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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Books of 2008

Last year, as I have annually since 2005, I posted a complete list of books I read in the preceding year. This is now a blog tradition worth preserving.

As usual, I will not list books that I reviewed, unless those reviews were published. In my academic job, I chair a committee that awards $200,000 annually to the best "ideas for improving world order." Most of our nominees have written books and I read my share of the nominations.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure?

Non-fiction

Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel (RIP).

Songbook, by Nick Hornby.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.

The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 by Bill James.

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut.

On the Campaign Trail by journalist Mark Shields.

My Life in Baseball by Ty Cobb.

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2008, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was edited by Steven Goldman.

Of these, most were worth reading. Hornby's book is about his favorite 31 song recordings. It's an eclectic mix and he's certainly a talented and entertaining writer. James and Vonnegut are also skilled writers that I have long enjoyed, though these books include uneven collections of short essays.

I've owned Tygiel's book for years and should have read it long ago. I pulled it off my shelf the weekend I read of the historian's death. Sarjane's work is a graphic novel, but it is very well done. My university adopted it as a "book-in-common" for this academic year, though I'm not teaching it.

The Shields book is about the 1984 election, much of it documenting the failed insurgent Democratic presidential candidacy of Colorado Senator Gary Hart. I read it during the battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Foer's individual chapters about the global game of soccer (football) are interesting, but I'm pretty sure they do not add up to a real theory of globalization. A couple of years ago, a student recommended the book and I too would suggest it for soccer fans with an eye on the global game.

Cobb's book may more appropriately be placed in the fiction listing.

Fiction

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

White Noise by Don DeLillo.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon.

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.

The Galton Case and The Doomsters by Ross Macdonald.

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M . Cain.

Last Stand at Saber River by Elmore Leonard

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Miami Blues by Charles R. Willeford.

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin.

Darker Than Amber by John D. Macdonald.

Poodle Springs by Raymond Chandler and Robert Parker.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming.

Greenwich Killing Time by Kinky Friedman.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen.

Of these, I placed the best literature at the top of the list, then the remaining genre fiction with the least entertaining listed last. I really like Greene and Waugh, generally, and these books provide valuable insights into the bottom and top of Britain's social hierarchy. I read Greene's novel while visiting Brighton this past August.

I recently blogged about DeLillo's award-winning book, but I also found both Updike's classic novel and Chabon's recent work to be very enjoyable reads. In 2009, I'll likely be reading more about Harry Angstrom, Updike's boy wonder.

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch, I diversified my reading list quite a bit this year. I added some acclaimed sci-fi books to my reading list, along with books my a diverse group of crime writers. James Crumley's The Last Good Kiss is an exceptional contribution to the hard-boiled detective genre. I'll also be reading additional books by Willeford, Dibdin and Fleming (again, thanks to Bookmooch, I already have them piled high).

As I've noted previously, John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee stories provide a pleasant diversion, but Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer books have a much harder edge. Both offer up a good measure of amateur philosophy too. The coauthored crime novel on the list was completed by Parker from an uncompleted manuscript by a true master, Raymond Chandler.

I don't like Leonard's westerns as much as I like his crime books, but he is definitely worth reading in either genre. Hiaasen and Friedman trail because their characters and books have a patterned predictability. If I wait long enough, they are still fun to read. Look for those authors to appear on these lists again.


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Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas past



My Dad and I are shown playing a friendly poker game with some friends and family, at Christmas-time, 2006. It looks like I had a short stack, but a good beer.


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Keynesian Economics in 2009

The most recent Nobel laureate in Economics, Paul Krugman, spoke at the National Press Club last Friday. The Dow Jones Newswire covered his Keynesian message:
Despite the Fed's recent slashing of interest rates, more action is needed from the government, he said.

"They have achieved something with the policies ... but it is clearly not enough," Krugman said.

Infrastructure spending is "clearly the best thing" to do right now, but timing is key, he said.

"We are bleeding jobs," Krugman said. "The immediate problem is: 'How do we get enough stuff going to stop this economy's nosedive?' "

A stimulus package of $850 billion -- a price tag that the incoming Obama administration is reportedly considering -- is inadequate, he said. Krugman cited estimates of roughly $150 billion of infrastructure programs that are "shovel ready," projects that can be operational within six months.
It's not a direct quote, but journalist Ruth Mantell writes that Krugman says "massive government spending is necessary to stop the ongoing hemorrhage of jobs and shore up the economy."

Apparently, the old quote attributed to FDR New Dealer Harry Hopkins is not authentic: "tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect."

However, that doesn't mean Barack Obama and others in Washington won't be trying to use this playbook in 2009. Is $1 Trillion too much government spending given the current economy? Is it enough? We're likely to find out.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hot Stove Yankee Hating

Apparently, the New York Yankees have signed free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira. Already this off-season, they've signed pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

The Yanks have reportedly committed about $400 million to these three players! In about three or four years, I suspect, the team will not want to be paying at least one of these contracts.

However, M.C. Teixeira is an excellent hitter in his prime. He'll be 28 in April.

Sabathia is a former Cy Young winner who will turn 28 in July. He does have quite a bit of mileage on his arm.

Burnett will be 32 in a couple of weeks and he has an injury history, but he should have a couple of good seasons in him.

The Yankees also traded for Nick Swisher (losing only Wilson Betemit), who could be a terrific acquisition if he bounces back from a bad season.

These transactions would seem to make the Yankees a pretty good team again, even with the decline of Derek Jeter (and others), the retirement of Mike Mussina, and the failed development of Melky Cabrera.

It looks like Yankee haters can return to form in 2009. It's harder to care when the team finishes third, with only 87 wins as calculated by the pythagorean method.


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Thursday, December 18, 2008

White Noise

I never posted anything about the Mumbai attacks, but was struck when I recently read the following exchange in Don DeLillo's White Noise.

The first speaker is Alfonse Stompanato, chair of the department of American environments at the College-on-the-Hill:
"Japan is pretty good for disaster footage," Alfonse said. "India remains largely untapped. They have tremendous potential with their famines, monsoons, religious strife, train wrecks, boat sinkings, et cetera. But their disasters tend to go unrecorded. Three lines in the newspaper. No film footage, no satellite hookup. This is why California is so important. We not only enjoy seeing them punished for their relaxed life-style and progressive social ideas but we know we're not missing anything. The cameras are right there. They're standing by. Nothing terrible escapes their scrutiny."

"You're saying it's more or less universal, to be fascinated by TV disasters."

"For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is."

"I don't know whether to feel good or bad about learning that my experience is widely shared."

"Feel bad," he said.
When White Noise was published in 1985, it was considered prescient for discussing an "airborne toxic event" that anticipated India's Bhopal tragedy.

And, of course, the critique of television and popular culture is clear.

In an age of globalization, cell phones, and digital video, India is no longer an untapped source of world news.

Another interesting passage has been noted by other bloggers and scholars since the 9/11 attacks:
“Members of an air-crash cult will hijack a jumbo jet and crash it into the White House in an act of blind devotion to their mysterious and reclusive leader, known only as Uncle Bob”
Those words appear in a supermarket tabloid, which a main character reads aloud to a group of blind people.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say by quoting these passages, but Ed Cone's reaction to the book seems fair:
Kept checking to make sure it was really published 22 years ago, because (but for the absence of details like the internet and mobile phones and "reality" television) it felt like it was written yesterday, which is pretty remarkable for a book keyed to popular culture.
DeLillo's book won the National Book Award for fiction in 1985.

Soon, I'll be posting a list of all the books I read during 2008.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ducking the shoe, etc.

Today, at Duck of Minerva, I posted "The Duck of Bush," which includes video of President Bush, er, dodging a shoe thrown at him today by a Middle Eastern journalist. Bush was making a secret and surprise visit to Iraq.

The post also includes a link to a new administration report on Iraq reconstruction efforts.

Friday, December 5, I posted "Obama and Coal" about the prospect of an Obama administration bankrupting the coal industry because of its climate policies.


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Friday, December 12, 2008

DVD pick of the week

I wholeheartedly recommend "Idiocracy," which is a very funny satire of American culture.

The flick should become a cult favorite, particularly for anyone who likes "Office Space," "Beavis and Butt-Head" and/or "King of the Hill."

Mike Judge is the talent behind all of them.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

UK: No longer willing

For years, I've been documenting the collapse of the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. Soon, Britain will no longer have troops in Iraq. The BBC reports:
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated that almost all British troops should leave Iraq by the middle of next year, with a few hundred possibly remaining to train Iraqi security forces.

Previously it had been suggested that troops could start leaving in January.

However, the BBC has learned that the process is likely to begin in March - six years after the US-led invasion.
Of course, Britain's withdrawal is different from earlier defections in the coalition. Conditions on the ground in Iraq are apparently much-improved and the UK is mulling over the diversion of its troops to Afghanistan. Thus, the UK can claim "mission accomplished" and demonstrate its willingness to help the US in the war on terror.

Note also that in 2007 PM Gordon Brown announced the withdrawal of half of British troops.


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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Hot Rod Blagojevich

I think the best blog post about the Blagojevich case was written by Benjamin Sarlin. Check it out: "Who (Allegedly) Said It?" The post includes a list of 10 quotes and readers have to figure out whether each was from the Rod Blagojevich tapes or the mouth of Tony Soprano.

Some on the right are bound to try to link President-Elect Barack Obama to this scandal. After all, Hot Rod was apparently trying to auction Obama's vacant Senate seat and the indictment claims that Obama had a favorite for that post. However, there's good news for Obama in the indictment. Jeffrey Toobin:
It is Obama’s good fortune that the Governor seems to be pretty irritated with Obama’s lack of attention to Blagojevich’s needs. In a soon-to-be famous observation on the tapes, the Governor on Obama’s team: “They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. F*** them.”
Yes, I cleaned up the Governor's speech and Toobin's quote.

John Dickerson at Slate found a similar quote in the indictment:
The person who looks great in this sordid affair, in fact, is Barack Obama, whom Blagojevich refers to by another name. According to the charges:
ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants ... are telling him that he has to "suck it up" for two years and do nothing and give this "motherf***er [the President-elect] his senator. F*** him. For nothing? F*** him."
Yes, I cleaned up that one too.

Are high profile cases of political corruption as interesting as elections? If the evidence is of this quality, then I think they can be.


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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Dallas

Apparently, George W. Bush plans to move to Dallas when his term expires.

Bush should perhaps heed Jimmie Dale Gilmore's warnings about the city before he arrives "with the bright lights" on his mind:

While "Dallas is a jewel" and "a beautiful sight," it is also "a jungle."

Most importantly,
"Dallas ain't a woman to help you get your feet on the ground.
Yes Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you're down."

Actually, maybe Bush knows what he's doing:

"Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eye.
A rich man who tends to believe in his own lies."


Note: I personally prefer Joe Ely's cover of this song.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Duck

Today, at the Duck of Minerva blog, I posted "2009 Grawemeyer winner." Click that link to read about Professor Michael Johnston of Colgate University and his award-winning work on corruption.

November 30, I posted "Next Nostradamus" about a History Channel TV program highlighting the computer modeling and predictions of political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of NYU. Other international relations scholars are interviewed for the program, including John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. If you want to see it, the program will run again this Saturday.


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