Archive for the ‘Books’ Category


Friday, April 18th, 2014

NYT. Tribute from Michiko Kakutani.


A/V Club.

WP. WP original 1970 review of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Edited to add: “Love in the Time of Cholera: why it’s a bad title“.

Funny thing: I’ve never read any of Márquez’s work. I have One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera on my bucket list of books to read before I die, but I just haven’t gotten around to them yet. And for some reason, I’m also intrigued by News of a Kidnapping.

I actually went by one of the Half-Price Books locations last night looking for Márquez’s works. They had nothing. Nada. Zero. Surprising: I would have figured they’d have some copies of Love or Solitude at least.

Books in brief: The Power Broker.

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

This won’t be a review. Reviewing The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York would be superfluous; Robert Caro won the freakin’ Pulitzer Prize for it, for crying out loud.

These are a few random thoughts:

1. The Power Broker deserves all the acclaim it has gotten. Caro’s a great writer, and the story of the rise (and eventual fall) of Robert Moses is a compelling one. I kind of expected it to be slow moving and a little dull; how do you make urban planning interesting? But Caro found a way to do that. I got caught up in the sweep of the book, and found myself wanting to read more about Al Smith and La Guardia and other background characters.
There are a few places where I have reservations about Caro’s conclusions. The largest reservation I have is Caro’s emphasis on mass transit, and Moses’ failures in that regard. I’m not as much of a believer in mass transit as Caro seems to be, but I’m willing to concede Caro might be right. Given the population density (both at the time and projected for the future) mass transit may have been the only workable alternative for NYC’s traffic problems.

2. I haven’t read Caro’s LBJ books. I’m waiting for the series to be completed before I start on them. (I have read excerpts from them in other places.) But I wonder if Caro is drawn to people who were, in some way, corrupted by power. I have the impression that this is a theme in the LBJ books. And as for The Power Broker

3. You know that quote attributed to Dave Barry? “Someone who is nice to you, but rude to the waitress, is not a nice person?” Robert Moses was a walking example of that. He was an elitist who believed that he and people like him – rich, Ivy League educated – were the only ones who were fit to govern, and everyone else should just get out of the way. He was a racist – he didn’t want the “lower classes” (read: blacks and the poor) using his parks, pools and playgrounds. He treated anyone he considered an inferior like dirt. As for the powerful, his main interest in them was how he could use them to enhance his own power. He destroyed vital and interesting neighborhoods for the sake of new roads, even though those neighborhoods could have been saved by small changes in routes (but those changes would have inconvenienced politicians who were important to Moses). And the new roads and bridges he built were full as soon as they were completed, which Moses saw as a reason to build more. Lather, rinse, repeat. We’re too close to Easter for me to say what I’m really thinking, but you can probably guess.

4. This shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did: there was (is?) a recent Robert Moses revisionist movement. The central thesis seems to be: yes, he was every bit as big a you-know-what as Caro portrayed him. But. He. Got. Things. Done. And “If the ends don’t justify the means, what does?

Obit watch: April 17, 2014.

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez is dead. Roundup tomorrow.

Random notes: April 14, 2014.

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Don’t forget: tomorrow is National Buy a Gun Day. I’m not sure I’ll be observing it on the 15th this year, but we’ll see how things go…

I see Lawrence’s killer paramedic, and raise: 77 arson fires in a Virgina county over five months. Serial arsons are kind of interesting on their own, but who did it and (allegedly) why, is the twist here.

In the past four days, the NYT has run two stories bemoaning the closing of J&R Music World. Just saying.


“There is a place for using apps and all kinds of technology to prepare for the holiday, but I would prefer to do that beforehand so that when you’re actually at the Seder you’re actually speaking to one another,” said Rabbi Daniel Nevins, the dean of the rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which ordains rabbis in the Conservative movement.

I think Rabbi Nevins is on the mark with this. But:

The use of the electronic Haggadot comes just as Conservative rabbis are embroiled in a debate over whether to make e-readers permissible on the Sabbath. Rabbi Nevins wrote a paper last year saying that such devices violated the spirit of the Sabbath and the holidays, traditionally viewed as a sanctuary from the workaday world.

If it is okay to read books on the Sabbath, why is it not okay to use e-readers? (Please note: while I have a great admiration for the Jewish religion and people, I am not Jewish, nor am I a Torah scholar.)

Lawrence also suggested at dinner the other night that I do a comprehensive prison personæ for the city of Bell: basically, a quick reference guide to who’s been convicted of what, and how much time they’ll serve. I may do that in the next few days, but I want to hold off a bit: Robert “Ratso” Rizzo is supposed to be sentenced on his tax charges later today, and sentenced on the other charges related to his role as Bell city manager on Wednesday. I will update here once Rizzo’s sentences are announced.

By way of Popehat on the Twitter: NYC’s Brecht Forum is closing. No, this wasn’t a place where folks sat around and sang “Mack the Knife” and other songs: that would actually have been kind of cool.

The center’s mission, according to its website, is to “create, within existing society, a counter-hegemonic culture of working people and their allies, who are capable of challenging the capitalist agenda, prefiguring new ways of thinking and of self-organization, as well as creating new ways of relating to each other and nature.”
Figures like Noam Chomsky, William Greider, Lewis H. Lapham and Naomi Klein have spoken at events at the forum. Affiliated groups include the Institute for Popular Education, the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory and the Strike Anywhere Theater Ensemble.

Yeah, Donnie, they’re Marxists.

“Rising Manhattan rents forced us to Brooklyn, but we have incurred debts and costs that are insurmountable,” the board members wrote, saying that they had decided to close the forum “with dignity” and the hope that “the larger project we all care so deeply about may survive in a different form.”

Awwwww. But where will they go now?

Plenty of serious discussion about politics and philosophy took place in the brick building on West Street, but the activists who gathered there had a lighter side, too, sometimes playing foosball or a Marxist version of Monopoly, called Class Struggle.

I was hoping to be able to provide an Amazon link for “Class Struggle”, just in case you have any children in your life that you hate. Sadly, it appears that “Class Struggle”, produced by Avalon Hill (!), is out of print and used copies are pricy. Here’s BoardGameGeek’s page.

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadian Navy.

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

I remember Guy Lombardo from when I was a wee lad. Every New Year’s Eve up until roughly 1976, there was Guy and his Royal Canadian Orchestra hosting their New Year’s Eve special. Sometimes I was able to stay up and watch at least part of it.

I associated Guy and the RCO with Lawrence Welk and Liberace and, for want of a better word, the kind of music my maternal grandmother and grandfather liked. But at the time, there were only three real television channels, I never really got into Dick Clark, and “Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadian Orchestra” flowed trippingly off the tongue.

I hadn’t thought of Guy in years, until a few paragraphs in The Power Broker got me wondering about him. How did he end up hosting those specials? What else did he do, and where did he come from?

Wikipedia turned up one of those odd historical byways that I’m so fond of. In addition to being the leader of the Royal Canadians, Guy raced boats. Seriously raced boats. As in, he won the Gold Cup (which is the biggest prize in boat racing) in 1946.

From 1946 to 1949, he was the reigning US national champion. Before his retirement from the sport in the late 1950s, he had won every trophy in the field.

Before his retirement, he was planning to make a run at the world speed record on water. His retirement may have been prompted by the fact that the boat he was planning to use disintegrated during a test run.

(As a side note, that record isn’t for the timid. Wikipedia claims “an approximate fatality rate of 85% since 1940“, though it should also be noted that this statement is tagged “Citation needed.” No matter what the actual percentage is, looking over the history of attempts makes it very clear that this is an expensive way to kill yourself very fast if anything goes wrong.)

And what’s the relationship between Guy and Robert Moses that brought this up in the first place? Guy and his RCO were basically Robert Moses’ house band. Moses set them up at Jones Beach and gave them an incredibly sweet deal: Moses didn’t just pay Guy and RCO to play at the park, but also absorbed all the costs of running the venue, and allowed Guy and the RCO to keep most of the ticket money and advertising revenue. In return, not only did Guy and the RCO play at Jones Beach, but they also entertained at various other offical functions for Moses, and Moses used them to impress people he needed to impress. For example, if you had a small child and Moses needed your help with something…well, Guy entered the Jones Beach theater every night on one of his speedboats. Wouldn’t your kid love to ride along with Guy as he made his grand entrance in Tempo? Of course they would.

(There are a couple of good biographies that need to be written. I can’t find any evidence that there was ever one written of Guy and his brothers, and it sure seems there’s more to their story. I think you could also get a good book out of the story of Rosebud Yellow Robe.)

Accordion Crimes.

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Since the topic of accordions has come up several times in the past few days, I feel like I have to link to Popehat’s “A Story About Low-Key Policing and Corduroy“.

If you want to be unpleasantly technical I am not familiar with how an accordion is operated, at least as narrowly defined by uncharitable social convention. However, I believe that unbridled enthusiasm can make up for lack of formal training in many pursuits. There is evidently a difference of popular opinion on this point as it pertains to playing the accordion on a roof at one in the morning.

Also, posting this gives me a chance to test the “Save Draft” function. Yes, Lawrence, it works for me.

(Subject line hattip. It seemed appropriate at the time. Actually, I may have to read that book after I finish The Power Broker.)

Random notes: April 8, 2014.

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

For the historical record, your Mickey Rooney obit roundup: NYT. LAT. A/V Club.

The author Peter Matthiessen has also passed away after an illness. The only work of Matthiessen’s that I’ve read so far is In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which made a strong impression on me at the time. Further, I say not, as I’d sound too much like TJIC. Anyway: A/V Club. NYT. NYT Magazine article published shortly before Matthiessen’s death.

Thanks to “That Guy” for providing a Houston Press link with more details about the Damian Mandola story. There’s also an update in the Statesman: Austin Eater has a story which links to the Statesman, so this may let you get around the paywall.

…security researchers say that in most cases, attackers hardly need to go to such lengths when the management software of all sorts of devices connects directly to corporate networks. Heating and cooling providers can now monitor and adjust office temperatures remotely, and vending machine suppliers can see when their clients are out of Diet Cokes and Cheetos. Those vendors often don’t have the same security standards as their clients, but for business reasons they are allowed behind the firewall that protects a network.
Security experts say vendors are tempting targets for hackers because they tend to run older systems, like Microsoft’s Windows XP software. Also, security experts say these seemingly innocuous devices — videoconference equipment, thermostats, vending machines and printers — often are delivered with the security settings switched off by default. Once hackers have found a way in, the devices offer them a place to hide in plain sight.

Heh. Heh. Heh. (Also: remember some jerk saying “Titles like ‘Restaurant IT Guy’ or ‘SysAdmin for Daniel’ are going to become a thing, if they aren’t already.”? I didn’t even think about the “Hey, let’s put malware on the server for that Chinese place that everyone orders from! That’ll give us a back door into the Federal Reserve!” scenario.)

Al Sharpton: FBI informant.

Also noted.

Friday, April 4th, 2014

There’s an article in today’s WP by Sage Santangelo that I really like.

(Edited to add: Actually, it looks like it was originally published on March 28th, and I missed it then. But an update was added today.)

Ms. Santangelo is a Marine officer. She recently went through the Marine Infantry Officer course. She didn’t make it through. Neither did the three other female Marines who went through the course with her.

But Lt. Santangelo isn’t whining about not making it through the course.

So what’s held women back in the Marines Corps Infantry Officer Course? I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t reduce qualifications. For Marine infantry officers, mistakes mean risking the lives of the troops you are charged to protect. But I believe that I could pass, and that other women could pass, if the standards for men and women were equal from the beginning of their time with the Marines, if endurance and strength training started earlier than the current practice for people interested in going into the infantry, and if women were allowed a second try, as men are.

In other words, she’s asking that women be treated just like men are. That seems fair.

I like this, too:

I’ve always been taught that failure provides the greatest learning opportunities. My failed effort at Quantico has helped me better understand the needs of the Marines on the ground and will allow me to better support them in the future. At the same time, I love the Marine Corps philosophy that failure should never be viewed as permanent or representative; it is an opportunity to remediate. Marines cannot meet standards all the time. What do we do? We train until every Marine is competent. “No Marine joins the Corps to be a failure,” Gen. James F. Amos has said. “We don’t raise them up that way.”

(And another recommendation for a really swell book: Nathaniel Fick’s One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.)

Quote of the day.

Friday, April 4th, 2014

As the crucial special session neared, the Times began to resemble a Democratic house organ.

–Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, page 198 in the paperback edition (Chapter 11, “The Majesty of the Law”, discussing the legal and legislative battles over Moses’ parks plan).

You don’t say (part 2)

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

The rent is too damn high.

Rising rents in Manhattan have forced out many retailers, from pizza joints to flower shops. But the rapidly escalating cost of doing business there is also driving out bookstores, threatening the city’s sense of self as the center of the literary universe, the home of the publishing industry and a place that lures and nurtures authors and avid readers.

Random notes: March 22, 2014.

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

Which United States city is the “Bank Robbery Capital of the World”?

(Bzzzzzt!) Oh, I’m sorry. That was a trick question. If you answered “Los Angeles”, you would have been correct for a long time.

But last year, San Francisco actually passed LA.

The seven-county region covered by the FBI’s L.A. office saw a mere 212 bank robberies in 2013, reaching a low not seen since the 1960s. That’s less than a tenth of what it was at its height in the early ’90s, when the region logged 2,641.

(And I’ve mentioned this before, but Where the Money Is is a swell book that I enthusiastically recommend.)


A sixth-round pick?

Obit watch and other random notes for March 18, 2014.

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Clarissa Dickson Wright. Damn, this sucks. I was a fan of “Two Fat Ladies”.

For the record, here’s your David Brenner obit: I’ve been just a touch busy. Sorry.

Part of that busy has involved visiting various Half-Price Books locations: would you believe I can’t find a used copy of Fatal Vision? It used to be all over the place…

Once again, I don’t care about college basketball. Once again, I’m rooting for Gonzaga just because I like saying “Gonzaga!” I think this might be their year. And, once again, I’ve bet Lawrence $5 that Gonzaga will win the championship.

And baseball season is about to get started as well. Everyone knows what that means: yes, I’ve also bet Lawrence $5 that the Cubs will win the World Series.