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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in BTRIPP's LiveJournal:

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Saturday, September 24th, 2016
12:17 pm
(sigh) ... "first annual 59th" ...
I hate it when my birthday shows up in the middle of a major depressive cycle.

I don't really want to go anywhere, or do anything.

Nothing sounds "fun" ... and I certainly don't want to insist than my family have to hang out with me.

Heck, and given our financial situation ... I would sure rather have The Wife pay the AT&T bill so the phone and internet stay on than having them taking me out to dinner.

Which I probably will only vaguely enjoy.

This morning I "treated" myself to a McDonald's Big Breakfast ... which is a pretty pitiful self-indulgence, but in my budget quite the splurge.

I talked with a "career counselor" this morning who was encouraging me to double or triple my asking hourly/annual rate. I noted that I was "aware" that I should be "worth" the sort of numbers that he was suggesting, but I frequently had to fight (or simply not take assignments) because they would only give me a quarter of my usual rate (an 8th of what he was suggesting). Where are these jobs?

Needless to say, this all just reinforces my feeling of having ZERO value in this world.

Which, of course, makes the whole concept of stacking up birthdays seem pretty damn pointless.

Feeling damned, doomed, desperate ... and abysmally depressed.

The concept of a "happy" birthday at this point is about as plausible as Little Green Men riding unicorns out of a spaceship to deliver a billion dollar lottery check.

Sucks. To. Be. Me.

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Monday, September 19th, 2016
12:37 pm
Fair & Balanced ...
Here's another score from the Dollar Store … I was on the way back up from dropping my daughter at college, and stopped at an exit on the south end of Kankakee (where they had the trifecta of a Dollar Tree, a Walmart, and a Speedway with gas a buck a gallon cheaper than it would be in Chicago), and found this, and another interesting title, on the shelf down there. As I've noted elsewhere, the way that these get into that channel always makes it worthwhile to check every place, because there's no way of predicting which stores get which books.

Regular readers of this space will appreciate that I'm certainly in the “Ailes camp” as far as anti-Left sentiment is concerned, so I was really hoping that Zev Chafets' Roger Ailes: Off Camera would be a sympathetic look at the phenom who invented Fox News. I had a concern, as right up front in the author's info is the flagship of Leftist misinformation, the New York Times, but fortunately, this book is about as straight-forward without spin as one might hope.

If one were looking for the broadest of the broad strokes for what this book is about, one could do worse than this snippet from the Preface:
… Ailes is not another working-class stiff who got ahead through hard work and the power of positive thinking. For fifty years, he has navigated the waters of show business, national politics, and big-time media. He taught Dick Nixon new tricks, stepped in as Reagan's emergency debate coach when the Great Communicator needed help communicating, and held George H.W. Bush's hand all the way to the White House. He more or less invented modern political consulting and made a small fortune along the way. When he left politics, he talked his way into the number one job at CNBC and then convinced Rupert Murdoch to gamble a billion dollars give or take, on an idea and a handshake. The gamble become Fox News, one of the most lucrative and influential news organizations on the planet. …

Roger Ailes has his admirers, some of them surprising, and his detractors – entire organizations dedicated to discrediting him and all his works. I talked to a great many people on both sides.
While this is a biography (and so starts with a lot of family stories, school stories, etc.), it's also framed a bit with Chafets' search for the story. Key of the factors from Ailes' childhood is his hemophilia, a recurring issue in his youth, but something of a non-factor in the story here. More lingering was the damage done to his legs when hit by a car in second grade, and perhaps more developmentally important, was his father “throwing him out” once he graduated high school … he ended up going to Ohio University (“it was cheap, it had a reputation as a party school, and he could get in with less than stellar grades”), but found himself “homeless” soon after (“when he came home for Christmas break, he found his house sold and his belongings discarded” – his mother having run off with a guy she'd met at a convention).

At several points in the book Chafets “gets involved with the story”, and when Ailes talks about missing an old friend who'd he'd lost track of decades previously, the author looks him up, finds him living in New York (teaching acting), and connects the two. This ends up providing him with a lot of “good material” from Ailes' early years, and lets him stick in info about Ailes' time in the early 70's when when he was producing theater (including winning three Obies for The Hot l Baltimore).

The book really picks up at the end of Ailes' college years – he managed to take a run of shows on the campus radio station (he'd majored in TV) and make a pitch to a Cleveland TV station to be a segment producer on a new “daytime variety show” they were developing, featuring soon-to-be the famed Mike Douglas. The main producer (who would later be tapped at Fox) asked Ailes to come in with a hundred show ideas, which he did and he was hired on the spot. That was 1961. In 1967 his producer left to do Dick Cavett's show, and Ailes got the executive producer slot on The Mike Douglas Show. I don't know if the author was trying to “humanize” Ailes in the eyes of his more rabid detractors, but he spends a lot of time featuring stories of Ailes bringing Black icons to the airwaves at the time … Muhammad Ali, MLK Jr., Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and even Malcolm X … the latter connection coming in handy many years later in proving to hostile elements in the Congressional Black Caucus that he didn't just have a “sudden interest” in civil rights.

One of the guests on the show was Richard Nixon, who was traveling around the country trying to build support for his 1968 run. He and Ailes (who was only in his 20's at the time), had a chance to talk, and Ailes convinced Nixon that TV had to be a key part in a campaign. He was called into New York to meet with Nixon's media team, which grilled him for four hours … before offering him the job of producing Nixon's TV presence – which he took, infuriating Mike Douglas. Once Nixon was elected, Ailes was being frozen out by the White House staff, and in 1969 he left D.C. to move to New York and start his own company. This period he spent producing plays, documentaries, TV shows, and even tried to get a conservative news service (funded by Joseph Coors) off the ground.

In 1980 he was approached by Al D'Amato to help him oust Jacob Javitz from his Senate seat … he succeeded, and became something of a GOP power-broker, working on numerous campaigns, and winning most. One of the interesting things that comes up here is that he really had very little interest in the substance of the politics, just getting the candidates elected … “it was always a matter of sizing up the opponent, finding his weaknesses, or turning his strengths against him”. In 1984 he was called in by the Reagan campaign to help with preparation for the second debate with Mondale. Under his coaching Reagan came up with the classic line reversing the “age issue” where he stated “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience.”. In 1988 he handled Bush's media, including the classic spots with Dukakis looking silly in a tank … but by the end of that, he was getting sick of the political work. He did some minor consulting on the 1992 campaign, but was pretty much out of the game at that point.

He was, however, producing a lot more TV, including the Tom Snyder show which was the precursor to the Letterman show on NBC. In 1991, he connected with Rush Limbaugh, and developed a TV version of Rush's phenomenally popular radio program – which ran for four years. Rush was quoted as describing some key coaching he got from Ailes:
“Roger told me that he had detected in me a common fault that newcomers to TV make when being interviewed by mainstream journalists. He said, 'Rush, they don't care what you think. Don't try to persuade them of anything. Don't try to change their mind. They are not asking you questions to learn anything. So don't look at this as an opportunity to enlighten them. Whatever they ask, just say whatever you want to say.'”
(Which is, if I recall correctly from setting up media tours in my PR agency days, pretty good advice for most interview situations!) Limbaugh eventually wanted out (he disliked all the extra stuff needed to get a TV show done), but it had gotten the attention of the management (and ownership – Jack Welch of G.E.) of CNBC, and they reached out to Ailes to run the channel. This was good for all involved, as Ailes doubled the asset value in two years. Many familiar Fox News faces (Neil Cavuto among them) were on board there. There was a management change above CNBC, and Ailes was faced with reporting to somebody he didn't care to work with, so he left. Rupert Murdoch was waiting … he had an idea for a more conservative cable news voice, and presented the idea to Ailes, asking if it was doable … Ailes assured him that it was, but could cost a billion dollars to launch. And, so Fox News was born … and more than eighty CNBC people followed Ailes into the new venture.

There's a middle section here with a lot of details about personnel development at Fox News, with some familiar names, some less so, some building up individuals (Bill O'Reilly, Shep Smith), some getting rid of others (Jim Cramer, Paula Zahn). Lots of names, lots of scenarios … too much to try to cherry-pick examples here. This is followed by a bit about Ailes' personal life in upstate New York, and the (very liberal) community he lives in there. The narrative then switches back to Fox, and how hated it is by the Left – and regularly smeared by them. One quote I thought was worth bringing in was this bit by Ailes in response to some of the vitriol being hurled at Fox:
“The first rule of media bias is selection,” Ailes says. “Most of the media bullshit you about who they are. We don't. We're not programming to conservatives, we're just not eliminating their point of view.”
This is prefaced by a story that Ailes tells about meeting a Liberal at a cocktail party who complains about Fox News coverage:
Ailes asks him if he is satisfied with what he sees on CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and PBS. The man says he is very satisfied. “Well,” says Ailes, “if they all have the same take and we have a different take, why does that bother you? The last two guys who succeeded in lining up the media on one side were Hitler and Stalin.”
In support of these points Chafets brings in a very interesting mix of quotes … from Chris Matthews admitting to the Liberal stance of Walter Cronkite (who openly mocked Barry Goldwater during his 1964 campaign), to the New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane admitting that there's a “culture of like minds” that “share a kind of political and cultural progressivism” that taints nearly every word hitting their pages. The bias in most of the media creates what amounts to hostile work environments for anybody not part of the leftist hive-mind, which the author notes enables Ailes to “scoop up most of the really good conservative talent”. Chafets notes that Fox also hires a lot of overt liberals to provide counter-point to these conservatives … probably having more of these than all the leftist media outlets together have non-lefty voices.

An interesting thing that's pulled in here is UCLA Poly-sci professor Tim Groseclose's PQ (political quotient), which measures how political viewpoints range on a scale from 0-100. The data is based on the rankings of Lefty group “Americans for Democratic Action”, so the higher the number, the more leftist the stance (the vile Nancy Pelosi is close to 100, the current execrable POTUS is around 88). The “average voter” is right about 50 on the scale. The MSM network shows were all up around 65, while Fox was at 40 … however, most damningly: “Professor Groseclose puts the PQ of the average political reporter for a mainstream organization at 95 … and that's the “echo chamber” that drives political news – everybody (but Fox) being on the extreme Left end of the spectrum, leading the liberals to think something like an 80 would be “middle of the road” and Fox is way off to the right!

There's a chapter that largely deals with how Ailes manages the day-to-day news cycle at Fox, then a chapter about his hiring, firing, and people management (including some of the odd connections that he has with people not in Fox's camp), followed by a chapter looking at race and religion, noting Ailes' efforts to boost Black and Latino involvement in the organization. I found this illustrative, however, of his basic philosophy (especially vs. the pandering on the Left):
Racial identity politics are not Ailes's “thing.” He belongs to a generation that was raised in a time and place where forward-thinking people accepted MLK's famous exhortation to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as the gold standard for racial aspiration. In Ailes's America, everyone would share Middle American, middle-class values and blend into a single national culture. He sees the celebration of racial differences as balkanizing. “Every month is something else,” he said, “I'm waiting for Lithuanian Midget Month. ...”
Chafets then takes a look at how Ailes gets along with his famous boss, Rupert Murdoch, and starts this off with a story about how when he called Murdoch's office to try to schedule an interview for the book, he was surprised to get a call back from Murdoch within 15 minutes (Chafets, assuming he'd get a time penciled in some weeks later, had nothing prepared, so just had Murdoch chat about Ailes – he's obviously a big fan of his hire). In this chapter he also looks at how Ailes runs the show from a financial basis, noting that he's totally self-taught in business. One quote I found amusing was how Ailes is very leery of getting the “next big thing”, especially with technology, and he's quoted as saying:
Let CNN buy the new stuff and test it out, and when the technology is right I'll come in like a ton of bricks. … When I see that the Framistan is working, we'll get one. Hell, we'll get two. But in the meantime, let CNN waste their money.
The last few chapters are largely adding perspective on different fronts, including how the current POTUS has called Ailes “the most powerful man in America”, and how his administration tried very hard to keep Fox out of the White House press pool (to their credit, all the other major news organizations stood up for Fox). There's talk of how ultra-Left organization Media Matters considers Ailes one of it's two “Great Satans” (Rush Limbaugh being the other), and how they are constantly trying to cause trouble for Fox. There's a bit about his young son (Ailes started a family very late in life), and how he's handling being a dad in his 70's, with other family reminiscences. The book closes with a look at election night 2012, which reinforces some of the previous bits about how Ailes, for all his success as a political consultant and political broadcaster, really isn't a “political junkie”, caring a whole lot about getting the message out and not so much about the actual “stuff” involved.

Roger Ailes: Off Camera is a fascinating read, and is something that I think anybody with an interest in politics (especially if you're not a Leftist), or broadcasting, would find quite interesting. I can't tell if this is currently in print or not … Amazon lists the hardcover at full retail, but notes that it won't ship for a couple of months. The copy I got at the dollar store was the paperback, but the new/used guys have the hardcover available for 1¢ in “like new” condition, so that's probably your best bet if you want to snag a copy.

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Saturday, September 17th, 2016
3:33 pm
Useful and Transcendent ...
This was yet another Dollar Store find. I noticed that it had an unusually large number of reviews over on LibraryThing.com, and took a look and discovered that it had been an “Early Reviewers” selection back when it came out. I'm not sure if I requested it then, but it's interesting to get an LTER book via the dollar store channel six years later.

Kevin Starr's Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Bridge is an interesting little book. Its author is a history professor at USC, and is a former “state librarian of California”, who has a dozen or so books out, mostly about California, and the majority of those in a 7-part series Americans and the California Dream. So, he's no “carpetbagger” when it comes to things iconic about California,

The book could be seen as a series of inter-linked essays, as each chapter is focused on one aspect, and could almost be free-standing. These are “Bridge” (introductory material), “Icon”, “Site”, “Vision”, “Politics”, “Money”, “Design”, “Construction”, “City”, “Suicide” and “Art” … each (obviously) taking a look at these varied aspects of the Golden Gate Bridge.

As regular readers of my reviews know, I typically will put in little slips of paper to note places where I feel good “example passages” are to give some flavor of the original in these scribblings. While I quite enjoyed the read, and found the material very interesting, I only ended up with three of these bookmarks stuck in here, and all of those in the first 10% of the book … not sure why at this juncture, but I do find it somewhat surprising. I guess I'm going to be winging it for most of this.

The first of these was right at the start … and I was wondering if the whole book was going to be as “florid” as this part of the introductory paragraph:
… Like the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge seems Platonic in its perfection, as if the harmonies and resolutions of creation as understood by mathematics and abstract thought have been effortlessly materialized through engineering design. Although the result of engineering and art, the Golden Gate Bridge seems to be a natural, even inevitable, entity as well, like the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth. In its American context, taken historically, the Bridge aligns itself with the thoughts of Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and other transcendentalists in presenting an icon of transcendence: a defiance of time pointing to more elusive realities. Were Edwards, Emerson, or the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, a mystic thinker of great importance to the formation of American thought, alive today, they would no doubt see in the Golden Gate Bridge a fusion of material and trans-material forces, held in delicate equipoise.
Needless to say, the book does not continue in this mode (how could it?), but it sets things out in a modality that is hardly the standard “let's take a look at this piece of engineering” or “ain't that a cool landmark?” tones that might be expected in a book about a bridge. However, Starr isn't quite done with the “highfalutin” verbiage, as later in the “Bridge” chapter he adds:
From an iconic perspective, the Golden Gate Bridge offers a West Coast counterpart to the Statue of Liberty, announcing, in terms of American Art Deco, American achievement and the higher purposes of American culture. And it does this with its own element of historical narrative, subtly contained in the Art Deco stylization of its towers played off against repetitive cables descending into a reversed arch against an interplay of city, sea, and sky. …
Again, the book starts out in a philosophical mode, and in the “Icon” chapter, these issues are tied to historical antecedents (both conceptually and bridge-wise), and assorted poetry (including one that gets the rather “purple” description of being “elliptical and elusive, modeled on the vatic Ur-Poem of the twentieth century, fully cognizant of the perils and terrors of modern life”!). He notes here that:
The American Society of Civil Engineers ranks the Golden Gate Bridge as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, along with such other choices as the Channel Tunnel, the Empire State Building, and the Panama Canal.
Which is followed by an interesting name-check of the authors of the original “seven wonders” (in the ancient world), which were “Greek historian Herodotus and the poet-scholar Callimachus of the Library of Alexandria” (I don't believe the latter had ever made it onto my radar). The last thing that I flagged was the introductory paragraph for the “Site” chapter … which, if memory serves, is pretty much when Starr buckled in and started to actually write about the bridge, in its various aspects … but I figured I'd throw it in here for you:
The Golden Gate Bridge serves as the focal point and organizing principle of a fusion of nature and history that is at once a matter of geography and public art. In the perceptions of those encountering it, the Bridge and its site reflect eons of geological time and a shorter period of human association. As drama, then, the Bridge celebrates that interaction of nature, technology, and social purpose that created Native American, Spanish, Mexican, American, and ultimately global California across centuries of human development.
While the preceding might seem a bit over-blown, it does introduce a number of themes brought up in the “Site” chapter, including the geological development of the San Francisco Bay through the exploration of the region my mariners going back to the 16th century. However, it was not until the mid-18th century that the Bay was discovered. This was due to the narrowness of the Golden Gate itself, which “acted as a funnel and stabilizer for fog”, which meant that unless a ship was running right up the coast (a hazardous venture), the passage would be virtually impossible to see. In fact, it wasn't “discovered” until a group of Spanish soldiers in 1769, exploring the coastline to the south, crested a ridge and “beheld a great inland sea stretching north, south,and east as far as the eye could see”, and it wasn't until the fall of 1775 that a ship ended up sailing into the Bay, and only in 1776 was the first permanent settlement established. When gold was discovered in the region 70 years later, everything changed, and the urban San Francisco swarmed up and over the hills.

In the “Vision” chapter, Starr traces the ultimate concept of the bridge to “El Camino Real – the Royal Highway, the King's Highway” of the Spanish, which “linked the twenty-one missions founded between 1769 and 1823 at intervals of a day's march”, which ended up having a bit of a hiccup at the Golden Gate, requiring either a very long circumnavigating of the Bay, or ferrying across the strait. He suggests that, after 1937: “the Golden Gate Bridge completed the vision of Spanish Franciscan missionaries of an Alta California unified by one Royal Highway”. In the 19th century, there was a lot of interest in getting something built there, especially from railroad concerns, who found themselves having to re-route trains through the central valley, or ferrying across the channel. With the popularization of automotive transportation, the ferry business became a huge operation, and a major bottle-neck, with commuters having to wait in lines hours long to get their turn on the ferries. It's also in this chapter that some key players in the bridge's development are introduced, including San Francisco city engineer Michael O'Shaughnessy, and Chicago-based bridge engineer, Joseph Baerman Strauss (another Chicago connection in the story is that of Daniel Burnham, who had developed a “Burnham Plan” for San Francisco, delivered just before the 1906 quake/fire that destroyed much of the existing city … in their haste to rebuild, even less of his plan got built there than was the case in Chicago).

One of the interesting aspects of the bridge is that it was a local development, and managed by a local board, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District. The “Politics” chapter goes through the extremely convoluted pathway it took to make this happen (it was structured to take advantage of existing legislation “authorizing multi-county irrigation districts empowered to issue bonds, raise money, construct irrigation projects, and administer ongoing irrigation programs”). There were numerous interests both supporting and opposing the bridge, and from its initial approval in 1923, there were on-going lawsuits and challenges. These were still going on when the stock market crashed and the Depression started, and even though the project won what should have been a “final” vote (carrying by a 3-1 margin), more lawsuits were launched at it. In the “Money” chapter, the details on the financing are looked at, noting the influence of banker Amadeo Peter Giannini, who founded the Bank of Italy (in the Italian areas of S.F.), later to become Bank of America and the Transamerica Corp.. His backing of the bridge (agreeing to purchase the first offering of bonds) gave it a key boost in the wake of “the fire” and amid the Depression.

There's more dirt being dished in the “Design” chapter, as it appears that Strauss' initial design was quite uninspiring, Most of the “heavy lifting” in terms of the mathematical calculations necessary to build the largest bridge in the world, were coming out from the pencils of Charles Alton Ellis, a professor of structural and bridge engineering at University of Illinois … although he was later all but erased from the project by Strauss (who liked having the credit to his firm) … in cooperation with engineers Leon Moisseiff, Othmar Hermann Amman (who had designed the George Washington Bridge in New York), and Charles Derleth, Jr., along with geology professor Andrew Lawson (who was key in certifying the stability of the bases of the bridge's pylons). Two architects were largely responsible for the Deco “look” of the bridge, John Eberson and Irving Morrow, neither of whom had any background in bridges, the former making his name in theater houses, the latter being a “thought leader” in the architectural community. This chapter also dips its toe into Pythagorean theory, and discussions of some of the extreme technical challenges faced by the design team. One fascinating point discussed here was about the bridge's “International Orange” color … it was not necessarily an intentional choice, but was the color of the lead-based primer used to protect the components of the bridge as it was being built. Despite numerous other suggestions being put forward from everybody from the Navy to some of the engineers, the orange-red seemed to have “compatibility as far as the site and atmospherics were concerned”, helped make the bridge more visible in foggy conditions, and ended up as the iconic hue it has become.

The “Construction” chapter is fascinating, as there are elements involved that I never suspected … such as the cables needing to be spun from 0.196” wire on site, with carriages holding the spinning mechanisms moving 640ft/min. When there were 452 wires spun, they were banded into hexagonal strands, which were the put into groups of 64, and six circular hydraulic jacks compressed these into a single cable. Pretty amazing. One notable thing here is that Strauss established a hard-hat requirement, soon to be an archetypal element of construction sites, and set up a safety net, which saved many workers. In the “City” chapter, more construction factors are covered, including the shocking news that the bridge might have been destroyed (much like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940) in a violent windstorm with 69mph gusts in December of 1951 … the report noted that had the winds kept up another half-hour, the bridge likely would have failed … this led to an update “which increased the torsional rigidity of the Bridge by a factor of thirty-five”, completed in 1954. Similarly grim is the “Suicide” chapter, which notes that the Golden Gate Bridge is the second “most popular” place on the planet (behind a volcano in Japan – go figure) for folks to kill themselves. Starr goes into a lot of statistics here, both on numbers of deaths, and the tech issues (velocity achieved on the way down to the water, etc.) involved, all of which I think I'll spare you (although the paragraph with the “chum for sharks” comment was very tempting). This is filled with demographic info (85% of jumpers are locals, for instance), and touching stories about notes, interventions, and even a movie (The Bridge) about these suicides. The final chapter, “Art”, is (predictably), an over-view of how the iconic structure has manifested in photography, painting, film/video, and popular media.

As noted, Golden Gate was quite an engaging read, and I think most folks would find it of interest. It's still in print in a paperback edition, but the hardcover I found at the dollar store is in the new/used channels with “like new” copies going for as little as a penny (plus shipping), so it can be added to your library quite reasonably if it sounds like something you'd like to have.

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Monday, September 12th, 2016
10:34 pm
Then there's this ..
{Yeah, I'm trying to make LJ my go-to for random posts "just like it used to be", but this ended up getting slapped up on the seen-by-nobody space of Facebook initially, and figured I'd copy it over to here as well.}

WOOT! I just finished keying in the data for the last of the book reviews in the spreadsheet I've been developing in order to have a nice index for both the blog site and the "BTRIPP BOOKS" collections page over on the Eschaton site.

I have been working on this a VERY LONG TIME and it's nice to have it done ... plus, it has the right number of lines, so my count of reviews and my list of reviews are the same length ... which makes me hope I didn't significantly screw up on anything there.

Now, I need to get a couple of sorts done, divvy the list up by letter, and start creating the index sub-site on the Eschaton site ... going to have 54 pages, one each for A-Z plus a # (well, probably won't have anything there for the Author sort, but you never know) for both sort by Author and sort by Title.

Some days it's good to be OCD.

Needless to say, I wish I was getting PAID for some of these hours ... but diving into busy work is better than being depressed and suicidal.

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Sunday, September 11th, 2016
11:29 pm
The "Pathfinder of the Seas" ...
There was a time when I “stocked up” at the Newberry Library Book Fair, however in recent years (when I've been broke – and since I discovered the dollar stores as a source of books) not so much. I typically go on the last day (Sunday) when everything's half-priced, and see what I can find. This year I ended up with just a couple of books (and a few CDs), one of which was Chester G. Hearn's Tracks in the Sea: Matthew Fontaine Maury and the Mapping of the Oceans, which was not only “like new” (frankly, it looked like it had never been opened), but only setting me back $2.50. I'm somewhat surprised that it managed to get right into my reading rotation, as the subject isn't necessarily one that's in my main thematic groups … but perhaps that's why it appealed – as a change of pace.

I had actually anticipated this being a science book, looking at the technologies enabling the “Mapping of the Oceans” in the middle of the 19th Century. However, while there is a not insignificant amount of material on that, this is much more a biography of Matthew Fontaine Maury, whose vision of amassing, condensing, and processing data about sea conditions enabled a huge leap in the development of reliable nautical charts.

This is also one of those cases where I've not put any little bookmarks in while reading, so I didn't have any particular “ah-hah” moments with key points that I could string together for a review … and the book is so full of details of ships, journeys, captains, countries, companies, and conspiracies (as well as minutia about Maury's life), that it's likewise going to be hard to summarize. So, I'm leaning towards doing some “cherry picking” of bits that (although not marked during the reading) will give you a sense of the book. The following seems a good place to start:
Navigators shared their knowledge of winds and currents with other seafarers, passing down through generations a combination of wisdom and rumor. But it remained for Matthew Fontaine Maury, a self-educated lieutenant of the nineteenth-century U.S. Navy, to apply any sort of scientific discipline to the collection and analysis of meteorologic and oceanographic data. His research led to publication of wind and current tables for the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and later, in 1855, to the first textbook of oceanography, his Physical Geography of the Sea.
The development of accurate navigation technology was long in coming. East-west traffic was reasonably predictable, with a compass for direction and angles figured to celestial objects providing a rough estimate of north-south position. However:
An accurate timepiece for calculating longitudes took six thousand years to develop; even after John Harrison's chronometer was recognized by an act of the British Parliament in 1773, it took another fifty years for the maritime world to adopt the chronometer for common use.
While, contrary to common myth, navigators in Columbus' era (and long before) were aware that the earth was round, it took a combination of those accurate timepieces and some rather esoteric “spherical trigonometry” to create accurate charts and the ability to plot reasonably precise pathways from point A to point B. While there are historical examples of some fairly sophisticated mapping (such as exhibited in the famed Piri Reis map), it wasn't until the late 18th Century that sea voyages weren't very much a matter of dead reckoning and luck (Hearn illustrates this with the story of the Peggy, whose 1765 “40 day voyage” ended up running over three times as long – with the crew descending into cannibalism – yet, when finally rescued the captain discovered “that he had drifted to within a few hundred miles of the coast of England”). Among the many ships and sailors “name checked” here, there are many familiar ones, from Cook to Bligh (yes, who was a historical figure), and many more.

Matthew Maury was born in 1806, the seventh of nine children of a less-than-prosperous Virginia farmer, whose family re-located to Tennessee when Maury was still a child. Inspired by an older brother who had joined the Navy in his early teens, Maury aspired to the service and by 1825 he was serving on the brand new (he'd watched her being built) Brandywine. Maury had a natural curiosity, and despite the lack-luster training available, manged to wrest as much knowledge of navigation that he could out of the senior staff.

The book goes into a great deal of detail of journeys made by various ships at various times, and elements of the conditions that they encountered … including the round-the-world trip Maury was on (the first for a U.S. Navy ship) aboard the Vincennes. By 1831 he was the “sailing master” for the Falmouth which gave him opportunity to manage the logbook:
When the cruise began, Maury planned to emphatically demonstrate his skill as a navigator. He expected the cruise to be his opportunity to establish a reputation, so he took a keen interest in the winds and currents. Why such information was not available to seafarers baffled him, so began keeping remarkably precise records of his daily observations.
The year 1834 was a big one for Maury, not only did he marry his long-romanced cousin Ann, but the American Journal of Science and Arts published his “On the Navigation of Cape Horn”, as well as an instrument design he'd developed. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1836 (the rank he'd carry for most of his life – there were only a handful of ranks at the time). Publishing was one of the key ways that Maury gained notoriety, and in 1837 the Navy put his 1836 book Navigation “on every ship in the Navy”.

He had been set up to be the “acting astronomer” for a scientific expedition … but this had been delayed numerous times (partially due to other people actively trying to sabotage Maury's efforts for their own purposes), and he had been back in Tennessee in 1839 when he got orders to report for sea duty … on the stagecoach trip to New York, there was an accident, and Maury was seriously injured, and by the time he was able to get to the coast, the ship had sailed without him. During this period of disability, Maury wrote more, notably the pseudonymously-released (as Harry Bluff) “Scraps from the Lucky Bag”, which voiced his criticisms of the Navy (both on issues of training and pointing out how much more expensive ships for the Navy were vs. their commercial counterparts ... padding government invoices appears to be a long tradition) – and offered a plan for correcting the failings. These publications were very popular with the rank-and-file Navy, but understandably less so among the established authorities. This came to be an on-going problem for Maury, as at nearly every point in his subsequent career, he had other factions' candidates trying to take positions for which he was seeking.

In 1842, Maury became head of the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments … Hearn notes:
That Maury could jam all the records and instruments into the lower level of his home and still have room for his family on the second floor indicates how modest the Depot of Charts and Instruments was in 1842.
One of the “suggestions” made in the “Lucky Bag” material was for the establishment of a facility which would not only serve as the Depot (for “… a library of charts and nautical books issued to departing vessels and returned at the end of each cruise”), but as an observatory to ensure the accuracy of astronomical info … fortunately, the Secretary of the Navy at that time was one of the fans of “Harry Bluff”, and managed to get an appropriation pushed through Congress, resulting in the construction of the U.S. Naval Observatory. In the meanwhile, Maury was organizing the materials he'd inherited in his new position:
… he found little of value for the navigator, only heaps of disorganized data and a thousand dusty logbooks that had been kept since the birth of the United States Navy. His predecessors referred to the logbooks as depot rubbish, but Maury began to slog through them. The more he read, the more excited he became. Although some logs offered little information of value, other logs contained enormous detail. They might be dead storage to the navy, but to Maury they represented a treasury of priceless information, for they contained records of weather and sea conditions for every month of the year in all parts of the world.

… he laid out a simple program for excising data on the force of winds, rain, for, unusual ocean currents, the distance covered during a daily run, all natural or unusual phenomena observed, and any other detail that might prove significant or insightful …
Amazingly (by today's standards), the mid-19th century Navy had only 37 ships at sea ... so Maury devised a standardized logbook, and got the Navy to approve offering free charts to merchant ships, in exchange for keeping data in the new format. Fortunately, this was approved, and the value of updated charts was enough of a “carrot” that many shipping companies agreed to the deal (more as the ships using the new charts cut time off their voyages). This ended up providing ever-increasing amounts of data for Maury to work with.

As head of the U.S. Naval Observatory Maury was able to amass ever more data (especially as the merchant shipping got on board), and produce more accurate charts for ever expanding parts of the ocean. In 1853 he pioneered the first international marine meteorological conference, in Brussels, which led to his getting a great deal of attention from the participating countries (many offering him gifts that he had to refuse). This eventually created further problems for him at home, as he was accumulating “enemies” elsewhere in the government … many (with academic credentials) resenting that a “self-taught” figure was getting the advancement that Maury was seeing, and others (such as the head of the Smithsonian) seemingly just engaging in a “turf war”.

There's quite a bit on the nature of charts, the issues with various oceans, the voyages of numerous ships whose logs were particularly useful, races between different ships, and how much time, as more captains adopted the charts, was being cut off of long journeys. One of the more fascinating (to me, at least) things here were the reproduced chart figures, such as the grid that represented the ocean, but rather than have coastlines, etc., it has a disk with all the data on winds at different times of the year. The navigator would use these to mark out specific pathways to take advantage of the conditions at the time of their being there.

The issue of his health arose as a part of the political maneuvering against him, and in 1855 he was “plucked” from active duty … a move he fought until getting re-instated in 1858. This episode (with the unpleasantries that preceded it) not doubt influenced his decision in 1861 to join the Confederacy. The people that took over his position did not have the vision that Maury did regarding his nautical charts, and his knowledge of these provided a great advantage to the tiny CSA Navy, whose raiders seemed to be able to strike and disappear at will (and were able to use the very charts that the whaling fleet used to find their prey, to attack those ships). With the defeat of the rebel states, Maury had a difficult decision, and opted to move to Mexico and work for their military, even becoming naturalized. Maury, with many other Confederate officers, was pardoned in 1868, and returned to the U.S. for a position at the Virginia Military Institute, where he worked until his death in 1873.

Needless to say, Maury's life was a remarkable one, that changed the ways that people got around the planet. Unfortunately, he seems to be all but forgotten, as his revolutionary systems of obtaining and processing log book data into accurate maps and reference books began to fade as sail power gave way at first to steam power, and then to diesel (and nuclear). As noted, I was less interested in the parts covering his personal life, and the political in-fighting that he had to put up with, but for many these would be quite interesting.

Tracks in the Sea appears to be out of print in the hardcover edition that I found, but seems to still be available as a later paperback edition. Both are in the new/used channels, if you want to save a few bucks. Again, there's a lot to be said for this book, Hearn was able to put together a very wide look at Maury's life, so it offers angles of approach for people with varying interests, in the science (that was what got me to pick it up), as a Navy book, as a look at a developmental stage in our country's history, as a cautionary tale about professional jealousies, and as a basic biographical sketch.

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7:58 am
15 years ...
As I noted a couple of years back, 9/11 was a "their finest hour" moment for the early LiveJournal community ... this was in the early days of social media, and LJ probably only had 100k or so users, I'm guessing. However, many were in NYC, and as the chaos unfolded, with phone service in the area grinding to a halt, communications efforts spread to the web, with various of us trying to set up "phone trees", etc. to get news out.

Over the years, one of my go-to stories of 9/11 involves banshee, who would normally have been passing through the transit plaza of the WTC that morning on her way to a job in the photo end of the fashion biz. The haunting thing about her story is that she had dropped off film for developing/printing at one of the shops down there a day or so prior. A location that, needless to say, by September 12th was buried under a massive pile of rubble which had been the Twin Towers. Some months (years?) later, she got a package in the mail ... with the prints and negatives of that order. Somehow the film moved through the system and got processed, and found its way to her.

I well remember that morning. I was still running Eschaton Books full-time (from home) back then, and I was just rustling some coffee and looking at the news. One of the morning shows was premiering a new roof-top studio setting ... and had a view down to the WTC. By the time I tuned in, the first plane had hit, and they were trying to get info about it. Initially, the thought was this was some accident with a small tour plane, or some such, but it soon became clear that it was more than that. I ended up watching live all day, interspersed with jumping on-line to see what was coming through here. Frankly, I spent about a month obsessively watching news, and surfing the web following.

I live in a high-rise in downtown Chicago ... not only was the "plane into a building" thing creepy for me, but I have an awesome view from here, which includes a couple of the main approach vectors to O'Hare - meaning that there are almost always airplanes out there. One of the oddly disturbing things in the days following the 9/11 attacks was the lack of air traffic ... it was subtle, but somewhere in the back of my head, looking out my livingroom windows, I could tell something was wrong.

Anyway ... here we are again.

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Saturday, September 10th, 2016
11:50 am
A snapshot ...
Another thing that was staring out of the dollar store shelves recently … I'm not proud to say it, but the main reason I picked this up (being that I'm generally quite disinterested in “celebrities” unless there's a compelling story arc in the book) was that I was hoping it would be providing an insider view into one of the more notorious entries on the “Clinton Body Count” … JFK Jr., having tragically died in a “mysterious” plane crash (with his wife and sister-in-law) just before making a run for the New York Senate seat that a certain current Presidential candidate had her eye on back in 1999. Unfortunately, there is nothing in Matt Berman's JFK Jr., George, & Me: A Memoir on this (I was disappointed), but, frankly, there was nothing political in here at all. Of course, I would have worked pretty much all the way through to book to get to the potential Democratic Senatorial primary, so the absence of that did not notably detract from the reading … although, I suppose, part of me was waiting for it to turn up.

So, I sailed into this hoping for juicy political intrigue … and got … well, a breezy look inside the glossy magazine biz. As this is “A Memoir”, it's ultimately more about Matt Berman than it is about JFK Jr., but is (obviously) focused on the part of Berman's life when he was helping to develop Kennedy's George magazine. The author was “a shy, self-deprecating, artistic kid” who grew up in Connecticut (and had a significant trauma in his life a year following the JFK assassination, when two raccoons ripped up his 5-month-old face – permanently scarring him). He was a good enough artist that he attended Carnegie Mellon, and got his degree from the Parsons School of Design … and managed to talk his way into the Art department of the American ELLE Magazine in 1986. The parent company of ELLE, Hachette, was launching the JFK Jr. project George, and his boss thought he'd be a good match with Kennedy … after getting the nod from JFK Jr.'s then-girlfriend (later wife) Carolyn Bessette – who'd been asked to come in to check out the logo that Berman was working on – he got the gig as Creative Director of the magazine.

The book is about 1/3rd dishing about the magazine business (and especially characters around the Hachette New York office), about 1/3rd dishing about the various celebrities who were featured in the magazine (with lots of stories about famous cover shoots), and about 1/3rd talking about himself and John:
We were an unlikely team. John was confident, charismatic, the son of the most beloved president in history. I was self-conscious, self-deprecating, and son of the most beloved restaurant supplier in all of Fairfield County, Connecticut. John loved football in the park on a Saturday; I loved a good Twilight Zone marathon on cable. … When I was blearily hitting the snooze button at seven in the morning, he was plunging into the Hudson River in a kayak. This split-screen idea always made us laugh.

My brothers … always seemed so cool … I felt that way about John, a brother who led an impossibly cool life.
There's lots of “fun” stuff in here about the famous and/or beautiful … including separate sections on “The Shoot” featuring tales of photographing Cindy Crawford, Demi Moore, Barbra Streisand, Drew Barrymore, Kate Moss (who was a last-moment replacement for Pamela Anderson – no, really), Elizabeth Hurley, Barbara Walters, and Ben Stiller (who was doing a feature sending up John). I'm sure that those who enjoy celebrity “stuff” will find these quite appealing.

On a more obscure (for most) plane, there's also a lot of talk of fashion industry photographers, make-up artists, stylists, etc. … plus (on an even more rarefied level) talk about “legends” in the magazine (fashion primarily, and European at that) biz. It's interesting to read Berman's take on these folks, but, without a whole other book to fill in the back story on who these people are and what they've done, and why I should care about it … it seems a bit “niche”.

Having “gone a-googling” a bit, it turns out that Berman (following the changes at George brought on by JFK Jr.'s death) ended up moving to Paris, and working in the fashion magazine field for more than a decade, before returning to the states to work for a while as an executive with a clothing company (where he was when this book happened), and eventually hanging his own shingle out as an advertising design consultant.

Oh, being the cantankerous old geezer that I am (who well remembers the way things were “back then”), I found another subtle sub-theme here endearing … how all this happened in a very primitive technological context … Berman talks about doing manual paste-up, doing photo research by looking at sheets of slides, and notes towards the end of the book:
It's amazing to think that I never received an email from John. We didn't use it yet at George; we used telephones, FedEx, and fax machines. I wonder what John would think about an iPhone or Facebook, and then I realize he didn't even live to see the tsunami in Phuket or the horrors of September 11, only blocks from his home.
It would be easy to say Matt Berman is using the fame of JFK Jr. to “sell” his memoir (and, honestly, would it have seen print without that connection?), but this is a sweet and loving recalling of his boss from those years, providing the over-all arc to a look at the many elements which made up George, from the stars on the cover, to the quirky folks in the office.

JFK Jr., George, & Me is still in print, in a paperback edition. It is somewhat odd that it found its way to the dollar store, as it's only a couple of years old, and the new/used guys don't have it at a deep discount (you can, however, get new copies of the hardcover for about a quarter of what the paperback is going for). While this wasn't the book that I was thinking it might be when I picked it up, it was an engaging read, and an interesting look at a part of the publishing world that I wasn't particularly familiar with. If you're “into” fashion and celebrities, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy this even more than I did.

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Friday, September 9th, 2016
3:44 pm
A lucky tale ...
As one might imagine, much of the time when picking up books at the dollar store, they are purchased more on the fact of being only a buck, rather than my having a particularly burning desire to read the book in question. This leads to a lot of dollar store “finds” sitting in the to-be-read piles for long stretches of time. The current book went through this, having been bought nearly 4 years ago (when it had just been out 3-ish years), and only in the past few weeks fitting in the mix of what I was feeling like reading.

Anyway, Jere Van Dyk's Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban grabbed my attention, and got into the reading queue. I will admit that I took a peek at some of the existing reviews before jumping into it, so I was a bit hesitant, having noted the slams like “selfish, careless guy cries for your sympathy” … and, frankly, that's not uncalled for here … but it hardly encapsulates the story.

Jere Van Dyk is a journalist, writing for the New York Times, CBS News, and others. In the 1980's, he was embedded with the Mujahideen during their struggle against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 2008, he got the idea of doing a similar type of story, and set about getting himself hooked up with connections to the Taliban. What he seems, at least on some level, to assume is that he can set up the trip he's intending like it's a rafting adventure on the Brahmaputra or something … which is certainly not the case. Early on here he's pretty clear on that point (albeit this certainly could be in 20/20 retrospect once he was home and writing the book), saying:
It is a very murky world here, a place of ancient tribal ties, betrayal, warfare, double-crossing, and where a man's honor and tribal codes count for everything.
Unfortunately, the above is the only thing I had bookmarked in the whole tale … perhaps more indicative that the book is pretty much set up like an on-going journal than featuring major expository bits – so it was sort of hard while reading through this to pick out the “key elements” on the fly. Perhaps I'll drag a few out while writing this, perhaps not … we'll see.

For somebody who has spent as much time as he has in that part of the world, the author seems awfully naive, beginning with the concept that it would be “a good idea” to illegally cross the border into Pakistan. While the author describes himself as living “like a Pashtun”, and I guess – unless he opens his mouth – he can “pass” in a crowd. He also notes that he has “sneaked into the tribal zones” in Pakistan several times previously … I guess giving him the confidence that this project was workable. The problem was that there were so many inter-related forces involved, sometimes working together, sometimes killing each other. There was the Taliban, there was al-Qaeda, there was Afghan Intelligence, there was Pakistani Military Intelligence, and various tribal structures running back and forth within these. At one point he finds his driver crying, because one of his brothers is being held by the Afghans, and one by the Pakistanis. And, even in the tribal groups, even within individual families, there were deep animosities, so that almost everybody in the tribal areas was armed – especially when relatives came to call. He notes that he was entrusting his life to “a man who had killed the brother of my oldest friend in Afghanistan”, just because he seemed to have the necessary connection to get Van Dyk where he was wanting to go.

One thing that I have to agree with the other reviews who found the author somewhat “whiny” on is that he's constantly in emotional flux. I don't know if this is some attempt to paint a picture of how changeable the situation was there, or what, but he'd go from really liking one of his captors or fellow prisoners and feeling very hopeful that he'd be released (or, early on, sent of his way to meet Abdullah), to being angry, scared, and hopeless … often through multiple cycles on the same page. It was not particularly clear how he was keeping notes … as it was only halfway or so through his 45 days of captivity that they deigned to give him back his notebooks. One could imagine if he was making 1-2 sentence notes on paper scraps that one would be “hate this guy”, the next would be “this guy's great”, etc., and those might have be strung together in the book.

Although he looked like a Pashtun (including a full grey beard), he didn't have much linguistic skills for somebody who had lived over there (the “ugly American”?), and hadn't even prepared himself with the basics of “passing” as a Muslim – like memorizing the core prayers and rituals that everybody there would have as a matter of course. When they are first captured, he is asked where they came from and where they were going:
When I said “Peshawar” I pronounced it Pesh-hour, as I had always heard it pronounced. That is the English pronunciation. No one had ever corrected me. I learned later that here it is pronounced Peck-a-waar.
It really is a miracle that he didn't get his head cut off within the first 18 hours of the escapade.

So, he (and those with him) get captured … and are driven off, blindfolded, to some tribal village somewhere (again, the details are murky) in the border region. They are put in an enclosure with minimal facilities – cots and a drain, basically. They get water for the ablutions necessary for the Islamic prayers, and he is very strongly encouraged to learn these. In fact, the figure who seemed to “have them” was quite enthusiastic to have Van Dyk convert.

Later on the presence of the drain becomes a problem, as sufficient water is coming out of their enclosure that it is notable to people in the area. The fellow whose home they seem to be being held at is worried that his relatives will notice and realize that he has “guests” (albeit ones frequently chained to their cots), which could cause rumors to get to other factions. Even the head guy is playing a bit of a game, as he's unwilling to have the author's group transferred to a regional headquarters – although at points his co-captives are brought there (feeding paranoia that they're part of a plot). This was probably good for Van Dyk, as it sounds like the odds of him being executed there were a lot higher than where he was. Again, there are factions and sub-factions, and various interests all playing against each other … and it's unclear who's working for what goal.

It appears that one of the things that keeps Van Dyk alive is that he's perceived as being a high-value captive, and the ransom figure varied from a million bucks to a couple of hundred thousand. I don't think the amount eventually paid (by CBS, evidently) was ever specifically determined, as everything was constantly in confusion in the telling.

Obviously, the main part of the book is the period of time he was in captivity, but this is, as noted, a bit of a jumble of repeated and/or developing scenarios … they're interrogated, they're fed, they pray, they talk, and the author goes through every possible emotion around each of the other characters – as mentioned, frequently paragraph-to-paragraph (this is quite irritating, honestly).

The most interesting thing here, and pretty much the #1 take-away from the book, is how massively backwards these various sub-cultures are. Their focus on religion takes precedence over everything else, with the stress being on how one's going to be in the afterlife rather than anything in this life. The fundamentalism is total, and stifling. The only thing acceptable to study is the Koran and the Hadith, and ignorance (of anything else) is seen as a positive. While Van Dyk doesn't explicitly frame things this way … it's quite a cautionary tale regarding “the sort of people” we appear to be in global war with at the moment.

Captive must be a reasonably popular book, as the later paperback edition is still available (at full price) from the on-line big boys. The hardcover (which is what I got at the dollar store), however, is offered new by the new/used guys for as little as a penny (and, for the first time that I can recall, you can get that with free shipping if you're an Amazon Prime member), so if this sounds interesting, it can be had for cheap!

Again, my take on this is mixed. It's an interesting tale, with a lot of stuff happening around the main story line … but it's also a real yo-yo on the author's emotions, and you (or at least I) really want to “bitch slap” him and yell at him to get his act together. Yes, he's in constant hazard of being executed, yes, it's not a nice situation that he's gotten himself into, but most of this is his fault, and the “I like him” / “he's going to help us” / “he scares me” / “I don't trust him” / “I hate him” vacillation (over and over and over) gets old real fast. As mentioned previously, it's remarkable that he made it out alive.

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Monday, September 5th, 2016
3:25 pm
Well, I guess I now know when I switched over from hosting my images from WebLogImages.com to the LJ Scrapbook (or whatever it was called a decade ago). I was just flipping back through the last (well, first) few reviews from 2006, and suddenly when it hit December 2005 the cover images weren't loading ... and when I looked at the code, they were trying to pull from that long-defunct hosting service. Fortunately, I appear to have all these up on Pinterest, how exactly, I don't know (OK, I'm OCD enough that I probably still have my initial cover scans on disk here somewhere).

While this means that it's going to take a bit more futzing with things to get those early reviews updated (fortunately, there were only 37 between 2004 and 2005), with my having to upload them into the Scrapbook and re-do the links, at least I can probably get that done without having to go dig out the books and re-scan the covers!

The depressing thing, however, is that this probably means that every picture that I posted between joining LJ in May 2000 and the end of 2004 is probably some sort of "404". When I first joined, I was hosting my images on my AOL account (hey, we're talking 2000 here, OK?), but AOL changed it so your couldn't hot link to those at one point, so I got the WebLogImages account ... and I don't think I successfully was able to save my stuff from there (and I've not been able to dig up anything via Archive.org either for those). Which is sad.

Wow ... went through the early entries (from 2000) and found that, first, I wasn't posting a lot of pics back then, and that initially they were at MCS (a very early ISP here in Chicago). I found a few files/images on Archive.org from then, which is pretty freaky.

OK, just in case you were worrying ... I did find a file with at least the first few books' cover graphics (I'm guessing they're all in there, but I don't feel like doing the work of matching them up twice) ... so I'm not going to have to snag them from Pinterest, and can just drag them into the LJ pic uploader thingy. I wouldn't want you to be losing sleep over this, after all.

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12:01 pm

Well, I think that's the "lowest" I've gotten yet!

Yeah, I like stats. I like recording/charting stats. I get "competitive" over stats. And I like nice round numbers ... so "2000" looks pretty sweet!

Frankly, I've been working with a "rule" that as long as my rating was lower than my LJ user number (2663), I'd be happy, but, hey, the higher the ranking, the better, right?

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Sunday, September 4th, 2016
9:25 pm
Oh, lucky you!
I am very seriously considering "abandoning" Facebook.

The recent promo tests I've done over there make it pretty clear that the average post only gets seen by a small fraction of people who have "liked" a page or "friended" you (unless they actively specify seeing your posts all the time). While there are vastly fewer people still here ... at least I'll show up on the Friends Feed of those who have friended me here ... and I can easily use the "repost" button to feed things over there.

Here's something I blithered about earlier on FB:
OK ... so this is something that nobody else is going to give a damn about ... but wow. I've been working backwards through my reviews, getting them into a spreadsheet, and updated with new links (as mentioned recently) ... and I got around to February 2006, and the review length just went through the floor ... like half what they'd been running ... it was shocking to see.

I wonder if I made a conscious decision (that I didn't blog about) to shift to a longer length back then. I recall when I first started doing that sort of posting, I'd done a word-count analysis on some of the Chicago Tribune's columnists (Schmich, Zorn, etc.) and found that their pieces were hovering around 500 words ... which I was originally targeting for "column length" ... which was right about where these "suddenly shorter" pieces were coming in as.

Now, in recent years I've not felt that I've given a book my "best effort" if I don't have at least 1,000-1,200 words dedicated to it ... and many (most?) fall into the 2,000-2,500 range, with the rare piece going as many as 3,000 words ... so running into 400-word reviews was a shock! If the 2004 and 2005 reviews are all that short, I may just add them to the what-would-otherwise-have-been 2006 collection.
Going back into my 2006 posts reminded me of what a vibrant community this used to be ... which was, of course, due to Facebook and Twitter not being major factors (I think I joined both in 2007), so this was pretty much THE platform I was using.

As you may recall, I made an effort at the start of this year to try to post in here on a daily basis ... but that didn't pan out. However, especially with the "repost" option, anything that I'm wanting to say that's more than a couple of sentences long, might as well originate here and wander off onto the other platforms as needed.

The only "grumble point" with this plan is that presently (and I doubt it's in their plans) neither Instagram or Swarm have an option to cross-post to LiveJournal ... and a significant part of my social media flow-through these days comes from those. I suppose I could poke around and see if I could come up with some coding template that would let me post those things (perhaps snagged from when they show up on FB or Twitter) here ... I see that the "media" box says you can insert Instagram posts.

Anyway, you may very likely be seeing a lot more "content" from me in here ongoing.

{EDIT: testing}

Well, that worked. I wonder if I can do the same thing with the Swarm posts ...
Well, nope on that ... although the media thing did conveniently convert that into a link.
Let's see what it does with the FB link ... NOPE ... same deal longer (now deleted) link. Oh, well. It would be nice to have both the pictures and my commentary coming through.

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12:23 pm
Random thought from this weekend's meetings ...
It's really hard being both an Antitheist and a Misanthrope ...

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8:08 am
Originally nothing. Where is dust?
This may be a bit into the “TMI” zone … as I came to be reading this book through a “very personal” route, one that many might not choose to volunteer in public. I quit drinking 31 years ago … but have just recently begun to attend A.A. Meetings because, while I evidently “got” the first step way back in 1985, I've been feeling that I “missed something” regarding the full program. As regular readers know, I'm at least “deeply agnostic”, if not enthusiastically “antitheistic”, so the second (and third) steps in A.A. were a wall that I could not figure a way around. A couple of weeks back, I had a discussion with a fellow following a meeting who suggested the Korean Zen concept of “don't know” might provide me with a way to have a “higher power” that did not seem to be a lie (which would, in my view, taint all the subsequent steps as being built on a falsehood).

This struck a chord with me, as I had long quoted a bit of this (as I recalled it) from a talk I'd attended at the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions here in Chicago, where a Korean Zen master (possibly Samu Sunim, but I wasn't able to find definitive identification) did a talk, and said something to the effect of if you say “yes”, I hit you with stick, if you say “no”, I hit you with stick – what you gonna do?, with the intent of getting into that pure “don't know” consciousness. Inspired by this, I went off to Amazon and found Don't-Know Mind: The Spirit of Korean Zen by Richard Shrobe and dug into it. While I didn't have a “lightbulb moment” with this (the “don't-know mind” is still pretty abstract, but perhaps less so than gravity, which was what I was otherwise coming up with as a “higher power” that I had faith existed), it certainly fleshed out the concept to the point where I suspect I might be able “to work with it”.

Anyway, embarrassing “breaking of anonymity” out of the way … this is quite an interesting read. First of all, there is an approachability of this being issued under the author's “birth name”, rather than his “Zen name”, Wu Kwang … this alone is enough to indicate this isn't some newage twaddle, as it's the opposite of what frequently happens in those cases where somebody without much in the way of credentials starts “spewing in public” based largely on some “sacred name” they've come up with! Shrobe is the main teacher at the Chogye International Zen Center in New York City, and this book is primarily a collection of talks that he's given there.

The book operates on several levels. There is a goodly amount of the history of Zen presented here, with discussions of the various “schools”, and the key figures involved in these. There is the presentation of teaching materials, and explanations of how these work, and there is the underlying offering of what one might hope is possibly enlightening. The book is divided into three sections, “Origins”, “The Classical Period”, and “The Modern Period”, each looking at highlighted teachers and approaches. Because this is based on talks, this does not hew to a particularly academic voice, with the author “breaking the fourth wall” here and there to add context and commentary for the reader, which is attractive when it happens. Because it's coming from a Korean Zen standpoint, the names of the protagonists are given in their Korean forms, but – very usefully – these are followed by their Japanese and Chinese forms, which are (for me) typically more familiar.

Now, when I was reading this, I was primarily focused on bits I could use in wrapping my head around the “step” thing, so most of my little bookmarks are leading me back to things I found illuminating, rather than illustrative quotes. So, bear with me. The first of these deals with a teacher named T'aego, born around 1300ce, when the Mongols ruled the region. T'aego had established a mountain Zen center near what is currently Seoul, and sought to bring together the feuding “Nine Mountain Schools” into a single school that would revitalize Korean Zen. The kong-an (koan) that grabbed my attention was:
The ten thousand things all return to one.
To what though does the one return?
The author cites a book that came out some time back on the teachings of this T'aego, and notes that he was inspired by parts of this. This section is exemplary of how the “discussing” vibe comes across here, as there are bits detailing how the various elements work in this, how things (a presentation at the palace for the King) would have been perceived at the time, and the offering explanations such as:
T'aego is establishing that on the one hand you can look at this thing as being something which is before name, before form, before speech, before words, never moving, never coming, never going, just universally covering everything. But at the same time, you can find this truth revealed in every activity, in every function, because everything is expressing it just as it is. These are two sides of the coin.
For a historical example, there's a look at the transmission between the Fifth and Sixth Patriarchs, where the head monk of the Fifth Patriarch's monastery was assumed to going to be the one to get the nod. However, the Fifth had requested that everybody there write a poem to demonstrate their “understanding and attainment”. The head monk wrote his poem on the wall (rather than directly presenting it to the Fifth Patriarch), which was noted as being a “good poem”, however, Hui-neng, a newcomer who could neither read nor write, heard the poem and realized that “it did not go to the heart of Zen Dharma”, and dictated a new poem to be put up next to the head monk's. The Fifth Patriarch saw that the author of the second poem was the one to pass along the transmission to, but he had to do so in secret, and then send Hui-neng (now the Sixth Patriarch) away from the monastery, as he knew the internal politics would not accept him. For several days the Fifth Patriarch gave no teachings, and the monks began to wonder, and he eventually said “the Dharma has left here” and explained that the lay brother who had been working in the rice shed had become his successor!

Another snippet which resonated for me was from the teachings of Kyong-Ho, a “modern” figure (1849-1912):
What does this which is now seeing, hearing, and thinking look like?
Examine and observe this matter carefully. … Let your examination and observation be focused at the one point and do not forget it. Keep it before you by raising doubt and questioning yourself.
Shrobe notes that “doubt” here is perhaps better rendered as “perplexity”, and that “don't-know” is the feeling of trying to frame the “this” in the above. Later there are a few other pithy statements from Kyong Ho, including one that reminds me of one of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson quotes:
Don't expect to practice hard and not experience the weird. Hard practice that evades the unknown makes for a weak commitment.
While this didn't get me where I was hoping it might, I certainly enjoyed reading it, and found the approach taken by its author ideal for presenting the material. Having previously only had that one brush (at the '93 PWR) with Korean Zen, this certainly filled in more details than “I hit you with stick” (although that element is touched on here). Of course, I came to this specifically looking for details on the title state, and might have benefited more from something more conceptually focused, but that would have no doubt been a lot less enjoyable read that this proved to be.

Don't-Know Mind must certainly have its audience out there, as it's not only still in print (a dozen years later), but the on-line big boys have it at full cover price, and the new/used guys don't have it for cheap (well, it can be had for 1/3rd to ½ of cover). I would certainly recommend this for anybody interested in Zen, and the Korean manifestation thereof … but it's probably not an “all and sundry” thumbs-up because it's really for those with those sort of interests. It is certainly an engaging read, however, from where I'm sitting.

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Saturday, September 3rd, 2016
8:26 am
An amazing look at an icon ...
This has been sitting in my “to be read” piles for a few years … I picked it up at the Dollar Store down in the Back of the Yards neighborhood when I was working with “the worm guys” … which was a strange place to find a book on Barry Goldwater. That's the old stomping grounds of the nefarious Saul Alinsky (philosophical godfather to both the execrable current POTUS, and the equally vile Democratic presidential candidate), but maybe the hard-left skew of the area is the reason this was still sitting on the shelf for a misplaced Libertarian to find it..

This might have sat around longer, waiting for me to randomly develop a hankering for some “political history”, if not for my recent read of Wayne Allyn Root's The Conscience of a Libertarian, which was primarily inspired by Goldwater's The Conscience of a Conservative (which Root claims to carry with him everywhere) … and my curiosity was piqued enough to delve into Pure Goldwater.

I'm am very glad I decided to finally get around to reading this, as it is a fascinating book. It is put together by Goldwater's son, Barry Jr., and John Dean (yes, Nixon's White House lawyer), who have been friends since their early teens – both, obviously, having close connections to the subject of the book. However, this is not written by them, but assembled from the vast stores of archival material held by the Goldwater family and the Arizona Historical Foundation. There is so much material because Goldwater was a dedicated recorder of his activities, both carrying around a portable typewriter and camera (he was an award-winning photographer), and later making taped notes for others to type up. In the Preface the “authors” write:
In fact, this is a book by Senator Goldwater about himself, although he did not write it for publication. Throughout his adult life he paused from time to time – albeit on an irregular basis, yet with sufficient frequency to create a meaningful collection – to gather and share his thoughts and put them down in written form.
The current book is nearly 400 pages, and they note that it was seriously trimmed down to reach that length, as the amount of available material is quite voluminous (not even counting official government/legal transcripts – some of which are excerpted here), and they eventually had to bring in outside editorial help to tighten things up and bring down the page count.

The primary source material for Pure Goldwater is the journals that he intended as a record of his life to provide to his children … so this is quite personal (and occasionally somewhat pedagogical in a “Dad says” mode), and, by extension, revealing of the man far beyond what an intentional autobiography would provide. In fact, the authors point out that there were several significant items in there that they had never known, including that Nixon had at one point promised Goldwater the ambassadorship to Mexico (which they say he would have loved), and that Ford had asked him to be his Vice President … which, if it was news to his family, it's probably the first time this info has gotten out to the public.

Again, this is collected of various materials in various forms, and from various dates … and while Goldwater had put down a number of “recollections”, much of what is in the earlier parts are pieces he composed some 50 years after the fact, so they are, understandably, not as immediate as his later journals. One amazing item (which is where the book starts) is a letter he wrote to Thomas Edison when he was 14 years old, letting the famous inventor know that he was operating a radio station and was very interested in electricity – this having surfaced in Rutgers' Edison archives in 1989, and sent to the Senator. One of the first recollections here was of how early his interest in flight appeared … he pegs it to 1917 (he would have been 8) … and he got his pilot's license in his late teens (and flew for the military – eventually reaching the rank of Major General – as well as personally for decades, with many of the notes here recorded while in flight).

Goldwater's family owned a mid-size department store in Phoenix, AZ, and when his father died at the end of his freshman year at University of Arizona, he opted to join the family business rather than continuing with college. Instead of being a “silver spoon” kid coming in to run the show, he wanted to learn the business: “I started literally at the bottom in the piece goods section … after that I worked in every department in the store except for corsets and shoes … I gradually worked my way up until I was merchandise manager of ladies ready-to-wear ...”. He helped the business navigate the depression (“the business didn't make any money but it didn't lose any either” and they “were able to maintain our employees and our salary scale”), and he was elected as president of the board in 1937, running the company until he left for military service in 1941.

As a Libertarian (a movement strongly influenced by Goldwater, although he was a life-long Republican), I was amazed at how much what he wrote fifty (or more) years ago could just as easily be put out there today as criticisms of the government. In a 1937 piece directed at FDR he says “Instead of the businessman having confidence in you today, he distrusts you and fears your every utterance.”, and “Are you going further into the morass that you have led us into or are you going to go back to the good old American way of doing things …? I would like to know because I like the old-fashioned way of being an American a lot better than the way we are headed for now.” – how 2016 of him!

Goldwater started out slowly in politics, getting involved in local Phoenix and Arizona politics as an outgrowth of his activities as a local business leader with the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce … eventually being elected to the Phoenix City Council, and becoming the campaign manager for a Republican candidate for Governor. Here's a bit from a speech he gave in that campaign:
Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes but most important of all they pledged their sacred honor. Today, because of the almost total ignoring of those basic concepts, we find our nation treading on the threshold of socialism. Our government's being run by people who think one way and act another. Whose fault is this? It is yours and mine – the people of this state and nation. Plato once said, “The penalty that people pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by people worse than themselves.” Now, hasn't that come true?
The briefest glance at D.C. would confirm that! He, obviously, did have an interest in politics, and mounted his first Senate campaign in 1952, creating quite a splash by defeating the sitting Senate Majority Leader. There are numerous pieces here that Goldwater wrote as he was acclimating to the way that things get done in Washington … the last bit of this particularly stood out:
While I am trying to learn to be patient, I find it exasperating. It is difficult to get used to the time that is wasted here, for it is a fact that much time is wasted. Nonetheless, this may be just fine. For I subscribe to what I heard someone say the other day: It isn't the laws that are passed here that help the country; it's the legislation that doesn't pass that really does the country more good.
This clear distrust of the ever-growing power of the government is also reflected here (my edits to focus on the main point):
I have learned some things in this year. I have learned that our fears in the West about people in this country wanting to circumvent the Constitution are certainly true. And I am just as fearful as I was a year ago when I was heading to Washington that this could and might happen to this country. People here don't recognize rights of the states. Rather they laugh at them. The concept of government here is one of federal domination. It's one of the federal operations doing everything. … Members of Congress … have lost sight of this basic fundamental concept of government that the power of the federal government stems from the states and the people, and not in the other direction.
And this was decades before a dictatorial madman decided that he could completely “circumvent the Constitution” by pen & phone fiat! Interestingly, in the (highly recommended) book referenced above, Mr. Root charts out a superb plan for re-organizing government – no doubt originating out of these sorts of concerns initially voiced by Goldwater.

Oddly, there is very little from Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign, as it appears that he had largely put aside his journal writing during that time. There is material here indicating that he and JFK were friendly (there's a pic of Kennedy included with a note he'd written on it encouraging Goldwater to follow his “talent” and become a pro photographer rather than a politician!), and they had discussed the upcoming campaign, even to the extent that “we talked about the possibility of staging an old-fashioned cross-country Lincoln-Douglas type debate on the issues of the day”. However following the assassination, Goldwater was certain that he didn't have a chance, with the Democrats using JFK's death to push through massive legislation that would have been hard to pass otherwise, and Johnson into the White House.

Another thing I found strange is that about 1/3rd of the book is looking at Richard Nixon. Sure, the Nixon years were those when Goldwater was strongest in the Senate, but it seemed “off tone” for the rest of the book (perhaps this is due to John Dean being as familiar with that administration as he is). I didn't flag a lot to bring up in here from that part of the book, but there is one bit that I hope is top-of-mind for the aforementioned Mr. Root in his current political ventures … this in a meeting with other Congressional leaders and Nixon, where each was able to raise key concerns:
I minced no words in saying the administration reminded me of when Eisenhower came into power and failed to remove some thirteen thousand Truman appointees, and went on to subject himself to eight years of abuse from people in government who actually hated the Republican Party and who would never follow the policies laid down by the leadership. I reminded the president that only a few weeks after his inauguration I had advised him that if he did not get control of his government by May he would never get it, and I said, frankly, Mr. President, you don't have control now and I don't see how you are going to get it unless something drastic is done.
Needless to say, the past 50 years have been a long ugly slide away from greatness in this country, and Goldwater saw this all too clearly. At several points here he is questioning remaining in the Senate because of how bad things were even then, and this is part of his thinking on that:
We are following the same paths that were followed by the ancient government of Rome and by the government of Austria when it brought on the depression of the late 1920s and 1930s. We are becoming a military power of second rate stature at a time when the world only understands strength and needs more of it, not less of it. … I am deeply concerned at this point in our history and my life, as to whether or not this country is going to remain a free Republic or whether we have gone so far down the road to socialism, particularly now that we have controls over the economy here in Washington, that we will find it impossible to return. No country in the history of the world has ever made an exploration into government control and then found it possible to completely extricate themselves from that situation. … It is a terrible time in our history, a very particular one, but not unusual in the sense that we might think no other country or people have ever faced it; in fact they all have. The sad and terrible thought is that none of them has had he guts to come back after facing the failure of the loss of freedom.
Oh, one thing to note on the Nixon material … I don't know if this has surfaced in other sources, but it appears that Nixon kept his VP, Spiro Agnew, totally “out of the loop” on nearly everything, to the extent that it became a recurring point of contention in Goldwater's journals. Another factor that I had not been aware of was how much a “player” General Al Haig had been in the Nixon White House – as Chief of Staff … as my view of him was almost exclusively from his tenure as Reagan's Secretary of State.

The last parts of Pure Goldwater look at his stands of a wide range of issues, many of which might surprise you (there's a lot of reasons he's an icon to Libertarians), plus a very detailed chronology of his life. By the time I was done with this, I felt I'd been able to follow a great man around and be privy to his thoughts over his whole life. Needless to say, this makes the book stand out as something special. It's not an outsider telling a life story, nor is it a “for publication” somewhat sanitized autobiography, but something else, with the protagonist telling his story, but in a manner intended for his kids, and not for the whole world.

It sadly appears that this is out-of-print, except for an e-book edition, even though it's a reasonably recent publication (2008). There are numerous copies in the new/used vendors channel, however, with “like new” copies offered for as little as a penny plus shipping … so it's available. Obviously, 400 pages of a politician's reminiscences isn't something that's “for everybody”, but if you're libertarian-inclined, or have an interest in politics in general, I urge you to pick up a copy, as it brings a near-mythic figure to life in a way that I certainly didn't expect when I got mine!

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Friday, September 2nd, 2016
4:02 pm
Missing the old days around here ...
I'm coming to the end of my LONG process of setting up a spreadsheet of all my book reviews - which will then get translated into an "index site" (that I've done the basic design/coding structure for over the past few days). This will let me point folks at it to find particular books or authors (I'm going to have it set up both ways), which will then have links to the specific page over on my book review blog, as well as a date of when the review went live, which will have links to my new review collections, depending on the year.

Now, this project doesn't SOUND like it would be the massive mountain to climb that it has been ... but that's because it's not as straight-forward as it might be. In the spreadhseet, I have the basics, author (or authors') names, book title/subtitle, date of the review, ISBN, etc. It also has three URLs, one for the version that shows up in here, one for the version over on the review site, and the Amazon affiliate short link (hey, I can dream of making some change on this, can't I?). However, getting this info (efficiently, at least) involves opening up FOUR sites, two of which (the blogs) I have to update with the new Amazon links, and a new "sig" (my older ones still trying to grab the image from the defunct weblogimages.com for the graphic, and pointing to my old Ning site), which also will now include the cmp.ly buttons for affiliate sites and freebies. And, since I'm "in there", I'm also checking for typos (some reviews have had a bunch), and making sure the other links are still working.

I might not be quite so obsessive about this, but I'm using the review site entries as the raw material for my review books, and having those as "clean" as possible, makes assembling the books easier when I get to them (I've now gotten as far back as 2009 on the books, and have two years "ready to go" via the spreadsheet/update process).

I'm currently working my way back through 2006 ... and it's really becoming quite a "trip down memory lane". While the review site just goes from book to book, on my old entries here, I end up having to back through everything, from silly memes to wailing and gnashing of teeth. Most emotional are the family posts, The Girls were 10 and 6 back then and I was doing a LOT of "Daddy stuff", which is interesting to surf past. More grim is how bad things were back then for me financially/emotionally ... and (with occasional breaks for hopeful situations that would eventually be dashed), nothing much has changed - except, perhaps, my no longer being able to BELIEVE that anything is ever going to work out. Back then I had "hope", now ... well, I'm getting out resumes again, but I'm pretty much just waiting to die.

Anyway, it's strange to see all the old familiar names that used to be actively around here back in the day. A scant handful are still around, with the others scattered to the winds (a few crop up on FB, but it's hardly the same - especially since FB throttles the reach over there so much).

Oh well.

I am finally "seeing the light at the end of the tunnel" on this project (I think I have only 85 more entries to do), and then it will be a chunk of time of taking the info and slapping it into an HTML skeleton (with actual CSS - I had to break down and use some "newfangled" coding to make it look the way I wanted it to) across 57 web pages (1 "top" index that will link to the "by author" and "by title" pages, with A-Z plus # sub-pages) ... which will, of course, take quite a while (although not as much as I had feared when I was doing "test runs" on the code after I figured out how to do different looks with CSS on the "a" tags).

I had initially wanted to do a searchable spreadsheet/db, but to be able to incorporate that into a web site was looking to involve learning more coding than I really wanted to do, so setting this up like this is going to have to suffice. Yes, I will be constantly having to update the pages as I get new reviews done ... but that will be minimally stressful, as I can just plug those in to the alphabetical/numerical listings where they "ought to go", as I post the reviews - which regular readers of this space will recognize is only 2-3 times every couple of weeks. Probably another 15 minutes of work to keep that updated each time I've cranked out new reviews.

Speaking of which ... I need to get my butt (and netbook) over to Starbucks to dive into the current "to be reviewed" stack!

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Thursday, August 25th, 2016
11:53 pm
OK, that is very deeply weird ...
So, I spent pretty much all day today trying to re-configure my computer, as almost everything had gone missing after a crash (see previous post).

As I noted, one thing that was GONE gone were my FireFox tabs and bookmarks. Another thing that had disappeared was the new Solitaire thing from W10.

I was trying to download this, and was getting no response from the Microsoft Store thing (the "Get the game" button did nothing), and got into the MS help chat thing with a guy who took over my system and tried installing the store app from the command line (long time since I've seen that!). Once he got that done he needed to reboot my system.

This took a VERY long time, but eventually I was back in.

And ...

EVERYTHING WAS BACK. My FF tabs ... my FF bookmarks ... the W10 Solitaire Collection ... EVERYTHING. Well, everything BUT the .txt file he'd put on my desktop with the link to resume the session. No sign of that (so I can't get back to him) ... OR the tab that had the chat window going in Chrome. So weird.

I mean, I searched through all the nooks and crannies of my system looking for stuff (like the .json files for FF sessions), and there was NOTHING there ... but after this reboot ... it's all BACK - and it appears that all the stuff I did today to re-assemble my desktop is GONE (not that this is a problem ... except for having to re-download a mess of video from my camera, the file of which has also disappeared ... but it's confusing as heck).

I really feel like the Universe is going into "let's mess with Brendan" overdrive ...

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1:42 pm
Man ...
I'm at least glad that I ordered in a new computer ... and am now slogging into the nearly-endless process of getting stuff that I use installed on it.

Because, while I was out this morning, my main system had a BAD crash. Almost everything on my desktop was gone. All my programs "didn't know me" (including Thunderbird, which I think has lost all my old mail). I probably lost 300-400 tabs in FireFox and all my bookmarks (well, I had backed that file up a few years back). This really sucks.

Fortunately, I just (a few weeks back) installed a new external HD that I had sitting around (waiting to use it for a data retrieval project from a previous dead drive), and had backed up most of my files ... unfortunately, this did not include the program files, which would have had my FireFox and Thunderbird data ... so I was able to re-construct my desktop for the most part. I was disturbed to find that my CrashPlan back-up-to-the-cloud system didn't appear to be uploading those program files either ... so they look to be well and truly gone.

I've been in such a panic/funk about other stuff of late, that I really, really don't need this (see the "friends only" posts). Sucks to be me.

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Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
11:41 am
Thought for the day ...
My entire f'n life has been the 2003 NLCS (and not from the Marlin's perspective).

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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016
6:26 pm
The previous post is "friends only" ... here's why:
If you would like to read the previous post, please contact me to be "friended".

Why is this?Collapse )
Monday, August 22nd, 2016
7:19 pm
The Odd Couple ...
This was another Dollar Store find … with the standard “didn't go looking for it” aspects involved in seeing something that looked plausible staring out from the shelf for a buck. I don't think that I'd have acquired this if it hadn't been in that channel, as I really didn't care that much about the authors (and their legendary mis-matched relationship), but it was “interesting enough” to get into my cart a few months back.

I'm glad that these various factors conspired to get me into Mary Matalin and James Carville's Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home, as it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I'd been hesitant, because I'd hated the Clintons so much, and Carville was their personal media pitbull … and I wasn't sure that I wanted to put myself through some glorification of that sorry period in our nation's history. Similarly, I wasn't sure that I really wanted to follow behind Matalin's track through two Bush administrations … with the emotional scars still left from those years.

However, while the political stuff is certainly in here, it's much more a dual memoir of two completely different political players (if you're not familiar, Matalin is a conservative Republican, who is remarkably fond of her former boss Dick Cheney, and Carville is a co-conspirator with the Clinton Crime Family – and otherwise a supporter of the worst of leftist politics), and how their lives have played out. The dichotomy here is perfectly clear, as the book is set in two typefaces – one for the “Mary” parts, and one for the “James” parts – so you always know who's talking.

If there was one pivotal element here, it would be when the couple (well, family at that point) up and left D.C. for New Orleans. Carville, of course, was from down there, and still had a huge extended family around, but Matalin was from Chicago, and as hot and humid as our summers can be, it was certainly a change for her (although, oddly, she favors open windows, while he wants heavy-duty AC). Of course, their having their daughters (and the various stories of the kids growing up) is another thread here, but the “good stuff” is really the fly-on-the-wall look into the world of Washington, politically, socially, and its accompanying media.

Flipping through this, I'm seeing that most of my little bookmarks are highlighting places with “gotcha” reminiscences (needless to say, mainly from Matalin), which throw a particular light on stuff that usually goes unseen. The book sort of (it jumps around quite a bit) starts with the biggest conflict between the two, the re-election loss of Bush Sr., for whom Matalin was deputy campaign manager, to Clinton, whose campaign was being run by Carville. Following the election, Matalin couldn't find any work in her field, and ended up being hired by CNBC to co-host a “girl-gab show” with Jane Wallace, called Equal Time, that had been described as “Wayne's World on estrogen” (something with which it initially shared a lot of production values). This started out as pretty much just a time-filler, but ended up building up a devoted cult following, which eventually got noticed. She says:
It turns out, when your ratings are lousy and nobody's watching, you are left alone to die a quiet TV death. It's when you have a hit that the problems start. Once we were “discovered” by the TV critics, the CNBC suits appeared like Death Eaters and tried to suck the blood and soul from Equal Time ...
The “last straw” for her was that she did not want to do anything about the O.J. Simpson trial:
The rest of television was doing the O.J. Trial nonstop. What intelligent or edifying thing could I possibly add to that? What intelligent or edifying thing could anyone say about that? The O.J. Trail clearly marked the early stages of cable crapdom: the dumber the story, the greater the coverage.
This then moves into the couple's work on Crossfire and their long friendship with the late Tim Russert, with various stories from each of them regarding how that show impacted both sides of the political spectrum.

Again, this is very much a personal memoir for the two authors, and it here shifts into discussing Mary's multitudinous pets, and James' dislike of them all … followed by a chapter on raising their kids … followed by a very brief chapter on, well, “bedroom stuff” (largely summarized by its last line: “none of your damn business”) … followed by a look at how they had grown up, and how James is a classic case of ADHD (and how different they are in their personality types – she's big on spontaneity, and he's a stickler for a locked-in schedule).

This takes us to a chapter called “The Dark Ages” which is about the “hanging chads” end to the 2000 Presidential election. Just about the only thing (well, aside from the kids) that seemed to save their marriage is that Carville thought Gore was an ass, so didn't have quite as much blind devotion to him as he did to Clinton … but it wasn't something that he was prepared for when Matalin got tapped to work for V.P. Dick Cheney. She had insisted that it was only going to be for six months, although this wasn't going to be the case. One part here that drew my attention was in her discussion of how hectic these transitions can be …
      Meanwhile, it turns out that there is something worse than a transition hell that's smooshed into a few short weeks. And that is transitioning from an administration with a civility and maturity level lower than Animal House's, a comparison that is actually a compliment to the outgoing Clinton administration.
      You think I'm being a partisan exaggerator? Well, would you call this mature and civil? Once into the White House, we found all the W's had been stripped from our computer keyboards and our desks were full of molding garbage, uneaten fast food and/or porno – and those were only the cute stunts. The vice president's office were the worst because, as it turns out, Al Gore is not what you'd call graceful in defeat. Instead he lived up to his reputation as a real loser.
Because of the destruction of the White House facilities by the outgoing regime, the VP transition was happening from Cheney's home, with a single phone line for communications. Matalin ended up with a pretty impressive dual title, Counselor to the Vice President, and Assistant to the President, giving her remarkable access across the Bush Jr. administration. By August 2001, she had the office of the VP, “a (mostly) well-oiled machine” , and she and James took a cruise together without the kids, and things began to look like she was ready to start her own transition out of the White House.

And then it was September 11, 2001. That morning Carville was speaking at a conference and said, regarding Bush “I hope he doesn't succeed, but I am a partisan Democrat.” … minutes later cell phones started buzzing around the room, with the news of planes flying into buildings. Matalin had arrived at work “spiffed up” in designer duds (and spike heels) to make an impression at a labor meeting scheduled for later that day … a bad choice as things turned out.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of Love & War is the play-by-play from within the White House (and subsequently those “undisclosed locations” that the V.P. was being shuttled off to) on 9/11 and the time following. As you may recall, Bush was out of town (reading to school kids in Florida) when the attack came, and the Secret Service whisked (here described as being physically picked up and carried) Cheney off to a safe room in the sub-levels of the White House, while most everybody else was told to get away from the building, as it was expected that a plane (perhaps the one that was taken down by its passengers) was headed for there. Matalin was a few blocks away (in her stiletto heels) when she got a call from the Secret Service – Cheney wanted her there, and they managed to find her and get her back and down to the WW2-era PEOC (Presidential Emergency Operations Center) … evidently the first time this space was used for its intended purpose, and what had been “state-of-the-art in FDR's day” was poorly equipped for current tech. Plus, with as many people who ended up being in that space, they found the ventilation was less than needed. One poignant bit here was in her discussing trying to get in contact with key administration members … “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was literally incommunicado … We discovered later that he was pulling his injured and dead colleagues out from the smoke and debris of the Pentagon carnage.”

I don't believe I've read any specifically “post-9/11” books (although I've seen quite a bit online), so I don't have other examples to compare this to … but being able to look over Matalin's shoulder, as it were, as she discusses what was happening in the upper reaches of government over those days, weeks, and months of doubt, rage, and chaos is remarkable here. The details are revealing, and they confirm my counter-to-the-MSM-story gut reaction about the nobility of the Bush administration, especially when compared with its venal predecessor. Needless to say, being part of Cheney's team, her family life was deeply disrupted, as Matalin was off at whatever “undisclosed location” that they were keeping the V.P. (one story she tells was of a Christmas trip out to Wyoming when they were able to have their families join them … she had shipped out – on Air Force Two – all of their holiday ornaments, and requested the advance team find a tree for their living quarters, which she describes: “{it} wasn't a tree so much as a spindly shrub with a few errant branches, a very small version of a freaking Charlie Brown tree”, which caused a major break-down … James came through, however, and notes: “the tree was kind of puny, in a comical way”). Needless to say, as time rolled on, the Iraq war became an issue in their household, and in 2003 she finally disengaged from the White House job. In the course of this both authors do a lot of musing on the reality of the D.C. scene … I found this bit by Carville worth noting:
Most times people do something because they actually think it's going to work out. Most times, they are not evil people trying to undermine America. Most times, there's not some underlying conspiracy or motive. … There's a great tendency to overestimate conspiracies and underestimate stupidity.
Of course, this is a guy who worked hand-in-hand with the Clintons, so you'd expect him to try to sweep as much “evil people trying to undermine America” under the rug as possible. But, I digress.

As one would expect in a memoir, there's a lot of “personal” stuff in here, a lot of family issues with the Carvilles (including its matriarch, his mother, dying during this time), the lingering death of their much-depended-on housekeeper/nanny, and even their getting re-married. It turns out that their original nuptials were not up to snuff in the view of the Catholic church (Mary had been previously married), and, as she was starting to get into that brand of imaginary friend stuff, this both became an issue and an excuse to throw a big party down in Louisiana. Lots of stuff about new friends, new experiences, and other revelations of their shift to New Orleans, including their girls growing up and heading off to college.

Amid this there's also a section when they “get partisan” again, with reflections on some of the campaigns and opposing sides of issues they'd been on. Matalin has a great “rant” in here about dealing with the MSM (in parts worthy of Limbaugh or Gutfeld), which of course spoke to me. Here's some of the key bits:
Eighty-nine percent of journalists self-identified as liberal. … Who were the 11 percent who confessed to not being liberal? … As annoying as it is to the public, I much prefer today's open partisanship of the media. Nothing produced more hair pulling, breast thumping and chain-smoking in GOP camps than reporters professing no bias while reporting like Democratic operatives. … Do you ever see even a scintilla of fair and balanced reporting from MSNBC …?
To his credit, Carville takes a less aggressive tone in this part (despite his clear loathing of many of the players in both Bush administrations), and has a lengthy entry taking a look, on various levels, at “what's wrong with Washington”, and this bit certainly rung a bell:
I sincerely believe that part of the problem is that so many of the people in positions of power in Washington truly, utterly, do not understand the struggles of average people. They literally can't wrap their minds around the battles ordinary people have to fight every single day ...
The book, which came out in 2013, sort of peters out (being something of a “snapshot” from their lives, things don't get all tied up with a ribbon), taking a look back at the Katrina disaster, and how it is still effecting things down there, and has a final “punctuating” event of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion (and subsequent major oil spill), which happened in 2010 (a scant few months past the Saints winning the Super Bowl – an event that the authors had been heavily involved in – which was a huge thing for the New Orleans community). This part isn't long, but it sort of puts a pin in the timeline as a place to leave off the chronological narrative, and allowing them to finish with some “looking to the future” stuff.

I really enjoyed reading Love & War … the back-and-forth between Matalin and Carville (although not in response to the other's writing – they appeared to have written this separately, but in tandem, taking up a topic and letting the editors piece the bits together) is an appealing format. It does, though, go without saying that this would be far more engaging for “political junkies” than it would be for those whose obsessions lie in other realms. That being said, however, the “behind the scenes” looks at those challenging times following 9/11 are well worth the price (and I'm talking retail, not Dollar Store here).

It appears that the hardcover is now out of print, but there's a more recent paperback version out there, so is a pretty good bet to be available at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor As I noted up top, the hardcover has gotten out to the aftermarket and the on-line new/used guys have "like new" copies of it for 1¢ (plus shipping), so if you can't find a Dollar Store copy, that would be your best bet. Again, it's an engaging read, with some really fascinating material in amid the "Mary & James' life together" stuff.

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