Category Archives: Books

Thoughts on the new ‘Dune’ trailer?

One of my kids asked me if I’d seen it, and until moments ago, I hadn’t realized it was out.

Anyway, I just saw it.

I’m not going to say what I think until I hear what y’all think, except to say this: So far, it looks much better than the abomination David Lynch unleashed upon the world in 1984. That, of course, was the worst large-budget motion picture in history.

Worse, it was the most significant betrayal ever of a ready, eager, trusting fan base. All those millions of people who (like me) ran to the theaters and bought tickets — finally, we were going to see Arrakis ourselves! And then to watch that nightmare unfold before our eyes. Frame after frame, Lynch must have stayed up nights screaming to himself, How can I screw THIS part up? And it’s got to be more extreme than the frame before it!!!! (Imagine him doing this in a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait.)

Don’t agree with me? I have two words for you — “weirding modules.” Enough said.

Oh, as for the made-for-TV series that came out in 2000… that wasn’t bad. I liked that they called it “Frank Herbert’s Dune,” to distinguish themselves from David Lynch’s horror. Probably the biggest letdown in that was the casting of William Hurt as Duke Leto, but then Hurt has been miscast in everything except “Altered States” (he was totally believable as that guy) and maybe “Broadcast News.” But it wasn’t bad. Still, in those days, TV wasn’t yet the medium it is now. So we’ve waited another 20 years for something to be attempted on the grand scale.

Which means at this point, my expectations are unreasonably high. I know this.

Anyway, tell me what you think of the trailer, and we’ll discuss…

Dune still

Bob Woodward’s book

Rage_(Bob_Woodward)

Hey, if you thought the Five Points picture fully illustrated how messed up our world is, check out this tweet, which was brought to my attention by Chad Connelly:

I think he was serious. I think maybe this guy actually thinks a “fantasy baseball” list of candidates for nonexistent SCOTUS vacancies is more interesting and newsworthy than the bizarre things POTUS said on the record about REAL policy actions in a series of 18 extraordinary interviews with one of the two journalists most credited with bringing down Richard Nixon.

Really. I think he means it.

I mean… why didn’t Trump release a list of candidates for openings on the Court a century from now? He won’t get to nominate those, either.

You want something else to worry about? That guy has 279,300 followers, all of whom presumably live on the same planet as you.

Anyway, the Woodward book

I haven’t read it. I’ve just read about it. But here’s enough points to get you started:

  • As the headline in the Post reported, “Trump says he knew coronavirus was ‘deadly’ and worse than the flu while intentionally misleading Americans.” I mean, you know — he doesn’t want us to think he was stupid or something. Because he’s a real stable genius.
  • Two days after forcibly clearing Lafayette Square so he could wave a Bible around (but not open it, of course), Trump called Woodward to boast about it. When Woodward suggested maybe white men such as themselves should try to better understand “the anger and pain” of black Americans, Trump said, “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”
  • The Hill pulled this from the book: “Trump lashed out at generals, called them ‘a bunch of pussies'”… So… do you think that meant he wanted to grab them or something?

Oh, regarding that last item about disrespect toward the military… for those of you sufficiently detached from reality to dismiss the report the other day in The Atlantic about the gross things Trump has said about dead American heroes (ones other than John McCain) because the sources declined to be named, well… there are some unnamed sources in this one, too — I guess because Woodward wanted to get some perspective from people with normal, functioning brains. But a great deal of the book comes from 18 on-the-record interviews with Donald John Trump. As noted above, sometimes, Trump called Woodward to say these things.

How’d you like to be this guy’s campaign manager?

I’m really enjoying rereading this — and no wonder, I now see

Rose 1

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had this fatigue thing going on since my stroke. So maybe once a day — twice on a bad day — I’ve left the desk here in my home office to go lie back in the recliner in the same room and take a snooze. Which usually, but not always, refreshes me wonderfully and enables me to get back to work.

On one of these days, I looked across at the bookshelf several feet from the chair, and noticed a book I’d read several times, but not in quite a few years — Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith.

Ever read it? You should. If you don’t read another novel, read this. It’s not what Smith is best known for, but as much as I love his Arkady Renko novels — especially the first three — this may be my favorite.

And I’m rereading it now, and loving it.

No wonder.

I discovered how long it had been since I’d read it when I looked at the quote from a review on the back. See it below? When I saw it, it kind of blew me away: It’s from Patrick O’Brian, author of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, or the “Master and Commander” books, as some might call them. I had never noticed the review before. Why? Because apparently, it’s been so long since I’d read this book that the last time I saw it I had never heard of O’Brian — who now may be my favorite novelist. Y’all know how much I read and reread his novels.

I think I started reading about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin more than 15 years ago. So it’s been awhile, Rose.

Of course O’Brian loved this book. Because in their own, very different and individualized ways, he and Smith were both masters of the same thing: They were capable, to an extent I’ve never seen anywhere else, to take their readers to an alien place and time and make them feel like they are really there.

That’s how Mike Fitts first told me I would enjoy O’Brian’s novels (something for which I will always be grateful). It’s a little hard to explain to the uninitiated why these books are so wonderful, but Mike got there by telling me that these books were about a Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, and they recreated that world with such living, breathing detail that you feel like you’re really there.

This is absolutely true. And it’s also what Martin Cruz Smith is famous for. He earned this reputation with his breakthrough, landmark novel Gorky Park. It was stunning, and if you haven’t read it, go do so right now. It was a story about a Moscow murder detective, written in the middle of the Cold War, told from that man’s perspective, and it magically makes the reader think he is actually in that world. I was stunned, years later, when I read that Smith had never been to Russia before writing the book. (Did I dream that? I had trouble confirming it on the Web just now.) It seemed impossible.

That’s his famous one, but Smith has done it time and again, particularly with his other Arkady Renko books.

But with Rose, he takes the reader to a very different place and time from any Renko ever visited. Specifically, the dark and dirty coal-mining and manufacturing town of Wigan in Lancashire in 1872.

Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the premise:

Jonathan Blair, a mining engineer, returns from Africa’s Gold Coast and, on finding his native England utterly depressing, falls into melancholy and alcoholism. Blair wishes desperately to return to Africa, so, in exchange, he agrees to investigate the disappearance of a local curate engaged to marry the daughter of Blair’s patron….

Which doesn’t even begin to tell you anything about Blair, or what he finds in Wigan. But I assure you, you feel that you are really in the place and time among people who are of the place time. And these people are worth getting to know.

I won’t say anything more, except to note that when O’Brian mentions “the last, most satisfying page,” he knows what he’s on about. I can’t wait to get back to it myself. And I know that in the days I get to it, I’ll go back and read that page several more time, to experience the satisfaction.

It’s pretty great…

Rose 2

Friedman idea no. 1: the Team of Rivals

It worked for Lincoln.

It worked for Lincoln.

Earlier today I mentioned that Tom Friedman had a really good column today in The New York Times.

I noted that he said that if we are forced to choose “between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country.”

Very true. The nice thing is, he offered a way out of that.

It’s far-fetched — it would require a very diverse groups egos to set aside their personal ambitions for the good of the country — but at least it’s an idea that would work if they did. And I think Friedman’s not exaggerating when he says, “Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide.

Basically, it’s this: form a Team of Rivals, as Lincoln did in a previous time of national crisis. Put all those Democratic candidates, those still running and some of those who have dropped out, on the team. Bring all their strengths together and let them compensate for each others’ weaknesses.

It’s a great idea now as it was in Lincoln’s day (although when I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, I kept wishing for a time machine so I could go back in time and slap Salmon Chase upside the head — that guy was a major pain).

Friedman got one thing wrong: He supposes the head guy would be either Sanders or Bloomberg. I’m still holding out for Joe. But he also assigned Cabinet positions to Sanders and Bloomberg, since he hadn’t made his mind up on which is president.

And he made a call that supports my position: He picked Joe for secretary of state, because “No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe.” Absolutely, which is why he needs to be president — because nothing in the POTUS job description is more important than dealing with the rest of the world.

This is a variation, and elaboration, on an idea I put forward several months ago: I suggested that Joe persuade Barack Obama to be his secretary of state, and tell the country that right away. It would clarify things in Democrats’ minds — and in other people’s as well.

But yeah — if you couldn’t have Joe as president, then secstate would be the job for him.

Anyway, the overall idea is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

That’s one idea from the Friedman column. The other is less uplifting, but must be faced. And it’s important enough that I’m writing a separate post about it.

No. No. No. Rob Gordon CANNOT be a woman

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

OK, I’m a little upset now.

I sort of heard on the radio this morning that Nick Hornby was going to be on Fresh Air tonight. I got a little excited about that, being such a huge fan of High Fidelity and all.

So I went looking to confirm what I’d heard. And I ran across this.

It seems that “High Fidelity” is being rebooted for Hulu. And in this version, Rob is female.

No. Way.

Why do I love High Fidelity? Well, for one thing, it’s hilarious. And the pop culture stuff is fun, especially the Top Five lists. But those aren’t the reasons why I think it’s one of the most profound books written by a living author.

My reverence for the work stems from the fact that no one else has ever come close to expressing something essential about the relationships between men and women in the slice of history in which I have lived and had my being. In other words, it is to my time what Jane Austen’s work was to hers.

Rob’s problem — an inability to see that what is truly important in life is our relationships with other human beings — takes a form that is particular to young (and, perhaps, old) males in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Rob cares about, and devotes most of his mental and spiritual energy to, pop culture. Specifically pop music, but movies and other manifestations as well.

It’s a problem that feeds on itself when similarly emotionally stunted young males gather, such as when Rob, Dick and Barry stand about in the usually empty record store arguing about their Top Five lists — while women are (presumably, since we don’t see them in this venue) off somewhere actually living life.

That’s the problem he has in his relationship with his typically far more emotionally mature girlfriend Laura.

SPOILER ALERT: One incident in the book illustrates the dichotomy beautifully. After their spectacular breakup (which finally was so painful that finally makes Rob’s Top Five list of worst splits), Rob and Laura are trying to make a go of it again, and whether they will succeed remains very much in doubt — on account of, you know, Rob.

They go to have dinner with some friends of Laura’s, a couple Rob doesn’t know. During the initial stages of the evening, Rob is really impressed. He likes these people. Laura observes this.

Then, when the couple is out of the room, Laura urges Rob to indulge his habit of inspecting his hosts’ record collection. And he is appalled. Their taste, in his exquisitely refined opinion, is horrible.

Laura knew this would be his reaction. And she watches to see if there will be an epiphany.

There sort of is, as Rob admits, but only to himself:

… that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it’s not what you like but what you’re like that’s important. I’m not going to be the one who explains to Barry how this might happen, though.

And feckless Rob, who is feckless in a particularly male sort of way, takes a tiny step toward maturity. But grumbles about it, accusing Laura: “You did that deliberately,” he says on the way home. “You knew all along I’d like them. It was a trick.”

It’s not that every male is like Rob, and every female like Laura. But the conflict between them, the gap between them, was colored by an essential difference that stated impressively true things about the relationships and differences between men and women.

Listen, sometimes it’s OK to change the gender of a character. It worked in the TV adaptation of The Night Manager, when Jonathan Pine’s case officer — who was a man in the book — is played by Olivia Colman. There were other changes that didn’t work, but that one was a great move. It gave the case officer/agent relationship an extra something that it didn’t have in the book.

But that book wasn’t trying to say something deep and true about the relations between men and women, and ways in which they are different.

High Fidelity was. (Actually, I don’t know that Hornby was trying to do all that, but he did. When I recommend the book to friends, I always describe it in those terms. That’s what’s impressive about it.)

I’ll try watching it, if it’s on the level of Hulu that I can get. (Some things, including some things I’d really like to see, aren’t.) But I suspect I’m not going to like it. It was a big enough leap that the original movie made the characters American instead of English. But it still worked because American males can be just as stunted as British ones, and in the same ways.

But with this change, that remains to be seen.

Don’t go changing things around on the foremast jacks

Screen-Shot-2016-07-09-at-8.39.46-AM

Only Bryan and Mike Fitts are likely to appreciate this, but I share it anyway…

I get a ridiculously large number of unsolicited offers to supply this blog with content, and pay me to run it.

Most I ignore. But this morning I was feeling more sociable than usual, so I responded by saying:

Not interested, thanks.

Well, that was a mistake. Because instead of going away, this person wrote back:

I can do $50 for 1 permanent (one time fee) article publish [article content of your choice of topic] with do follow link to sports betting or casino site.Will supply unique content as well.
Let me know.
Note :1.Article must not be any text like sponsored or advertise or like that
2. we can only pay by paypal.

I mean, set aside the fact that I have zero interest in promoting gambling, and that even if I were persuadable, an amount as small as $50 would just be insulting.

So I just responded,

I generate all my own copy, and that’s what my readers expect.

I had to hold myself back with both hands to keep from adding:

It is what they are used to, and they like what they’re used to.

Which always makes me smile whenever Patrick O’Brian says that about the foremast jacks in Jack Aubrey’s ships.

It makes me feel fond of them, fictional characters though they all are…

Throw something new at the foremast jacks, and they're likely to look at it like this...

Throw something new at the foremast jacks, and they’re likely to look at it like this…

This one’s going on my Amazon wish list

Hope 1

You may have already heard of this book — actually, it appears to be one of a series — but I had not when I happened to see it on a shelf at Barnes & Noble.

In this hot weather, I’ve taken to walking in the nearly deserted — but still-air-conditioned (at what cost, I know not) — Richland Mall during my daily exercise breaks. I allow myself the indulgence of doing a full sweep of B&N during these circuits. On this occasion, I was whizzing through the fiction section, went “What!?!” and had to turn on my heel and go back for another look at what I’d just passed.

Yep, it’s a murder mystery in which the parts of Holmes and Watson are played by Barack Obama and Joe Biden. And as with the Conan Doyle original, they are told from the perspective of Biden:

It’s been several months since the 2016 presidential election, and “Uncle Joe” Biden is puttering around his house, grouting the tile in his master bathroom, feeling lost and adrift in an America that doesn’t make sense anymore.

But when his favorite Amtrak conductor dies in a suspicious accident…

OK, you’ve got me! I’ve gotta read it. It’s going on my Amazon wish list right… now. I might even rip off the cover and frame it.

Sure, it’s a gimmick, like this same author’s previous Fifty Shames of Earl Grey. But the gimmick works — on me, anyway — and I’ve gotta hand it to the huckster who came up with it…

Hope 3

Setting the record straight on ‘The Dirty Dozen’

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book...

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book…

I love it when I find out that someone somewhere has, at least for a brief moment, obsessed about something trivial that had obsessed me.

It makes me feel… almost normal. Or at least, human.

In the past, as an illustration of the perverse way that my brain works, I have bragged/told on myself for remembering the names of all the characters in The Dirty Dozen, which I read when I was about 13.

The book, mind you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to name the 12 in the movie, because the movie doesn’t fully introduce them all.

Oh, and the list is different. This is partly because, for whatever reason, Archer Maggot — played by Telly Savalas — was a mashup of three very different characters from the book. Maggot was a redneck career criminal from Phenix City, Ala., a really malevolent, violent guy. Calvin Ezra Smith was a prison convert who constantly quoted Scripture. Myron Odell was a shy little rabbit of a man who was scared of women, and supposedly had killed a woman who came onto him sexually (which he vehemently denied).

I’m not sure why they combined those three into one, but somehow Savalas pulled it off, so hats off to him. But then they had to make up a couple of names of characters to replace Smith and Odell. Then there was the fact that Jim Brown’s character was nothing like the one black character in the book, so they changed his name from Napoleon White to Robert Jefferson. White had been an officer and an intellectual (he and Capt. Reisman have debates about the writings of T.E. Lawrence), which I guess they thought didn’t fit Brown, so they made Charles Bronson the ex-officer.

They went on to change several other characters’ names — sometimes just the first names — for reasons that would only be understandable to a Hollywood producer.

Anyway, I’m going on about this because today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I ran across this Los Angeles Times story from way back in 2000. And it contained this paragraph:

Can you name all 12? Roll call: Charles Bronson as Joseph Wladislaw; Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson; Tom Busby as Milo Vladek; John Cassavetes as Victor Franko; Ben Carruthers as Glenn Gilpin; Stuart Cooper as Roscoe Lever; Trini Lopez as Pedro Jimenez; Colin Maitland as Seth Sawyer; Al Mancini as Tassos Bravos; Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinkley; and Clint Walker as Samson Posey.

Wow, I thought. There’s someone else on the planet who has wasted gray cells memorizing the names of the Dirty Dozen! Worse, memorizing the names of the ones in the movie, not the real ones!

It gave me a fellow-feeling, if only for a moment, for this Donald Liebenson who wrote the piece…

Anyway, the real names, from the 1965 E.M. Nathanson novel:

  1. Victor Franko
  2. Archer Maggot
  3. Calvin Ezra Smith
  4. Myron Odell
  5. Glenn Gilpin
  6. Ken (not Seth) Sawyer
  7. Napoleon White
  8. Samson Posey
  9. Roscoe Lever
  10. Luis (not Pedro) Jimenez
  11. Vernon Pinkley
  12. Joe Wladislaw

dirty

Anna Karenina and Goldilocks

Something I was working on this morning for ADCO — it had to do with family court law — got me to thinking about Tolstoy.

Congratulate me, because I managed, through great exertion, to restrain myself from quoting the first line of Anna Karenina in the copy I was writing for the client:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I knew that line, although I didn’t know it was in Anna Karenina. We were supposed to read that novel in one of my high school English classes, but I never did (although I can tell you what it’s about — I may have escaped reading it, but I couldn’t escape the class discussion). But I knew the line; it’s just one of those things you pick up over the years.

And I’ve always thought Tolstoy had it backwards. And Tolstoy’s own next paragraph (which I looked up just now) supports my position better than his:

Tolstoy

Tolstoy

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was so sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.

Nicely written, but what a trite situation! This family is not “unhappy in its own way.” If you tried to come up with a cliche for how a family becomes unhappy, this would be it. It’s the very first thing anyone would think of. Infidelity. How original.

Whereas I think happy families have to find their own way to being happy. No family is perfect, so each person in it has to negotiate around all the things that are “wrong” in order to achieve harmony. Each person makes adjustments in his or her expectations; they make peace with the complexities of interpersonal relationships. And all those complex factors make for unique paths to happiness.

Of course, I suppose all that could be summarized simply with a word such as “forbearance” just as one could sum up the Oblonsky’s unhappiness with “infidelity.” But still, my point is that there’s no greater sameness among happy families than among unhappy ones. Among each set, there are both common and uncommon factors.

Now if he’d said, “Unhappy families are more interesting than happy families, if you’re a novelist,” I’d have gotten his point. Plot calls for conflict. But that’s not what he said. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s been translated.

The line is a good opener, like “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” or “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

I’ve just always thought it was wrong.

Others are more impressed by it. In fact, I learned today, it is the basis of something called “the Anna Karenina principle.” (Maybe I’d have learned it back in 1970 if I’d read the book. Or maybe not.) According to Wikipedia, it goes like this:

In other words: in order to be happy, a family must be successful with respect to every one of a range of criteria, including sexual attraction, money issues, parenting, religion, and relations with in-laws. Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness. Thus, there are more ways for a family to be unhappy than happy.

In statistics, the term Anna Karenina principle is used to describe significance tests: there are any number of ways in which a dataset may violate the null hypothesisand only one in which all the assumptions are satisfied.

This principle is in fact used to explain all sorts of things. But I noticed something odd… there was no mention of “Goldilocks planets,” or the lack of such hospitable places. It seems that the rarity of planets that could sustain human life would be the perfect illustration of the Karenina principle: Everything has to be “just right” — gravity, temperature, atmosphere, chemical composition, distance from its star — to produce a “happy” planet where we could live. All planets that support human life would be remarkably alike. But fail in any one of a list of key criteria and, unhappily, you can’t live there.

Right?

Anyway, I failed to find on Google where anyone had pointed out the relationship between the two concepts. So I thought I would.

That’s all. I’ll go away now…

I’ve just never thought of it as a good place to meet girls

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Really? You lost a girl to THIS guy?

Today is a day for wondering for me. And while I was walking across the USC campus at midday today, I finally decided to ask about something that has bugged me for decades:

And you lost her to the guy pictured above? You are evidently not favored among men. Or hobbits, either…

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never...

In Rohan, mayBE. But Mordor, never…

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

‘I’m glad we found it out detective fashion…’

A little something for y’all who complain that there’s not enough sports on this blog…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

Philip Roth, the last of the literary lions of the ’60s

At least, I don’t think there are any left… Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, John Updike… who’s missing?

Anyway, Philip Roth’s gone now, too.Philip_Roth_-_1973

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I had read and largely loved most of what Tom Wolfe had ever published, so he meant more to me.

I think all I ever read by Roth was “Goodbye Columbus.” That was pretty good, but not exactly something that set my mind on fire the way, say, Catch-22 did. I think I liked some of the other stories in that collection better, such as “The Conversion of the Jews.” So I appreciate that one writer eulogized him as being “forever the little boy on the roof threatening to jump, forcing the Rabbi into an apology.” Nicely said, especially since it’s an allusion I actually get.

But I never heard anything about Portnoy’s Complaint that made me want to read it. (Of course, I never heard much about it that rose above the level of a dirty joke.) Maybe I should. You know, to have a better grasp on the serious literature of my time, the way I made myself read a couple of Updike’s “Rabbit” books, to be better in touch with the alienation and discontent of my generation and yadda-yadda.

Or maybe not. I had a pretty happy childhood, and have only ever had a limited appetite for disaffected moral aridity. Thoughts?

Or anything else you’d like to say about Roth? I’m outta ammo…

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I'll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali McGraw movie, I'd rather see this than "Love Story."

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I’ll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali MacGraw movie, I’d rather see this than “Love Story.” That’s about as far as I can go with it. I liked Benjamin better in “Catch-22.”

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

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To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

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THAT’S kind of a cool, idiosyncratic ad…

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Google Adsense gives me a lot of odd ads that I’d rather not see on the blog.

But I thought this one was pretty cool, and kinda weird — a James Fenimore Cooper ad?

I just flashed on my fave line in that movie with Daniel Day Lewis, when the British officer asks Nathaniel how he can possibly go to Kentucky when there’s a war on where he is, and the reply is, “Well, we kinda face to the north and real sudden-like turn left…”

Although, now that I think about it… Since this was set in Upstate New York, shouldn’t he head south and then turn right? Or head west and then turn left? Maybe the actor got confused because they filmed it in North Carolina, which would have made those directions perfect…

Wes Studi: One scary villain

Wes Studi: One scary villain

I don’t know, but I liked the film for two reasons: One was the incredible menace of Wes Studi, who played Magua. That was one scary villain.

The second was how well Day-Lewis inhabited a character who is probably THE prototypical American character. There’s no one in literature more American, unless it’s Huck Finn.  (That quote, displaying his utter lack of regard as to what a representative of the Crown thought of his doings, perfectly illustrated that.) How do the Brits do that, time after time? This may well be the ultimate example of the phenomenon.

Of course, not all the Google ads today are awesome. At the same time the Cooper one was showing, there was this across the top of the page….

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it...

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it…

 

The Kid Who Batted 1.000 (almost)

My MLB At Bat app brought the above video to my attention today.

The brief description:

Jaime Barria and Brandon Belt face off in a 21-pitch duel to set the record for the most pitches in an MLB at-bat in the modern era

Here’s the NYT’s report on what happened: “21 Pitches, 16 Fouls, 12 Minutes: Brandon Belt’s Marathon At-Bat.”

Now that’s what I call some baseball — not these towering home runs the app usually tells me about.s-l225

It reminds me of one of my favorite books from my youth, The Kid Who Batted 1.000, by Bob Allison and Frank Ernest Hill.

I read it over and over when I was a kid, checking it out from the school library multiple times to do so. Then I went years without seeing a copy, and had thought it was something I’d never see again, until my wife found a dog-eared copy that had belonged to one of her brothers. So I got to read it as an adult, and enjoyed it just as much.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the story of Dave King, a farmboy who is discovered to have a weird talent: He can foul off any pitch thrown by any pitcher. He gets signed to a Major League team and leads it out of the cellar because he always draws walks — usually after wearing down and shattering the nerves of the opposing pitcher.

Finally, in the last game of the World Series, he hits a home run, thereby earning a batting average of 1.000 — albeit only in postseason play.

It’s great. If you can find a copy, I do recommend picking one up…

By the way, the real-life batter, Brandon Belt, didn’t quite equal Dave King’s achievement. After those 21 pitches, the Giants first-basemen flies out to right field…

Zuckerberg: Looking like a Stranger in a Strange Land

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do...

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do…

Sorry I haven’t had much time to post.

Here’s a Tweet I sent couple of days ago that I meant to share. Heinlein fans among you might appreciate it:

Do you see what I mean?

Does becoming a billionaire before you’re an adult make you look like that? Maybe it keeps you from developing the usual lines and furrows that show human character.

Again, it’s not his youth. It’s… something else. He’s an unusual-looking guy, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. But it reminds me of descriptions of the Man from Mars in Stranger in a Strange Land, such as when Jill Boardman is trying to figure out her own impressions of Michael’s countenance:

Jill

The Amazon rainforest was shaped by people

This is just a by-the-way thing, for people who haven’t picked up on it…

The Washington Post yesterday had this story headlined, “Archaeologists discover 81 ancient settlements in the Amazon.” It said in part:

Fifty years ago, she said, “prominent scholars thought that little of cultural significance had ever happened in a tropical forest. It was supposed to be too highly vegetated, too moist. And the corollary to those views was that people never cut down the forests; they were supposed to have been sort of ‘noble savages,’ ” she said.

“But those views have been overturned,” Piperno continued. “A lot of importance happened in tropical forests, including agricultural origins.”…

Though conservationists often speak of this region as having been a “pristine” landscape, studies by de Souza and others suggest that indigenous people influenced and enriched the rain forest for hundreds of years….

Surprising? Only if you indeed think of the pre-Columbian Americans as “noble savages” who barely touched the land they lived on.

But in fact, researchers have been debunking that view for years.

If you haven’t read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, you should. That 2005 book, followed six years later by the equally fascinating 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, endeavored to bring us laymen up to date on what modern researchers were learning about this hemisphere before Europeans came to stay.

It’s been several years since I read it, but I remember two main points, new things, that I learned from it:

  • The American population before 1492 was many times as large as previously estimated. But Europeans, the people who wrote the history, never met these people. That’s because, thanks to inter-tribe trade, European diseases wiped out millions — entire villages, entire cultures — before the newcomers even encountered them. (Europeans would land on a coast, coastal Indians would be infected by their diseases and pass them on to inland tribes they traded with. Thus, European diseases raced well ahead of actual Europeans.) That’s one reason the conquistadores were able to conquer. The Incas, for instance, had been ravaged by disease to the point that their empire was on the verge of collapse before Pizarro arrived.
  • The Indians had a dramatic effect on the land before the arrival of whites. They were big users of slash-and-burn land management, including in the hallowed Amazon rain forest. In fact, much of the jungle found by white settlers was only a generation or two old, having grown up after the local land managers died off.

I may be misremembering a detail or two, since it’s been 1491-coverawhile since I read it. But I think I have the broad outline right. One of the most dramatic assertions I remember from the book was that the Little Ice Age the planet experienced from the 16th to the 19th centuries was at least in part caused by this sudden drop in human population in the Amazon basin, which allowed the rainforest to surge, taking in more carbon dioxide and lowering global temperatures.

Of course, this debunks one notion many tree-huggers are fond of — that the awful, heedless white man is destroying the planet by killing the rainforest, which the nature-loving folk who went before would never have done. (Or, if it doesn’t debunk it, at least adds layers of complication. Apparently, the Indian methods were more sustainable.) At the same time, it reinforces the idea that what humans do and don’t do affect global climate.

All of which reinforces my long-held belief that life is more complicated than most people give it credit for being.

I know I’ve recommended this book before, but the Post story reminded me of it, so I’m recommending it again. It’s fascinating to learn that things you thought you knew were so, are not…

Statement: ‘Appy-polly-loggies, oh my brothers (and to all devotchkas and ptitsas)!’

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Apparently The Onion had this back in November, but they just tweeted it again:

Alex DeLarge Forced To Step Down As Leader Of Droogs Amidst Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct

LONDON—Pushed out of power as the damning charges mounted, Alex DeLarge was forced to step down Wednesday as leader of the Droogs amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. “In an unfortunate development, we have been forced to remove Mr. DeLarge from his post due to the startling accusations of sexual impropriety that have come to light,” said Droog member Georgie, explaining that although the group had systems in place to swiftly address such allegations, it clearly did not adequately follow those procedures. “Even though these acts took place decades ago, it does not excuse Alex’s heinous and unforgivable actions. This is not at all what the Droogs stand for.” At press time, DeLarge had offered to undergo two weeks of rigorous aversion therapy to rehabilitate himself.

We have high hopes for this Ludovico Technique, which is the heighth of fashion in reconditioning, and we expect our droogie to be back at the Korova Milkbar in his platties of the night at fortnight’s end, slooshying to lovely Ludwig van.

For now, he has a bit of a pain in the gulliver, so bedways is rightways…

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