Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Instead of actual content…

Friday, September 12th, 2014

…I give you a very silly quiz from the WP:

Is this a line from ‘The Great Gatsby’ or a New York Times profile of Lena Dunham?

I have never seen an episode of “Girls” (since I refuse to have cable). However, I still got a perfect score on the quiz. Which says something: either about my knowledge of Gatsby or about how silly this quiz actually is, I do not know.

Oh, what the heck, I’ll throw this one in, too:

http://www.lingscars.com/

I sent this to Lawrence with the suggestion that it might be worse than Bello De Soto’s website: Lawrence doesn’t think so, and I’m still trying to make up my mind.

There are so many things that push it towards legendary badness for me: the chicken walking around on the live Twitter feed (why?), the auto-play Chinese karaoke (ditto?), the spinning chat avatars, gratuitous abuse of the blink tag…

On the other hand, it hasn’t actually crashed any browser I’ve tried it on so far. On the gripping hand, it is an actually up and (apparently) functional website, as opposed to an archive of one…

You want sad? I’ll give you sad.

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Very often the president would stride briskly out of the White House, with Tad at his side trying to keep up, and march four blocks down to 1207 New York Avenue, to Stuntz’s Fancy Store, a magical little toy shop. The owner, Joseph Stuntz, was a retired French soldier who carved wooden toy soldiers in a tiny back room. Sometimes Lincoln showed up alone at Stuntz’s and bought toy soldiers for Tad for Christmas. “I want to give him all the toys I did not have and all the toys I would have given the boy who went away,” Lincoln told the master toy maker.

The Last Lincolns, page 49 (paperback).

Inside the White House, workmen were making last minute repairs, preparing the executive mansion for the new president. In a second-floor bedroom they found something unexpected — the vast collection of Tad Lincoln’s toy soldiers. These were the beautiful, hand-carved figurines Abraham Lincoln had purchased for his son at Stuntz’s toy store. They were Tad’s favorite playthings, but he had left them behind, probably because he could not bear to see them again. He was no longer the president’s son. He was just Tad Lincoln.

–ibid., page 71

Quote of the day

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Lincoln, Robert Todd, xi, 3, 4, 22, 210.
See also Jinxy McDeath;
Presidential Angel of Death

—index entry in Charles Lachman’s The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family.

(Explained.)

(I just started reading Lachman’s book yesterday. For some reason, I found Chapter 2, about Willie, Tad, and the president’s relationship with the boys, really hard to get through. You want sad? That’s a sad sundae with sad sauce and chopped sad sprinkled over it.)

Obit watch: August 29, 2014.

Friday, August 29th, 2014

This has been circulating for a couple of days, but I wanted to wait until I was able to confirm it.

Jeremiah Healy, mystery writer.

I haven’t read any of the John Francis Cuddy mysteries, though they’ve been on my radar. Healy did one of the essays for In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero; it was…interesting. (That’s shorthand for “There was some good stuff in it, but I also had issues.”)

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

Busted, again.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

General hattip on all of this to Romenesko.

A while back, I wrote about Busted, Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Lasker’s book about their coverage of corrupt cops in Philadelphia. At that time, I asked what they had accomplished, given that the bad cops were still on the street.

Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer (the other daily newspaper, and the one that got soundly beat by Ruderman and Lasker on the story) ran a piece “Why an accused Phila. officer is still on the force” purporting to answer the question of why Thomas Tolstoy hadn’t been fired yet, even though he’d been accused of sexually assaulting three women. There are various reasons, but the Inquirer‘s key one:

The documents also show that actions the victim ascribed to two Philadelphia Daily News reporters who wrote about her assault further undermined the criminal case by damaging her credibility and complicating a federal investigation.
The woman told investigators that the reporters – whose account of the assault and other police abuses would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 – provided her with gifts, paid her bills, offered her money to hire a lawyer, and told her that she could collect a financial windfall if she talked to them and not to law enforcement officials, according to the documents.
She also told investigators that the reporters were aware that an associate of hers had pressured her to lie about the circumstances of the attack. And she said one of the reporters encouraged her to give an exaggerated account of the raid, saying it would help in a potential lawsuit.
The woman’s accusations of impropriety by the reporters – included in detailed interview summaries signed by FBI agents – imperiled an already precarious case, according to three high-ranking officials familiar with the investigation.

Uh-huh. Ruderman and Lasker deny this, of course. Ruderman has posted a response on Facebook. And it’s worth pointing out that these accusations only involve one of the three women, and have nothing to do with the separate allegation that Tolstoy was one of the cops caught on tape stealing from bodegas.

Philadephia magazine has published their own piece about the problems of the Inquirer story. Points:

Quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore (#1 in a series).

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Yes, introducing yet another occasional series. In this one, I document weird stuff I’ve found at the local used bookstores, on other people’s bookshelves, or just roaming around. All books are real unless otherwise stated.

Our first entry?

The Washington Fringe Benefit

Yes, that’s The Washington Fringe Benefit by Elizabeth L. Ray. For the benefit of my younger readers, Ms. Ray was a clerk and secretary for a congressman from Ohio named Wayne Hayes. To quote Ms. Ray, “I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone.” So why did Congressman Hayes employ her? Yep. She was basically his mistress, paid for out of Congressional funds. Here’s a link (by way of WikiPedia) to the original WP story.

All this took place in the Watergate/immediate post-Watergate era. When the story broke in May of 1976, it became a major scandal; Hayes ended up resigning from his committee chairmanship (“Committee on House Administration”) and, a few months later, from Congress itself.

Back cover of The Washington Fringe Benefit

I have not read the book yet, but it appears to be a roman à clef about Ms. Ray’s…service, so to speak, in our nation’s capital, with the various real persons (other than Ms. Ray herself) given nearly transparent disguises. It does have the advantage of being short (172 pages), but I can’t comment on the merits of the writing.

As far as I can tell, this is Ms. Ray’s only novel. She appears to still be alive, but her Wikipedia entry describes her as having “faded back into obscurity”. Former Congressman Hayes passed away in 1989.

TMQ Watch: August 12, 2014.

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

And so is TMQ. And so is TMQ Watch. The first column of the NFL season is always kind of strange; there’s a lot of short items, basketball coverage, and other things that throw us for a loop. We’re probably not going to hit every one of TMQ’s throwaway quips. And yes, we’re aware that TMQ did a couple of draft columns; we looked at those and frankly didn’t find anything noteworthy in them. One was his usual silly mock draft, the other was his draft analysis, and both contained the recommended US daily allowance of TMQ tropes.

Anyway, back to this week’s TMQ, after the jump…

(more…)

Book note.

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

The NYT has a brief interview with Doug J. Swanson, tied to the release of his new non-fiction book, Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.

This is great news, as far as I’m concerned, for two reasons:

  1. The story of Benny Binion and his foes, especially Herbert Noble, is a fascinating one. Lawrence gave me a copy of The Green Felt Jungle (a work I’m surprised Swanson didn’t mention) for Christmas one year, and that covers the Binion/Noble story at some length. But I’m excited about a more up-to-date book length treatment.
  2. I’m also kind of fond of Doug Swanson’s work. I’ve read and enjoyed (to varying degrees) four out of five of the Jack Flippo books, and was wondering why I hadn’t seen a new one in a while.

So, yeah, I’ll be picking this one up soon.

Obit watch: July 28, 2014.

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Bel Kaufman has passed away at the age of 103.

For those of you who need an introduction, Ms. Kaufman wrote the hugely successful 1965 novel Up the Down Staircase, based on her experiences teaching in New York city schools.

Over the years, Ms. Kaufman was often asked whether the memorandums in “Up the Down Staircase” were real. Though they were inane enough to look real, she explained, in fact, she had invented most of them. (Ms. Kaufman did include a few actual New York City Board of Education memos, but had to tone them down to make them credible.)

Noted.

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

The LA Weekly profiles Nick Ut, legendary AP photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner. He’s still working as an AP photographer in LA.

You may not recognize the name, but you’ll know the photo; it is one of the two most famous Vietnam War photos. I won’t embed it, but you can find all over the place, including here.

I’m not generally a big fan of the alternative papers, but this is a swell article. Some pull quotes:

Ut believes in skill, too. But on a deeper level, he trusts in luck and fate. Many photojournalists were killed in Vietnam — 135 total, according to Faas’ count. By Ut’s estimate, 90 percent of the AP photographers who covered the war got shot while there.

Pulled mostly so I can plug Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina; haunt your local used bookstore for a copy.

…three months after he took Kim Phuc’s picture, he was hit in the leg by mortar fire. He was on his way to visit her. Her house, unfortunately, was located near an entrance to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, a network of supply routes used by the Viet Cong. After the mortar shell blew up, Ut noticed holes in his camera. Then his shirt. Then his thigh.

Young photographers today, who “shoot 15 frames a second,” exasperate him. “Too fast. Picture lousy. One frame. Show the best picture. That’s how I learned. Look for the picture first.”
Besides, “If you come back with 500 pictures from one assignment? Your boss will yell at you. Too many! Who wants to look at all those pictures?”

Today, the 35mm Leica M2 camera with which he shot Napalm Girl is in a museum — the Newseum, in Washington, D.C.

Gratuitous Leica for the win! (I do wish the Weekly had gone into more detail about what Ut uses today. But then again, this isn’t an article targeted at professional photographers.)

Obit watch: July 22, 2014.

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Novelist Thomas Berger.

For those who may not be aware, Berger’s most famous book was the Western Little Big Man, which in turn became the basis for the Dustin Hoffman movie.

Random gun crankery.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Mike the Musicologist and I were talking about the moronic Rolling Stone list. So apparently “Derringers” are among the most dangerous guns in America? I can buy that; after all, no president has ever been shot with a machine gun, so clearly they are less dangerous than derringers.

(Would you trade a ban on derringers for legalized machine guns? I wouldn’t either, but I think it is an interesting question.)

Anyway, that, and the fact that I’ve been reading a lot about presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations recently, got me thinking. (As a side note, I owe my readers a longer discussion of the works of Candice Millard, but that’s for another time.)

So Oswald’s rifle may be the single best documented presidential assassination weapon we have. It is historically interesting, but we can set that to one side for the moment.

I am 99 44/100ths percent sure I have seen Booth’s derringer, but that was a long time ago in another country. I did briefly wonder how it was recovered: was it on Booth when he died? (No: Booth dropped it on the floor of Lincoln’s box when he pulled the knife and slashed Major Rathbone. Apparently, the New York Reload had not been invented in 1865.) And I was also not aware that there was a brief controversy about Booth’s derringer: there were claims that it was stolen and replaced with a replica. (I am also not sure that I trust the FBI’s police work 100% there, Lou, but that’s probably yet another discussion for another time.)

So that takes care of the two most famous assassinations. What of President McKinley, who, as you may recall, was shot by an anarchist with an unpronounceable name? Czolgsz’s weapon of choice was a .32 caliber Iver Johnson revolver; according to this site, that gun resides in the Buffalo History Museum. (Their website supports this.)

And that brings us to Garfield (the president, not the cartoon cat), who you may recall was shot by a “disgruntled office seeker”, which is a polite way of saying “a f–king nut”. When the Oneida Community thinks you’re weird, maybe that’s your sign.

Anyway. Guiteau shot Garfield with a “.44 Webley British Bulldog revolver“, which he purchased using money bummed from a friend. (Bumming money from friends and skipping out on his boarding bills was typical of Guiteau.) Supposedly, he bought one with ivory grips instead of wood because “he thought it would look good as a museum exhibit after the assassination”. (I’ve seen this cited elsewhere. On the other hand, the Wikipedia entry on the Bulldog says Guiteau didn’t want to spring for the extra $1 for ivory.)

The punchline to this: “The revolver was recovered and displayed by the Smithsonian in the early 20th century, but has since been lost.

Seriously. They lost the gun used to kill a president. Granted, it appears to have been “lost” long after Guiteau was tried and executed. But still; how do you “lose” a presidential assassination weapon? And can you imagine the discussion at the Smithsonian when they found out Guiteau’s gun was “lost”?

(And I think I have to give Oswald a slight edge on taste, as he was the only one to use a Smith and Wesson revolver. Granted, it was a Victory model, so it wasn’t one of the better looking ones, but it was still a Smith. And if you were wondering, Jack Ruby used a Colt.)

(I say “slight edge” because, for all of Guiteau’s numerous faults, at least he picked ivory. As we all know, only a pimp in a cheap New Orleans whorehouse carries pearl handled revolvers.)