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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Books of 2016


As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I read a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." However, only the winning entry is listed here. I read it as a member of the Final Selection Committee.

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? (Some of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari). 


Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan by Dana Burde

How Bill James Changed Our View of the Game of Baseball ed by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce

Crazy '08 How a Cast of Cranks Rogues Boneheads and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History by Cait Murphy

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2016, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. It was again edited by Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski.

Of these non-fiction books, the Burde book really stands out and it won the 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. Though the work focuses on the role of education in US foreign policy towards Afghanistan, it is more widely applicable to education policy in other nations.

I was somewhat disappointed in the Frankfurt book. It was undoubtedly a good political year to read it, but it was kind of dull. I'd heard of the book more than a decade ago and the original essay was written in 1985. Watch the video linked here to see Frankfurt interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show years ago.

I read the Murphy book because it seemed like 2016 was going to be the Cubs year to end their losing ways. And it was. However, in truth, I kept falling asleep late at night reading the rich detailed history of the 1908 season. It is interesting if you like baseball history, but I could have used a more compact version.

The Festschrift for Bill James had some interesting passages, and it was a quick read, but it does not include a lot of new information for the savvy baseball fan.


As I traditionally do, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

If He Hollers by Chester Himes

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

Joyland by Stephen King

The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

F is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton

Borrowed Time by Robert Goddard

Early Autumn by Robert Parker

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly 

The Zebra-Striped Hearse by Ross Macdonald

Black Betty by Walter Mosley

The Dreadful Lemon Sky by John D. MacDonald

The Jugger by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

To the Hilt by Dick Francis

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

Jimmy the Kid by Donald Westlake

The Fountain and Updike books are definitely the cream of the crop here. I highly recommend Fountain's tale of a young war hero home for a PR junket to help market the war on terror. It is incisive and very well-written. Updike's Rabbit Angstrom is an interesting character who deserved another book. Put simply, Updike was a master. The book set in the 1980s mentions both Donald Trump and Roger Ailes.

I again read a couple of prominent science fiction works this year, books that true fans probably finished years ago (long before they were my age). Xenocide was OK, but the first book in the Ender universe is difficult to top. Earth Abides is definitely a classic, but some of it seems a little dated now. 

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Mosley's Easy Rawlins, Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer.

Spencer and McGee are starting to confront their position in life. Grafton seems to get better with every book.

Several of the books near the bottom have comedic elements -- but the jokes don't always work.

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Monday, December 26, 2016


Agnes Augusta (Ard) Payne was born October 1, 1939, into a very large family of seven children. Agnes was a common family name, as her grandmother McFayden was named Agnes, as was a cousin, and a direct ancestor (Agnes Scott) who lived in the early 1800s  in Scotland.

Ultimately, her family would include five brothers (Elmer "Buster," Merle, Jack, Ed and Bobby) and four sisters (Ethel, Lois, Edith and Verna). She also had two step-siblings from her father's previous marriage. The family lived in a modest-sized house in Osage City, Kansas.

Mom told few stories of her childhood and youth in the small town. She was born towards the end of the Great Depression and the family was poor even by the standards of the time. She shared a bed with multiple siblings and typically wore hand-me-down clothes.

One of her most vivid shared memories of her childhood was watching televised boxing with her father. In high school, she missed an entire year with rheumatic fever. She kept up with her studies, however, and graduated in 1957 with her classmates.

At age 20, Mom married my father, Allen Payne, in July 1960. The Payne family had been neighbors in Osage City and Mom's older sister Ethel married one of my Dad's older brothers (Dean).

Allen Payne worked for a road construction company, so he and my mother soon began living a nomadic life across Kansas and parts of Oklahoma. I was born in August 1961 in Ulysses, Kansas, and my sister Gina was born in October 1962 in Emporia, Kansas. Gina was born only a day after my mother's 23rd birthday.

Sadly, Mom's parents died in 1961 and 1962. My sister and I did not know our grandparents, but had an enormous supply of aunts, uncles and first cousins.

As construction projects were completed, our family moved repeatedly in Kansas -- to Salina, Manhattan, Wichita, McPherson, Ottawa, Ponca City (Oklahoma), Osawatomie (for school, but the rural route home address was Paola), El Dorado, and Kingman. Neither my sister nor I had ever attended the same school more than two years in a row when we arrived in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, in summer 1977. I completed my final two years of high school there and my sister was able to complete her remaining three years.

Throughout those school years, Mom was the primary caregiver as my father worked long hours and often commuted great distances to the worksites. In the construction business, it was common to work six days per week when the weather was good because winter often shut everything down to a stop. As he got older, my father also took on increasingly demanding work responsibilities as he was promoted from laborer to equipment mechanic, to machine operator, to foreman, to supervisor, to executive.

Mom was responsible for integrating the children into new schools almost every year, as well as packing the household for the regular moves. When settled, she transported my sister and I to swim lessons, sports team practices, Brownies and Cub Scouts, bowling leagues, etc. She often did this without much of a social network since the entire family was new to the communities we joined.

As her children grew up and gained independence, Mom occasionally worked in light manufacturing. She worked in sewing factories on multiple occasions, making men's sports jackets and blue jeans. She also worked in a Venetian blind factory as some sort of inspector towards the end of the production process.

Mom was largely responsible for my career as an academic as she was a firm believer in the value of education. She used to help my sister and I prepare for tests and she always made sure our homework was completed. My father and mother set firm rules about bedtime and clearly instilled strong values in my sister and I. Mom often regaled shoe sales staff and clothing clerks with stories of her childrens' successes (this continued through grandchildren). If they listened patiently, they usually earned a sale.

Mom loved dogs and had a fear of cats developed in childhood. The family had a pekinese named Blondie in Wichita that ate only when my mother fed her. She was tolerant of a beagle named Droopy that my sister and I had through most of the 1970s. After I went to college, my parents adopted a part-chow named Sam and a larger mutt named Boots. Sam was friendly to everyone in the family, but Boots followed my mother everywhere.

Mom liked to sew and also crocheted until her worsening arthritis made this impossible. My family still owns several afghans that she made in the 1970s and 1980s. She enjoyed the works of Erma Bombeck and owned a small library of her books. Mom also liked music, especially country music. She was a fan of Mac Davis and Charlie Pride in the 1970s and advanced to Randy Travis in the 1980s. We saw Mac Davis perform live in Kansas City at Worlds of Fun in the 1970s. Mom often spoke favorably of Owasso neighbor Garth Brooks and I think she liked Carrie Underwood as well. She enjoyed gardening too and once had an enormous tomato patch (nearly 50 plants!) and canned a great deal of food.

Mom was a loving and doting grandmother to my children, born in 1993 and 1996, and to a slightly older grandson who was welcomed into the family upon my sister's marriage. A final granddaughter was born in 1998. Grandma and Grandpa Payne traveled frequently to see these grandchildren, provided an enormous amount of babysitting, and generously purchased all kinds of toys, shoes, clothing, and other necessities of childhood.

As my father's career advanced, my parents were able to abandon the nomadic lifestyle. Indeed, my mother lived in Oklahoma from 1977 until her death. Initially, she and my father purchased some rural property near Mannford, Oklahoma and lived there for several years in the mid-1980s. In 1986 or 1987, they purchased a home in Owasso where they lived until late 2004. After a brief stay in a rental apartment, they moved into their last house in 2005 and Mom lived there until she had a bad fall a few years ago. Dad died in October 2008 on Halloween. Save for the last few months of her life, Mom spent several years in an apartment in an assisted living facility near the famous Southern Hills golf course in Tulsa.

Unfortunately, Mom suffered creeping memory loss and some form of dementia. She had a bad fall in August, which landed her in the hospital with a broken arm and injured leg. Sometime in September she contracted a serious infection that sapped her strength and will to live. Indeed, Mom never fully recovered even after a second hospital stay in the autumn. She died on December 23, 2016.


Obituary here.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions to the:

Alzheimers Association
225 North Michigan Ave., FL. 17
Chicago, IL 60601

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Dr. Strangelove's "Wargasm"

I forgot to blog about this, but back on November 4-5, I attended the annual ISAC-ISSS conference at Notre Dame University. If you are interested, my paper was entitled "Grappling with Dr. Strangelove’s Wargasm Fantasy," which was placed on a panel "Perspectives on Gender and Security."

Here's the abstract:
Dr. Strangelove continues to be one of the most acclaimed comedic films of all-time, often appearing on critics’ lists enumerating great films. Likewise, international relations experts commonly view the film as a “no brainer” choice among the most essential IR-themed movies. Dan Lindley’s 2001 Teaching Guide to Dr. Strangelove offers the standard rationale for studying this film. It can be “a springboard to discuss deterrence, mutually assured destruction, preemption, the security dilemma, arms races, relative versus absolute gains concerns, Cold War misperceptions and paranoia, and civil–military relations.” This paper considers critical theoretical concerns raised in the film that Lindley and others overlook. First, the film’s narrative is scripted as a satire or black comedy rather than as a tragedy or romance. This is a meaningful choice that strongly influences the way the film should be understood. Second, as film critic Tony Macklin argued decades ago (1964), the film can be viewed as a sex allegory, a dominant theme that has typically been ignored. Even director Stanley Kubrick acknowledged the film’s “sexual framework.” What does the film’s “Wargasm” imply about international relations and nuclear strategy?

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