Monthly Archives: May 2013

Book Review: The Last of the Doughboys

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War

The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World by Richard Rubin is a history of World War I with an interesting feature. He interviewed all the living World War I veterans could find which was quite a limited set of people; all over one hundred years old. The interviews took place in 2003 and since then the last remaining veteran has passed on. In between the interviews Rubin gives the reader a history lesson. Although most readers familiar with World War I will know most of the information, there are a few items that might be new or obscure.

The book opens with France’s Jacques Chirac awarding all the World War I American veterans who served in France the Légion d’honneur in 1998. The French did the research and that research gave Rubin his start in the project. The interviews cover the branches of services and jobs from infantry, artillery, messengers, drivers, and engineers. What is is surprising is the reasons people joined. Reasons from patriotism, adventure, no jobs, and an immigrant who was drafted. Except for being drafted, I remember hearing the same reasons back when I was in Marine Corps boot camp. Somethings do not change. 

France was the major battle field of the war and although not militarily superior to German won the war, with help. French and German animosity has a long history which the United States and England did not share. At times during the war, especially the beginning, German and British troops fraternized. The most most famous incident was the 1914 Christmas truce. British and German troops had an unofficial “Live and let live” policy which included such things as firing over the trenches and not shelling food or supply trucks. 

African American service in the war is covered. The navy had African-Americans serving for the most part because the navy was chronically short of personnel, although most served in the galley. The Marines had no racial integration. The army had separate units. African Americans could not be put in positions over whites so were usually put in separate units and many did not see combat. Army leadership preferred to use black units as work parties. The British declined to take black units, but the French gladly accepted them because the Germans feared the Senegalese soldiers and France figured a black American soldier might be as feared as a Senegalese soldier. 

Other perhaps lesser known realities of the war are covered such as executions, the Sedition Act of 1918, the stupidity of frontal attacks against machine guns, Archangel, and Germany’s concrete trenches and bunkers. France did not build permanent fortifications they believed and wanted to believe they would push the Germans out of France; permanent structures would have been a psychological defeat. Perhaps the most interesting piece of information for me concerns Belleau Woods. In Marine Corps history, this is probably only second in importance to the flag raising in Iwo Jima. It was where the Marines made their stand against the Germans and pushed them back. The French were so impressed with the actions of the Marines, Belleau Wood was renamed the Bois de la Brigade de Marine . American commander General Pershing said of the battle “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.” Rubin writes something that Marine Corps history does not teach, that the army was also present at Belleau Wood. That bit of information was not made public until 1939. 

Rubin presents an excellent history of World War I. It is not a complete history by any means but does something for the last time. It presents a first hand, personal accounts of several veterans that served in that war. That opportunity is now gone forever. World War I is indeed an interesting period and the voices of those who served only add to the effect. There is nothing quite like listening to an old veteran reminisce about his service and hat takes this book beyond being a very good history to being an excellent one.

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Book Review: Food Politics

Food Politics

Food Politics by Robert Paarlberg is exactly what the title says. I thought I knew quite a bit about my food. I am a vegetarian. I read labels. I have seen the documentaries on our food. I am smart enough to know that meat is not neatly created in styrofoam and plastic wrapped packages. I also know that the long list of chemicals on a frozen burrito wrapper are not natural food stuffs. Furthermore, I know that international trade of food is a touchy subject between countries, small family farms are mostly a thing of the past,and feed lots are trouble in the making. Paalberg has much more to add. 

We start with Thomas Malthus who proposed that population growth would outpace food production and result in starvation. Population grows exponentially and compared to linear growth of increased production. Fortunately, technology allowed increased harvests and migration to urban settings slowed population growth. Mankind beat Malthus, at least temporarily. 

Paarlberg presents several cases for the cost of food. These included production, famine, speculation, and protectionism. Politics is intertwined in almost every aspect of our food. From subsidies, to tariffs and outright bans, politics controls food. No politician from Iowa would survive with out supporting a farm bill nor a Texan politician survive without supporting the beef industry. Whether or not these government programs provide any real value to farmers is a matter for debate. When the government tries to act in good faith to protect the environment against Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO or Feed Lots) it is met with heavy resistance from lobbies and threats of limiting campaign donations. Even when something positive like taxing junk food is proposed it is met by resistance from food processors to the convenient store owners. 

What is not pure politics, is in advertising. The food industry manipulates ingredients like fat, sugar, and salt to make irresistible tasting food. This also plays directly to children. The industry spends $2 billion a year advertising food to children. The average American child sees thirteen food advertisements a day. Healthy sounding “Whole Grain” usually means added fat and sugar to make it taste better. School lunches fall to food producers and lobbyists too. Pizza is considered a vegetable because it has tomato sauce. Potato growers fight for French Fries to be included as a healthy vegetable. Other producers fight for the inclusion of soda and junk food to be allowed in schools.

What have food politics gotten us? The Green Revolution provided huge increases in production. The newer battles between agribusiness and sustainability create controversy. Food costs have dropped 50% through the 20th Century and income levels rose 400%. Food is typical 10% of an average American’s budget. With that we also have genetically modified food, heavily processed food, high fructose corn syrup, and unprecedented access to a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. We also have a growing obesity problem, but a pharmaceutical industry keeping us “healthy” despite ourselves.

Paarlberg goes into great detail about many more aspects of our food and the politics surrounding it. He presents very balanced arguments and supports them well. His book, however, is not aFast Food Nation or a Food Inc., or anti-Monsanto/ConAgra/ et al; he presents balance and reason. Food and the politics of food is a timely and important subject as we face increased trade, changes in our farming systems, and vocal groups from anti-GMO to others demanding their right to giant sized sodas in New York City. Food Politcs gave me more information than I thought possible on the subject. It is well written and easy to follow. The only complaint I have is that a more complete bibliography could have been included.

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Book Review: Che on My Mind

Che on My Mind

Che on My Mind by Margret Randall is her account, as a poet, of Che Guevara. She never met Che but did meet members of his family and lived through Che’s time in Mexico and Cuba. A New Yorker by birth she has spend many years outside of the United States. She lived in Mexico from 1969-1980 where she co-edited El Corno Emplumado. She lived in Nicaragua in the early 1980s and also Spain and Cuba. She also visited Vietnam in the last days of US involvement. Randall lost her citizenship while married to a Mexican citizen. Upon returning to the US in 1984 she was ordered to be deported under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. The INS called her writings “against the good order and happiness of the United States.” and that “her writings go beyond mere dissent.” I can see where those ideas may come into play after reading Che on My Mind, but I disagree that that is a valid cause and so did the courts and her citizenship was restored. She says of the book is a poets reminiscence of an era. I would say Che is to her as nature is to a Romance poet.

Che never marketed a product, starred in a movie or TV show, or lead a country, but his image is almost as recognizable as the Coca-Cola logo. Conservative Americans hated him and called him a thug at best. Hipsters wear his face on their t-shirts without any real world idea of who he is. That in itself is something that would have hurt Che; to be remembered as an icon without meaning. “Go a head and shoot, coward, you are only killing a man.” are the supposed last words of Che. Cultural today does something worse than kill the man, it allows Capitalists to make money off of his image selling it to the unknowing masses. Che was a man of meaning. He saw what economic colonization did to Latin America and wanted to stand up for the poor and more importantly justice. He did not lead the privilege socialist life like party favorites, in fact he despised it. Love him or hate him, he was a man of his convictions. 

Margret Randall is a defender of Che. She she covers revolution and religion in a chapter, but she seems to have made Che the patron saint of positive change. Acts of brutality by Che are equaled out by acts of charity, such as lecturing prisoners of war on his goals and letting them go. Che was neither a drinker nor a womanizer. He was critical of soldiers who went to prostitutes, but at the same time not critical, but understanding, of women were selling their bodies for food. The women were victims of the corrupt society. She presents Che, accurately as a man of his convictions. Revolution first, before family, before anything. 

Margret Randall presents her views on violence and change in the book also. She admits she sees violence differently today then she saw it before. There are a few success stories in nonviolence, Gandhi success in freeing India, and  Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez social movements in the Untied States . There more examples where electoral change isn’t possible, like Palestine or where it was ruined by US involvement, like Allende in Chile. Even in countries where dictatorships were overthrown, those that held power still hold on behind the scenes or simply relabel themselves. There is a special place for revolutionary violence because it is done to help people and to serve justice, rather exploit them or gain imperial or territorial power. Violence was necessary for Che.

There is no mistaking the political tone of this book and the author. Which is all the more reason to read it. Che will be polarized by the right and the left and most of what is available on his life seems to be from the right. Che on My Mind is not from the right or even the moderate left. Although factually, I find the information about Che to be correct or at least adequately documented. Her work is well written and reads well as a memorial to someone who lost his life fighting for what he believed in. It is a fitting tribute to the man and his cause.

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Book Review: The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte

My first Charlotte Bronte book and again I wonder how I could have missed this book or ignored this author for so long. Although Anne is still my favorite in the early part of my reading, Charlotte’s The Professor follows the same form of story telling. The major characters are well developed and likable or unlikable as the case maybe. Minor characters are not developed, such as William’s friend Charles.

William is the main character, an Englishman with an education who rejecting going into the clergy to become a trades man. William, an orphan, is raised by close family and we discover he has a very unlikable brother. Persuaded by Hunsden to do something better with his life than be his brother’s clerk, William leaves for Belgium. 

The majority of the story takes places in Belgium and centers around William and his job as a professor, which simply means teacher. The story does contain more than a few lines of French, so a dictionary may be handy for non-French speakers. Luckily, no Flemish is spoken. 

It is an enjoyable story even though it is not considered Charlotte’s better works. She seems to stay away from many of the social themes that Anne wrote into her stories. Like other Victorian novels I have read, the book leaves you with a good and satisfying feeling All in all a very likable story.

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Book Review: Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the books that had me banging my head as to why I have waited this long to find it. The Bronte sisters were on my neglected read list for 2013 so I started with the sister I didn’t know, Anne. I liked Agnes Grey so I jumped into this book immediately after finishing Agnes Grey. 

Gilbert Markham is the story teller or more correctly the letter writer as the novel is the letter Gilbert is writing. Anne Bronte assumes the identity of Gilbert writing as a male for the first part of the book then the book switches to Gilbert reading Helen’s (the tenant) diary. The switch reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando; a near seamless switch of the story tellers sex. I will admit at the start of the book, I was wondering how a mid-nineteenth century woman would be able to carry the story out as a male narrator. It is, however, very well done. 

Alcohol is one of the major themes in the book. It destroys lives and marriages and although deadly, it is not hopeless some people can reform. The effects of alcohol are seen through the eyes of Helen Huntingdon (introduced as Helen Graham) in the second part of the novel. It affects those around her: her husband, his friends, her friends through the actions of their husbands, and even her young son. 
Faith plays a major role for Helen. No matter what happens she maintains her faith. 

Helen learns the role of a strong woman in the story and in someways goes against the norm of society at the time. She manages not to just and take all that is given to her as do some of the other women in the novel. Her friend Milicent who went from “a little plump lassie then, with a pretty pink and white face: now she’s a poor little bit of a creature, fading and melting away like snow.” all at the age of five and twenty. Anne Bronte takes what can be seen as a realistic look at life in Victorian times and writes a compelling novel.

 

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Book Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey

This was my fifty-first book of the year and the first that was on my to-read read list for 2013. I am not sure if its that old high school feeling of reading something that is a classic that initially makes me hesitate to read something called “a classic.” All three Bronte sisters are on my list for this year. 

Agnes Grey’s life as a governess reminded me of my student teaching days in college. Unlike Agnes, I had enough and decided that graduate school was a better choice than teaching. Too many Bloomfield children and parents changed my mind. Children are spoiled today as they were then and parents equally unbelieving of any criticism.

Several themes in the book stand out. The obvious is the role of religion or belief and the rewards for the faithful. The role of women in society and even female children is obvious. Perhaps the most interesting theme is the treatment of animals and Agnes view and actions against cruelty to animals. Compassion for animals was not what I was expecting from Victorian writer. 

The writing is clear and straightforward and the story flows nearly flawlessly. The characters seem real and Agnes is a reader. A very worthwhile read.

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Book Review: Z: A Novel by Therese Anne Fowler

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Well written and interest novel told from the view of Zelda. I was drawn in and finished the book in three sittings. A very good read, even from the male perspective.

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Karla Bonoff at The Kessler in Dallas

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Long, long ago in a place called Cleveland I used to listen to a radio station called WMMS.  Mixed in with all the great (now Classic Rock), music was a new singer. WMMS was famous for supporting not only local bands but also new bands.  Rush made its US debut at WMMS, Bruce Springsteen became the cities patron saint (although he’s from New Jersey).  I first heard Patti Smith and moved away from AM radio music.  Yes, AM radio used to be popular and it was a big deal for me to actually have a radio that was an FM receiver…but then too I had 8-tracks.  Anyway intermixed in the hard rock was a new singer with with an amazing voice and music that didn’t seem to fit the rock scene.  I fell in love with the voice and rushed out to Peaches to pick up the Album.  It was Karla Bonoff’s self titled album.  

ImageIntermixed with The Who, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and the Knack you’ll see Karla Bonoff listed in the “up & coming” for her Restless Nights album.

Thirty-five years later, almost by accident, I finally got to see Karla Bonoff in concert.  The concert would have slipped right by me if a friend and fellow bike mechanic in Austin didn’t notice it.  Thanks Steffi. : ) 

The Kessler in Dallas is a small venue and it was really nice to sit that close to the stage.  I don’t think there is a bad seat there.  I took off work early biked to the train station and took the train to South Dallas.  It is just a mile and a half from the the Tyler/Vernon Station and there is a bike rack right in front.  

ImageAshley Myrick was the opening act.  She played piano and sang, quite well. She is worth seeing and has a CD out, which I bought. 

Karla Bonoff came on with Nina Gerber backing her on guitar.  From the opening “Driving at night, the headlights were bright…” to the end it was an amazing show.  I told a friend: It was awesome in that grown up remember the past adult kind of way rather than the awesome punk rock Patti Smith life I lead. I stuck out a bit in the crowd of business casual dressed concert goers, in my combat boots, black Dickies shorts, and black bike shop work shirt. So I was not sipping Chardonnay with my fellow audience members. There was a strict no pictures, no phones rule at the show and it was very dark so I could not write down the playlist.  Needless to say in ninety minutes Karla played everything I could think of, except for Flying High. Her voice is still perfect as I remember it…completely amazing show. 

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Yeah, they said no pictures, but you know, I still lead that Patti Smith, punk rock, kinda life. 

 

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An Evening with Patti Smith, Austin, Texas 4/30/2013

ImagePunk rock isn’t dead…. and this kid proves it. 

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She has a better vest than I ever had. 

Stuubs, the barbecue sauce guy, has a restaurant in Austin with a “amphitheater” in the back and that’s where Patti Smith played this Tuesday night.  I got there early enough so that I could get in close but, by the end of the night, there was a perfect storm 6’6″ guys standing directly in front of me. 

I was expecting a to hear most of Banga that night since the tour was to support that album.  I was pleasantly surprised at the play list:

Redondo Beach

April Fool

My Blaken Year

Fuji-San

Land

This is the Girl

Shake out the Ghost

Beneath the Southern Cross

Wing 

Dancing Barefoot

Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan did a meddle that included The Night Time is the Right Time and Cry Baby Cry

Patti came back for

Because the Night

Pissing in the River

Gloria

and the encores were

It’s Dream

Banga 

People Have the Power

Patti was energetic and interacted with the crowd. I was happy to hear a few of my very favorites Blaken Years, Shake Out the Ghost, and Redondo Beach. She became complete absorbed in Pissing in the River and I could have sworn she turned twenty years younger following up with Gloria. People Have the Power was the perfect closing song as the Stubbs is in the shadows of the Texas State Capitol. All and all a very amazing night.

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Book Review: Fun City

Fun City, by Thomas Ryerson is his third book I chose to read this science fiction book after reading his latest book which is historical fiction. After starting the book, I was taken back to a time when I was younger and looked forward to the Saturday night television movies which usually involved a horror movie like The Monitorsor some Science fiction like The Mole People.  This book combines both.  There is a post WWIII utopian society where the government isn’t outwardly heavy handed, but all the same people worry about monitors and all crimes carry the death sentence.  It’s not North Korea by any means, but more like a western camera surveillanced society on steroids. History has been re-written to suit the societies “needs.” It is a seemingly happy place.  People born into the system tend to stay and support the system, except for a few.

 

I am reminded of old sci-fi movies by a few things:  Food is cooked in a micro-warmer and kept cold in a food-cool.  Air-cool is air conditioning.  There is also a nuclear powered hover car for emergencies. Smart androids help with many tasks from hauling luggage to fetching people… just don’t call one a robot. These are pleasant touches in the book.  It gives the story a real “this is the future” sense and helps add to the “willing suspension of disbelief”.  It all works well together.


The characters are all likeable (or unlikeable as the case may be) and very well developed.  I had a vision of Dr. Menke as a serious Avery Schreiber for part of the book.  Character development and the intertwining of their lives plays well.  The story is complex but easy to follow.  It has its twists and turns and will easily hold your interest.  I combines a great many things I enjoy from old science fiction and a few new things too.  A very good escapist read and more good news, it is the first book of a trilogy.   The next book is due out in 2014.

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