Saturday, November 30, 2013

Guest review: Sabato's 'Kennedy' is 5 star

Here's the first of hopefully many book reviews by friend/coworker Wes. He's rumored to live in Sturgis, but spends most of his time at Books-A-Million in Rapid City, and is an avid reader of all things politic.

By Wesley Roth

Months ago, I learned Larry Sabato, who is a University of Virginia professor and director of their Center for Politics, completed his book on John F. Kennedy. He shared in his weekly newsletter that he had just finished five years of research and penned his magnum opus, entitled The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy. Immediately, I placed the book on my Amazon Wish List, and it was set for a fall release, timed with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

This is a very-well written book, which weaves Kennedy's personal life into his political rise in politics from Congressman to Senator. It reads like a novel, with the author's personal recollections sprinkled throughout the chapters.  The author provides lots of details about the Kennedy clan and how everything revolved around politics. The book is not a hagiography, as Sabato does provide details on Kennedy's "extra curricular activities" that the press turned a blind eye to. It is pretty incredible how fast Kennedy's stock rose in the Democrat Party, to almost winning the nomination at the 1956 convention! The book then turns to Kennedy's pursuit of the 1960 nomination, which he of course locked up handily, and later defeated Richard Nixon.

The book then carries the reader through the 1960 presidential general election and victory by Kennedy and his days in the White House. Critical analysis is given to Kennedy's priorities as the 35th president. Readers will learn that civil rights was not an issue he wanted to spend his political capital on, and he and brother Robert Kennedy were later forced to address the issue. Equal time is given to Kennedy's domestic agenda at home and his difficulties abroad with the Soviets and Cubans.

Midway through, you are confronted with The Assassination along with "Questions, Answers, Mysteries" and "Rounding up the Usual Suspects". This section of the book will be of most interest to those dedicated to learning what exactly happened on November 22, 1963.  But as Jerry Dealey, a lifelong assassination researcher and descendant of Dealey Plaza's namesake, warns: "I know everything about the assassination, except what really happened."

Sabato then takes the reader through the last half century of presidential administrations (see related infographic).  He starts with LBJ, who Sabato claims was a "pretender to the throne" and never got out of Kennedy's immense shadow. You learn how the Kennedy family and the Carter families were today's "Hatfields and McCoys".  You also learn that it was Republican Ronald Reagan, who invoked Kennedy's ideals and aspirations consistently in his speeches and addresses to Congress to advance his agenda. But it was Bill Clinton who "grabbed Kennedy's torch" and ran with it. Fans of presidential history will find Sabato's research and storytelling on presidents Johnson through Obama valuable scholarship and interesting. The book concludes with an essay on "The Flame Eternal" and Kennedy's enduring legacy on our country (and the world) along with the presidents that followed.

I can’t recommend this book enough. The "Kennedy Half Century" will appeal to anyone who loves presidential history and politics. Having never read a full history book on Kennedy, this was a great first addition in my Kennedy section in my library. For me, the chapters on the assassination were too much "in the weeds", and I found myself skipping sections of the chapters. But Sabato's in-depth research (150 pages of Notes) and masterful writing about Kennedy and his continuing impact on our county, earns a 5 star rating in my opinion.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday Link-Oh-Rama

It's not often that picking up dog poop wins out over the alternative, but when the alternative is shopping on Black Friday ... now where did I put that box of disposable gloves?

Here are some stories I found even more interesting:

** Good story about the Minneapolis music scene back in the 1980s. This guy seems slightly annoyed he's not Prince. Andre Cymone, on his new album coming out in February:
Somewhere along the line, something happened to me. I know it sounds crazy, but something just woke up in me and said "What the hell are you doing? You've been given a gift, and you're just sort of kicking back and chilling." I don't want to sound weird or odd or metaphysical or any of that kind of junk, but it really has been a very interesting experience because I've been writing songs that have been writing themselves. I can't even take credit for them; I wish I could. I have no idea how I wrote them, why I wrote them, where they came from, So to answer your question why I came back, there's so many different reasons. The main reason I came back is because music needs me. I know that sounds crazy, but I think music has very few champions.
** The four best beards in the history of Christendom. Go St. Thomas More!

** Maybe instead of listening to out-of-context quotes from Rush Limbaugh and other "experts" on Catholicism, you can read the Pope's words yourself here: His first Apostolic Exhortation: Evangelii Gaudium.
Pope Francis has issued his first Apostolic Exhortation on Tuesday, Evangelii Gaudium, translated into English as The Joy of the Gospel. The 224-page document outlines the Pope’s vision for a missionary Church, whose “doors should always be open”. The Pope speaks on numerous themes, including evangelization, peace, homiletics, social justice, the family, respect for creation, faith and politics, ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and the role of women and of the laity in the Church. And he repeats his ideal of a Church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets” rather than a Church that is caught up in a slavish preoccupation with liturgy and doctrine, procedure and prestige. “God save us,” he exclaims, “from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!”
** Well this isn’t going to help the texting-ban fad sweeping our nation: Researchers claim children passengers are far more distracting to drivers than mobile phones.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Additional 'Amsterdam' notes

Darn, I keep forgetting to do my notes thing on my lame book reviews. The "notes" are the things I underlined or highlighted or licked in the book. They can be a little odd out of context here, but what the heck:

"If it's okay to be a transvestite, then it's okay for a racist to be one. What's not okay is to be a racist."

and ...

"Ah," he sighed. "The Dutch and their reasonable laws."

"Quite," Garmony said. "When it comes to being reasonable, they rather go over the top."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Finished: Ian McEwan's 'Amsterdam' (WOW!)

I posted last week about Ted Bell's mention of Amsterdam. As luck would have it, I was browsing through a used bookstore in downtown Rapid City on Saturday and stumbled across it. Wasn't even looking for it. It was just there. Cool.

Obviously, somebody somewhere (probably Lindsay Lohan) wanted me to read this book. And I'm glad. It's one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in two nights.

The 200-page novel is 15 years old and won the 1998 Booker Prize. I should've read it sooner, but, hey, I've been busy.

As Mr. Wiki explains:
Amsterdam is the story of a strange euthanasia pact between two friends, a composer and a newspaper editor, whose relationship spins into disaster.
I read it in two nights and then spent the third night thinking about it more and trying to decide what kind of rating to give it. I ended up going with a 9, putting it in the top five in Haugen history. The only higher ranking book is The Taking by Dean Koontz. I had dreams about that for weeks afterwards. That's a sign that a book hit home, or that you're going insane dreaming about a book; but I'll opt for the former.

In Amsterdam, Ian McEwan not only takes a clever plot, ties the twists from beginning to end to keep the surprises coming; but he also writes a prose that is smooth as Tennessee whiskey. He mixes music, politics and newspapering, so that stuff was right up my alley.

It is a new standard for the type of book I hope to write someday. (Here's the Goodreads link). Don't be frightened away from it because it might seem a little hoity toity, or intellectual (one of those books critics like but nobody reads). Because if you know me, you know that I'm not hoity or toity, nor intellectual (I've simply gotten through life on good looks and charming personality).

Just read the book. It was stunningly good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pile-drive in peace, Mad Dog

One of my favorite, most vivid memories as a kid was staying overnight at my grandpa’s apartment in Sioux Falls and watching all-star wrestling.

Pa was the caretaker of three apartment buildings on Spring Avenue behind what was not too long ago, Gigglebees. Pa and Sioux Falls had cable television long before it reached the sticks on our farm by Canton. The big thing for me in preschool and grade school was to go to Pa’s and eat sardines and crackers, drink pop and try to stay awake until midnight when all-star wrestling came on from Minneapolis. It was Verne Gagne’s thing, the American Wrestling Association, long before the current WWF or WWE.

It featured many of the old greats, including my favorite “Mad Dog” Vachon. He was tough and mean and talked like he had sandpaper in his throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world!” He was best friends with and trained my second favorite wrestler, Baron von Rashke, yes, he of the “brainclaw” finishing move. Those were good times and I’d have fought you tooth and nail if you tried to tell me it was fake.

Mad Dog died last week, but he will live on among my favorite childhood memories.

This was back when men were men:
Before long, "Mad Dog" Vachon consequently developed a reputation as perhaps the most feared rulebreaker in all of wrestling. Furthermore, Maurice's younger brother Paul - ultimately known as "The Butcher" - soon also made his debut and on February 17, 1959 the Vachon brothers teamed to defeat Chico Garcia and Chet Wallick for the NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles. Vachon's tendency to hurt his opponents with foreign objects, filed fingernails and teeth, and the multiple use of his signature finishing move, the Piledriver, to end matches made him notorious in the business and caused him to be banned in three U.S. states. But it also made his popularity soar among the fans.
And it makes my story of meeting my wife look pretty lame:
He also met his future wife Kathie Joe at a wrestling event, after spitting a shoe string he had used for choking his opponent at her, as she was sitting in the audience.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Give thanks for Friday Link-Oh-Rama

We are all about masters of their art tonight: C.S. Lewis, Manny Pacquiao, Magnus Carlsen and Haim. All great at what they do/did. As for the Bigfoot link, well they just seem to show up out of the blue anyway.

*** C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today. Bad timing Clive.
Media coverage of his death was minimal; he died on 22 November 1963—the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the same day another famous author, Aldous Huxley, died. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will be honoured with a memorial in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
*** Requiem for a welterweight: I'm a big Manny Pacquio fan, so this is really tough to read. It's nice to see all the good he is doing, but hurts to see him being taken advantage of and perhaps more than just financially ruined.

*** Go team! Ya, sure, ye betcha.
Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen claimed the crown of world chess champion on Friday after drawing a tense 10th game against holder Viswanathan Anand to take an unassailable lead in the 12-round duel.
*** I love bigfoot stories. Here’s a good one from Minnesota, with a photo. (I'm pretty sure it's Kevin Love.)
Casey said he and his brother were the only people who knew where the camera was located. They took the camera down when deer season started, and a couple of weeks later checked on what they had caught. 
When they came to the picture of the long-armed creature walking upright, Casey said, "We just looked at each other. Each of us thought we were playing a trick on each other."
When they determined that neither of them had pulled a prank on the other, they checked to see if anyone had been in the area that night. Tim said the only neighbors were two elderly hunters in their own shack, neither of whom matched the size and appearance of the creature caught on camera.
However, he said, when he asked the men about the night the camera clicked on the mystery, they said they had gone out about 2 a.m. to use the outhouse and had heard strange squealing noises. Tim said he asked them to show him the direction of the sounds. They pointed to the area where the camera had been, although they had no idea of its location.
*** My newest crush: Haim.

Something actually entertaining on Letterman for a change.

And here's Sheryl Crow’s "Strong Enough," covered by Haim.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Additional 'Phantom' notes

Ted Bell is one of those authors who likes to name-drop other authors throughout his books. I usually take note of them and Wiki them and sometimes purchase their work. I hit pay-dirt on someone's mention (maybe it was Koontz) of Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentinian author, whose book of short fictions has been a delight to read.

So, anywho, here are a couple names Bell dropped in the book I just finished:

P.G. Wodehouse. It figures Bell would cite fellow Englishmen.
From Wiki: Best known today for the Jeeves and Blandings Castle novels and short stories, Wodehouse was also a playwright and lyricist who was part author and writer of 15 plays and of 250 lyrics for some 30 musical comedies, many of them produced in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. He worked with Cole Porter on the musical Anything Goes (1934), wrote the lyrics for the hit song "Bill" in Kern's Show Boat (1927), wrote lyrics to Sigmund Romberg's music for the Gershwin – Romberg musical Rosalie (1928) and collaborated with Rudolf Friml on a musical version of The Three Musketeers (1928). He is in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. 
Wodehouse spent the last decades of his life in the United States, becoming an American citizen in 1955, because of controversy that arose after he made five light-hearted broadcasts from Germany during World War II, after he had been interned by the Germans for a year. Speculation after the broadcasts led to unfounded allegations of collaboration and even treason, and some libraries banned his books. Although an MI5 investigation later cleared him of any such crimes, he never returned to England.
Ian McEwan's book Amsterdam.
From Wiki: McEwan began his career writing sparse, Gothic short stories. The Cement Garden (1978) and The Comfort of Strangers (1981) were his first two novels, and earned him the nickname "Ian Macabre". These were followed by three novels of some success in the 1980s and early 1990s. In 1997, he published Enduring Love, which was made into a film. He won the Man Booker Prize with Amsterdam (1998). In 2001, he published Atonement, which was made into an Oscar-winning film. This was followed by Saturday (2005), On Chesil Beach (2007), Solar (2010), and Sweet Tooth (2012). In 2011, he was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.
And here a couple quotes from the book that I underlined for various reasons:
"One should always strive to be on the side of the angels and the big battalions." 
"The problem with having so many balls in the air is that you can be damn sure a couple of them belong to you."

Finished: Ted Bell's 'Phantom'

I'm a bit conflicted on this novel, Phantom by Ted Bell.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book, breezed through it and, well, just really enjoyed it. That should be enough, right? It had fast cars, hot women, pirates, explosions, sex, and Vlad Putin. Everything a guy needs in a good fiction adventure/mystery.

But when I was done I really had the feeling that Bell really jumped the shark (an old Happy Days reference for you). Flying wheelchairs? The concept of singularity, where computers surpass human intelligence and form thought and take over the world? Just seemed out of place with the other Bell novels featuring Alex Hawke.

Then I read the afterward Bell included, where he basically said: Yes, I jumped the shark with this one but that's because this stuff isn't that far from happening in the real world. He cited physicists and research he'd done. Pointed out the moral dilemmas the world may be facing in as little as a decade (though based on this English major's knowledge of physics - none - I think is much farther off). But I bought his explanation and decided to go with it.

After all, I enjoyed it. What more do you want in a book, Haugen? I'm still just giving it a 6+ for now. I'll rethink it in 10 years when computers take over the world.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dad's JFK collection, conspiracy

About a week ago I started collecting links to stories about the JFK assassination, but I'm already burned out on the subject, days before the 50th anniversary of his death. It's all JFK all the time, so if you can't find your own stories, you aren't looking very hard.

But I did want to post this picture of some of the JFK books of my dad's. It's amazing how much of an impact the assassination had on Dad and that generation. Of all the tons of books he read, the one constant subject intermingled was JFK.

Dad graduated from Augustana in 1962 and the assassination happened in 1963, so he basically devoted his adult life to researching and reading about the topic. He even had two copies of the Warren Commission report. There are several first editions and books from famous authors, as well as the obscure, but all with the common theme of JFK and "who dunnit?"

I wish I had talked to him more about it, to get his theory. But if I remember correctly, he was in the mafia camp, believing that the mafia was behind Oswald. Apparently they were mad that Joe Kennedy hadn't followed through on promises made to them in exchange for their help getting JFK elected; and Bobby as AG was cracking down on them. Dad didn't believe the Russians were involved because they were too smart to hire Oswald with all his connections pointing back at them.

The fun part about going through these books of his is that they cemented my decision not to enter the Kindle era yet. As I peruse the books, newspaper articles fall out of the pages, postcards are tucked inside, and notations and highlights are intermingled. Try sticking a postcard in a Kindle, then passing the book along to your son 50 years later. It won't work.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Link-Oh-Rama feat: Jeter & herpes

Bucket list complete: Always wanted to write a headline featuring Derek Jeter and STDs. Details below ...

** Stephen King reveals what he is most afraid of (and it’s not ending a sentence with a preposition). Also, TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau goes to jail for diet-book lies that claimed people could eat anything, not exercise and not gain weight. (People who believed that should go to jail too, for being stupid.)

** Day of War. Remember it and the entire Lion of War series. Gonna be huge. Friend of mine is running the show over there in Hawaii.
From their Facebook page:
Thrilled to say that Day of War is also #1 on Barnes and Noble and Amazon in its category. 
Cliff Graham donates a large percentage of every sale to families who are adopting special needs orphans, sex trafficking victims, and all sorts of other organizations who conduct "good battle," and he will do so as long as he lives. 
** So now Derek Jeter of the New York Stinkin’ Yankees wants to be a book publisher.
The publishing imprint will include nonfiction books for adults, like biographies and titles on business and lifestyle; children’s picture books; middle-grade fiction; and books for children who are learning to read.
** Bookstores still battling the e-book craze.
What to us may appear to be a straightforward effort by to acquire more e-book customers on the cheap looks to retailers like some darker, more ambitious effort to crush them. 
“On top of that, why would we do business with the company that is trying to put us out of business?”
 ** An argument for e-books, I guess: Herpes Virus Found on Library Copies of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

 ** I used to raise homing pigeons as a kid and have thought about getting back into it. But right now I have enough hobbies to keep me busy. So I empathize with this guy’s loss of The Godfather and others.
 The son of Rambo, also known as "the Godfather," is the top bird spirited away in a pigeon heist this week in which 45 birds were taken in one swoop from lofts in St. Paul's Como neighborhood. 
The birds were used for pigeon racing and breeding future racers, and their loss isn't chicken feed to pigeon fanciers. Owner John Kaiyalethe said the total value of the lost birds was probably more than $20,000. He said his prize bird, the Godfather, alone was worth more than $10,000.
** If you are one of the 299,999,950 Americans who aren’t following me on Twitter, you should. I say stuff about once a week; insightful/funny stuff about once a year.

** This week’s don’t go away mad, just go away award nominee: I’ve never watched his show, nor do I own one of the credit cards he shills for, but maybe it’s time for him to go away. I’m always amazed at these people who strive for fame, achieve it and the money that goes with it, but then don’t want people to take pictures of them. They want the perks of being famous but not the bother.

** I was thinking of trying this over the weekend, but Jean-Claude Van Damme beat me to it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday, long weekend yee-haw-link-o-rama

Hey, Veteran's Day is Monday. Thank a vet and read a good book about their heroism.

One of the best books I've read, which just happens to be a war vet book, is Surviving Hell: A POW's Journey, about South Dakota's own Leo Thorsness.
Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor. But he didn’t learn about it until years later—by a “tap code” coming through prison walls—because on April 30, Thorsness was shot down, captured, and transported to the Hanoi Hilton. Surviving Hell recounts a six-year captivity marked by hours of brutal torture and days of agonizing boredom. With a novelist’s eye for character and detail, Thorsness describes how he and other American POWs strove to keep their humanity. 
Thrown into solitary confinement for refusing to bow down to his captors, for instance, he disciplined his mind by memorizing long passages of poetry that other prisoners sent him by tap code. Filled with hope and humor, Surviving Hell is an eloquent story of resistance and survival. No other book about American POWs has described so well the strategies these remarkable men used in their daily effort to maintain their dignity. With resilience and resourcefulness, they waged war by other means in the darkest days of a long captivity.
The best books on today's wars from the pens of veterans.

Here are five books recommended by Veterans Today to help understand what they may be going through back on the home-front.

For other stuff to occupy your weekend:

Here’s a bookish website that seems a little more interesting than most (and by “most” I mean mine).

Five things you didn’t know about the Pioneer Woman, which I guess is some deal I should have known about (don't end a sentence with a preposition, Haugen!).

Here are 10 tips to avoiding speeding tickets, that don’t necessarily involve you slowing down.

Tips for snowblowing, in case you're an idiot.

Fan of The Killers? I am. For what it’s worth, new song out. Here's the vid.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The gentleman athlete

Are there any Hobey Baker’s out there?

This column is worth reading in its entirety: From the New Criterion:
In his own era, matters were different. Baker was a famous, even legendary, amateur hockey player. He had the name recognition of today’s professional athletes. But there was an important distinction. Baker was the most celebrated hockey player of his day, not just for his skills on the ice (though those were extraordinary) or his strikingly good looks (he was known as “the blond Adonis”), but for his unwavering sportsmanship, civility, and good character, descriptors that are difficult to apply to today’s celebrity-athletes. 
Baker was not just another sportsman. He was what many young men of his day aspired to be: a gentleman athlete. In an article about Baker published in 1991, Sports Illustrated explains that the old code of sportsmanship involves being “modest in victory” and “generous in defeat.” The gentleman-athlete “credits his triumphs to teamwork, accepts only faint praise for himself. He is clean-cut in dress and manner. He plays by the rules. He never boasts, for boasting is the worst form of muckery.”
Hobey didn't want to be paid, and they seem to count that as "gentlemanly" here. If you throw out that criteria, I might suggest: Joe Mauer and Peyton Manning, and then nobody jumps immediately to mind, though I'm sure there are.

Perhaps another way to think of gentleman athlete is: Would you approve of your daughter dating him?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Happy Guy Fawkes Day

Most people are familiar with the face, but I’m guessing not as many really know the interesting story behind the man, Guy Fawkes, who is now a symbol of anarchy.

 Wintour introduced Fawkes to Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. The plotters secured the lease to an undercroft beneath the House of Lords, and Fawkes was placed in charge of the gunpowder they stockpiled there. Prompted by the receipt of an anonymous letter, the authorities searched Westminster Palace during the early hours of 5 November, and found Fawkes guarding the explosives. Over the next few days, he was questioned and tortured, and eventually he broke. Immediately before his execution on 31 January, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged and broke his neck, thus avoiding the agony of the mutilation that followed.
Here is a more entertaining version than the Wikipedia entry, and with a much snazzier headline: Guy Fawkes 2013: From timid testicles to gunpowder plot truthers, ten things about bonfire night you probably didn't know

And if ten are too many, here are five things to know about the Fifth of November.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Finished: 'Innocence' by Dean Koontz

In Dean Koontz's new book "Innocence," I was humbled.

Not by the fact that this guy seems to write more books in a year than I will in a lifetime; or that he is ten times the writer I will ever be; or even that his imagination is light years beyond mine. What got me is that I was pretty sure I had the ending figured out. I knew what tricky twist he would have at the end. I have a knack for that sort of thing, ya know, or so I thought. Again, he of the 100 mile per hour fastball threw me a 75 mile per hour looping curve and I swung and missed and even twirled in place and swung and missed again. He got me. Big time.

This book, that comes out on Dec. 10, but which I nabbed an Advance Reader's Copy, was the usual good Koontz stuff. I had a little higher hopes, given the rave reviews, that it was going to be something entirely knew from him, like perhaps he'd invented a whole new way to write. But, no, it was typical Koontz, and that was good.

There's still the good versus evil, the supernatural, the dogs, the children, the really bad people and the really good ones - all the things he seems to masterfully incorporate. This wasn't an Odd Thomas novel, but I thought it easily could have been one.

All in all, I'll remember it as the one that fooled me with the ending. Again, Koontz proved that I'm not as good, even at that, as I thought I was.