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The Real Frank Zappa Book” (1989©)   —   book review
Today’s review is for the autobiography:  “The Real Frank Zappa Book“;  written by:  Frank Zappa and co-written by / with:  Peter Occhiogrosso.
Background:  a network system admin colleague was listening to some music when I approached him for assistance.  I asked about what he was listening to and he said it was Frank Zappa and the “Mother’s of Invention”.  He then proceeded to tell me how great Zappa was and that he listened to a Zappa show on the radio every Friday night where this little station ran a two hour program on Zappa’s music.  My friend said there was nothing more relaxing than sitting in an easy chair with a tumbler of Jägermeister and listening to Zappa to kick off a weekend.  I was familiar with the “name” but (honestly) could not recall a single song or album, but I said I’d check it out based on his (my friend’s) recommendation.
Well, I still haven’t gotten around to listening to the radio and I don’t know if the broadcast is still happening every Friday evening, but I was in the used book store (several years ago) and I saw this book and picked it up to add to my reading list.  I keep seeing Zappa’s name referred to in my guitar studies, so I finally made a point of opening (and reading) it.
Who is Frank Zappa and why should we care about him or his views (on anything)?  Zappa is / was (died 1993) an American musician, singer, composer, songwriter and bandleader.  He self-produced over 50 albums and his estate had published another 30+ albums of “new” material since his death.  He was a self-taught musician and composer.  He claims to not be a very great guitarist, but that is the only instrument I ever knew him to play and he’s said to be one of the top 100 guitarists in history.  His book says he originally learned music on a drum set and picked up guitar later.  He was also reasonably well known for his libertarian political views particularly about free speech and the separation of church and state.  Zappa is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has an album in the Library of Congress preserved for its historical significance.  Zappa’s music is a blend of rock, jazz, fusion, concert / symphonic music with a heavy dose of political / social satire – comedy.  He poked fun at both the left and the right.
What’s in this book and is it any good?  The book is really several parts:  1)  a personal biography;  2)  a discussion of his career and production thoughts about the music industry;  and,  3)  Zappa’s views on various political and social / societal trends.  I didn’t find his biography interesting.  I thought his comments on music and the industry were very insightful.  I was only mildly amused by his political stances and societal observations.  While I might personally agree with much of his stances and observations, I found his sarcasm / humor tiring long before the end of the book.
Part 1)  I grew up poor and we moved around a lot.  My escape was music.  I learned about it on my own by listening to an unfiltered variety of sound(s).  I got ripped off constantly by almost everyone else in the music business.  (Pgs 1 – 137)
Part 2)  Everybody is out to screw the composer / artist.  Including, but not limited to:  all production companies, all music unions, all venue owners, all governments (local and national), most fellow musicians, and, most hangers-on / groupies.  (Pgs 139 – 209)
Part 3)  Small, efficient government is the best.  Taxation should be limited to sales and should not include income – to have some hope of charging taxes on the wealthy as well as the workers.  All organized religion(s) and “church” institutions are corrupt (themselves) and corrupting to governments which allow them to have political influence.  There should be a full separation of Church and State.  Public education is a “mostly” a waste of money.  Education post-high school should be paid for by the individual only.  Special interest groups (guns and religion lobbies) have too much influence in America.  You cannot legislate morality and you should not be allowed to use morality to limit freedom of speech (particularly in the arts and music industries).  (Pgs 211 – 352 / end)
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  As stated previously, I didn’t find Zappa’s personal life (growing up or music performing) very interesting.  I found his thoughts about the concept of music (and art in general) VERY interesting.  This section was the strength of the book.  I would have been over the moon if he had devoted the rest of the book to elaborating on his theories of sound / art / artistry / and music production.  Unfortunately, he didn’t.  The final chunk of the book was “really” only moderately interesting.  My impression was:  “this is filler to add 80 extra pages”.  Again, just because I agree with an authors’ statements, doesn’t mean I like / enjoy how they choose to express the statements.  The book was worth the time invested in reading it , if only to gain an appreciation of a historic music figure.  I will be offering up some quotes from it in the future.  – BUT – except for the discussion on music / art, I can’t say the book inspired much after-thought / reflection.  (Actually, I’ve already posted a few of Zappa’s quotes, but didn’t know they were from this book.  I will probably get around to updating those prior posts at some point.)
Afterwords:  I have made an effort to go to YouTube and sample some of Zappa’s performances.  I’ve yet to be impressed.  Mostly, what I’ve heard has been ok.  JUST ok.  They remind me of what you’d hear at a county / state fair.  If anyone reading this can provide specific suggestions, I’d be more than happy to check them out.  I will say, I have found the video’s of his interviews to be much more interesting than the music I’ve listened to.
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On This Day In:
2021 Every Time It Gets Better
Distant!
2020 I’m Persuaded
2019 Hungry For Trust
2018 Mutual Assistance
2017 The Toughest Job
2016 Congratulations!!
Better Yet, Read!
2015 Even If It Kills Us Slowly
2014 Fun To Play God
Of Anything
2013 Legal (Almost)
2012 Great Scots!
2011 The GI Bill – A Simple History Lesson
Breaking Even

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[Another LONG post…  You’ve been warned!  (LoL)    —    KMAB]
The Third World War:  August 1985  (1978©)   —   book review
This review is for the fictional portrayal (as a “future history”) of a “realistic” invasion of NATO allied European countries by the Warsaw Pact in August of 1985.  The book was “written” primarily (et al) by (Ret.) British General John W. Hackett in consultation with a number of experts gathered to discuss how such an invasion might occur, what might lead up to it and what might be the end-of-war results.  The “advisors” were listed as:  John Barraclough (Air Chief Marshal), Kenneth Hunt (Brigadier), Ian McGeoch (Vice-Admiral), Norman Macrae (a deputy editor at “The Economist“), John Strawson (Major-General), and, Bernard Burrows (British Diplomatic Service).
The book was a best-seller in England back in 1978.  It was published in the U.S. in early 1979 as a hardback and then released as a paperback in 1980.  I initially read the paperback version.  I believe it was shortly after I was released from the Active Reserves, but my memory isn’t that precise anymore.  In any case, this review is of a re-reading of the book after my reading of “2034: A Novel of the Next World War” earlier this year.  (review here:  A Novel War).  The author of that book, (ret) Admiral James Stavridis, cited this book as a primary inspiration for his work.  This prompted my re-interest in the original…
During my (almost) two years in the Reserves I was assigned to a unit which tested and evaluated the readiness of National Guard units from California, Arizona and New Mexico.  The officers would establish “war-game” scenarios for the Guard officers and I (as an NCO) would embed with the line units to evaluate actual field performance.  We were artillery evaluators, so I watched Guard batteries fire cannons / howitzers, but I gained an understanding of scenario development and large scale tactical war-gaming.  This led to a post-service interest in military style board games which carried on for most of the ’80s.  I lost interest when gaming shifted to computers and became “mostly” shoot-em-up’s instead of (IMHO) about strategy.
Basically, the plot of this book is the leaders of the USSR feel their position as a superpower is being threatened by political and economic factors which are worsening (for them).  They feel there has been a significant / progressive decrease in NATO’s readiness over the last decade and this may be their last / best opportunity to remove a potential military threat (NATO) and further subjugate the buffer countries of Eastern Europe who are members of the Warsaw Pact.  The plan is a crushing invasion of Western Europe (West Germany and the low-lands) which leaves the USSR in command up to the border of France.  The invasion fails because in the years between the book’s publishing (1978) and the date of the “future-history” event (August 1985), Europe (specifically Great Britain) comes to its senses and reverses the general military decline of the late ’60s to ’70s.  The NATO forces are able to slow the advance of invasion (without the use of tactical nuclear weapons) and allows reinforcements to arrive from the U.S. just in the nick of time.
In a striking foreboding of the current (2022) invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the invasion portrayed fails because of (in no particular order of importance):
1)  an inability to dominate the air despite superior numerical assets;
2)  a failure of logistics (fuel and ammunition) by the Warsaw Pact, (it is believed the invasion will take less than two weeks AND there will not be enough time for the U.S. to resupply NATO forces);
3)  resistance by the native forces (in this case, the West German army / reserves) is surprisingly effective;  and,
4)  the centralized command and control characteristic of authoritarian political systems, does not promote the flexibility / initiative of junior officers (and NCOs) to seize military opportunities when they arise, so opportunities for significant breakouts are lost.
When the war quickly (the “war” lasts weeks) devolves into a war of attrition, failure is viewed as inevitable and hard-liners in the Politburo decide to consolidate their gains for future armistice negotiations by the use of a limited (against only one city) nuclear strike.  The result, however, is not fear and negotiation, but instead, fury and retaliation via a similar limited nuclear strike by Great Britain and the U.S. against a Russian city;  (and like falling dominoes) the Warsaw Pact allies turn on the USSR to avoid nuclear annihilation;  the Soviet military / security services stage a coup, over-throw the hardliners, and cease further combat;  the non-Russian border states (the “-stans”) declare independence from the USSR;  and, the rest of the world struggles with the effects of a new world order.  The “war” is barely a month old before it is over.  Because the book is written as a “recent” history of past events, it does not attempt to forecast / describe long term results of the war except to relate the world has to deal with unaccounted for Soviet nuclear weapons / warheads and large stocks of conventional weapons scattered around the global (mainly Africa).
Is this a “good” book?  Is it realistic as a predictor of future conflict (lethality, if not participants)?  Is it entertaining or interesting?  Do I recommend this book?  With the exception of the final question, the answer to all of these is (are):  yes to so-so…
The book is not a “good” novel.  There are no specified individual characters driving the action, so you cannot (as a reader) identify and grow with anyone.  In this sense, although fictional, the book is written with more of an academic or journalistic feel.  It is very much an military style “after-action” report.  If you are comfortable with this writing style, you will enjoy the writing / book.  If you are not, you will not.  I did.  Was the book able to realistically describe combat and the results (devastation) of war?  Yes!  Although, saying this, there was an obvious Western bias of vivid description of the destruction of the British city and virtually nothing about the similar (or much worse) destruction of the Russian city.  (Very much:  “Yeah, we took out one of theirs as payback…”)  Is the book entertaining or interesting?  This is the toughest question because every reader’s tastes varies so much… I was not “entertained”;  but, I did find the book interesting.  I particularly “enjoyed” the parts the authors get terribly wrong, because as a reader I (we) have 40+ years of hind-sight.  There is no China – Japan alliance;  the Shah is no longer in charge of Iran (or, rather, wasn’t in 1985);  South Africa did not fall to external forces;  and, East Germany did not resist consolidation with West Germany after the fall of the USSR.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  I think most veterans (particularly my age group) will find this book relatable.  I think most civilian “military” readers / historians – and quite a few regular historians – will, too.  For political science readers, the “states” interests, goals, and stances will seem Machiavellian / Kissinger-ian (is that a real word?).  Yet, they ring true – even 40 years later.  It is entirely obvious why this book could seem as an inspiration for a future – updated version (a la “2034“), and I believe (I read) this book served as a similar inspiration for several of Tom Clancy’s works which followed.  At any rate, I do remember “enjoying” the initial read from “way-back-when”, and don’t feel the re-read was less so.  My reaction to “2034” was reinforced:  this version is much better than the more recent book.  If you have read “2034“, I recommend you read “WW3:1985” for the comparison value, if nothing else.
Final disclaimer:  I purchased this book at normal / sale price (for an old / used book) and no compensation has been provided to me by anyone for my opinions in this review.
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On This Day In:
2021 I’m An Optimist
Talent Is A Ticket To Ride
2020 Works For Me
Rivers Versus Waterfalls
2019 Better To Do
News: Drunken Party Girl Saves Seoul
2018 Keep Moving
2017 Fighting Good
2016 Size Matters
2015 Maybe The Best Thing
2014 Ready To Be Fried?
2013 A Real Lover
2012 Winning Wars
2011 A Different Lesson

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The Circle Of Fifths For Guitarists” (2017©)   —   book review
This review is for the first guitar book (non-song book category) which I have finished reading.  Hopefully, there will be many more in the future…
The book is written by:  Joseph Alexander and is part of a series of learning about music / guitar titled:  “Fundamental Changes“.  There is an associated website at:  www.fundamental-changes.com.  It also has associated Facebook and Instagram blah-blah-blah…
Background:
In January of this year (2021), I decided to teach myself to play guitar.  I’ve now purchased multiple guitars (acoustic and electric) and about a dozen books on learning music and learning how to play various genres of guitar.  I am trying to “find” my voice on both hardware and in music.  I am doing this (journey / vision-quest) “mostly” through YouTube, Wikipedia, Google and my local second hand bookstore.  I am averaging about one hour a day of hands-on practice and another couple of hours exploring genres, music theory, musicians / bands / songs, and hardware reviews.  Although I have (probably) over 300 hours of hands-on practice, I still consider myself to be a near complete-beginner guitarist.  I have watched multiple hours worth of videos on “The Circle of Fifths” and given this book is only a little over sixty pages of material, I’ve spent far more time watching videos than I actually spent reading this book.
Review:
Having said this, the questions remain:  is THIS a good book about the topic and would I recommend it to others?  The answer to both is:  “YES“.
First (good):  this is not a particularly easy topic to cover / explain.  I may feel this way simply because I’m such a beginner, but I’ve asked a few people who’ve “played” guitar in the past and they (mostly) said:  “Just learn some chords and play songs. Nobody is interested in theory.”  The problem is: I AM!!  Not only am I interested in guitar (as a physical instrument), I am also interested in it as a means of musical expression.  I seek to “Grok” guitar.  This means I have to learn the how’s and why’s of just about everything “guitar”.  Hence, my interest in the topic:  “The Circle of Fifths” (TCoF).
Alexander has written a very easy to read explanation of TCoF and I feel this book significantly increased the depth and breadth of my understanding of this music tool.  Obviously TCoF is a tool for all musicians and not limited to just use by guitarists.  Having said this, the author appropriately makes the effort to explain things from / for a guitarist’s point of view.  He defines words / terms when he first uses them, so ensuring the budding guitarist knows what he is talking about.  Alexander also takes the time to briefly explain some things beyond the scope of the book and cautions readers when a side topic is going to get deep.  Basically, he explains fundamental concepts clearly and then builds on the foundation to round out the reader’s understanding.
As mentioned earlier, there is an associated website with audio files which can be played to increase understanding by ear training and not simply expecting the reader to “understand” a point by reading about it.  This is a book about practical application of theory to music (sound).
Second (bad):  If that’s the good, what’s wrong?  Well, my copy came to me with every third page glued together.  Not consecutive pages, but facing pages and every other set:  two pages open, two pages glued, etc.  The glued spot was pretty uniform at about two inches in from the center / binding.  Most were only spots.  A few were lengths (a quarter inch to two inches) running from binding margin to the center of text.  A couple were the full height of the page as well as being over an inch in width.  Most could be pulled free.  Three of the sets completely shredded the opposite page – which meant you couldn’t read the back of that page either, even though it wasn’t glued.  Fortunately, the worst pages were at the extreme front and end of the book.  When contacted, the response was:  the books are printed and delivered by Amazon;  take it back to them and they’ll arrange to give you another.  If this was a hardbound book or more expensive, I would have done this.  Weighing the cost versus my time, I just decided to live with what I have.  And, after all, the book was still readable.  Although annoying in multiple locations, I could figure out the missing words from surrounding context.
Third (bad):  The book had a handful (less than five) of editing errors where either a word was dropped or an incorrect word was used.  Only one was so bad (impactful) that I had to go back and re-read adjoining text to ensure I knew what the author was saying instead of what it looked like he was saying.  I would add, I personally would NEVER buy this type of book in kindle format without having seen the complete book on whatever hardware version I owned.  There is too much valuable information easily accessible by laying out two pages and seeing them next to each other in a readable size / format.  In fairness, I am a “book” person, not an “ebook” person.  Of course, with kindle I wouldn’t have had the glue issue.
Final recommendation:  strong recommendation.  If you are interested in learning a bit about music theory, how chords and keys are built and how chords work together to create music, this is an excellent beginner’s resource.  Is it going to “vastly” improve MY music skills.  Not in the immediate future.  I’m not that good, yet.  But I’ll get there some day and I believe reading this book will have helped me get there sooner than if I’d not read it.  I will look for this author and series in my local used book stores where I can open and check the pages before I buy the book.
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On This Day In:
2020 Doctor’s Orders
Make That Seven Orders…
2019 Innocent
2018 Ripost
2017 Just Asking…
2016 And 4
How Tall Do You Stand?
2015 More Prejudice
2014 Say What?
2013 Daring Errors
2012 Are You Comfortable?
I Just Have To
In Flux
2011 True New
2010 A Job Well Started Is A Job Half Done
I See With My One Good Eye

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The Mask Of Command — book review
Today’s book review is for “The Mask Of Command” (1987©), written by John Keegan.  Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE (Order of the British Empire) and FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) was an English military historian, lecturer (at Sandhurst – the English equivalent of West Point) and writer.  Keegan is considered (in my opinion) one of the “modern” expert military historians. I understand his basic premise to be that conflict in general and war in specific is cultural and not necessarily an extension of political governance.  This is in contrast with Clausewitz who stated that war is politics by other means.  Keegan is criticized for “disagreement” with Clausewitz.
As a secondary aside, I started reading about military theory (“strategy”) back in my early 20’s when I began reading about generals (mostly Patton) and the works of B. H. Liddell Hart were recommended to me by a roommate.  I read Liddell Hart’s book:  “Strategy: The Indirect Approach“, which I must say greatly influenced my life by profoundly changing my view of the world.  My hope was to learn about leadership by studying the great generals.  Instead, what I found was that leadership is not the same thing as strategy and is, instead, founded on the person and the time in history the person lives, whereas strategy tends to be principled and more timeless.
This realization pretty much ties into the basis for this book, which is a study of four “great” commanders / leaders and looks at what made three succeed and one (ultimately) fail terribly.  The three successful commanders are:  Alexander the Great, Wellington, and U.S. Grant.  The failure is:  Hitler.
Keegan’s proposal in this book is based on “heroic” aspects (“title”) of military leadership:  heroic, anti-heroic, non-heroic, and fake heroic.  To do this, Keegan establishes the cultural climate of each commander and then tries to explain it’s (the culture’s) effect on the military leader via their proximity to combat and personal exposure to danger.  Essentially, for most of man’s history, muscle and physical courage were the requirement of military leadership.  As the age of gunpowder emerged, the risk to the commander increased and they were forced to withdrawal from danger and thus “military” leadership changed.  Alexander had to fight hand-to-hand to prove his courage while leading from the front; Wellington could stay within sight of his forces, but had to stay a minimal distance from accurate musket range;  Grant could not frequently approach the front lines;  and, Hitler never exposed himself to physical danger (with the exception of possible assassination) and used propaganda to convince his forces that he was a soldier battling at their side.
The book has five main chapters (one for each leader / type) and the last is about leadership in the age of nuclear weapons.  I found this the most fascinating (timely?) chapter of the book as it proposes a “new” type of post-heroic military / political leader and attempts to posit President Kennedy as this “ideal” leader.
While I found the book to be an interesting (sometimes fascinating) read, it was not an easy read.  Keegan loves his erudite words and his complicated phrasing of sentences.  The punctuation is “British” (I guess), and I found many times I had to go back and re-read a sentence or paragraph to figure out what the heck he was talking about.  Frequently, his sentences appeared to be declarative, but were, in fact, interrogatory (questions), or vice-versa, and you (“I”) couldn’t tell until you (“I”) hit the question mark or period at the end of the sentence.  Occasionally, even though I was aware of this writing style, Keegan still caught me off guard and I had to go back and try to figure out what he was on about.  Which means I knew it was happening, and anticipating it, but continued to find it distracting.
Other than this (quibble), I found the book to be quite enjoyable.  Keegan has a keen method of describing battles and you can sometimes feel yourself seeing the carnage and tasting the spent gunpowder in the air.  At less than 400 pages, it seems also to be a quick read, but I suggest not rushing head-long through it in one or two sittings as the book is widely considered to be a classic and deserves a bit of contemplation as well as enjoyment.
Final recommendation:  highly recommended!  This book is a classic for a reason…  The battlefield descriptions are superb and Keegan’s argument is well presented – even if not wholly convincing (to me, anyway).  Still, regardless if you are new to military history or a veteran of any military genre, I think you’ll enjoy this book.  There will, of course, be a few quotes from this book appearing on my blog in the coming weeks / months.
Two final thoughts:  1)  I was not (am not) convinced President Kennedy is THE model for the post-heroic commander.  I found Keegan’s reporting on / analysis of the Cuban Missile Crisis a bit simplistic.  And,  2)  even if I had read this book on first printing, I doubt it would have influenced my world-view the way Liddell Hart’s book did.  Both are classics for any military reader, just different.  Just sayin’…
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On This Day In:
2019 #ContinueToResist
Except Willful Ignorance And Prideful Stupidity
2018 More Executive Time For #DumbDonald
2017 Watched The Inauguration
Two Geniuses
2016 Come Dance And Laugh With Me
2015 Looks Good To Me
2014 Desire For The Sea
2013 The Fierce Urgency Of NOW
Happy Inauguration Day!
2012 One Path
Sorrow And Joy
The Seven Year View
2011 Emergent Practicality

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David And Goliath”  (2013©)  —  book review
Today’s book review is for non-fiction “popularized science” / sociology genre book” “David And Goliath“, written by Malcolm Gladwell.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, Gladwell, Steven Levy and James Gleick are my favorite three “modern” “pop”-science writers, so I have a natural inclination to review this book favorably.  (Of course, my “All-time” favorite for this genre is Isaac Asimov, who could explain almost anything to the common reader – and with over 500 books to his name, he certainly tried.)
Anyway, as stated, I was (am) predisposed to a favorable review.  And, I’m giving it that…
It’s not a “great” book and it didn’t make me feel like I just hit myself on the side of the head (“Wow!!).  But, with Gladwell, you pretty much know what you’re getting when you hand over your dosh.  One, two or three observations about human behavior, a bit of socio- / psychological support (a few facts to support the point and not much to contradict the point) to bolster the observations, and then a bit of storytelling to make Gladwell’s conclusion seem more palatable.  Generally, if you “want” to agree with Gladwell’s observations you won’t look too closely at the support, because, heck, you already agree.  Right?  And if you are not predisposed to agree, Gladwell offers almost twenty pages of “Notes” for further research.  But, if you’re going to all that trouble, you probably have some subject matter expertise and don’t need to read a “popularized science” book on this topic.   Do you?
Per his normal format, Gladwell breaks the book into three main sections:
1) The advantages of disadvantages (and the disadvantages of advantages);
2) The theory of desirable difficulty; and,
3) The limits of power.
Amplifying the observations:
1)  Underdogs win more than we (the average reader) would expect – in some specific categories as much as 30%.  Why?  Because we see our disadvantages as their disadvantages, when they (the underdogs) don’t.  And, if they don’t see themselves as underdogs, they have no incentive to quit before they even try to succeed.
2)  Sometimes disadvantages turn out to be advantages and vice versa.  Great schools and small class sizes don’t necessarily produce the best employees or academics.  Gladwell introduces the idea of a inverted U shaped graph to explain this phenomena.
3)  People with challenges (dyslexia, early family tragedy, ADHD) can still become very successful.  Sometimes / somehow the “challenges” early in life prepare them better than their peers for challenges later in life, so they are “ready” when the real life test happens.  And,
4)  You can never “really” know how people will react when they are placed under pressure.  You generally, expect them to fold (because we believe we would, too), but sometimes they exceed your expectations.
My reaction to all of this?  Yes, it may all be true, but how do you build a society around the observation / hypothesis?  With no controls, you have observations, but you cannot test hypothesis.  And, if you could create similar situations, is it ethical to do so?  …For a hundred people, just so five or ten or thirty percent can overcome them?  What does society say to the others who don’t overcome and become super-achievers?  We’re sorry we ruined your life, but we wanted to see if you were “destined” to be elite.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  The book presents some interesting ideas and promotes thought by the reader.  (It certainly made me think!)  It successfully brings academic observations to the masses by means of popular writing.  However, in the end, I was left feeling neither individuals nor the government have the ability (or wisdom) to use power effectively in attempting to control the actions of others.  But for me, making me think is enough to prompt me to recommend the book.
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On This Day In:
2018 Still More Prejudice
A Well Trod Path Of Hopes, Expectations And Surprise
2017 …And With It Civilization
2016 Just Like My Mother
2015 All Omissions Are Mine
2014 Precise Order
2013 Uh, No. Not Really…
Deep Regions
2012 A Pre-Valentine’s Day Message
2011 Easy Like Sunday Morning
May I Have A Little More, Please…
2010 Valleys and Peaks

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (2000©)  —  book review
Who hasn’t day-dreamed of writing the “great American novel” and becoming wealthy and celebrated?  Okay, maybe not me in over 40 years, but still…
Today’s book review is for “On Writing“, by Stephen King.  Yes, that Stephen King.  The horror novelist / writer.  Well, actually, he does write in other genres, too, but that’s the one I know him for.  This book came recommended to me by various sources – some “best of” lists and also a couple of blogs / sites I follow.  I found it on sale for $3 at my local Half-Price Books store, so I snatched it up.
The book is basically a three-part tome: King’s life leading up to writing, how to write well, and finally, advice on life and how to get started getting your writing published.  Part one is extremely interesting and amusing.  I got several belly laughs out of it.  Part two is mundane, yet (probably) useful.  I have already begun applying some of King’s suggestions in my own writing here on this blog.  Part three will probably be useful if I ever (again) imagine myself sitting down to write the great American novel or autobiography.  One of King’s recommendations is to write about what you know.  I’m afraid the only thing I know the most about is me.  (Sad, but true.)
So, final recommendation: very highly recommended!  Is this the finest book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Yes!  With the qualification it is also the only book I’ve ever read on being a writer.  Having said that, it is a fast read at less than 300 pages and I found it enjoyable and informative.  And, of course, multiple quotes will appear on this blog in the future…
One last mention: King recommends all wanna-be writers start off by reading Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style“.  (According to part 1 in the book, King is a former high school English teacher.  Go, figure.)  Fortunately, for cheapskates like me, the book (“Elements“) is out of copyright and you can find it in pdf format at multiple locations on the web.  At fewer than 30 pages, it should also be a quick read.  The book cover on Amazon looks very familiar, so maybe King’s book is the second book I’ve read on writing.  LOL…  I probably read “Elements” in high school and blotted the contents out of my memory.
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On This Day In:
2017 Summer Pale
2016 Ain’t It Funny
2015 At Both Ends
2014 Whiner(s)
2013 Just Passing Through
2012 Dog-gone Heaven
2011 Occasional, Sad Results

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Will Rogers Says…”  —  book review
Will Rogers Says…” (1993©) is a book of quotations edited by Dr. Reba Collins who was the Director Emeritus of the Will Rogers Memorial and Research Center.  The book is small and short (barely 86 pages with photos), and it is also (obviously) both as very fast read and a very funny / amusing read.
Final recommendation:  Highly Recommended!!  If you like social and political commentary, you will love this book.  I will, of course, be posting many of the quotes contained in this handy reference to plain spoken American humor.  LOL.
Two samples:
1)  Being serious, or being a good fellow, has got nothing to do with running this country, if the breaks are with you, you could be a laughing hyena and still have a great administration.
2)  Washington, D.C. papers say:  “Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”  I think that is the greatest blessing that could befall this country.
[And thus Rogers presages the Trump Administration’s “booming” Stock Market and the Republican majority “Civil War” in Congress despite complete control of all three branches of the Federal Government.  Just saying…    —    KMAB]
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On This Day In:
2016 She Is Still Singing
2015 Don’t Complain
2014 Nothing Is The Same
Orange October (XII) – Giants Win Game 7 (3 To 2) And World Series (4 To 3)
2013 Hours, Days, And Years
2012 In Kev Are In Hil
2011 No Game, Didn’t Really Happen
A Good Post

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Book Review:  “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series:  Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains:  there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
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On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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Casca #6: The Persian – book review
This volume is number six in the “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary” book series.  “Casca #6: The Persian” (1982©) was written by Barry Sadler.  For those of you who haven’t read my other reviews, Casca is Casca Rufio Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus of Nazareth while he was being crucified.  Just before dying, Jesus tells Casca that he is happy in his role and that he will remain the same until they meet again.  Each volume tells some of Casca’s life over the last two thousand years as he awaits the second coming of Jesus.
Because Casca doesn’t age, every 20 or 30 years he must travel to avoid questions about why he doesn’t seem to get older.  In a prior volume (number 3), Casca was in China.  In this, he is returning to the West and pauses to deliver a message from the emperor of China to the King of the Persians warning of impending attacks from the Huns.  Casca falls into service for the King (Shapur II) and this covers the few years of that service.
This episode has two interesting sub-stories (for me).  The first involves a re-enactment of a battle tactic Casca first saw in China.  As the enemy advances, you have a line of “volunteers” step forward and cut their throats in front of the enemy.  This is said to surprise and then terrify the Hun warriors.  They turn to flee and are then defeated in detail as they try to retreat / run away.  Casca relates this tactic to Shapur who decides he wants to try it and see if it works.  He sends Casca out with an under-manned force, but with several times the number of “volunteers” as the Chinese used.  The tactic works again and Casca is able to defeat the Huns even though out-numbered by several times his own force.
The second sub-story is about Casca’s “curse”.  Because he cannot be killed, each volume has a point where the miracle / curse must be demonstrated.  In prior stories, Casca has been drowned, buried alive, poisoned, fed to crabs and had his heart cut out and one hand completely cut off.  In this episode, the king judges Casca to have become too popular with the army so he decides to trump up some charges of treason and then have Casca burned alive.  Of course Casca survives, but the execution and recovery are explained in graphic detail.  As a reader, you almost feel you are sharing Casca’s pain.
There is a third story-line which also ties back to the earlier Chinese episode, but I’ve already given too much of the story away.  Final recommendation:  another strong recommendation.
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On This Day In:
2014 Hey, I Resemble That Remark… (4!)
2013 Sit, Put, Until…
2012 Lessons For My Son
2011 Reaching The Right Audience
2010 Christmas Trees and Profession of Faith

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West Of Honor – book review
Today’s review is for “West Of Honor” (1978©), written by Jerry Pournelle.  Pournelle is a famous Science Fiction writer who not only wrote great individual novels, he also wrote story lines which spanned several books – much like Robert Heinlein’s “Lazarus Long” story / timeline.  In Pournelle’s case, the premise is that the United States and the Soviet Union come together to form a “CoDominium” to 1) control the Earth and the exploration of space; and, 2) maintain their relative positions in the “new” age of space exploration.  The “future” is strangely both dystopian and optimistic.  Dystopian in that surplus population is forced into space (as cheap labor) and optimistic as some of the planets manage to build workable civilizations.  The faster than light Alderson stardrives used in the book / series “was” invented in 2004 and first used to go beyond the solar system in 2008.  LOL!!  So far, not even close…
The main character in the time-line is a “Napoleonic” figure named John Christian Falkenberg.  This book is the story of Falkenberg’s pacification of a planet.  The story is told as a first person narrative by one of Falkenberg’s junior officers – Hal Slater.  This really is a “good, old-fashioned” modern war story which just happens to take place on another planet.  You read about planetary politics, military (and medical) technology and all that, but in the end war comes down to men bleeding and dying.  To the extent Pournelle is able to convince you to believe the technology, you buy the SciFi.  To the extent he convinces you to believe in the battles and the drama, you buy the war story.  I “bought into” both and enjoyed the book tremendously.  Interestingly, victory does not necessarily lead to a “happy” ending.
Full disclosure:  I first read this book back in the early 1980’s.  I also read a number of other books in the series, but I no longer have those.  I’m not sure how or when I lost them, but I suppose it was when we moved to Liverpool (or back).  In any case, I’m probably going to end up re-buying them and re-reading them.  Final recommendation:  highly recommended!!   Particularly if you like SciFi Military Lit.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sources
2013 Three Essentials
2012 Just Looking
2011 Religious Lessons
2010 View From Under The Bus… (A mid-term report card on the Obama Administration. Long, but still worth reading for historical perspective.)

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Today’s post is kind of a tape delay. The first book (“The Great Gatsby“) was finished a couple of weeks ago.  No real reason for the delay, except that I’ve been watching a fair amount of baseball and just haven’t made the time.  The second book (“The Prince“) was finished today.  The first movie (“The Caine Mutiny“) was watched on Saturday afternoon last, while the second (“Iron Man 3“) was watched yesterday.
The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925©) and is about a young man trying to find himself in New York in the 1920’s.  The man (Nick Carraway) is from the mid-west and goes east to seek his fortune in the big city.  It should be noted that he is already from a well-off family.  His job is in the city, but his residence is in a wealthy suburb where he meets the title character, a wealthy “business” man named Jay Gatsby.  Anyway, blah, blah, blah, life of extravagance / lost love / more blah, blah, / accident / death, end of story.
Widely considered a classic and “the great American novel”, the book is mostly read in high school and is now the basis for a soon to be released motion picture.  Actually, this is a remake.  There are four other versions, but one is “lost” (1926) and another is a made for TV (2000), so I’m not sure it really counts.  The most recent is from 1974 and starred Robert Redford as Gatsby.  I’ve never seen that version, so if I’m lucky, it’ll appear on TV soon as a promo for the new release which is due out this coming Friday.  The new version stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Carraway.
I originally read this novel back in the Army when I hoped to get better educated in some of the “great” pieces of literature.  I escaped it while I was in high school.
Is it great?  No, at least I didn’t think so.  Is it a “classic”?  Yes.  When I first read it, I remember finishing it and thinking “Wow!  That was a great book, but I have no idea what it will mean in my life because there was no basis for common experience.”  Okay, maybe a twenty year old sergeant in the Army didn’t think in those exact words, but that was the gist of my reaction.  Thirty plus years later, if you asked me what it was about, I’d have told you, “rich guys in the ’20’s”.  And that’s it…  So, was it worth reading again?  Only to the extent that it prepares me for watching the new movie.  Would I recommend reading it?  Yes, but with qualifications.  If you are interested in one of the great works of fiction by one of the bohemian writers from the early 20th century – definitely.  If you want to see a “crafted” novel (I’m not sure what that means, but I keep seeing the description in reader reviews) – definitely.  If you’re trying to better understand the American rich of the 1920’s – definitely.  If you’re trying to find a novel which will change your life?  Well, it didn’t do it for me back in the ’70’s and even less so with a second go.  Final recommendation – moderate recommend;  but I’d wait and just go see the movie.  It will cost you less time from your life. (I hope to review the movie next week, so you may want to hold off.)
The Prince” was written by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513).  Any book on politics which survives 400 years is bound to be considered a “classic” and this is (both considered and IS).  There are a multitude of observations about gaining and keeping power in the city / state of the Renaissance Era Italy.  I think, with a bit of careful consideration and some adaptation, many of Machiavelli’s ideas are still valid.  I rather doubt gathering one’s enemies in a room and strangling them, would be considered appropriate in this day and age – even in Italy.  Anyway, I found the book to be extremely interesting and I highly recommend it for its historical value even if not for its application in today’s world.
One negative for this version (Wordsworth Reference [1993©]) is the translation seems to be quite literal from Italian and therefore the language is extremely flowery which makes for difficult reading, but otherwise, it’s a fast read and well worth reading and consideration among the other classics in politics.  And, of course, this means you will now see Machiavellian quotes from time to time.
As mentioned above, I watched “The Caine Mutiny” on Saturday.  I must admit, I’ve seen the movie several times in my lifetime, but I never remember much about it except the roles played by Humphrey Bogart and José Ferrer.  Everyone else is good, too, but these two are great.  If you liked the military courtroom drama of “A Few Good Men” or “The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell“, then I think you’ll like this movie too.  This is a CLASSIC Bogart role and (IMHO) you can’t honestly say you are a Bogart fan unless you’ve watched this movie.  Of course, Bogart’s testimony at the trial is what makes the movie.  This is a must-see movie!!
The second movie I’m reviewing is the recently released “Iron Man 3“.  In full disclosure mode, I must admit that I spent many hours of my childhood reading (and collecting) Marvel Comics, so of course I have a natural bias for ALL Marvel Comic movie adaptations.  Having said that, this is a VERY good movie!  It’s entertaining with a plot, comedy (slap-stick and quips), action (fights and explosions), excellent special effects and once again, Robert Downey, Jr. ROCKS as Tony Stark (the man inside the suit), particularly when he’s NOT inside the suit.
Was the movie accurate to the comics?  No.  Particularly as it relates to the Mandarin (who is Chinese in the comics but British in the movie).  Does it matter?  Nah.  What did (slightly) miff me was that there were no power-rings.  Instead there was a weak terrorist group called “The Ten Rings“.  Really?  Really?  Nah, it didn’t work for me.  Other than that, I thought this was a sound effort, particularly after the “relative” let down (well, I was very let down) of “Iron Man 2“.  Again, is it great cinema:  No.  Is it an entertaining movie:  heck YEAH!  Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!
I can’t wait for the DVD so I can have a marathon viewing!
Oh yeah, in the Disney “Small World” vein:  José Ferrer was in “The Caine Mutiny” and his son (who is a virtual ringer), Miguel José Ferrer, is in “Iron Man 3“.  Daddy was terrific. Son, less so.
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On This Day In:
2012 God’s Requirements
2011 Greater Purity

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My son, James, collects comic books.  Not comic books like I used to collect – monthly issues for $.10, $.12, $.15 and then a quarter.  He collects the actual books which are consolidated versions of the single monthly issues which I used to buy.  (Back in my day, they didn’t have consolidated versions…)  Anyway, he’s been passing them on to me by the foot-load –  I have about two and a half foot worth stacked in various places around the house.
I’ve started to read them, so I’ve decided to start passing along my comments here.  I’ve read a few of the books but not included them because I generally felt they were too trivial to bother noting, but I’ve changed my mind.  I’m not sure of why.  I’m still considering the reasons in my own head.
Hawkman – Omnibus Volume 1 (2011©)
This book is almost 700 pages long!  Obviously, this is not a “comic” from my day.  It is, in fact, a work of literature.  I’m not sure how many pages a comic book needs to move into the “literature” category, but this one definitely drops into the category with the “whomp” of a decent dictionary.  My background knowledge of the main character is very limited as he (Hawkman) was very much a third (or fourth) tier character back in my day.  He was in the Justice League of America and I remember checking out some individual issues, but he was never someone I followed.
Anyway, the character seems to have been recreated in the “Highlander” mode of living forever – slightly different in that he is reincarnated, not simply immortal, but basically, he and his wife are immortal.  The book covers a couple of their lifetimes and there are promises of lives to come.  All in all, I found it a surprisingly good “book”.  It is definitely something I’d continue to follow when the second omnibus is issued, but it is extremely pricey (by my standards), so unless my son is passing it on to me, I’ll not be spending $50-plus dollars to read further adventures.
For anyone not familiar with the character, Hawkman has wings to help him fly and he is reasonably “super” strong.  The flight and strength come from a harness made of a non-Earthly metal which affects gravity.  Please, no comments about weight vs mass in the area of being super strong – it’s just a comic book…  Bottom line:  a surprisingly interesting character and I highly recommend it if you can borrow it or find it second hand.
The Spectre – Infinite Crisis Aftermath (2007©)
This is a much shorter book (142 pages), but it seems about the standard size for these compilations (as opposed to the doorstop of “Hawkman”).  This is another third tier character I barely remember from my youth.  The Spectre is a ghostly character who goes around “harvesting” the souls of folks who have committed major sins (mostly murder).  There seems to be some requirement to be connected to a recently deceased person (this is not fully explained in this volume).  So, Spectre has to first convince the recently dead to merge with him, and then he has to get on with his real business.
The individual stories are all graphically violent (excessive not visual) in nature and this is not a series suitable for pre-teens (probably not teens either).  Also, the artist seems to change from modern detailed drawing to old fashioned smooth drawing, sometime in adjoining frames, which I found visually annoying.  All in all, I might follow the character for one or two more collections, but there would have to be some real story-line development / change as revenge for murder simply doesn’t hold my attention as an over-arch for the story.  The stories are simply too dark for my tastes.  Bottom line: I would consider following this character only if there were some major changes in the story basis.
Green Lantern Legacy: The Last Will & Testament Of Hal Jordan (2002©)
Green Lantern was a character I followed in my youth.  He was no where near as fleshed out as he is now – some 45-50 years later.  He’s gone through multiple personas and I guess that’s a good thing.  It’s certainly better than pretending the character doesn’t age, but history is changing around him.  In this volume, the Green Lantern I knew (Hal Jordan) is dead and is passing on the ring to another person.  I got “it”, but I didn’t.  The artwork is very good and consistent with a nice variation between simple and extremely complex images.  By that I mean, some are of just the character and some are of the millions of things around in a Green Lantern universe.
Bottom line:  while this book itself doesn’t sell me on Green Lantern, I would definitely read follow-on’s and it seems likely I’d get hooked on the character arch.
Superboy And The Legion Of Super-Heroes – The Early Years (2011©)
This volume is the “origin” story for the Legion Of Super-Heroes.  This was a teen version of the Justice League Of America, but spread out across the planets instead of just being American super-heroes.  As a “Marvel” comics follower (as opposed to a “DC” follower), the Legion always seemed to me to be a reaction to the X-men.  In fact, it’s the other way around, but the X-men (historically) have been better received (more popular) than the Legion.
What did I like – Saturn Girl.  She is the only interesting character in this volume.  None of the characters, except Superboy, seem to have their powers well developed and that may be the main issue for me, but even though Saturn Girl’s only power is her ability to read minds, she still came across as the best character.  “Best” meaning developed and interesting.  I enjoyed seeing a female character not only play a predominant role in the comic, but also assume leadership in the Legion.
What did I dislike – developing powers is hard to understand when one minute you can barely hold your own and the next you’re lifting ships full of civilians and then you’re back to being “weak” again.  Also, the individual powers (and heroes) don’t seem that great either.  At first I wondered why this bothered me and then I realized it’s because they are not unique in their powers on their home world.  They are only heroes because they are on Earth where not everyone has their ability.  In theory, the same argument could be made about Superman/boy, but it is less valid because his planet is destroyed and there are few other Kryptonians (but of course there are more all the time).
Outside of the character development, what was wrong?   My main complaint would be the art work.  In this case there is a full issue of suddenly “stringy” super-heroes, who then flip back to being drawn normally in the next issue (chapter) of the book.  Needless to say, stringy super-heroes are not my cup of tea.  I would still buy the comic if the story line is good, but I would not enjoy the artwork as much.  Finally, there is the issue of intoxicated promiscuity.  Because the book focuses on a young lady, she ultimately ends up intoxicated and waking up in bed with another hero.  Admittedly, I’m old fashioned, but I would ask:  does a young female have to be intoxicated to consent to sex and if she does have sex, is it too much to ask for some mention of protection (disease and birth control).  Granted there may not be any such things as sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies in the future, but while the story is centuries in the future, it’s still being read by people today.  Now, having asked my questions, I’ll answer:  it’s ridiculous to imply anyone HAS to get intoxicated to desire and/or enjoy sex AND I would have wanted the issue of protection dealt with regardless of whether the interesting character were male or female.  But that’s just me…
Group comics are only interesting if the individual characters are interesting and if there is some issue of group dynamics being dealt with.  In this case, Saturn Girl, Brainiac and Superboy are all interesting characters to me, (with the others being far less interesting so far) so it will come down to their interaction as a group.  Bottom line:  I would definitely follow this series for several more volumes to see what happens to the group.
Justice League – Volume 1: Origin (2012)
What does a comic book publisher do when they feel they are running out of story lines after 50+ years of stories?  You create a new universe with mostly the same people!  This allows you to re-boot all of your story lines and re-tell your old stories in different ways or with different endings.  Now, how do you get from here to there?  Well, traditionally to have one of your “super-super” characters (good or bad) do something which alters the the time-space continuum and blah, blah, blah, everything different.  Hence, DC Comics now has the new 52!!  In a way, this is even better than the old way of doing things because DC now has 52 ways of telling and re-telling the same stories with a host of ways to end up with alterations.  This book is the origin for the new Justice League.
Now the JLofA is one of the DC comic series I did follow as a child.  Having said that, I don’t remember any of their specific issues or arch-enemies.  I do remember the individual heroes and I did like them in their individual series too (some of which I bought).  The classic characters are Superman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  I’m not sure when the additional character (Cyborg) was added, but he is appearing in this so he’s now an “original” member of the League.
So, where to start – the artwork.  It’s great but a bit dark for my taste.  This seems to be a big carry-over from the famous “Dark Knight” days of Batman and made more famous by all of the movies.  It seems the darker the movie, the more it’s popularity, so the comics have trended the same track.  Does it work?  Well, most of the time, yes.  In this volume, most of the characters don’t know each other, so it’s an introduction for them as much as one to them (for us).  Does this work?  Yes, but it’s not particularly believable.  The problem with this book, like most other “super groups” is finding a villain powerful enough to believe there is a real conflict.  In this case, it’s not difficult to believe the villain is worthy, it’s just difficult to believe some of the “lesser” heroes having any chance of surviving.  When you’re a child, you can put aside this problem, but the older I get the harder it seems to be.  Anyone Superman would have a hard time with would destroy Batman or the Flash; anyone they could handle would be insignificant for Superman.
Anyway, setting aside this issue, what’s good?  Batman and Wonder Woman!!  Batman has no powers and so must get by on brains and leadership.  Wonder Woman is just a bad-ass female warrior!  Without going too much farther into the story, that’s it… an average guy and a dynamite female – that’s enough to get me to sign-up for future issues / volumes.  Interestingly enough, Batman and the Flash were my two original favorites in the JLofA. Bottom line:  I’d buy this series for a while just to see the story lines for these two characters.  I’ve never been big on Aquaman and never heard of Cyborg, so I’d have to see how these fleshed out.  The Flash could be a big attraction for me if he is developed better.  Superman will always be a problem character and I don’t like the psych-case they are trying to make out of Green Lantern, but I’d still give the League a good long follow before deciding against them.
So, that’s about five inches of comic book reading over the last few days.  If you used to read comics in your youth, I highly recommend you go back and take a look at both the DC and Marvel universes.  If nothing else, you’ll know what the action movies will be like in the next decade…
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Book Review:
Today I finished my second book by Richard P. Feynman.  This one is titled: “What Do You Care What Other People Think?”  Again, Dr. Feynman was one of the men who worked on the Manhattan Project.  Feynman’s doctorate is in Physics and he won a Nobel Prize for physics.  This was both a terribly sad and immensely amusing book.  The sad portion dealt with his growing up and the early death of his high school sweet-heart and first wife.  I freely admit to being a big crybaby and her passing and his emotional detachment (temporary) made me break down too.  The majority of the book deals with his work on the Challenger Space Shuttle commission.  There appears to be a fair amount of criticism placed on NASA’s management (which I recall from the time – 1986), but I don’t recall anyone losing their jobs because of the fallout.  The impression of NASA management in the book still rings true about many of the problems we face generally in government and in large businesses today: either management knew of the risks (and they should have) but chose to minimize (i.e. disregard) them and launch anyway; or they knew the risks and lied to the commission about not knowing the risks; or management didn’t know the risks (in which case they were incompetent).
The “amusing” parts of the book are little bits in each chapter which are sometimes self-deprecating, but mostly the observations of a man standing outside a system and watching it act irrationally.  Feynman is kind of a cross between Mark Twain and Will Rogers, but with a PhD in Physics.
This is a very fast read and I highly recommend it – for the emotion, the humor and for the science.
Movie Review:
On Monday night, the Giants had the day off for travel so we decided to watch a movie.  Last week, something reminded me of “Driving Miss Daisy“, so I asked Hil if she wanted to watch it.  As it’s one of her favorite movies, I was confident she’d say yes.  To tell the truth, I’ve only seen the movie twice before in its entirety, so I was able to look at it with “fresh” eyes.  Most of it I did not remember at all.  It is a terrific movie!!  Heartwarming and funny, sad and a bit cautionary all rolled into one.  I can see why it won Best Picture that year (1989).
The main storyline is about a wealthy Jewish lady and the twenty five year relationship (friendship) she has with her African-American chauffeur.  Jessica Tandy is the lead and she won Best Actress for the role.  Morgan Freeman plays the chauffeur (Golden Globe Award but not Oscar – he was robbed) and Dan Aykroyd plays the son of Miss Daisy and who is the actual employer of the chauffeur.  Well written, well acted, funny, touching – just a beautiful movie.  Highly recommended!  If you haven’t watched it lately, treat yourself and see it again.
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This book review is a bit late because life has gotten in the way…
Last Sunday (8 May 2011), I completed the book:  “A Band of Misfits“, by Andrew Baggarly (2011©).  Baggarly is a sports columnist (and SF Giants beat reporter) for a local Bay Area newspaper.  The book is a collection of stories which follow the championship season (2010) of the San Francisco Giants.  The book is a fast, fun read.  The stories add a sense of humanity to the players which rarely comes out of a shorter form of writing – like a daily column.  You may get the same picture if you follow the column every day, but I’m not sure how many folks still do this.  To be honest, I’ve never done this (follow a columnist) until about a year ago, when I began regularly reading a pro-football columnist (Peter King) in Sports Illustrated.  Since I don’t get the paper or read Baggarly’s column on-line, I can’t comment on if the book is a mashup of his columns or if the stories are extra material that never quite made the column.  Either way, they are stories worth reading.
Anyway, as one of the many old-time baseball fans who jumped on the Giants bandwagon last year, I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the book and reading about the lives and foibles of  some of the players.  I heartily recommend this book to any recently returning baseball fan!
Superman
Yesterday, Donnie and I went up to Fairfield to visit my brother Sean.  While there, we watched a movie titled:  “Ip Man“.  The movie is a semi-autobiographical (dramatized) accounting of a famous martial artist from the early 1900’s.  Ip Man was a proponent (and master) of the Wing Chun (“Eternal Spring”) form of Kung Fu.  In later years, he was a sifu / instructor to Bruce Lee.
Some martial arts movies are great for martial arts and terrible movies.  This is not one of those movies.  This has both great fights and a great story presentation in movie form.  The acting is very good for a foreign film.  I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense for “foreign” films.  I mean it in the sense that, I don’t have the cultural background to relate to the nuances of most non-American films.  For example, there are multiple instances in the film where someone says the southern style of Kung Fu is for women.  Unless you know Ip Man himself taught the form was derived from a legend of a female who defeats a local warlord in battle, the comments appear to be a fairly common sexual slur.  I did not realize this until I did a bit of research about Ip Man and Wing Chun on the internet after viewing the movie.
If you like great martial arts flicks or if you’re interested in a small window of Chinese culture, this is a very enjoyable movie!  Check it out!
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Today I finished reading:  “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006©).  The subtitle is:  “Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More“.  The book purports to be about the “new” economics of culture and commerce.   I was looking forward to finally getting around to this book as I’ve had it waiting for a couple of months now.  It’s another of the $2.00 books from Half-Price Books.  I have heard the term, “The Long Tail” several times in the last few years.  Usually in context / comparison with the works of  Malcolm Gladwell (“Tipping Point“, “Blink“, “Outliers“).  The author (Anderson) has a similar, populist / popular style which I guess comes from them both being writers in magazines.  Other than this being a book whose concept has entered the popular / mainstream consciousness, I don’t think the book or the concept are as valuable or interesting as Gladwell’s works.
What is a “Long Tail” economy?  A Long Tail economy is one where culture is unfiltered by economic scarcity.  Huh?  Well, here, “economic scarcity” seems to be defined as things which are not stocked at my local store because there is not sufficient local demand.
The basic premise is that we are moving to a world where the manufacturer is going to be expected to carry the finished product in finished inventory (or build to order just in time) instead of the “retail” seller keeping goods in stock.  Given the costs of storage are zero (for the seller), they will carry an unlimited volume (and variety) of product in their sales channel (typically a database driven web site).  This will allow the seller to offer a value-added of a filter (typically some form of recommendation tool and or customer profile / history).  This added value is what will bring you back to the sellers web site for future purchases or other products.  Of course, once you know the location (url) of the manufacturer of the specific item you want, there is no need to use the seller as a middle-man.  At which point, the seller has lost their value until the next time you’re not sure where to get what you want.
The concept is plausible for items which are entirely (or mostly) purely digital – like sound, writing or images – like e-music, e-books, and e-videos.   These items are easily digitized and electronically transportable.  I am more dubious of the value of this concept for items which we buy based on touch and taste.  I have purchased shoes and clothes using catalogs, so shifting to web sites is not a “BIG” deal, but most of my purchases have been “higher-ended” where the seller will accept shipping costs in both directions if there is a problem.  I’m not convinced there are many sellers who would commit to this level of customer satisfaction on low ticket items.  “Atoms”, to me, seem a bigger problem, than bits and bytes.
The book is an expanded version of an article which appeared in Wired magazine back in 2004.  Since I’ve been a subscriber to Wired for over 10 years, I would have read the original article when it was published.  I have only the vaguest recollection of it, so it didn’t make an impact on my life.  The book is a fast read and I do highly recommend it, but recognize the recommendation is based on recognizing the application of the concept to the digital nature of the goods being sold, not on the strength of the concept applying to the world of manufactured products.
I will be offering a number of quotes from the book over the next few weeks to give you a flavor of the content.
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