is more likely to point out how different we are from the Romans than how similar. “As soon as you say things were different 40 years ago, people start to say you’re a harassment denier. But actually, they were. I do not think that the lives of women of my generation as a class were blighted by the way the power differentials between men and women operated. We wanted to change those power differentials; we also had a good time.”


Llano is a town northwest of Austin, about 90 minutes away. It’s a small town (a little over 3,000 people in 2010). It is perhaps most famous as being the home of Cooper’s barbecue, one of the top 50 joints in Texas.

As a small town, Llano has a small police force. Which can be…a problem.

Chief Kevin Ratliff and officers Aimee Shannon, Grant Harden and Jared Latta — who make up almost half of the police department in Llano, a town about 60 miles northwest of Austin — were indicted on a charge of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor. Harden also was indicted on a felony charge of tampering with a government record to defraud or harm the person he arrested, court records say.

The four officers are currently on leave. Another former officer was also indicted “on a charge of tampering with evidence and accused of destroying a digital recording of a drug crime scene on March 26”.

So what the hell happened?

The indictment regarding the chief and the three officers accuses them of unlawfully arresting Cory Nutt on May 2. Harden failed to state in his police report that “Nutt was inside his residence when he was arrested” or “that Cory Nutt was forced out of his residence and arrested,” the indictment says.

Officer Shannon allegedly threatened to tase Nutt as well. Nutt was charged with public intoxication, but the charges were dropped.

It sounds like the dispute boils down to: Nutt was drunk and probably making a scene, the officers responded, he stepped outside of his camper briefly and then went back inside, and the officers stepped up into his camper and arrested him for PI. At least, that’s the spin that two of the defense lawyers are putting on it.


Harden was already on leave after a grand jury indicted him in December and accused him of tampering with dashboard camera footage during a DWI investigation in June 2017, according to a report from The Picayune newspaper in Marble Falls.

Quaint and curious

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Lawrence forwarded me a link to a website that looks interesting, and that I hope to be able to explore further in the near future:

Yes, yes, I know: you didn’t know targets had balls. Ha ha, very funny. But seriously: is “the online presence of On Target!, The International Journal for Collectors of Target Balls”. “Target balls” being what exhibition shooters used in their demonstrations if they weren’t shooting live birds, and before the “clay pigeon” was introduced.

Quoth the “About” page:

These balls, similar in size and appearance to today’s glass Christmas tree ornaments, were the “only substitute ever invented for the living bird,” something that Annie Oakley is said to have had silk streamers stuffed inside, something that in one summer the Bohemian Glass Works (in New York City) was making at the rate of 1,250,000 over six months’ time, something Buffalo Bill Cody chased after on horseback, “old ladies” darned socks on and babies allegedly cut their teeth on — all according to an 1878 ad! In their heyday, target balls sold for a little over a penny each; today one ball has sold for as much as $28,500, although “common” balls, generally in amber or blue, can be acquired for as little as $100.

Of course, you can’t really talk about target balls without talking about the people who used them. Which is why On Target! tickles my fancy: I’m going to have to scrape up the bucks for a subscription and set of back issues.


Found at Half-Price Books a few days ago:

Precision Shooting at 1,000 Yards, edited by Dave Brennan. I’ve written before about the late and much lamented Precision Shooting magazine: I think I’ve also mentioned that there was a small press associated with it. I try to snap up books from that press whenever I find them, because:

  • they’re usually jam-packed with information
  • Even if they are old, the fundamental principles of accuracy don’t, and won’t change, barring some major revolution in arms technology (like caseless cartridges and electronic ignition systems, both of which have been ten years away for the 45 years I’ve been an avid person of the gun).

This is a collection of articles from the magazine. I paid $40 minus a 10% coupon for it, which is a little more than I usually like to spend on gun books. But asking prices for used copies on Amazon are in the $75 and up range, and the condition was good…

…and what made me pull the metaphorical trigger, so to speak, was the two-part article included in the volume, in which a small handful of eccentrics (and I mean that in the best possible way: I want to hang out with these guys) attempt to recreate Billy Dixon’s legendary long shot at the Second Battle of Adobe Walls in 1874.

Whodewhatnow? Billy Dixon was a buffalo hunter. He was part of a small group that was attacked by Comanches at Adobe Walls, Texas. They were besieged for the better part of three days (the Comanches initially intended to slaughter them in a sneak attack, but rolled a critical fail on initiative): on that third day, Mr. Dixon, encouraged by other members of the party, took a shot at a group of mounted Indians about 7/8ths of a mile away (remember, he was using an 1874 vintage Sharps rifle, with black powder cartridges, and no telescopic sight)…

…and knocked one of the warriors off his horse. The Comanches broke off the siege shortly afterwards.

For the rest of his life, Billy Dixon never claimed that the shot was anything other than a lucky one; his memoirs do not devote even a full paragraph to “the shot”.

(Side note: the Dixon memoirs are available from Project Gutenberg.)

(Side note 2: Mr. Dixon sounds like another person I’d love to have a few beers with. I love one of the things the authors of the Precision Shooting article say about him: to paraphrase, he didn’t hunt buffalo for the money, but because he loved long range shooting. Hunting buffalo was a great way to indulge that passion, and by the way make a few bucks on the side.)

Last time Mike the Musicologist was in Austin, this came up in discussion, though I disremember exactly how: I think we were discussing contemporary makers of falling block rifles, which led to a Google search, which led to me finding either this one or this one.

One other thing I find intriguing about this article: the shooters used rifles and bullets as close to Dixon’s as you could get at the time of their experiment, but used a modern smokeless black powder substitute instead of actual black power. Their reasoning for this:

What many modern shooters might not know is that black powder was, in that era, as highly developed as today’s best smokeless powders. Produced in England, Curtis & Harvey’s Diamond Grade was the world’s best, likely because of a superior charcoal root stock and extended blending time. As folklore had it, their charcoal came from a certain type of willow tree that grew only in one locale. Further, C&H could afford to prolong the blending operation because they could get a premium price for the superior product they produced. Serous target shooters widely acclaimed Kentucky Rifle from a United States producer, Hazards, as the best alternative choice but, nonetheless, a second-best choice. Behind these two premier powders came an entire plethora of brands, manufactured in various places around the world.

The author goes on to note that, if there was sufficient demand, someone somewhere would be turning out super-high-grade black powder today. But there isn’t enough demand, so the quality smokeless BP substitutes seem like a good choice for consistent results.

This casts a new light for me on a quote of the day I highlighted a while back from another buffalo hunter: “…by then I had begun to use the English powder…and it added 10 to 30 percent efficiency to my shooting.” I suspect this might have been a reference to the C&H product. Sadly, the Mayer book does not appear to be on Gutenberg, so I haven’t been able to confirm this.

Obit watch: January 24, 2018.

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin, the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like “The Left Hand of Darkness” and the Earthsea series, died on Monday at her home in Portland, Ore. She was 88.

Edited to add: David “Cloud Atlas” Mitchell on A Wizard of Earthsea.

Obit watch: January 22, 2018.

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Hemmingway and Ruark have a new hunting partner.

Harry Selby passed away on Saturday at the age of 92.

I’ve touched briefly on Selby in the past, but more in the context of Ruark. So please indulge me:

Mr. Selby was a postwar protégé of the East Africa hunter Philip Hope Percival, who took Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway on safaris, and he became a professional hunter himself in the late 1940s. He took the American author Robert Ruark on safari in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), and with the 1953 publication of Ruark’s best-selling book “Horn of the Hunter,” Mr. Selby became one of Africa’s most famous hunting guides.

Without cellphones or evacuation helicopters, Mr. Selby had to be the doctor, mechanic, chauffeur, gin-rummy-and-drinking partner and universal guide, knowledgeable about mountain ranges, grassy plains, rivers, jungles, hunting laws, migratory patterns, and the Bushmen, Masai, Samburu, Dinka and Zulu tribes. He spoke three dialects of Swahili. And he improvised; if there was no firewood, he burned wildebeest dung.
He was no Gregory Peck, but had an easygoing personality that made for good company in the bush. He coped with emergencies, pulling a client clear of a stampede or a vehicle from a bog, treating snakebites or tracking a wounded lion in a thicket — his most dangerous game. He was left-handed, but his favorite gun was a right-handed .416 Rigby, which can knock down an onrushing bull elephant or Cape buffalo in a thundering instant.

For 30 years, Mr. Selby ran company operations in Botswana, and guided hunters and photographers into leased concessions covering thousands of square miles in the Okavango Delta in the north and the vast Kalahari Desert in the south, home of the click-talking Bushmen. He cut tracks and built airfields in the wilderness.
In 1970, he established Botswana’s first lodge and camps for photographic safaris. He hired guides and a large support staff for what became a dominant safari business in Southern Africa. After Ker, Downey and Selby was bought by Safari South in 1978, he remained a director, and even after resigning in 1993 he continued to lead safaris privately until retiring in 2000.

Noted actor Bradford Dillman.

Mr. Dillman played prominent roles in “The Enforcer” and “Sudden Impact,” the third and fourth films in the “Dirty Harry” series, and won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1975 for his work on the TV series “The ABC Afternoon Playbreak.”

He was “Capt. McKay” in “The Enforcer” and “Captain Briggs” (not to be confused with Hal Holbrook’s “Lt. Briggs” in “Magnum Force”) in “Sudden Impact”. As we all know, Callahan went through captains like CNN goes through Russian conspiracy theories.

And finally, more of local interest: Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts. Mrs. Roberts and her husband, Thurman, founded the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant in Driftwood, a little outside of Austin.

Tsuchiyama Roberts, who held a masters degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, dedicated her professional life in Texas to running the restaurant in the idyllic setting. She brought her flavors of her own culture to the smoked meat specialists, according to her son, Scott Roberts, who in his 2014 book “Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love,” wrote about his mother’s tempura frying of vegetables and shrimp for the menu along with her addition of poppy seeds to cole slaw and celery seeds to potato salad.

…with her passing, family shared a tale of the diminutive Tsuchiyama Roberts felling a charging buck with the swing of a pecan bucket she was using for shelling and killing it with a rock while her husband and his friends were away on an unsuccessful hunting trip.

She was 104.

Obit watch: January 20, 2018.

Saturday, January 20th, 2018

Paul Bocuse, one of the great French chefs.

I don’t have my copy of Alice Let’s Eat in front of me, but I remember Trillin quoting Bocuse: “Without butter, without cream, there is no point to cooking.” Bocuse was 91.

Dorothy Malone, Texan and retired actress. She was in Douglas Sirk’s “Written on the Wind” (and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress). She also played Constance McKenzie for four out of five seasons of the “Peyton Place” TV series. (She was written out after season four.)

Dorothy Eloise Maloney was born on Jan. 30, 1924, in Chicago and grew up in Dallas, one of five children of Robert Ignatius Maloney and the former Esther Smith. Two of her sisters died of polio in childhood, and a brother was fatally struck by lightning in his teens.

Stansfield Turner, former CIA director.

Peter Mayle, author. I never read A Year in Provence but from the description it sounds a lot like a French version of Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Damn it all to Hell and Hong Kong.

Friday, December 29th, 2017

The NYT is reporting the death of Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone “alphabet” mysteries, at the age of 77.

The paper of record does not have a full obit up yet: I will try to post a follow-up when I can.

Quickies from the legal beat.

Friday, December 22nd, 2017

Some serious, some less so.

Stop! Hammer time!

Former Michigan state trooper charged with second degree murder in the death of a 15-year-old boy. He was a passenger in another trooper’s vehicle: they chased after the kid, who was driving an ATV, and the trooper fired a Taser out the window.

Struck and disabled by the Taser while traveling at up to 40 mph, Grimes lost control, struck a pickup and died.

(Hattip: Morlock Publishing on the Twitter. The Powers of the Earth is available in a Kindle edition, and would probably make a swell gift for the SF fan in your life. I already own a copy, but haven’t read it yet.)

Grandma got stopped by a state trooper,
Driving to Vermont for Christmas Eve.
People say “It’s just weed,”
But the state says “60 lbs is a felony.”

(Those lyrics probably need some work.)

Obit watch: December 21, 2017.

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

Clifford Irving passed away on Tuesday.

Mr. Irving, for the younger set, was a somewhat prominent author and journalist in the 1960s and 1970s. Among his works is FAKE! The Story of Elmyr de Hory, the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time. I’ve actually been interested in reading that: nice to know there’s a cheap Kindle edition and I don’t have to seek out the hardcover.

But sometime in 1970, Mr. Irving came up with the idea that made him infamous: an autobiography of Howard Hughes. It didn’t make any difference that Hughes was extremely reclusive and didn’t talk to journalists.

After studying a Hughes letter reproduced in the Newsweek article, Mr. Irving forged letters from Hughes to back up the story. He began calling his publisher from exotic locations where, he claimed, he was meeting with Hughes and developing a close relationship. He was betting that Hughes hated the limelight so much that he would never step forward to debunk anything written about him.

He got $750,000 for the book, $400,000 for the paperback rights, and $250,000 for serial rights.

And he was wrong.

At the end of 1971, with McGraw-Hill and Life ready to go to press, the scheme began to unravel. Mr. Hughes went public and denied knowing Mr. Irving, first through a representative and later in a conference call with seven journalists based in Los Angeles.
Swiss banking investigators soon discovered that a Zurich bank account belonging to “H. R. Hughes” had been opened by Mr. Irving’s wife, Edith Irving, a German-born Swiss citizen, using a forged passport with the name Helga R. Hughes.
As the evidence piled up, the house of cards collapsed. In March 1972, the Irvings pleaded guilty to conspiracy in federal court. In state court, along with Mr. Irving’s research assistant, Richard Suskind, they pleaded guilty to conspiracy and grand larceny. Mr. Irving was given a prison sentence of two and a half years and served 17 months. Mr. Suskind received a sentence of six months, of which he served five.

Mr. Irving went on to write some novels and true crime books.

Orson Welles drew on “Fake!” and on the Hughes hoax when making his 1974 film, “F for Fake,” in which Mr. Irving plays a prominent role.

You can get “F for Fake” in a Criterion edition: I’ve seen it and recommend it.

You can also get The Hoax, Mr. Irving’s account of the affair, and Autobiography Of Howard Hughes: Confessions of an Unhappy Billionaire, the actual book, through Amazon as Kindle books.

Christmas giving note.

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

I know we are inexorably drawing closer and closer to Christmas. I hope most, if not all, of you have your Christmas shopping done.

For the record, if you do not have your Christmas shopping done, and if you are, for reasons I cannot fathom, looking for a Christmas present for your humble blogger: please do not purchase this book for me. Thank you.

(If you do have someone in your life who is not cat allergic and likes spirituous liquor, Amazon does have this available with Prime shipping, so you can get it before Christmas. And there is even a Kindle edition, if you need to fill a gap on Christmas Day.)

TMQ Watch: December 19, 2017.

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Before we jump into this week’s column, we did want to make note of the not-technically-a-firing-but resignation of ESPN president John Skipper. We think it is appropriate to note this here because this is, and for reasons we will get into shortly.

We really don’t have much to say about this: we don’t care much for ESPN, or the way Skipper’s been running it. But substance abuse of any sort sucks, and we wish the man all the luck in the world.

After the jump, this week’s TMQ