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2012 books [31 Dec 2012|01:26pm]
Best fiction book I've read this year The Rise of Ransom City y Felix Gilman, which IMO was a big step up from Gilman's already creative and involving work to date, expanding the world o The Half-Made World o something really rich and involving, exploding Gilded Age captains-of-industry myths, and while focusing on the year's standout character, hero/villain coward/hero inventor/shyster Harry Ransom.

Honorable mention:The Given Day y Dennis Lehane, which would have been the best novel I read this year if I had read it for the first time. Instead, I was reading it for a second time and found that my opinion was sharply improved the second time around. A great sprawling epic centered around the Boston police strike of 1919--which Lehane tells with the patience, clarity, and jaundiced eye that you'd expect from a former writer fo The Wire--but sweeping up the immigrant experience, race relations, and any number of other fascinating topics. Lehane has a talent for writing fascinating characters up and down the social spectrum, from high ranking Boston Brahmins to freshly arrived immigrants and everything in between, and in particularly for understanding police culture inside and out. (Lehane's follow up Live By Night, is a big disappointment, unfortunately.) 

Best non-fiction book I've read this year Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Clas y Jefferson Cowie. An academic writing labor history sounds potentially dry, but Cowie is not just an ambitious historian but an entertaining and clear writer. And the story to tell is dramatic: in 1970, both Democrats and Republicans were striving to cater to the powerful union bosses while business influence over politics was at its lowest point in the modern era. Ten years later, unions were disillusioned with both Democrats and Republicans (one fire-breathing union leader said that the best thing that Carter could do for the working class was to die), and about to suffer what still appears to be an inexorable decline. What the hell happened? Cowie explains, and in doing so, cover territory as diverse as violent internal union conflicts and the political meaning of Devo and disco.

Honorable mention The New New Deal y Michael Grunwald, an account of the stimulus bill which anybody interested in American politics, but especially disaffected liberals, should read.
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Thoughts (w/o spoilers) on The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012) [18 Jul 2012|05:21pm]
I mentioned on my Twitter feed yesterday that I had the opportunity to see an advance screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  I had a terrific time, and my friend Jim can attest that I was fairly bouncing with excitement when the movie ended. And in a way that was the ideal time to see it, because it sometimes feels as if my experience with Christopher Nolan movies rises and falls depending on how much exposure I have to Nolan fanboys before I see the movie. Because I think that in many ways Nolan is a terrifically talented director, but I get tired of hearing the one where he came down from Mt. Sinai with a stone tablet in either hand to speak the Word of the Lord.

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The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham (2012) [30 Jun 2012|01:47pm]
(See my earlier entry. This is a review I wrote on June 8, 2012.)
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The Passage of Power by Robert Caro (2012) [30 Jun 2012|01:40pm]
(See below. This is a Goodreads review that I wrote on May 20, 2012.)
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After Tamerlane by John Darwin (2008) [30 Jun 2012|01:34pm]
(Basically this is a copy of my Goodreads review, which I'm archiving here because the Goodreads interface is not great for finding old reviews. I think I'm going to start copying all of my reviews--which aren't many--here in case I want to find them again, and also so that I can link to them on Facebook without putting every stupid Goodreads update on my Facebook page.)
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[01 May 2012|05:50pm]
I've decided to actually use my Goodreads account for reviewing and stuff. (Actually, it was primarily to pimp Neil's book, but then I started poking around and realized that it was a fun site.) Who else is on? Let me know so that I can add you.
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[29 Jun 2011|05:40pm]
It happens that I am about to receive A Dance With Dragons. I saw the thread about ADWD being released in Germany early enough to order a copy before the publishers shut down, and they're arriving any minute now. I felt a little proud of myself when I saw the statement from GRRM's British publishers saying that only 180 copies escaped before they intervened. It's as if I won the lottery, or been invited into some elite club. I'm now part of the Lucky 180. (We should have a banner made, perhaps depicting Anne Groell strangling a German dude.)

Because of who I am, this brief moment of pride was followed by guilt. For literally the first time in my life, the contractual relationship between Bantam Spectra and Amazon.de struck me as some kind of moral principle, which I had now transgressed. And I've read enough people complaining that folks like me "shouldn't even have the book" to realize that I'm not the only one to irrationally decide that a publisher's embargo is akin to the Ten Commandments.

Now, I understand that if I were in their shoes, I would resent the people who got the book early. The presence of spoilers on the ADWD forum yesterday was particularly galling; here was proof that people were getting the book on Tuesday while I had to wait TWO EXTRA DAYS. It feels nice to imagine that somebody else being lucky is in fact a cosmic injustice. Suddenly, you're not petty; you're principled. You just love justice too much, that's your real problem.

(Of course, I have no brief for people who want to spoil the ending or pirate the books. But we're not talking about them.)

Speaking of people who should probably be a bit more self-aware, I noticed more than a few people who are also getting the book early bitching about shipping delays. I'm also obsessively checking the status of my order, true (it's in Horsham, PA as of 5:19!) but surely it makes you look like kind of an asshole to complain that your early copy of ADWD is simply not early enough for your liking?
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I saw the movie Winter's Bone this morning and it made me think of this quote [25 Jun 2010|08:03pm]
"There is a great quietness about the women of America (I speak of the exterior manner of persons casually met), but somehow or other, I should never call it gentleness. In such trying moments as that of fixing themselves on board a packet-boat, the men are prompt, determined, and will compromise any body's convenience, except their own. The women are doggedly stedfast in their will, and till matters are settled, look like hedgehogs, with every quill raised, and firmly set, as if to forbid the approach of any one who might wish to rub them down. In circumstances where an English woman would look proud, and a French woman nonchalante, an American lady looks grim; even the youngest and the prettiest can set their lips, and knit their brows, and look as hard and unsocial as their grandmothers."

Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans, 1832
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[21 May 2010|06:40pm]
Some guy from the Cato Institute says that Rand Paul was right to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and that while the government can and should ban public discrimination, the constitution does not permit the government to ban private discrimination. It seems to me that, at least based on originalist principles, he has this almost exactly backward.

"Private discrimination" was very much on the mind of the framers of the 14th Amendment when they crafted legislation designed to enforce their self-imposed mandate of "equal protection." The Force Act of 1870 prohibited certain private violations of civil rights, for example. Most of the same legislators who passed it later passed a bill banning private discrimination by public accommodations, which included inns, theaters, public conveyances and other "places of public amusement." To the Reconstruction Republicans, they had the power to do this under Article V of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Subsequent Supreme Court cases imposed a substantially narrower interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, but these were largely written by opponents of Reconstruction.)

Meanwhile, segregated education, although "public discrimination," was permitted by the original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Congress that passed the Fourteenth Amendment was at the very same time funding segregated schools in the reconstructed South and the District of Columbia. (This is a problem for constitutional originalists, who end up tearing their originalist principles to mush in order to defend Brown v. Board of Education.) In fact, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which banned discrimination in public accommodations, had to be stripped of a provision banning segregation in public education before Congress approved of it.
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I don't get the Federal Rules of Evidence [27 Apr 2009|11:22am]
Working on a motion for a case, in which I've learned that it's okay to use a person's theft convictions to show that he's a liar, but _not_ to show that he's a thief. This seems weird to me, but I just work here.
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[10 Feb 2009|03:05pm]

This is a curious definition of "consent":

Several federal circuits have adopted what has come to be called a consent-once-removed exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. The theory is that a suspect who consents to the entry of someone who is really an agent of the police is also, albeit unknowingly, agreeing to let the police enter as well. The police do not need a warrant to enter and search a home if they have the permission of a person authorized to give it.


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[31 Jan 2009|04:11pm]

Apparently, somewhere around 58 & Woodland, there's a place called Samich's Deli. In my head, I've already started to think of it as Woman, Go Make Me Some Samich's. Also, at 54 & Woodland: Rabbi's Rib Joint.

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[07 Jan 2009|11:53pm]

I picked up Jo Walton's Farthing this afternoon at around two, and just finished it a few minutes shy of midnight, and that should suffice in telling you what I thought about it: I read very few books cover to cover in one concentrated burst, and I didn't really intend to do so today, but I just kept figuring, "What's one more page?" (I guess subconsciously I must have wanted to take advantage of my last few days of unemployment.)

Setting the vast majority of the book in the bucolic English countryside was a great idea, as it acts as an unobtrusive counterpoint to the increasing dystopia that settles over the UK as the book progress. That dystopia seems a little swift to me--even Hitler took more than a couple days, you know?--and the book doesn't really need David or (especially) Mrs. Talbot to explain exactly what the proper moral position is as things go from bad to worse. Nonetheless, I don't know when I last read a book half as gripping.

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[07 Jan 2009|06:08pm]
"We have Bernardo Bertolucci’s second feature to thank for serving a vivid analogy to the flaws of communism: like sleeping with your hot aunt, it’s a utopian fantasy that, once achieved, goes downhill in a hurry."

- Kevin B. Lee, on Before the Revolution
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I haven't posted any movie shots in a while... [04 Jan 2009|01:42am]


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...so here's a few from City Girl (1929, F. W. Murnau), just out on DVD. The movie is gorgeous (see more here and here) and unjustifiably obscure, but Fox just released it as part of a huge box set and a beautiful score, so hopefully it'll get more attention. Definitely worth checking out.
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Wow [02 Jan 2009|03:13pm]

From The Economist

But for the real “heat geeks”, even that is too tame. Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, recently added a new pepper to its vegetable shelves: the Dorset naga. Inhaling its vapour makes your nose tingle. Touching it is painful; cooks are advised to wear gloves. It is the only food product that Tesco will not sell to children. By the standards of other chilies, it is astronomically hot. On the commonly used Scoville scale (based on dilution in sugar syrup to the point that the capsaicin becomes no longer noticeable to the taster) it rates 1.6m units, close to the 2m score of pepper spray used in riot control. The pepper that previously counted as the world’s hottest, the Bhut Jolokia grown by the Chile Pepper Institute at the New Mexico State University, scored just over 1m. That in turn displaced a chili grown by the Indian Defence Research Laboratory in Tezpur, which scored a mere 855,000. The hottest habanero chilies score a wimpy 577,000.
That just blows my mind right there.
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"I've got more in common with these gooks than my spoiled-rotten family. Happy birthday." [01 Jan 2009|04:36pm]
Gran Torino (2008, dir. Clint Eastwood) - So apparently critics are sufficiently in love with sturdy classic-Hollywood filmmaking (the kind that's essentially relegated to TV shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men) and intrigued by the story of a white male elite passing along its values to a more Obama-friendly rising generation (as seen on critical favorites like 30 Rock and, again, Mad Men) to give not just a pass but a full embrace to any project that satisfies that Made In The U.S.A. itch. Clint Eastwood, whose job as a director is frequently to give an air of dignity to seemingly every script that passes his desk, has been consistently overpraised as a result.

Hence the general accolades for Gran Torino, I guess. The movie is by most standards embarrassingly bad, thanks in large part to a terrible script by "Factory Accident Sex" scribe Nick Schenck. The story of a Polish-American racist coming to like and protect his Hmong neighbors would be slightly more touching if it wasn't, um... well, as fullmotor pointed out to me on the ride home, "ham-handed" is too kind by far, so I'm not really sure what to call this. The dialogue quoted in the subject line is not only a line, but a typical one. (I might also have chosen, "You're wrong, eggroll," one of many racial slurs that Schenck apparently looked up before he started writing.) It eventually comes to sound like the McSweeney's parody of the movie Crash:

WAITER: Can I take your order?

ME: I'll have the club sandwich, easy on the mayo.

WAITER: To drink?

ME: Why are you people always asking me what I want to drink?


ME: You heard me.
The movie is frequently hilarious for this reason--half the audience was laughing throughout--so I suppose I wouldn't discourage anybody from seeing it, specifically. You might want to leave before Clint Eastwood starts to gently warble the title song over the end credits, though.
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"All this trouble for a fat little man in a red suit." [24 Dec 2008|10:10pm]
Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, which I apparently gave to my mother a few years ago (based on my uncle's now dubious claim that it was her favorite movie as a kid), is indeed as dreadful as it sounds, and then some. Santa shows up at the beginning, looking half-drunk, giving a slurred interview where he forgets the names of his reindeer and leers over a doll that "does everything a real girl does," prompting the Martian children watching the broadcast on their Martian flat screen television to ask themselves, "What's 'tender loving care'?" This is so far the highlight of the movie.
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The skill of gymnastics, the kill of karate! [20 Dec 2008|01:34am]
What I've learned from Gymkata is that a town made up entirely of the criminally insane will probably have some kind of pummel-horse-style installation in the admittedly unlikely event that Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas needs to beat up a bunch of them all at once using a deadly combination of gymnastics and ninjitsu.

Also, director Robert Clouse (Enter the Dragon) was not afraid to employ unnecessary slo-mo just to make sure that Gymkata was feature-length.
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[18 Dec 2008|11:10am]

I didn't have an opinion on Caroline Kennedy either way until I read this article:

They and several others, described a woman who is surprisingly down to earth: who carried sensible shoes in her bag for the walk home from a dressy event at Tavern on the Green; who declined a lift downtown when caught without an umbrella in a rainstorm, instead heading for the subway in a baseball cap; who does not shirk her periodic safety patrol duty, with its reflective vests and walkie-talkies, as a Collegiate School mom; who is an assiduous e-mailer, if not so fast at returning voice mail; who has a personal assistant, but does not use her as a gatekeeper the way so many not-so-famous people do; and who loves to play Running Charades, a version of the popular parlor game.
Oh. Well, then. Lord knows New York is short of assiduous e-mailers. I think I'll cede the rest of my time to Mr. Homer Simpson:

Homer: That Timmy is a real hero!
Lisa: How do you mean, Dad?
Homer: Well, he fell down a well, and... he can't get out.
Lisa: How does that make him a hero?
Homer: Well, that's more than you did!
Words to live by. Apparently.
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