Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baseball's Opening Day & Grisham's Calico Joe

I've already posted about college baseball.  Now how about some Major League action, especially since opening day is this weekend? Give it to me, Bleacher Report: what's on tap for the very first game of the season?
Major League Baseball will open its season with a battle of Texan teams, as the perennially contending Texas Rangers travel to face the perennially cellar-dwelling Houston Astros on Sunday night. Both teams come into 2013 with a lot of questions. Can the Rangers overcome major losses in their lineup in the tough AL West with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Oakland Athletics nipping at their heels? Can the Astros win 60 games?

Can the Astros win 60 games? Could a worse opening match-up have been made? Is there a reason the opening game doesn't feature headline teams like the Tigers, Yankees, or World Champion San Francisco Giants?

To escape from reality (highly recommended for any Astros fans) into the pages of a good book, try Calico Joe by John Grisham:
In the summer of 1973 Joe Castle was the boy wonder of baseball, the greatest rookie anyone had ever seen. The kid from Calico Rock, Arkansas dazzled Cub fans as he hit home run after home run, politely tipping his hat to the crowd as he shattered all rookie records. Calico Joe quickly became the idol of every baseball fan in America, including Paul Tracey, the young son of a hard-partying and hard-throwing Mets pitcher. On the day that Warren Tracey finally faced Calico Joe, Paul was in the stands, rooting for his idol but also for his Dad. Then Warren threw a fastball that would change their lives forever…

If you prefer a classic, you might like The Natural by Bernard Malamud:
The Natural, Bernard Malamud’s first novel, published in 1952, is also the first—and some would say still the best—novel ever written about baseball. In it Malamud, usually appreciated for his unerring portrayals of postwar Jewish life, took on very different material—the story of a superbly gifted “natural” at play in the fields of the old daylight baseball era—and invested it with the hardscrabble poetry, at once grand and altogether believable, that runs through all his best work.

I'm going to take a break from posting for a few days.  I'm thinking of drawing up a "best of" list of the books mentioned in the March posts.  I'll be back on Monday.

Darwin's Letters & Stone's The Origin

If I remember correctly, this blog has only covered one biographical novel before -- Scarrow's Young Bloods (which is about Napoleon).  Now it's time to add to that collection.

We begin with yesterday's BBC article "Charles Darwin letters reveal his emotional side:"
In a collection of previously unpublished letters that have been made available online today, naturalist Charles Darwin reveals a highly emotional and personal side. In letters to his closest friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker, he pours out his grief over the death of his daughter-in-law, Amy. He also speaks of his ideas on evolution for the first time - something he writes was like "confessing to a murder". 
Of the many letters that Darwin wrote and received in his life, among the most important were his correspondence with his friend of 40 years, Joseph Hooker. As well as tracking the development of Darwin's scientific ideas, the letters give an intimate insight into a Victorian friendship. Almost the entire collection - more than 1,400 letters - has been published by Cambridge University's Darwin Correspondence Project.
So there you go: all 1,400 (!) letters are online. Knock yourself out, Joe Mastropaolo.

For a novel about Darwin, try The Origin by Irving Stone:
In 1832 at age 22, Charles Darwin was invited to sail with H.M.S. Beagle as a naturalist. The surveying voyage would encircle the globe. Five years later he returned to Plymouth as an experienced naturalist with a growing reputation in England, a priceless collection of rare and unknown plants and creatures, and a set of notebooks containing the germ of an idea about the origin of that was to shake the foundations of accepted wisdom everywhere. This is not only the tale of the Beagle's cruise but the account of a lifetime of intellectual inquiry.

Irish Peace Process & Llywelyn's 1999

From yesterday's BBC editorial "Can Northern Ireland act as a template for Colombia?"
Fifteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement, there may be scepticism at home about the weaknesses of the Stormont assembly and executive. But in some other parts of the world Northern Ireland's 1998 peace deal is still being closely studied as a potential model for resolving conflict. 
As many as half a million people are thought to have died in the long running war in Colombia between the government in Bogota and the Marxist FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which control areas in the south of the Latin American country... 
Thousands of miles apart, the two conflict zones became briefly linked in 2001 when three Irish republicans were arrested by the Colombian authorities, and later convicted of training the FARC guerrillas. Around the same time the FARC guerrillas and the Colombian government held a series of peace talks - but the process broke up amidst bitter recriminations. Now delegates from both sides are once again at the negotiating table - although this time they are keeping the details of their discussions under wraps and staying well away from the Colombian media in seclusion in the Cuban capital of Havana. 
Some key issues - like land reform - have no obvious parallel in the Stormont process. But others - such as disarmament, the treatment of victims, and discussion of how former combatants might participate in politics are more familiar.
Unfortunately, the article doesn't go into much detail about parallels between the two peace processes or which elements of the Stormont process could be applied to Colombia. Oh well.

For a novel about the Irish peace process, try 1999: A Novel of the CelticTiger and the Search for Peace by Morgan Llywelyn:
Barry Halloran, strong, clever, and passionately patriotic... Now a crippled photojournalist, he marries his beloved Barbara Kavanaugh, and steps back from the armed struggle. Through his work he documents the historic events that take us from the horrific aftermath of Bloody Sunday through the decades of The Troubles to the present.
For a little more action and a little less emphasis on the historical background, I recommend The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty:
At the height of conflict between the Catholic IRA and Protestant paramilitary factions in 1981, Sean Duffy, a Catholic police sergeant in the Protestant town of Carrickfergus, near Belfast, gets an unusual case. Two gay men have been murdered, their right hands severed (the classic modus for killing an informant) and switched between the two bodies. Duffy initially suspects a serial killer, but when no more gay men are targeted, he comes to believe that the second killing was done simply to cover up the first, in which the head of the IRA’s feared internal security force was the victim. Even after the case is reassigned, Duffy defies orders and keeps digging, coming up against corruption and collusion. Everything in this novel hits all the right notes, from its brilliant evocation of time and place to razor-sharp dialogue to detailed police procedures.
McKinty's novel is set during the early 1980s, but the as-yet-unpublished third book in the trilogy is expected to be set in the late 1980s/early 1990s and involve the peace process.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Case & Anshaw's Aquamarine

In the LGBT arena, I’ve posted about transgender politicians and about the impact of HIV/AIDs on the gay community, but haven’t covered gay rights much – a glaring absence, especially considering how much gay rights have been in the press lately.

For example, here’s yesterday’s BBC headline story “Gay marriage ban: Supreme Court weighs California case:”
The justices of the US Supreme Court have questioned the meaning of marriage and the government's role in defining it, as they weigh whether the state of California may ban same-sex nuptials. Following Tuesday's arguments, the court could uphold the 2008 ban, narrowly overturn it, or invalidate all state same-sex marriage bans in the US. The ban's defenders argued the issue should be decided by individual states. Recent opinion polls have shown a rapid rise in support for same-sex marriage… 
All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote in a court generally evenly divided between liberals and conservatives. This morning he seemed to have been uncomfortable with the case, describing the issue as "uncharted waters" and asking whether the case should have come to the Supreme Court. The court may decide simply not to rule on the case. That would leave same-sex marriage effectively legal in California. But it would not be the sweeping change some gay rights campaigners were hoping for.
For a novel about same-sex relationships, try Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw. Here’s a brief summary of Anshaw’s novel by Christopher Bram (SPOILER ALERT):
Anshaw’s most interesting take on gay marriage might be in her brilliant first novel, “Aquamarine,” which begins with a teenage swimmer, Jesse, competing in the Olympics in 1968. The night before the big race, she goes to bed with one of the other swimmers. Anshaw then imagines three different futures for Jesse 22 years later. In the first, she is unhappily married in Missouri. In the second, she is a college professor in New York living with a lover, an actress named Kit. In the third, she’s a happily divorced woman with her own teenage daughter in Florida. What remains the same from future to future is often as startling as what’s different. Lesbian Jesse is slightly happier than the other two Jesses, but not as radically as one might expect. And her “marriage” to Kit is important, but it doesn’t answer all her self-doubts, fears and concerns.
Here’s the link to Bram's entire NYT essay about the growing role of marriage in gay and lesbian fiction.

Indigenous Australians & Pilkington's Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence

I’ve posted about Native American tribes in the US. Now let’s take a look at the experience of indigenous Australians.

Here's Monday’s BBC article “Living Black: Australia's trail-blazing indigenous show:”
Australia's trailblazing indigenous TV programme "Living Black" is celebrating a decade of bringing stories of triumph, resilience and tragedy to a national audience. The country's longest-running indigenous news and current affairs show has survived tight budgets and management changes to become a beacon of broadcasting in a country where indigenous life can be ignored by the mainstream media. 
"It is a unique programme that is filling a void," said Karla Grant, presenter and executive producer at the Living Black studio in Sydney. "No one else is doing the stories that we do." "We are closer to the issue because we may have faced it within our own families. Our programme gives indigenous people a voice right across the country," she said. 
The programme's small production crew is responsible for 26 episodes each year that aim to give in-depth coverage of social justice, employment, health, and housing issues. All are areas of crisis that make Australia's first peoples its most disadvantaged.
For a novel about Aboriginal Australians, try Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington:
The remarkable true story of three young girls who cross the harsh Australian desert on foot to return to their home. 
Following an Australian government edict in 1931, black aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up by whites and taken to settlements to be assimilated. In Rabbit-Proof Fence, award-winning author Doris Pilkington traces the captivating story of her mother, Molly, one of three young girls uprooted from her community in Southwestern Australia and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement. At the settlement, Milly and her relatives Gracie and Daisy were forbidden to speak their native language, forced to abandon their aboriginal heritage, and taught to be culturally white. 
After regular stays in solitary confinement, the three girls scared and homesick planned and executed a daring escape from the grim camp, with its harsh life of padlocks, barred windows, and hard cold beds. The girls headed for the nearby rabbit-proof fence that stretched over 1,000 miles through the desert toward their home. Their journey lasted over a month, and the survived on everything from emus to feral cats, while narrowly avoiding the police, professional trackers, and hostile white settlers. Their story is a truly moving tale of defiance and resilience.

Creationism Trial & Lawrence's Inherit the Wind

So it looks like when Californians aren't fending for their lives across some dystopian civil war hellscape, they're trying to push American science back into the 19th century.  Hmmm...I think I'll take the hellscape, thanks.

From Monday's Guardian article “Creationist stakes $10,000 on contest between Bible and evolution:’
A California creationist is offering a $10,000 challenge to anyone who can prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Dr Joseph Mastropaolo, who says he has set up the contest, the Literal Genesis Trial, in the hope of improving the quality of arguments between creationists and evolutionists, has pledged to put $10,000 of his own money into an escrow account before the debate. His competitor would be expected to do the same. The winner would take the $20,000 balance. The argument would not be made in a formal court, but under an alternative dispute resolution model known as a minitrial. Mastropaolo said he would present the argument in favor of a literal interpretation of the creation story once he had found a willing scientist to argue that a non-literal interpretation of Genesis is more scientific.
This reminds me of something...oh yeah, it reminds me of a similar trial which largely settled this issue *ninety* years ago. Therefore I highly recommend that Dr. Mastropaolo, and anyone else looking for a good read, try Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s play Inherit the Wind:
One of the most moving and meaningful plays in American theatre--based on the famed Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, in which a Tennessee teacher was tried for teaching evolution… The accused was a slight, frightened man who had deliberately broken the law. His trial was a Roman circus, the chief gladiators being the two great legal giants of the century. Locked in mortal combat, they bellowed and roared imprecations and abuse.
Heliocentrists, you're next!

Sex Scandal Rebounds & Klein's Primary Colors

From yesterday's Washington Post article "Vitter, Sanford and Weiner: Comebacks having a moment:"
It only took a few years in the Senate woodshed, and now the political rehabilitation of Sen. David Vitter looks complete. Our colleague Paul Kane Tuesday has Vitter — whose number showed up in the notorious black book of the “D.C. Madam,” causing the Louisiana Republican to admit before the cameras a “very serious sin” — back in the good graces of voters and colleagues alike. 
But the senator’s reversal of fortune isn’t unique. There seems to be a boomlet of political comebacks underway. Maybe it has something to do with the onset of spring, the season of renewal? Take Mark Sanford down in South Carolina. The former governor, who lied about hiking the Appalachian Trail while visiting his mistress in Argentina, has a legitimate shot at becoming the Republican candidate in the Palmetto State’s special congressional election. And in the three-makes-a-trend rule, there’s also former representative Anthony Weiner, who this month tested the waters with polls gauging the public’s willingness to put aside those photos of his undie-clad crotch he sent to a young woman who wasn’t his wife.
Want a novel about a politician who gets caught in a sex scandal and bounces back? Try Primary Colors by Joe Klein:
The book begins as an idealistic former congressional worker, Henry Burton, joins the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton. As the primary elections grind on, Stanton's affair with Cashmere, his wife's hairdresser, comes to light and threatens to derail his presidential prospects...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Google Glass & Gibson's Virtual Light

From today's BBC article “Privacy 'impossible' with Google Glass warn campaigners:”
Google Glass and other augmented reality gadgets risk creating a world in which privacy is impossible, warn campaigners. The warning comes from a group called "Stop the Cyborgs" that wants limits put on when headsets can be used. It has produced posters so premises can warn wearers that the glasses are banned or recording is not permitted.
If you’d like to read a book which features augmented reality glasses, try William Gibson’s science fiction novel Virtual Light:
Welcome to NoCal and SoCal, the uneasy sister-states of what used to be California. Here the millennium has come and gone, leaving in its wake only stunned survivors. In Los Angeles, Berry Rydell is a former armed-response rentacop now working for a bounty hunter. Chevette Washington is a bicycle messenger turned pick-pocket who impulsively snatches a pair of innocent-looking sunglasses. But these are no ordinary shades. What you can see through these high-tech specs can make you rich--or get you killed. Now Berry and Chevette are on the run…
For speculation on what the future of Google Glass might hold, I recommend PC World’s 2012 editorial “Google Glass Horror Stories From Your Privacy-Free Future:”
Google has amassed immense power by cataloging and analyzing the Internet, as well as selling ads there. They are masters of that universe. Like many other tech companies, however, Google isn’t satisfied with such a confined sphere of influence. Google has been searching for ways to treat things in the real world the way it treats things in the digital domain, by numbering, locating, mapping, cataloging, and analyzing them... 
What’s to prevent Google from tracking the movements of our eyeballs to discover the things that catch our attention? When I walk out of my apartment building, for example, a car might pass by that turns my head; I might glance at it in spite of myself. Could the Google Glass technology form a heat map showing the things my eyes rested on? Perhaps someday the technology will be able to measure how fast and how far I turned my head to look at something, and then develop a likelihood-to-buy score based on that. Call it the Whiplash Index. Capturing that kind of data is the stuff of fantasy for marketers, a simple and direct indication of which types of ads to push at the viewer, and when to deliver them… 
Then there’s facial recognition. That technology is unsettling enough when it identifies faces in still pictures or recorded video. But if Google Glass were connected to a server that could recognize faces, facial recognition could happen in real time. Potentially, the wearer could scan a crowd of people and see labels above those who happened to be friends of friends of friends in Google+… This might not be a big deal if just a few people in every city were to end up wearing Google Glass. But what if the device were to catch on, becoming as big as the iPhone is today? All those glasses would be collecting monstrous amounts of audio and video information every minute of every day, possibly piping the data through the network for storage in some vast server farm… Judging from the wording of Google’s overarching privacy policy and terms of use, the sounds and images that Google Glass records would not be the property of the person wearing the glasses. Google could use those sounds and images for whatever it wants.

Florida's Spring Break Debate & Hiaasen's Tourist Season

Spring Break!

I've previously posted about Hiaasen's take on environmental protection in Florida. Hiaasen is about to be our guide again, this time as we delve into tourism issues in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately, there's trouble in one of America's beachy paradises. From Saturday's Florida Today article "Sparse spring break crowds worry Daytona Beach businesses:"
Some local businesses in Daytona Beach are worried they are losing much-needed revenue as spring break crowds dwindle and hundreds of thousands of tourists head to Panama City Beach. Daytona Beach was a spring break haven for college students for years, peaking in the 1980s with MTV hosting live events there and injecting an estimated $120 million into the local economy.  
 But with the booming business came tragedy. The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported eight people fell off balconies, one fatally. Fights broke out and three hotels were shut down amid reports of urine, vomit and feces in the halls and stairways. Some tourism officials felt the spring break market had high risk and limited reward and scared away family vacationers. “There were many businesses that made a lot of money, but the (negative) impact on the community was too much,” said Blaine Lansberry, who owns the Best Western Plus Aku Tiki Inn and the Bahama House. “Our hotel business agreed to evolve away from spring break and focused more on families.”  
Seabreeze Boulevard used to be a popular gathering spot for college students for its bars and clubs. But now on most night, those clubs only receive sporadic business during spring break. “It’s going to fold up,” said Derrick Butler, owner of BEG4It Entertainment, referring to the businesses along the boulevard. “You already see it now, all you see is for rent signs in the windows. It’s obvious what’s happening.” The owner of Maui Nix Surf Shop, George Karamitos, says the city has turned its back on a high economic generator and hasn’t replaced it with anything. Many spring breakers now head to Panama City Beach, where tourism officials there are expecting between 250,000 to 300,000 students this year. Daytona tourism officials anticipate only 15,000 spring breakers. 

So the conflict between tourists, locals, and business owners continues in Florida. Carl Hiaasen covers all of this -- and the impact on the environment -- in his novel Tourist Season:
When the president of the Miami Chamber of Commerce is found dead inside a suitcase with his legs sawn off and a rubber alligator stuffed down his throat, news and police locals prefer to believe it's simply another typical South Florida crime. But when letters from a terrorist group, Las Noches de Diciembre, link the man's death to the disappearances of a visiting Shriner and a Canadian tourist, former newsman (now private eye) Brian Keyes intuits that someone is out to kill Florida's tourist trade. His investigation leads him to an old journalism crony obsessed with fury against the state's irresponsible development policies.

Newspapers' Declining Ad Revenue & Hine's Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch

I recently posted about reporters and the politics of editing and censorship. But what about the rest of the staff that keep newspapers going?

For some news about advertisers/publishers, I turn to last week's Forbes article "Newspaper Advertising In China Is Being Affected By New Media, Too:"
A switch to online content among newspaper readers in the U.S. has put pressure on the profits of publishers of traditional newspapers such as the New York Times. The same trend is affecting traditional newspaper publishers in Greater China, too. Hong Kong-traded shares of Beijing Media, which sells advertising for the popular China Youth Daily and other Beijing-based media, lost 6.5% today after the company said on Friday net profit last year plunged 46% to 65 million yuan, or $10.5 million.
For a novel about newspaper advertisers/publishers, try Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine:
Russell Wiley is in deep trouble. A media executive for the failing Daily Business Chronicle, his career is teetering on the brink of collapse, and his sexless marriage is fast approaching its expiration date. With his professional and personal lives floundering, it's no wonder Russell is distracted, unhappy, and losing faith in himself. Making matters worse are his scheming boss, a hotshot new consultant, and the beguiling colleague whose mere presence has a disconcerting effect on Russell's starved libido. Disaster seems imminent...and that's before he makes a careless mistake that could cost the paper millions. Russell realizes he must take drastic action if he is going to salvage his career, his love life, and what little remains of his self-respect. Sardonic, edgy, and true to life, this gripping novel from author Richard Hine offers an insider's view into a newspaper's inner sanctum.

Honor Killings & Shafak's Honor

From yesterday's BBC article "Kashmir couple arrested over gruesome 'honour killing:'"
Police in Pakistan-administered Kashmir say they have arrested a couple on charges of murdering their own daughter in the name of honour. The couple admitted to killing the unmarried 18-year-old when they found out she was pregnant, police said. Villagers found the girl's chopped-up body parts in a river, and were able to identify her by the disembodied head. 
Such killings were once rare in Kashmir, but police say they are now happening much more frequently. This is the third reported "honour killing" in the region in five months. 
In October last year in the same Kotli district, police arrested a mother and father on suspicion of murdering their 15-year-old daughter by dousing her with acid in the name of "honour". The couple later told the BBC, while in police custody, that they had killed their daughter for looking at a boy...  
Honour killings are also on the rise across Pakistan, says the country's Human Rights Commission. In 2011 - the last year for which statistics are available - 943 women were killed, an increase of more than 100 on 2010.

For a novel on honor killings, try Elif Shafak's Honor. Here's the review from the Independent:
The first chapter of this novel begins with a daughter in mourning, and develops into an intricate story of an honour killing. We follow three generations of Turkish-Kurds as Shafak weaves her narrative twists, and combines times, places and linguistic inflections with extraordinary dexterity, from 1950s working-class Istanbul to 1970s Hackney and then Shrewsbury prison, 20 years later. This is a powerful tale of cross-cultural lives, motherhood, male violence and cycles of rage and revenge.

Florida Wetlands Supreme Court Case & Hiaasen's Native Tongue

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a major case involving environmental protection in Florida, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. I'll leave it to the Tampa Bay Times article "Environmental protection at stake in high court case" to break down what's at stake:
...The case asks whether it is constitutional for an environmental permit to require that the owner restore wetlands on land miles away to mitigate the damage of his project. If the court rules for the landowner, Florida could be hamstrung in its wetland mitigation efforts and in its attempts to get developers to pay for the public impact of their development. 
The case began in 1994 when Coy Koontz Sr., who died in 2000 (the case has been carried on by his son), sought a permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District to develop 3.7 acres of his land near Orlando. Koontz's project called for dredging 3.25 acres of wetlands. To secure a permit, Koontz agreed to give the district a conservation easement on 11.5 acres. But water management officials told Koontz he would have to pay to restore wetlands on other district property miles away as well, or he would have to reduce his development plans to 1 acre. Koontz rejected these conditions, and the permit was denied. 
Koontz sued, claiming the permit rejection constituted a taking of his property by the government without just compensation in violation of the federal and state constitutions. He said he shouldn't be forced to pay for environmental repairs that have little relationship to his property or project. He won before a trial judge... But that victory was reversed by the Florida Supreme Court... 
The high stakes are evident. Conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court could use this case to curb the power of government, expand property rights and weaken environmental regulations. That's why more than a dozen amicus or "friend of the court" briefs have been filed. The Obama administration and 19 states (not including Florida) are supporting the water management district.
For a novel about the conflict between developers and environmental protection in Florida, try Carl Hiaasen's Native Tongue:
Imagine you're driving a rented Chrysler LeBaron convertible to the perfect family vacation at the Amazing Kingdom of Thrills when a rat is tossed into your car by a passing pickup. The rodent in question is not a rat, but a rare blue-tongued mango vole just liberated from the Kingdom by the militant Wildlife Rescue Corps. Welcome to the world of Native Tongue , where dedicated (if somewhat demented) environmentalists battle sleazy real estate developers in the Florida Keys.

Inflated Legal Bills & Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer

From yesterday's New York Times article "Suit Offers a Peek at the Practice of Inflating a Legal Bill:"
They were lawyers at the world’s largest law firm, trading casual e-mails about a client’s case. One made a sarcastic joke about how the bill was running way over budget. Another responded by describing a colleague’s approach to the assignment as “churn that bill, baby!” The e-mails, which emerged in a court filing late last week, provide a window into the thorny issue of law firm billing. The documents are likely to reinforce a perception held by many corporate clients — and the broader public — that law firms inflate bills by performing superfluous tasks and overstaffing assignments. 
The internal correspondence of the law firm, DLA Piper, was disclosed in a fee dispute between the law firm and Adam H. Victor, an energy industry entrepreneur. After DLA Piper sued Mr. Victor for $675,000 in unpaid legal bills, Mr. Victor filed a counterclaim, accusing the law firm of a “sweeping practice of overbilling.” 
Mr. Victor’s feud with DLA Piper began after he retained the firm in April 2010 to prepare a bankruptcy filing for one of his companies. A month after the filing, a lawyer at the firm warned colleagues that the entrepreneur’s bill was mounting. “I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a partner at the firm. Another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, replied, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter. “Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.”
I don't mean to be unfair to lawyers (I'm sure lots of professions overcharge), but this story was too good to pass up. For a novel to match this, I think satire would be best. It's hard to imagine To Kill a Mockingbird or A Time to Kill focusing much on billable hours. So my recommendation is Jeremy Blachman's hilarious Anonymous Lawyer, "A wickedly funny debut novel about a high-powered lawyer whose shockingly candid blog about life inside his firm threatens to destroy him." I love how it opens:
I see you. I see you walking by my office, trying to look like you have a reason to be there. But you don't. I see the guilty look on your face. You try not to make eye contact. You try to rush past me as if you're going to the bathroom. But the bathroom is at the other end of the hall. You think I'm naïve, but I know what you're doing. Everyone knows. But she's my secretary, not yours, and her candy belongs to me, not you. And if I have a say in whether or not you ever become a partner at this firm--and trust me, I do--I'm not going to forget this. My secretary. My candy. Go back to your office and finish reading the addendum to the lease agreement. I don't want to see you in the hall for at least another sixteen hours. AND STOP STEALING MY CANDY.

Tiger Woods' Comeback & Pressfield's The Legend of Bagger Vance

From yesterday's BBC article "Tiger Woods back as world number one after Bay Hill win:"
Tiger Woods returned to the top of the world rankings for the first time since October 2010 after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by two strokes. The 37-year-old...first became world number one in June 1997 following his maiden major victory at the Masters, aged 22. He topped the rankings for 264 weeks from August 1999 to September 2004 and 281 weeks from June 2005 to October 2010. But a five-month lay-off in late 2009 after an infamous scandal in his private life, a string of injuries, including four knee operations and an Achilles problem, and problems getting to grips with a new swing all contributed to his fall down the rankings.
Want a good golf novel? Try The Legend of Bagger Vance by Steven Pressfield:
In the Depression year of 1931, on the golf links at Krewe Island off Savannah's windswept shore, two legends of the game, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, meet for a mesmerizing thirty-six-hole showdown. Another golfer will also compete -- a troubled local war hero, once a champion, who comes with his mentor and caddie, the mysterious Bagger Vance. And he alone can show his protege the way back to glory.
The following two golf novels can be safely avoided:
  • Missing Links by Rick Reilly: too many cheap gags, not enough substance. 
  • Miracle on the 17th Green by James Patterson: reads like a cross between a Hallmark card and a story told by Grandpa Simpson. Excerpt:
Our kids, to use one of Noah's current favorite words, are "the bomb." That's good, by the way. They are also sensitive, caring, beautiful, and brilliant."

Deforestation, the Amazon, & Patchett's State of Wonder

From yesterday's "Brazil supermarkets 'to avoid Amazon meat:'"
The main group representing supermarkets in Brazil says it will no longer sell meat from cattle raised in the rainforest. The Brazilian Association of Supermarkets, which has 2,800 members, hopes the deal will cut down on the illegal use of rainforest for pasture. Deforestation in the Amazon has slowed over the past years but invasion of public land continues to be a problem. Huge swathes have been turned into land for pasture and soy plantations. 
For a novel set in the Amazon, try State of Wonder by Ann Patchett:
As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.

College Baseball & Harbach's The Art of Fielding

Thus far in Division I baseball, University of South Carolina looks like they may well go to the College World Series for the fourth year in a row.

In more controversial news, University of Southern California's team -- which has won the College World Series a record twelve times -- lost their coach last month. Here's the LA Times article "USC fires baseball coach Frank Cruz, citing NCAA rules violations:"
USC fired baseball coach Frank Cruz for knowingly violating NCAA rules that limit the number of hours athletes can spend in activities directed or supervised by the coaching staff, Athletic Director Pat Haden said... According to NCAA bylaws, athletes are limited to four hours per day and 20 hours per week of countable athletically related activities during their seasons. In the off-season, they are limited to eight hours per week with not more than two hours per week spent on skill-related workouts. 
Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine played on our university's Division I baseball team and regularly had to attend "voluntary" workouts that exceeded the NCAA's limitations. I didn't realize the NCAA had begun cracking down on that type of thing.

Anyway: for a novel about college baseball, try Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding:
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended. Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’ best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life. As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets.

Emory Racism Controversy Part II & Roth's The Human Stain

I previously posted about Emory University President James Wagner's three-fifths compromise statement, and I can't believe that in my haste to post about one of my favorite novels (Russo's university-infighting satire Straight Man), I forgot to mention a novel seemingly tailor-made for the Wagner story.

First, let's revisit the Wagner story. Here are the exact words from his column in Emory magazine:
One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together. 
Some might suggest that the constitutional compromise reached for the lowest common denominator—for the barest minimum value on which both sides could agree. I rather think something different happened. Both sides found a way to temper ideology and continue working toward the highest aspiration they both shared—the aspiration to form a more perfect union. They set their sights higher, not lower, in order to identify their common goal and keep moving toward it.
A part of me is hesitant to make the following book recommendation because in the novel I'm about to mention, unlike in real life, we can definitively know that the academic who "misspoke" is not racist.  Also, in the novel the academic's comments are "willfully misconstrued," which certainly isn't the case with all criticisms of Wagner's words.  Oh well:  few pairings of novels and headlines are in all ways perfect.  For a novel about a somewhat similar situation, try The Human Stain by Philip Roth:
Roth's hero, Coleman Silk...has been driven from his position as Dean of Faculty at a small New England liberal-arts school called Athena College because of a remark willfully misconstrued as racist. Coleman, a professor of classics, wonders why he has never seen two of his students in class. "Do they exist or are they spooks?" he asks his class. The absentees are, of course, black, and a decorous mob of the politically correct immediately launches itself at Coleman's throat, despite his honest protests that he had used the word only in its primary signification, as a synonym for "ghosts"...

Neo-Nazis in Europe & Mankell's The Return of the Dancing Master

Now that I've covered one of the most popular US crime novels, it's time for some Nazi-busting detectives from Europe!

But first, the news.  Here's last week's BBC article "Greek footballer Giorgos Katidis banned for Nazi salute:"
A Greek footballer has been banned for life from playing for the national team after making a Nazi salute. AEK Athens midfielder Giorgos Katidis, 20, made the gesture to celebrate his winning goal during a Saturday match. The Greek football federation called it "a severe provocation" that insulted "all the victims of Nazi bestiality". Katidis denied he gave a Nazi salute. "I am not a fascist and would not have done it if I had known what it meant," Katidis said on his Twitter account.
I think he originally claimed that he was "pointing at a friend in the stands," which is ridiculous because it certainly looked like a Nazi salute.

Want to read a novel about neo-Nazism in Europe? While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo features neo-Nazis, a Swedish novel that focuses more closely on them is The Return of the Dancing Master by Henning Mankell:
When retired policeman Herbert Molin is found brutally slaughtered on his remote farm in the northern forests of Sweden, police find strange tracks in the snow — as if someone had been practicing the tango. Stefan Lindman, a young police officer recently diagnosed with mouth cancer, decides to investigate the murder of his former colleague, but is soon enmeshed in a mystifying case with no witnesses and no apparent motives. Terrified of the disease that could take his life, Lindman becomes more and more reckless as he unearths the chilling links between Molin’s death and an underground neo-Nazi network that runs further and deeper than he could ever have imagined.

Alcoholism & Leary's The Good House

It seems that Las Vegas literature doesn't always focus on the feel-good aspects of the city: a post from earlier today discussed one novel about copious use of drugs and another about teen prostitution, and now it's time to talk about alcoholism in Glitter Gulch literature.

First off, the news. Here's last week's Huffington Post article "Alcoholism Rates Could Plummet With Higher College Enrollment, Penn State Researchers Find:"
The dark joke says that alcoholism only starts after college, but new research suggests that those who don’t enroll at all have a higher risk of developing a drinking problem. Despite all the binge day-drinking, beer funnels and massive parties, researchers from Pennsylvania State University -- a school that does its share of all of the above -- found that survey participants who attended college eventually developed a more responsible relationship with alcohol. The effect was heightened among students from low-income backgrounds, and the opposite was also true -- adults who did not enroll were six times more likely to develop a drinking problem by age 33. 
For a novel about alcoholism, you might like Ann Leary's recently released The Good House:
Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of an historic community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone... Hildy is good at lots of things. A successful real-estate broker, mother and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, staged an intervention and sent her off to rehab. Now she’s in recovery—more or less.  
Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy needs a friend. She finds one in Rebecca McCallister, a beautiful young mother and one of the town’s wealthy newcomers... When Frank Getchell, an eccentric local who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to cover her own tracks and protect her reputation. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.
I was not a fan of Leaving Las Vegas by John O'Brien.  Why not?  Well, here's Leary's opening:
I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions.
That intrigues me:  I want to know more.  And it's clearly presented.

In contrast, here's a passage from O'Brien's novel describing his prostitute protagonist:
And she is a good thing, good at this thing.  Paying for and using her, there are always men available.  The tricks turn to her, for she glistens with the appealing inaccessibility of the always introspective.
Sentence one: cheap wordplay, playing cheaply with words.  Sentence two:  there's no noun for the verbs to refer to.  Maybe it's just me, but I think something like the following would sound better: "Paying for and using her, the men are always available."  Sentence three:  this part isn't too bad, but it still sounds a little cheesy, cliched, and overworked.  If you're still interested, here's a summary of the novel:
Leaving Las Vegas, the first novel by John O'Brien, is a disturbing and emotionally wrenching story of a woman who embraces life and a man who rejects it, a powerful tale of hard luck and hard drinking and a relationship of tenderness and destruction. An avowed alcoholic, Ben drinks away his family, friends, and, finally, his job. With deliberate resolve, he burns the remnants of his life and heads for Las Vegas to end it all in the last great binge of his hopeless life. 
On the Strip, he picks up Sera, a prostitute, in what might have become another excess in his self-destructive jag. Instead, their chance meeting becomes a respite on the road to oblivion as they form a bond that is as mysterious as it is immutable. Leaving Las Vegas tells a powerful story of unconditional love between two disenfranchised souls who connect for a fleeting moment.

North Dakota's Tribes & Erdrich's The Round House

We've covered conflicts over mining, so let's see what's new in the world of oil drilling.

Here's last month's Salon article "Land grab cheats North Dakota tribes out of $1 billion, suits allege:"
Native Americans on an oil-rich North Dakota reservation have been cheated out of more than $1 billion by schemes to buy drilling rights for lowball prices, a flurry of recent lawsuits assert. And, the suits claim, the federal government facilitated the alleged swindle by failing in its legal obligation to ensure the tribes got a fair deal... 
Since the late 1800s, the U.S. government has appropriated much of the original tribal lands associated with the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota for railroads and white homesteaders. A devastating blow was delivered when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1953, flooding more than 150,000 acres at the heart of the remaining reservation. Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara — were forced out of the fertile valley and up into the arid and barren surrounding hills, where they live now. 
But that last-resort land turns out to hold a wealth of oil, because it sits on the Bakken Shale, widely believed to be one of the world’s largest deposits of crude. Until recently, that oil was difficult to extract, but hydraulic fracturing, combined with the ability to drill a well sideways underground, can tap it. The result, according to several senior tribal members and lawsuits filed last November and early this year in federal and state courts, has been a land grab involving everyone from tribal leaders accused of enriching themselves at the expense of their people, to oil speculators, to a New York hedge fund, to the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. 
(Note:  this article was originally posted at ProPublica.)
What's life like for a North Dakota Native American? To put yourself in their shoes for a few hundred pages, try Louise Erdrich's National-Book-Award winning novel The Round House:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe's life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. 
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own.

Bond Traders & Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities

Our focus on New Journalism authors continues here at Newsworthy Novels.  Now that we've covered Hunter S. Thompson, let's move on to Tom Wolfe.

But first, the news.  From the March 13th Wall Street Journal article "Bond Trading Revives Banks:"
One of Wall Street's most important profit engines is revving back up. Rising appetites for borrowing and investing are fueling a bond market revival, lifting revenue at Wall Street firms that took a beating last year. 
For the first time in a year, traders and bankers are optimistic about the future following a dark second half of 2011. Layoffs, pay cuts and public outrage against the financial industry undermined morale at banks and securities firms, while economic malaise throttled banking and trading businesses.
Perhaps fiction's most famous bond trader is Sherman McCoy, from Tom Wolfe's classic novel The Bonfire of the Vanities:
On a clandestine date with his mistress one night, top Wall Street investment banker and snobbish WASP Sherman McCoy misses his turn on the thruway and gets lost in the South Bronx; his Mercedes hits and seriously injures a young black man. The incident is inflated by a manipulative black leader, a district attorney seeking reelection and a sleazy tabloid reporter into a full-blown scandal...
If you prefer non-fiction, you might like Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis:
In this shrewd and wickedly funny book, Michael Lewis describes an astonishing era and his own rake's progress through a powerful investment bank. From an unlikely beginning (art history at Princeton?) he rose in two short years from Salomon Brothers trainee to Geek (the lowest form of life on the trading floor) to Big Swinging Dick, the most dangerous beast in the jungle, a bond salesman who could turn over millions of dollars' worth of doubtful bonds with just one call. With the eye and ear of a born storyteller, Michael Lewis shows us how things really worked on Wall Street. 

Las Vegas' Fall/Rise & Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Just like Detroit, Vegas was hit hard by the recession and is looking for urban renewal.

From Sunday's Guardian article "Downtown Las Vegas may have found what it's looking for:"
[B]roken pavements, empty lots, boarded-up facades. This urban wasteland is the real downtown Las Vegas, the product of decades of dysfunction and neglect, home to poverty, unemployment and foreclosures, a dystopian hangover to the strip's excesses in a town hit harder than most by the recession. Ocean's Eleven feels far away. 
Yet it is here an enigmatic tycoon is spending $350m (£230m) in a unique experiment at urban regeneration and, as he puts it, human happiness. Tony Hsieh (pronounced Shay) is luring poets, artists, inventors, investors, geeks, a motley band of British entrepreneurs and 1,500 ferociously cheerful employees known as Zapponians into an attempt to turn downtown Las Vegas into a hub of culture and innovation. 
Hsieh, 39, a Silicon Valley wunderkind with a Midas touch, has become an improbable aristocrat of Sin City. In the past year he has bought swathes of real estate, including the former city hall, as part of an ambitious plan to jumble together business, arts and architecture in a way that fosters "serendipity", connections between people that fuel creativity and fulfilment... 
He has been inspired by Edward Glaeser's book Triumph of the City (subtitle: how our greatest invention makes us richer, smarter, greener, healthier and happier) and its idea of cafes, parks or squares anchoring communities.

What is the "Great Las Vegas novel?"  I think the leading contender has to be Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (which, along with The The White Tiger and Straight Man, is one of my top twenty favorite novels of all time).  I don't know if it'll teach you much about Vegas, but you'll be enjoying yourself too much to notice:
Under the pseudonym of Raoul Duke, Thompson travels with his Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, in a souped-up convertible dubbed the "Great Red Shark."... On assignment from a sports magazine to cover "the fabulous Mint 400"--a free-for-all biker's race in the heart of the Nevada desert--the drug-a-delic duo stumbles through Vegas in hallucinatory hopes of finding the American dream... They never get the story, but they do commit the only sins in Vegas: "burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help." 

A half-decent effort that I would avoid is The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss Jr:
After attending college in New York, Chase returns to Vegas and is drawn into the lucrative but dangerous world of a teenage call-girl service with his childhood friend Michele, a beautiful Salvadoran immigrant with whom he shares a tragic past. Over the course of one extraordinary summer they will confront the violence and emptiness at the heart of the city...
To give you an idea of what I don't like about McGinniss' writing, here's a brief excerpt:
Chase was scared and asked how much money Mom owed (but to whom? and why?) and Carly said she thought it was like maybe two hundred thousand dollars but Carly was only eleven that summer and not very good with numbers so it could have been much less.
Why are you writing run-on sentences and perhaps you are trying to maybe like use the kid's stream of consciousness but that can't be it because I doubt that character would use whom in an inner monologue and I think the war on commas needs to stop.

WaPo's Iraq Coverage Controversy & Rachman's The Imperfectionists

I've previously posted about war journalism inside Iraq. How was the war reporting from back home?

Here's yesterday's Guardian article "Washington Post accused of censorship:"
The Washington Post has been accused by a journalist of spiking a piece he was commissioned to write about the US media's failures in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. 
Greg Mitchell, a veteran journalist and author, claims his assigned piece for the Post was killed and replaced by an article that defended the media's coverage. Headlined "On Iraq, journalists didn't fail. They just didn't succeed", it was written by Paul Farhi. If Mitchell is right, then the Post is guilty of censorship because his own submission attacked the media coverage. That should not have been too surprising to the Post's editors given that Mitchell's latest book, So Wrong for So Long, is a detailed critique of the failures of US press, including the Washington Post, over Iraq.

For a novel about 21st century journalism and the controversies within newspaper offices, try The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman:
Tom Rachman’s wry, vibrant debut follows the topsy-turvy private lives of the reporters, editors, and executives of an international English language newspaper as they struggle to keep it — and themselves — afloat. Fifty years and many changes have ensued since the paper was founded by an enigmatic millionaire, and now, amid the stained carpeting and dingy office furniture, the staff’s personal dramas seem far more important than the daily headlines. 

Here's an excerpt I really liked; I think Rachman makes it sound very authentic:
He feeds in a fresh sheet and starts anew, writing the piece as it ought to have been: full quotations, dates, troop numbers, disputes within the cabinet, transatlantic hostilities. He knows his craft -- all is couched in terms of possibilities, proposals, balloons floated. All the fabricated sources are "on condition of anonymity," or "officials close to," or "experts familiar with." No one is cited by name. Fourteen hundred words. He calculates how much that will earn him. Enough to pay the rent -- a reprieve. Enough to buy Jerome a decent shirt. To take Eileen out for drinks. 
He reads the article, using a red pen to slice away what might be contested. This shortens the text, so he concocts a couple of repetitive quotes from "an administration official in Washington."

If you'd prefer a non-fiction classic that reads like a novel (and which brings us full circle, back to The Washington Post), try All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward:
Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing with headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward kept the tale of conspiracy and the trail of dirty tricks coming -- delivering the stunning revelations and pieces in the Watergate puzzle that brought about Nixon's scandalous downfall. Their explosive reports won a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post and toppled the President. This is the book that changed America.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Medical School & Shem's House of God

I've previously posted about the difficulties of caregiving.  How about the difficulties of being a doctor -- or even just training to be one?

From today's Boston Globe article "Empathy gap in medical students:"
Flint Wang was eager to start his third year of medical school, when he would finally break free of the classroom and treat patients. But once in the hospital, Wang, like many classmates, felt insecure and discouraged. Doctors don’t hesitate to point out students’ knowledge gaps. And neither do some patients. Medical training can be so stressful that it is sometimes difficult to connect with those being treated. “Your knowledge is shaky and you walk around the wards frazzled,’’ said Wang, 25, who nonetheless is glad he decided to become a doctor. 
The third year of medical school can be particularly bruising. But growing research suggests that something about this formative but punishing experience may harden students toward patients — a transformation that could persist years down the road. At Boston University School of Medicine, where Wang is now in his fourth year, Dr. Daniel Chen has found in studies that students’ empathy scores fell between the time they started medical school and the time they graduated. The most significant drop occurred in the third year, just as students started caring for their first patients.
For a novel about medical school, try The House of God by Samuel Shem:
The hilarious novel of the healing arts that reveals everything your doctor never wanted you to know. Six eager interns -- they saw themselves as modern saviors-to-be. They came from the top of their medical school class to the bottom of the hospital staff to serve a year in the time-honored tradition, racing to answer the flash of on-duty call lights and nubile nurses. But only the Fat Man --the Clam, all-knowing resident -- could sustain them in their struggle to survive, to stay sane, to love-and even to be doctors when their harrowing year was done.
And according to the 2009 NYT article "A Book Doctors Can’t Close," the book is still frequently read among the medical community:
It was a raunchy, troubling and hilarious novel that turned into a cult phenomenon devoured by a legion of medical students, interns, residents and doctors. It introduced characters like “Fat Man” — the all-knowing but crude senior resident — and medical slang like Gomer, for Get Out of My Emergency Room. Called “The House of God,” the book was drawn from real life, and 30 years after its initial publication, it is still part of the medical conversation. Written by a psychiatrist, Stephen Bergman, under the pseudonym Samuel Shem, M.D., the novel is based on his grueling, often dehumanizing experiences as an intern at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Hospital in 1974... 
What makes “The House of God” singularly compelling is its brutally honest portrayal of the absurd tragedies and occasional triumphs of hospital life; the once-common abuse of young physicians by their superiors; and the anger and frustration these interns directed at themselves and patients. The novel introduced many derogatory terms to the medical culture. Gomer referred to the elderly, chronically ill patients no intern wants to deal with. The shorthand LOL in NAD (Little Old Lady in No Apparent Distress), was for patients needlessly admitted by their private physicians for expensive work-ups...

Myanmar Unrest & Connelly's The Lizard Cage

I've posted about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, but haven't written much about what's going on in Myanmar.  Unfortunately, things seem to be taking a turn for the worse.

From yesterday's New York Times article "Myanmar’s Ethnic Minorities Grow Pessimistic About Peace:"
Ethnic conflicts have been described as Myanmar’s original sin, a legacy of hatred and mistrust that fueled more than six decades of intermittent civil war. But the ferocity of deadly rioting between Buddhists and Muslims last week has further underlined how ethnic and religious fissures in Myanmar pose serious impediments to democratic change in the country... Over the weekend, army units restored order to the streets of Meiktila, the city in central Myanmar where a three-day rampage through Muslim neighborhoods by Buddhist mobs left 32 people dead, according to a government tally that many witnesses say is an underestimate.
Myanmar was also in the news earlier this month due to protests against Aung San Suu Kyi. Here's the NYT article "Burmese Laureate Heckled Over Backing Copper Mine:"
Hundreds of angry farmers heckled and walked out on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese politician and Nobel laureate, during a visit on Thursday to villages in central Myanmar that might be displaced by a copper mine. The hostile reception, a stark contrast to the adoring crowds that greeted her after her release from house arrest more than two years ago, underscores the rockiness of her transition from international symbol to elected official.
To learn more about Myanmar (aka Burma) and its conflicts, read The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly:
Teza once electrified the people of Burma with his protest songs against the dictatorship. Arrested by the Burmese secret police in the days of mass protest, he is seven years into a twenty-year sentence in solitary confinement. Cut off from his family and contact with other prisoners, he applies his acute intelligence, Buddhist patience, and humor to find meaning in the interminable days, and searches for news in every being and object that is grudgingly allowed into his cell. Despite his isolation, Teza has a profound influence on the people around him. His very existence challenges the brutal authority of the jailers, and his steadfast spirit inspires radical change.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Musharraf's Return & Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes

From today's BBC story "Musharraf returns to Pakistan despite threats:"
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has arrived back in Pakistan, ending four years of self-imposed exile and defying death threats. A protection detail of heavily armed commandos met him after his plane from Dubai touched down in Karachi airport. A mass rally in the city was cancelled. General Musharraf plans to lead his party in the May general election...  He faces a string of charges including conspiracy to murder, but on Friday the Pakistani authorities granted him protective bail in several outstanding cases, freeing him from immediate arrest once he sets foot in Pakistan. One of the charges is that he failed to provide adequate security for opposition leader Benazir Bhutto after she returned from exile in 2007. Two deadly explosions, in which nearly 140 people died, greeted her arrival in Karachi on 19 October. She was killed that December at a rally in Rawalpindi.
For a satirical novel about Pakistaini politics (and assassinations), try A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif:
Ali Shigri, Pakistan Air Force pilot and Silent Drill Commander of the Fury Squadron, is on a mission to avenge his father's suspicious death, which the government calls a suicide. Ali's target is none other than General Zia ul-Haq, dictator of Pakistani. Enlisting a rag-tag group of conspirators...Ali sets his elaborate plan in motion. There's only one problem: the line of would-be Zia assassins is longer than he could have possibly known.
If satire isn't really your thing, of if you'd prefer a book more focused on Pakistani society than Pakistani politics, you might like In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin:
Daniyal Mueenuddin's collection of linked stories illuminates a place and a people through an examination of the entwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in the countryside outside of Lahore, Pakistan. An aging feudal landlord's household staff, the villagers who depend on his favor, and a network of relations near and far who have sought their fortune in the cities confront the advantages and constraints of station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Mueenuddin bares - at times humorously, at times tragically - the complexities of Pakistani class and culture and presents a vivid picture of a time and a place, of the old powers and the new, as the Pakistani feudal order is undermined and transformed.

Manned Trips to Mars & Robinson's Red Mars

Talk about colonizing the moon is so 20th century.   On to Mars!

From this week's Guardian editorial "Mars or bust: a private mission to the red planet can take risks Nasa can't:"
When I first heard of the proposal, from the Inspiration Mars Foundation, that a human crew might fly to Mars in 2018 it sounded simply ridiculous. But I've begun to think differently. The team – led by millionaire and former space tourist Dennis Tito – has pedigree in the field of human space flight... How could it be done? First you have to thin out the crew – literally. Canonical mission designs propose crews of four to six astronauts. Tito et al would send only two. And the life support and nutrition requirements are based on the base metabolic demands of this pair of intrepid but slender 70kg astronauts. Next, pare back the mission objectives. This is about flags and footprints rather than science. In fact, forget the footprints – no astronaut boots will touch the surface of Mars. Instead the capsule will coast by the red planet, getting to within a few thousand kilometres of its surface before being flung back to Earth, driven by the force of gravity. This so-called "free return" to Mars means the mission can be achieved with maximum efficiency and minimum energy expenditure.
The original Guardian article came out last month, "Mars mission plan launched by US millionaire space tourist Dennis Tito:"
A US millionaire who became the first private space tourist has unveiled ambitious plans to send a man and woman – probably a married couple – on a round trip to Mars when planetary alignment allows in 2018. Dennis Tito, 72, a former rocket scientist who made his fortune through investments, said his Mission for America aims to spur a new era of space exploration. Tito, who became the first private space tourist when he paid the Russians $20m (£13m) for a ticket to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001, outlined his plans in Washington DC on Wednesday. He is not intending to fly himself. Speculation over the details of the risky voyage has spread through the space community in recent weeks after the Inspiration Mars Foundation, a non-profit organisation formed by Tito, hinted at a Mars mission. The trip will take advantage of the alignment of heavenly bodies in January 2018 to fly around Mars and return to Earth in the relatively short time of 501 days.
Want a novel about human flight to (and colonization of) Mars? Try Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson:
For eons, sandstorms have swept the barren desolate landscape of the red planet. For centuries, Mars has beckoned to mankind to come and conquer its hostile climate. Now, in the year 2026, a group of one hundred colonists is about to fulfill that destiny. John Boone, Maya Toitavna, Frank Chalmers, and Arkady Bogdanov lead a mission whose ultimate goal is the terraforming of Mars. For some, Mars will become a passion driving them to daring acts of courage and madness; for others it offers and opportunity to strip the planet of its riches. And for the genetic "alchemists, " Mars presents a chance to create a biomedical miracle, a breakthrough that could change all we know about life...and death. The colonists place giant satellite mirrors in Martian orbit to reflect light to the planets surface. Black dust sprinkled on the polar caps will capture warmth and melt the ice. And massive tunnels, kilometers in depth, will be drilled into the Martian mantle to create stupendous vents of hot gases. Against this backdrop of epic upheaval, rivalries, loves, and friendships will form and fall to pieces--for there are those who will fight to the death to prevent Mars from ever being changed.

University Scandals & Tartt's The Secret History

So this one's a bit of a stretch, but it involves a great article and an even better book, so I'm okay with that.

I've previously posted about shenanigans on university faculty boards.  Now here are some shenanigans by the students themselves.  Here's this week's Guardian article "Harvard sees NCAA basketball win overshadowed by quiz team scandal:"
Academic disgrace and sporting glory are unfamiliar terms at Harvard. But on Friday, the university found itself experiencing both. Just as the Crimson were celebrating a surprise victory over New Mexico in the NCAA basketball tournament, news came that the school had been stripped of four national quiz tournament titles. National Academic Quiz Tournaments (NAQT) announced that a member of Harvard's quiz bowl team, which competes in intercollegiate trivia competition, had improperly accessed questions used in its tournaments from 2009 to 2011. The Harvard student, Andrew Watkins, had access to the NAQT administrative website as a writer of questions to be used in primary, middle and high school competitions. He is alleged to have seen the first 40 characters of questions presented to Harvard in tournaments they won several years in a row.
Want a novel about university lies, secrets, cover-ups, and immorality? How about -- stay with me on this one -- Donna Tartt's The Secret History:
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

Foreign Aid Debate & Caputo's Acts of Faith

From last month's Voice of America article "Dependence on Foreign Aid Undermining Cambodia, Analyst Says:"
Too much foreign aid is used in Cambodia as a substitute for tax revenue, making it hard for people to hold their government accountable, a US-based analyst says. Ear Sophal, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia,” told VOA Khmer in a recent interview that when people don’t pay taxes, they don’t own their part of the democratic process. “No taxation means no representation,” he said. “In a place like Cambodia, because tax revenues are lower than foreign aid, I am wondering: who is answering to whom? Normally in a country, taxes would be collected, people would then say to their government leaders, ‘We pay taxes for services; we expect services.’ And as a result, leaders would have an accountability link between people and their government. Democracy would work.” This relationship is weakened in Cambodia by foreign aid, he said.
There have been a number of editorials on this issue in the past few years, largely focused on sub-Saharan Africa. For example, here is an excerpt from the 2009 Wall Street Journal article "Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa:"
Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time -- millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year. Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It's increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.
For a novel about this issue, I suggest Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo:
Caputo's ambitious adventure novel, set against a backdrop of the Sudanese wars, makes for a dense, riveting update on Graham Greene's The Quiet American. The American in this case is Douglas Braithwaite, a "mercenary with a conscience" who founds Knight Air, a charter airline that conveys relief supplies from NGOs to war-torn southern Sudan. Braithwaite launches his service by flying aid to the Nuba, a region in the northern Sudanese sphere of influence that is a no-go zone for U.N.-sponsored airlines. He hires Fitzhugh Martin, a former soccer star and mixed-race Kenyan from the Seychelles Islands, as his operations manager, and soon teams up with Texan bush pilot Wes Dare as well as a shady Somali financier. From Fitzhugh's perspective, we see corruption ensue from Douglas's decision to expand his air service—crushing his competitor, Tara Whitcomb, in the process—and to smuggle arms to Michael Goraende, the Nuban militia head. Douglas's support for the Nuban commander also brings Quinette Hardin, a Christian aid worker from Iowa who marries Goreande, into Knight Air's orbit. Caputo presents a sharply observed, sweeping portrait, capturing the incestuous world of the aid groups, Sudan's multiethnic mix and the decayed milieu of Kenyan society.