Saturday, March 01, 2008
Richard Bach, Johnathan Livingston Seagull
Look at the seagull pictured above. Look into his eyes. Isn't he nice? He is a nice seagull. The other seagulls do not understand him. They do not try to understand him. Yet he loves them nonetheless.
There you go, no need to read it now. Thank god this only took half an hour to read. For some reason this book appeals (once appealed?) to many, many people. I'd not read it before, but have long been aware of its reputation (although it has always been in association with Neil Diamond). I was after a quick read to break up my Richard Ford trilogy, so finally got around to reading it.
I honestly can't say that I regret doing so, even if I find the writing simplistic to the point of irritation, the narrative trite and self-satisfied, and the subject matter overwhelmingly banal.
By god the late-1960s counterculture must have taken a turn for the worse if millions embraced this in the 1970s. Honestly, if anyone is looking for the embodiment of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism, here you go.
In a perverse sort of way though, I’d recommend people have a look, if only in the same way as you’d have a peek in a train wreck if you happened to pass by.
Apparently, an interchange steward reported comments made by Roos late in the game played in Launceston. The Herald Sun reports that the steward told league officials that Roos used words to the effect of: "Go forward, just don't kick a goal."
Now we know that ‘Snooze’ Roos doesn’t care too much about the pre-season comp (no wins in six years), but to actually have evidence that they played dead is pretty explosive. Remember, this is on top of a six year stint as coach with what appears to be the central goals of (in order of importance) first, annoying me and second, destroying football from within by employing a dull, negative and unwatchable game plan.
The game is considered a ‘live’ one, with hefty admission fees charged and betting allowed. At the very least, Snooze owes an explanation to all of the Swans fans who travelled and parted their hard earned to see what must surely be the most boring team in the history of the game not make a proper effort to win. Some might say they asked for it, but not I.
If the allegation stands, how the AFL can do anything other than severely sanction the Swans is beyond me. It is one thing to have named a reserves outfit, have your best players on the bench, or even take an inordinate amount of time with interchanges, but to actually take the next step and order players not to score so as not to win, well that is a whole other matter.
I know nothing at all about horse racing, but aren’t there rules about not trying? In other sports, allegations like this have attracted life bans. Whatever happens, yet again Snooze has damaged the game with his dour and mean-spirited approach.
Henry is so upset about this, and this morning was calling for Roos’s head, and at the very least the docking of 20 points for the Swans in the upcoming season. Harsh, I feel, but perhaps fair.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The non-profit, non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) is an excellent resource on the use (and abuse) of science and statistics in the media. An affiliate of George Mason University in Virginia, STATS sets about identifying and correcting scientific misinformation in the media resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge; and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies.
Their website canvases a wide variety of issues. Some of their discussions that interests me most include What Science Really Says About the Benefits of Breast-Feeding; The Risks of Television; the links between autism and vaccines; and an excellent and balanced exploration of the much commented upon Lancet study into deaths in Iraq, The Science of Counting the Dead.
Now if it sounds like a promotional blog here, it sort of is. I'm pilfering something I've written for work-related purposes promoting the site, but I've done it only because I actually believe that STATS is a really good resource that should aid anyone interest in, or thinking about, research, evidence, policy and the deliberation that should inform the public policy process. As the bloke in the hat used to say every Sunday evening, do yourself a favour and check it out.
For all of you empire builders out there, Joshua Keating's guide "How to Start Your Own Country in Four Easy Steps" is now available from Foreign Policy magazine.
A lot of people have been emboldened by Kosovo's recent declaration of independence, and you may have been thinking that you've left it too damn long, and that it's about time you set up your own country. Keating outlines this in just four easy steps. Well worth a read.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Apparently, his aim isn't too poor; he's just not too very adept at turning the spoon around.
I'll quickly whip through a few here.
Vendela Vida, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name
The story is interesting enough, but an annoying central character and clumsy dialogue spoil it for mine. Avoid.
W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
I really expected to enjoy this more than I did. A remarkable main character, fascinating story and it covers a topic that interests me greatly. Yet it left me cold. Maybe it is Sebald's narrative approach, but I just found it a bit of a grind. Not for the faint hearted!
Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
I've not read a lot of Dick as sci-fi has never really been my thing. However, I do have some time for alternate history, especially if it is well done. Dick does a convincing enough job envisioning a world in which the Axis powers emerged victorious in the Second World War, and delivers a decent little page-turner to boot. Recommended.
Peter Roebuck, It Takes All Sorts
I've both bagged and praised Roebuck previously in this blog, and generally rate his work. He has a keen eye for minor detail that stands out amongst cricket writers that I like, and this book is a reasonably interesting examination and rumination on the different types that play cricket across all levels. Recommended for fans of the sport.
Michael Gurr, Days Like These
The recollections as speech writer for Steve Bracks interested, mediations on the theatre less so. Only for the very keen.
Jerzy Kosinski, Being There
Although very slight (finished in under three hours), it remains terribly enjoyable. It's aged quite well (better than the film), and reads as surprisingly contemporary. Highly recommended.
Kathryn Hughes, The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton
History as it should be, both focused in extraordinary detail, yet always in the context of the time, Hughes has pulled off a masterful work. Anyone interested in food or the history of food will find plenty here. Recommended.
Here's what I imagine this fine cock is bellowing (in an Ivan Drago-accent) "Superior Soviet chickens will crush your decadent and puny capitalist fowl!"
An amusing occurrence on the bus this morning that I thought I'd share. The driver had stopped to let some people on, and called out to the passengers "If you look down the river, there is a lovely view of the QE II under the bridge".
Now, she was correct, there was a lovely view of the familiar (and still striking) QE II framed elegantly between the pylons of the Tasman Bridge on a slightly gloomy Wednesday morning. It was well worth the observation and I'm glad that she pointed it out.
However, the entertaining part was the absolute lack of recognition among the school kids that dominate the trip. The driver's remark sparked a frenzied debate about what exactly it was she was talking about. One guy (maybe thirteen) reckoned that it was "something foreign" (perhaps hearing 'keweetoo' and mistaking it for a Finnish football team). Another girl thought that it might be an expensive Italian car. It interests me that they didn't seem to be aware of the meaning of 'QE II', to the point that they eventually concluded that she "must be talking about that little ship over there". I'd wager that most wouldn't know who QE II is, let alone what QE II is. It just didn't seem to mean anything to them at all.
Not that I can blame them I guess, it is a hell of a lot smaller vessel than something like the Sapphire Princess and its ilk who've visited Hobart over the past Summer.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
For the first time ever I have been tagged in one of these internet games of catch 'n kiss. I'm not sure of the etiquette here, do I thank "Tara A. Rowe" of The Political Game, if I do, I'll say thank you Tara from Idaho. I really, really hope that you stumbled across my meagre little blog because I posted something on the wonderful potato a while back! I know that Idahoans must get awfully sick of hearing about potatoes, but as a Tasmanian, I say that we should be proud of the humble spud!
Apparently I am to do five things:
- Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
- Open the book to page 123.
- Find the fifth sentence.
- Post the next three sentences.
- Tag five people.
All right then, to the book!
"He is from a large local family of Sicilian policemen, and he and I have often passed words on street corners or chatted reticently over coffee at the Coffee Spot, though we've actually never "met." I have tried to talk him out of a half-dozen parking tickets (all unsuccessfully), and he once assisted me when I'd locked my keys in my car outside Town Liquors. He has also cited me for three moving violations, come into my house to investigate a burglary years ago when I was married, once stopped me for questioning and patted me down not long after my divorce, when I was given to long midnight rambles on my neighbourhood streets, during which I often admonished myself in a loud, desperate voice."
This snippet is from the terribly good Independence Day, by Richard Ford. This is the second in a trilogy and awfully impressive work. Very Updike (in the best way). I'll get around to posting a review sometime in 2009.
Now for my tags:
- The Coach of the Partisans!;
- The incredibly sexy Jen of the More Stitch'n Than Bitchi'n blog;
- The Brother, and his movie review blog (that he hasn't posted on in ages and let everyone down);
- The Political Umpire, who I know has been tagged in other contexts;
- E.K. Bensah II who contributes to a number of interesting blogs in Ghana.
So if any of you guys actually read this, here you go.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Robert Edwards, White Death: Russia's War on Finland 1939–40
One of the most captivating (yet little known) stories of World War II concerns the valiant Finnish defence against the invading Red Army through the winter of 1939–40. The Soviet Union's invasion of Finland in November 1939 prompted a combination of shock and outrage in the international community. Yet, three months after the invasion of Poland by Germany, reaction amounted to little more than the Soviet expulsion from the already dead League of Nations.
In all respects, the results of what became known as the Winter War conflict seemed a foregone conclusion. The Soviet Army was reputed to be the best in the world, and the Finns outnumbered 4 to 1 in men, 200 to 1 in tanks and 30 to 1 in aircraft. However, to everyone's surprise, the Finns resisted the Soviet advance and became an international cause celebre. For over three months and with little outside assistance (much to the shame of the West), it looked as if they just might achieve the impossible and keep the huge Red Army at bay.
The opening of the Russian archives has allowed Edwards this opportunity to explore the story in a greater depth than historians have previously been afforded, and he offers a new interpretation of this oft misunderstood war. Despite their eventual capitulation – the Moscow Peace Treaty saw Finland cede about 9% of her territory (excluding its population) and 20% of its industrial capacity to the Soviet Union – yet the geopolitical consequences were profound, as Nazi Germany watched the Soviet difficulties from a close distance. This was to have significant influence on Hitler's future direction with regards to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
Edwards reflects on the confidence gained by the Hitler's generals, previously so nervous about intentions to invade Russia that they contemplated a coup d'etat to avoid it, were now convinced they could win. In both Britain and France, the spectacle of the Soviet invasion of a neutral neighbour undermined the confidence of the left (although he wryly notes that the headline of the Daily Worker on the opening day of the invasion was "HEROIC RED ARMY SMASHES MARAUDING FINNS"). The Labour leader Clement Attlee expelled one pro-Soviet MP and cleared the way for a coalition with the Conservatives, in many respects reshaping the entire party in the process.
Yet paradoxically, the Finnish blunders in many respects also helped revive the Red Army. With the results of his earlier purges clearly on show, Stalin promoted outspoken technocrats like Zhukov and accepted reforms that would later enable the Russians to survive the German assault in 1941 and ultimately reverse the defeats.
White Death is itself well researched and written, providing an excellent account of the precursors to the conflict, as well as the conflict itself. Equally strong is the presentation of both the Finnish defence as well as the quandaries faced by an invading force stronger in numbers, yet ill-equipped for the task at hand. Edwards makes obvious the strengths of the typical Soviet soldier, supremely tough and startlingly courageous, but engaged in an ill thought out fight in an unfamiliar and frightening environment. Moreover, thoroughly incompetent leadership (until the promotion of Timoshenko) compounded their misery. Similarly, he demonstrates the flexibility and imagination of the overstretched Finns
The abrupt end at the Treaty of Moscow leaves so many unanswered questions that could easily be reshaped into a new volume on the Finn-Soviet dispute. What of the Karelians forced to leave their homes in light of the treaty? What of the (also little known) 'Continuation War' of 1941–4? Highly recommended to anyone into military history, or indeed the fascinating history of Finland itself.
In a good example of the point that I was trying to make last week, the ABC's Unleashed website (sometimes good, sometimes bloody awful) ran a pretty straightforward piece critical of the Castro regime. The article itself was par for the course; nothing new or surprising, but to be honest it's pretty tame as far as the anti-Castro brigade go.
Yet it's the comments page that strikes me. Seriously, how do people manage to balance their anti-imperialist fury against some of the less savoury aspects of Fidel's rule? Are they wilfully ignorant, or just ignorant? Maybe two wrongs can make a right?
Sunday, February 24, 2008
[May contain some NSFW language]