Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Means of Ascent by, Robert A. Caro

Means of Ascent is the second book in Robert Caro's extensive biography of the 36th President of the United States. This volume picks up where the Path to Power left off and takes us through the 1948 Senate campaign that saw LBJ become the junior Senator from Texas.

As in the first book, Johnson's character is put under a spotlight. He remains abusive to his staff and wife. He's an outright lair. He spread falsehoods about his opponent Coke Stevenson in an effort to destroy his reputation. He lied about his wartime record, which amounted to flying an observer for 10 minutes on a single bombing mission over Japan.

Johnson pioneered many modern campaign techniques in his 1948 campaign. While his opponent traveled via car, LBJ traveled across Texas in a helicopter, allowing him personal contact with many more potential voters. He outspent his opponent nearly 10 to 1, shattering records for the most expensive Texas campaign ever. And he blanketed the state with radio broadcasts three times a day, fake newspapers with negative stories about his opponent, and used the modern technique of repetition to drive his points home and make people believe his lies. And this all that, he still had to resort to stealing the election by stuffing ballot boxes and modifying already filed returns.

Means of Ascent has the same strengths and weaknesses as Path. It is deeply researched. It also suffers from lots of repetition. The long biographical digressions remain. The first volume contained a complete biography of Sam Rayburn before he met Johnson and this one contains a full biography of former Texas governor Coke Stevenson. They're both interesting and could be books on their own, but I'm not sure if that much detail is necessary here.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams

When Douglas Adams died in 2001, he left behind millions of books sold, millions of fans, and scattered bits of writing on Macintosh hard drives. The Salmon of Doubt culls together numerous essays he wrote, interviews, a couple short stories, and bits of an unfinished novel. The essays range from autobiographical to musings on technology and all contain his trademark whit. Adams himself mentions how much he was influenced by Monty Python and you can definitely see their shared sense of humor.

The most tantalizing bit of the book for Adams fans is the unfinished Dirk Gently novel, The Salmon of Doubt. Through the assembled chapters, we join Gently on an investigation where he doesn't know who hired him, so he decides to follow somebody at random because he figures he was hired to tail somebody. It's a great start to a story that this fan wishes Adams could have finished.

The Salmon of Doubt is probably only for hardcore Hitchhikers (is there another kind?). It's a fun visit with Adams and a reminder of how this world could sorely use his brand of mayhem.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Song of the Week: California Soul

This week's song is a good example of the West Coast soul sound from the 1960's. Soaring lyrics, tight groove, and a laid back feel. Just sit back and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

William F. Buckley, Jr.

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the death of William F. Buckley, Jr. On this anniversary, there is a great piece by Rick Brookhiser in National Review about Buckley, the conservative movement, and Trump.

Looking back, it's easy to lionize your heroes and to overlook their faults, but in many ways, WFB was truly a genius. His television show Firing Line wasn't a collection of pundits yelling soundbites at each other, but a one on one debate between Bill and someone of an opposing viewpoint. He actually let the left bring their best arguments and their best debaters onto his show and give them an audience they otherwise wouldn't have gotten. His motives weren't altruistic because he truly wanted his ideas to win, but he created a level playing field where serious ideas could be discussed seriously.

Brookhiser also correctly diagnoses the problems with the current conservative movement. Many conservative commentators have thrown aside their principles in order to support someone who "wins" and "fights". How, after three (or seven) more years of a Trump presidency, can we take them seriously again? Lord Acton's quote about power corrupting is typically interpreted as the person in power being corrupted by it. But the original intention was to describe the willingness of some to bend their beliefs to gain favor of one in power.

One of the great strengths of the conservative movement since its beginning is the willingness to challenge its own dogma. There have been numerous arguments between conservatives, neo-cons, paleo-cons, libertarians, Buckleyite conservitives, etc, that have clarified positions and made the intellectual underpinnings of the movement stronger. But the Trump era has polarized the Right in almost the way the right and left have been polarized in the Bush 43 and Obama eras. Trump supporters echo their icon and hurl epithets and demean those who dare to, not just criticize, but question anything he says.

What's mainly forgotten in the modern age is that politics is about persuasion. Buckley was not without his faults, but he understood this basic fact and put in the work to persuade people that his ideas were right. We could use more like him today.

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Song of the Week: Jamming at Sankei Hall

This week's song is from a 1971 concert B.B. King gave in Tokyo, Japan. I think I'll have to track down a copy of this album.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription by, William F. Buckley, Jr.

Great collection of the Notes & Asides feature from National Review. It's a reminder of the zest for life that Bill Buckley had and how, once upon a time, there could be humor and camaraderie between those of differing political ideologies.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Controlled Burn by, Scott Wolven

I don't remember when I first heard about Scott Wolven, but I remember getting hooked by his stories. A number of years ago, they just started popping up on all the crime fiction zines and each one was brilliant. Wolven didn't have his own blog or website and wasn't part of the crime fiction community like a lot of other writers, but he had an avid following due to the strength of his writing. Unfortunately, we haven't heard much from him in a while.

I finally tracked down a copy of Controlled Burn, his collection of short stories. Every story in this collection is great. He portrays characters at the fringes of society - convicts, ex-convicts, and people who work in cash only businesses because they're hiding from their pasts. His spare, muscular prose is engaging. And yet, like in stories like "Tigers", his language is poetic.

My favorite stories are probably "Tigers", "The Copper Kings", and "Vigilance".

If you're a fan of good writing, you should track this collection down.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Game by, Ken Dryden

Engaging book by one of hockey's legends. This book is part memoir and part hockey history. Dryden draws a number of character sketches of his teammates from the Cup winning teams of the 1970's (In Dryden's 8 years with Montreal, he won 6 Stanley Cups). He also waxes about his reasons for retirement. One particular passage stood out to me. Dryden says in your early 20's, you work and fight and scratch to get better at what you do. Once you hit your 30's, you work and fight and scratch to not lose what you once had. While the ages for professional athletes are earlier, it's a profound insight for the rest of us.

Towards the end of book, Dryden talks about how hockey changed over the century since it was first played. He talks about the introduction of the forward pass, the lines, off-ice training, and the influence of the Soviets and each one of their influences on the game. He also gives his ideas on how hitting, fighting, and the violence we take for granted grew to be part of the game.

If you're a fan of the game, it's worth tracking a copy down.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Song of the Week; Uptown Funk

I like the concept of The Song Society. Jamie Cullum and his bandmates find a song they like by someone else and learn it to record in under an hour. This version of "Uptown Funk" is pretty sweet. I love the rising bassline in the chorus.

If you liked it, you should check out some of the other Song Society posts by Cullum and his band.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Down the Darkest Street by, Alex Segura

Pete Fernandez didn't see the kick coming.

Set roughly a year after Silent City, Pete Fernandez has hit bottom. He gained some minor celebrity from stopping the Silent Death, but drank it, and most of the goodwill of his fellow man, away. After one especially bad night, he decides to clean up his act and it works out pretty well for him. He's got a job at a local bookstore and his ex, Emily, is moving in with him after a separation from her husband. But when Pete gets involved with a case of a missing girl, the kicks just keep coming.

Alex Segura is a writer who needs to be known. He paints the neon lights and the dark shadows of Miami in such vivid detail and has created a wonderful character in Pete Fernandez. From page one, you empathize with Pete and root for a happy ending for him. Since this is noir, every happy ending has a dark cloud behind it.

The Pete Fernandez series is highly recommended. I look forward to reading Dangerous Ends.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Song of the Week: So Fresh, So Clean

The year is a week old, so it's still pretty fresh and squeaky clean.

Also, there ain't nobody dope as me.

Friday, January 5, 2018