David Foster Wallace – Kenyon Commencement Speech (2005)

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Dec 262015
 

Randomly found this while google-fishing for information about David Bowie’s “Quicksand” (from “Hunky Dory”, 1971).  What I was looking for isn’t relevant (though it’s worth noting that the above link actually points to the acoustic “demo” version, which is way better than the album version).

What I found was a college commencement speech by David Foster Wallace, some author I’ve never heard of and none of whose work I’ve ever read.  Going to have to correct that in the near-future however.  Always feel a little embarrassed in a hippy-dippy sort of way when some random shit on the internet knocks me on my ass, but there it is: it happened.  Check it out – well worth reading.

Powers

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Nov 262015
 

Powers is one of my favorite comics – one of those ones you read again and again over the years until the damn things fall-apart. It’s the crowning achievement of the now-ubiquitous Brian Michael Bendis, with artwork to match by Michel Avon Oeming. Forget the television series, pretend it never happened: it bares hardly any semblance to the source material.

Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim work the “Powers” division, handling crimes by (and against) persons with super-human abilities. Their cases take them from the highest pinnacles of wealth and celebrity to the most squalid places imaginable. They deal with the best and worst humanity has to offer, though most everyone they encounter falls somewhere in-between. Walker and Pilgrim have the best buddy-cop relationship in the history of fiction, hands-down, and their banter alone is worth the price of admission. Powers is by turns subtle and garish, quiet and brash – but always classy, fun, and smart as hell.

Powers (Wikipedia)
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Operation Desert Storm: “Winds of the Storm” (1993)

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Nov 032015
 

A public domain film from the National Archives, with some audio/video cleanup by Jeff Quitney. Explains the 1991 Gulf War air campaign with numerous interview clips from General Chuck Horner, USAF (commander of all the air forces) as well as his 4 divisional commanders.
Desert Shield and Desert Storm are generally under-appreciated by most Americans. The only downside to planning and implementing a massive operation near-flawlessly and with minimal casualties is that you make it look easy; afterwards there’s an understandable tendency for those without in-depth knowledge of the events to say, “What was the big deal?” But if you have even a layman’s appreciation for what went into that effort, and some knowledge of history, it’s clear it could easily have been a very big deal. We were lucky to have a military that had learned the hard lessons of Vietnam led by some excellent people.
If you want to learn more, I highly recommend Tom Clancy’s “Every Man a Tiger,” a non-fiction book written with Chuck Horner that covers the affair in great detail yet is imminently readable even for civilian pukes such as myself.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965

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Jul 022015
 

The 3rd and final volume of William Manchester’s biography of Churchill is a riveting narrative of World War II from over-the-shoulder of one of the greatest – and most interesting – leaders of the 20th century. It’s chock-full of fun, and holds-up over multiple readings.

One favorite anecdote of mine I came-across today: During the autumn blitz of 1940, Churchill is entertaining dinner guests in the basement of No. 10 Downing St. (a rickety, if comfortable, deathtrap which he was eventually persuaded to forgo for more secure lodgings). At one point the building shakes from a nearby bomb hit – Churchill excuses himself and orders the kitchen staff upstairs to seek shelter. 20 seconds later, a second bomb lands even closer, utterly obliterating the kitchen.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965thelastlion

The Hagakure – Yamamoto Tsunetomo

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Jul 012015
 

Saw this in the first episode of the universally-underrated 2nd season of HBO’s True Detective. Being impressionable (and drunk), I immediately ordered a copy. It’s really good – the D.E. Tarver translation is particularly nice.

If one models himself after a great warrior, one will become a great warrior. The problem today is that there are not many great individual warriors to imitate. To overcome this, one must piece together one’s own model from various people.

Study the warriors around you and discern their strong points. Model your manners after a warrior with perfect manners. Model your courage after the bravest warrior, and your manner of speaking after the greatest orator. Model your conduct, integrity, and resolve after those who are highly polished in each area. This way you will model individual merits and avoid the bad points.

Many people tend to see only a man’s weak points, and they overlook his good qualities. It usually follows that people imitate a man’s weak points rather than his strong points. It is known that a certain person may have a strong mind of resolve, and be dishonest also, and by nature most people tend to seek the lowest level or the easiest path.

If you are able to see a person’s good qualities, even if he is inferior to you in all other areas, you will never lack an abundance of excellent teachers.

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Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)

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Jun 092015
 

An old favorite – the best bio of Hamilton currently available.  A thoroughly-researched history of the smartest, least-appreciated founding father.  Also, man was Jefferson a putz.  Alexander Hamilton (amazon.com)

Chernow’s stuff’s all great – I also recommend his biography of George Washington and his history of “The House of Morgan”.

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The Blue Ant Trilogy – William Gibson

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May 292015
 

My favorite book of all time is Neuromancer, the first winner of the science-fiction “triple crown” — the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award.  Never mind that Gibson’s particular conception of “cyberspace” didn’t materialize as he envisioned – that’s what people always want to focus on first for some reason, as if he was a prophet who incidentally published some fiction.  I love it purely for the writing and story – there’s nothing like it out there, even now, sadly.  But I digress.

The “Blue Ant Trilogy” consists of Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History.  I was initially kind of “meh” about the first two, but somewhat more engaged by the third.  Thanks in large part to the character Milgrim (who I’ve increasingly come to relate to), I re-read Zero History a number of times and it gradually dawned on me that it was the best new fiction I’d read in decades.  The other two followed likewise: the entire trilogy is unparalleled.   I tend to lag a decade behind Gibson in taste, but I can’t feel too bad about it – he is Gibson after all.

If you ain’t read them, get on top of it!  They’re in chronological order, but the second two are much more closely-linked (plus they’re my favorites):  I recommend trying Spook Country, and if you like it then Zero History.  By that point you’ll enjoy Pattern Recognition all the more as a sort of prequel.

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The Black Company

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May 252015
 

I read a good bit of fantasy when I was young, but these days none of it works for me – the writing tends to irk me one way or another.   Glen Cook’s The Black Company is the exception.  Very down-to-earth, with none of the adolescent wish-fulfillment and breathless pretension that suffuses most of the genre.

The last Free Company of Khatovar is a brotherhood of outcasts that have drifted across the face of the earth over 400 years.  It recruits from the best and worst of humanity, changing each generation, but retaining its essential character by clinging to the recorded history in its Annals.  Always outnumbered and often outclassed, it prevails through cunning and discipline.  Its only cause is to finish the job at hand.  Its only morality: its undying esprit de corps.  In the face of catastrophe, it endures.  And gets even.

Cook is ex-Navy and writes plain, contemporary prose.  The soldiers talk like normal guys, and their dialogue is the black humor and halfhearted grumbling common to all military groups throughout history.  The world is morally ambiguous: good and evil are rarely mutually exclusive.  Virtually everyone in power is a monster of one shade or another, including most of the Company’s employers.  It’s sometimes bleak, but always a blast.

Master and Commander (and The Aubrey/Maturin Series)

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May 152015
 

Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic naval warfare saga Aubrey/Maturin is the best fiction series you’ve never read.  I also recommend the film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World“, a remarkably good film adaptation that’s largely based on the novel “The Far Side of the World”.  It takes some minor liberties, mostly for clarity and focus – a pastiche of several different books.  However the sheer length and breadth of the entire series is such that its full flavor could never be captured in a single film without making it a complete mess.  The movie is best considered a very brief cross-section of the whole, and gives one an excellent sense of combat and daily life aboard a British frigate of this time period.