Book Review: The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell (Four Stars)

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Book Review: The Empty Throne (Saxon Stories #8) by Bernard Cornwell

Four Stars

“It probably did not matter what the Witan thought … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

A romp through a historic game of thrones. History may not be quite as exciting as fiction, but that’s why we have historical fiction. And few authors blow the dust off the pages of time better than Bernard Cornwell.

“It probably did not matter what the Witan though … or what I thought. I should have thought harder.”

Uhtred may be on his last legs. His near-fatal wound is festering, his king is dying, his family is threatened, and his dreams are unfulfilled. What’s a man do to? If that man is Uhtred, attack.

“I wanted an end to the pain, to the problems, but I also wanted to know how it would all end. But does it ever end?”

Well written. Good map, though unreadable in the ebook format. Love, death, betrayal, and surprises. A real life strong female leader. Leavened with humor.

“As I said, Father, I am not noisy.” “And I am?” “Very.”

No quibbles, just looking for an excuse to insert another text quote.

“How?” “By killing any bastard who opposes her.” “Oh, by persuasion.” “Exactly.”

 

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Book Review: Through Five Administrations by William H. Crook (Four Stars)

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Book Review: Through Five Administrations: Reminiscences of Colonel William H. Crook, Body-Guard to President Lincoln by William H. Crook

Four Stars

“The newspaperman, then as now, was on the outlook for a sensation. There was less regard for the truth then ….”

I’m a sucker for primary sources, even when–especially when–the writer reveals more about himself and his stop than he intended. Such is the case with this book. Crook takes you into his mind. You experience six presidents from the perspective of one who worked with them closely and personally, but was not involved in the politics of the day.

“It must be taken as for granted that I am somewhat prejudiced.”

Not surprisingly, Crook sees the best of each man, though some reviled each other. He defends each president, even as he acknowledges that some (especially Andrew Johnson) poured burning coals on their own heads.

“A narrow circle of New England theorists who, with their inheritance of inflated ideals and incomplete sympathies, had come to replace, by way of aristocracy, the social traditions of colonial times.”

Snowflake warning: This was written more than a century ago. Crook’s attitudes and expressions will offend modern sensibilities, even of those who agree with him. But if we are denied his point of view, the whole work would be suspect.

“Speeches in both House and Senate … filled with wild alarm, not for the country, but for [their] party.”

Too Big to Fail?

The Wall Street Journal reports, the Trump administration has decided MetLife is too big to fail.

No one is too big to fail. That is a myth perpetrated by oligarchs seeking to protect themselves from both the market place and from regulation.

We need to let one or two of them crash to demonstrate the resiliency of the American economy. And we need to jail a few of those oligarchs who think they are above the law.

There’s nothing wrong with the American economy that a healthy dose of integrity wouldn’t help.

Zoning versus Hurricanes

An August 30 Bloomberg Businessweek article blames Houston’s lack of zoning for the severity of Hurricane Harvey’s impact. New York and New Orleans had zoning; they were inundated.

All three cities were flooded. Zoning or the lack of it wouldn’t have made much difference against topography. In Houston’s case a nearly flat bowl of semi-permeable at best land gets over fifty inches of rain.

All three cities had lots of people and businesses in the way of a flood. As American coastal cities swell in population, we will see more, worse examples. Whether zoned for it or not.

Bloomberg made a political, not an economic, meteorological nor geological point.

Could things be done differently? Sure, but hindsight is always 20/20. Neither New Orleans nor New York relocated.

My forecast: expect another of these every decade from now on.

In the face of a natural direct hit, we would do better helping each other. Not throwing bricks.

Book Review: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“Hand in hand, they sit … all life’s sorrows but one behind them.”

Russell scores again with entertaining historical fiction which teaches without being didactic. Remote northwest Italy may seem an unlikely locale for high drama, but Russell brings war, the holocaust and heroism into a human focus and an immediacy which engages the reader. Fine writing.

“Never underestimate how soothing it is to have someone to blame. If Jews didn’t exist, someone would have to invent us.”

Russell thoroughly researched this, including many eye witness interviews. It shows. Good stuff. Yes, we know, war is hell. But, except for the Nazis, here almost everyone has got a conscience, and it hurts.

“Feeble as a good intention, he …”

Lots of contrary-to-stereotype characterizations. Carabinieri as good guys. Catholic and Jewish clergy cooperating. Remote mountain types sheltering strangers, at the risk to their home and family. Being a “good guy” does not guarantee a good end.

The world is filled with unreasonable hate. What’s wrong with unreasonable love?”

Something Russell does astonishingly well is address issues of faith. Here as well as Dreamers of the Day, she presents the full gamut of faith and non-faith with a sympathy which is unusual in contemporary literature.

“Hell exists. Any combat soldier can tell you that. So, heaven’s real, too! Logic, ja?”

 

Book Review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell (Five Stars)

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Book Review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

Five Stars

“To be enjoyed, life must be shared.”

Historical fiction at its best: opens the past as can only be done by fiction; while connecting to the reader’s present in ways that are both entertaining and informative. Neatly melds modern opinion with history. Compare this with James Michener’s Caravans, telling in 1963 how the world was going to lose Afghanistan.

“America, I recalled, were notorious colonial troublemakers.” “As the Arabs promise to be,” Lawrence said quietly.

All of the narrowness and prejudices one would expect of a 1920s American abroad–like Mark Twain’s 1869 Innocents Abroad, but Russell’s protagonist is open to Continue reading

Washington Reports on Climate Change

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The recently leaked climate report is undoubtedly those people’s best effort to make the case for the inevitability and impact of global warming, but for those who know how Washington produces such reports it’s less than convincing.

First, everyone working on it was a true believer. No skeptics, deniers, or even neutral folks need apply.

Second, even though it was touted as a multi-year, multi-administration effort, it’s still the report of one side.

Third, when asked a question in Washington, the question implies the answer. We called it “gaming the system.” It’s the way things are done inside the Beltway.

Finally, have all those folks sworn off flying? Parked their gas guzzlers? Charge their Prius’ only from solar panels? Live in zero-carbon condos? Grow their own food? Heck, no. They’re hypocrites just like you, me, and Al Gore.

That is not to say that the weather isn’t getting warmer, nor that human activity didn’t contribute to it, nor that the impact won’t be huge this century. It’s just to agree with Benjamin Disraeli that the worst kind of liars are statisticians.

Madame Butterfly from Coast to Coast

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Tonight is opening night for Seattle Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly.  My daughter, Rachelle, is once again a member of the cast.  She appears third from the left in both photos below.

MadameButterflySeattleOperaAug2017RachelleMoss3rdFromLeft [ Philip Newton photo ] MadameButterflySeattleOperaAug2017RachelleMoss3rdFromLeft02 [ Philip Newton photo ] Earlier this year, Rachelle was also a member of the cast of Sarasota Opera’s production of Madame Butterfly. So she really has done this show from coast to coast.

Rachelle as Kate Pinkerton Rachelle as Kate Pinkerton

Now I’m wishing I was in Seattle so I could attend opening night.

Break a leg!

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Outlawing Cash?

From the July 12, 2017 Wall Street Journal: “VISA has a new offer for small merchants: take thousands of dollars from the card giant to upgrade their payment technology. In return, the businesses must stop accepting cash.”

Last time I checked cash was “legal tender for all debts, public and private.” How can a business not take cash?

I have a VISA card, but I pay for most of my purchases in cash. Helps keep me from over spending, which would be fine with VISA. They want me to overspend.

Book Review: The Women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Women of Harry Potter by Sarah Gailey

Four Stars

“Ginny let herself be impressed once … and wound up vulnerable and look where that got her.”

I almost didn’t read this collection of posts. I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I read a couple of the books and saw a few of the films, and never connected. So I figured Gailey would have nothing to say I’d be interested in. Wrong.

“These, I must teach to hate.”

I didn’t even know who one of these characters was, but Gailey creates a cogent, interesting essay on each; exploring who they are, what motivates them, and why we should care. Good job.

These posts are among the finalists in the 2017 Hugo Award Related Works. Now that I’ve read them all, I can affirm I liked this one best. Better than many much more famous names who were, IMHO, trading on their names as excuse for publishing drivel.