Saturday, September 30, 2006

Caesar by Colleen McCullough

(Book Review)

When Lucretius, Guam and I got together over the summer, I noticed Mr. Lucretius had begun working his way through McCullough’s “Masters of Rome” series. I myself had been obsessed with these books when I was in high school, and they had a big influence on my own writing at the time. (I was a bit of a geek in high school, but if you follow this blog, I’m sure you know that already.)

The first few weeks of my Freshman year at Calvin, I spent a lot of time huddled away in my dorm room reading “Caesar’s Women” when I probably should have been out trying to meet new people or studying. But interests change quickly at that age, and by the time the next book in the series came out, I had decided I was now more interested in modern history than ancient history, and I never got around to reading it.

But, after talking to Lucretius and Guam about these books, my interest has been rekindled, and I've decided to pick up where I left off now ten years later. (Has it been that long already?)

When I was going through my Classical History phase, I read a lot of historical fiction: “Flames of Rome” by Paul Maier, “I, Claudius” by Robert Graves, “Julian” by Gore Vidal, etc. McCullough’s series is by far the best historical fiction I ever read, in part because unlike these other books she focuses on Republican Rome as opposed to Imperial Rome. Once the Emperor takes over, there’s not quite as much drama to write about because the big guy is in charge. But in the Republican Senate there are always a lot of egos clashing and sneaky political maneuvering, and McCullough makes full use of this. As one reviewer said of her, “Her characters could easily walk into Washington DC today.”

The last 50 years of the Republic, the focus of McCullough’s series, is the most interesting part of Roman history. Partly because so much was happening and things were falling apart at the seams. But also because so many legends occupied the world stage at the same time: Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Cicero, Cato, Brutus, and others are all featured in “Caesar.”

Given how many gaps there are in world history, its also amazing how much we know about this period even two-thousand years later. McCullough’s series is to the best of my knowledge the most thorough fictional account of the last years of the Roman Republic, and yet even she has to severely cut and choose what she focuses on, as (she herself admits in her afterward.) “Caesar” covers the Gallic wars, the civil war between Caesar and Pompey, and the various political intrigues in Rome, each of which could easily have been a whole book in itself (or several books). Thus here, more so than in her other books, the editor's hand is very evident.

I was particularly disappointed that Clodius Publius and his reign of gang warfare was cut out. I've always thought this was one of the most fascinating aspects of Roman history (and one which I did my paper on at Calvin). Clodius's story gets set up very nicely in the previous book "Caesar's Women". But this book by all rights is the one in which he should have come to the forefront. Instead most of the gang violence, the intimidation of Pompey, and the recruitment of Milo to run a counter-gang, actually occurs between the two books, and is only recounted briefly by way of flashback. I was really disappointed.

But I suppose a historical geek reading a book like this is akin to a “Harry Potter” fan going to see the latest movie. No matter how good it is, you always walk out whining about how they cut out this or that part. After having done my high school paper on the Catiline conspiracy, I was disappointed with how brief a treatment that received when I read "Caesar's Women" ten years earlier.

And yet there are a number of things this book does do well. Clodius gets a nice death scene, and the trial of Milo is handled nicely. I also thought the political evolution of Curio and Mark Antony was done nicely. (Although I had been under the impression that they had begun to drift away from Clodius even before his death. McCullough portrays them as members of Clodius’s gang right until the end. Guam, Lucretius, either of you have any thoughts on this?)

I thought there was a very good portrayal of Quintuis Cicero. He’s one person I always thought got the short stick by historians. No one had really adequately explained to me where his loyalties lied if he was both Marcus Cicero’s brother and yet campaigned with Caesar in Gaul. McCullough does a good job on focusing on him as a man torn between family and political loyalties.

As in any good book, a number of these characters come into their own and seem to live lives outside the printed page (which I guess is essential in historical fiction, because all of these characters were actually living at one point). Cato comes off perfectly as the self-righteous moral ideologue, who could walk into any of today’s conservative organizations, (like maybe the Cato Institute, which is named after him). Cicero is a bloated windbag with a spine of jelly. And Mark Antony is great as a “Young Hal” type character from Shakespeare’s King Henry series; someone who is emerging from an irresponsible extended adolescence to take on serious political roles.

Every now and then though, I feel like McCullough has put too much of herself into the work. I don’t know her personally, but I can't help but feel a lot of the characters probably sound more like her than like themselves. Many of these characters sound more like old ladies than Roman Senators or Generals. Maybe this is partly due to the fact that McCullough is Australian, and the Queen’s English variant can sound effeminate to American ears. (“My dear Caesar, you simply won’t believe what is happening in Rome. Why everyone is rolling over the latest gossip concerning Cato....")

Also there’s a lot of big words in this book, and the result is all the characters come off sounding like librarians. When I was 15, I used to actually put Webster’s dictionary in my back pack so I could make sense of McCullough’s books when reading them after school. I’ve improved my literary skills to the point that I can read these books without rushing to the dictionary every two pages, but it does make the dialogue sound unnatural.

Even the passages where the characters are yelling obscenities at each other sound like a librarian trying to imagine what it would be like if men were swearing at each other. “I shit on your prick. I fart up your hairy nostrils.” Does anyone actually say this stuff? Maybe it’s an Australian thing. Or maybe McCullough knows something I don’t about the way the ancients insulted each other. But it sounds incredibly unnatural to me.

The character of young Octavius (the future Augustus Caesar) is absolutely terrible. Granted child prodigies are hard characters to write because they have to be both children and adult like, but McCullough completely blows this. It’s obviously not her strength. Way back at the beginning of this series the parts featuring Julius Caesar as a child were pretty bad as well, but McCullough has surpassed herself with Octavius.

The character of Caesar himself comes off as slightly larger than life for my tastes. He’s extremely confident in his success, and everyone who meets him is awed by him and concludes he can do no wrong. Of course with the benefit of history, we all know that Caesar will eventually win the struggle and become master of Rome, but people at the time didn't know it. When you’re actually living life, you have no idea what is around the next corner.

Along the same lines, there’s a lot of foreshadowing in this book I could have done without, such as Cato feeling in his bones that he won’t live to see Caesar die. Again, I suspect the actual Cato had no such premonition, but I guess when you write historical fiction, it is your privilege to re-imagine these scenes anyway you like.

This book, like the ones preceding it, is pro-Caesar. Wikipedia says of this series: The series has a thesis as Rome became more powerful within the Mediterranean world, the old ways of doing things -- through the deliberation of various interests, mainly aristocratic and mercantile -- became impossibly cumbersome. It became more and more difficult to govern an empire with institutions originally designed to administer a city-state. Certain wise leaders (such as Marius, and his nephew Caesar) tried to reform the old ways -- and to do so in a manner that would be consistent with Rome's basic character as a republic. But the conservatives (called the optimates by classical historians, though they themselves preferred the title boni or "good men") opposed reform so fiercely that they made inevitable the death of the Republic they claimed to cherish. The result was the birth of an imperial monarchy, and a radically different organization of power.
That’s over-stating it slightly. I think McCullough’s primary thesis is just to have fun re-imagining ancient Rome. Why else would she take so many digressions? But she is definitely pro-Caesar in her retelling.

And on the whole, I would agree with much of this. Caesar, like Napoleon, is a fascinating and controversial historical figure. Both Caesar and Napoleon instituted much needed liberal reforms, but did so at the expense of abolishing democratic institutions. (My German friend, after we made our peace, used to talk to me endlessly about how important Napoleon’s reforms were for Europe and for Germany). This allows the writer to paint the character as either a benevolent reformer or a dictator, and either interpretation has truth in it.

The only thing I’m slightly worried about is sometimes I feel McCullough is ignoring facts which don’t support her thesis. For example, I don’t remember her including the time during Caesar’s first consulship when he attempted to send Cato to jail simply for speaking out against him. But then again, it has been 10 years since I read the earlier books in this series. I might have to go back and review them before I say that with confidence.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Julius Schwartz has said that when he became editor of the Batman series he was conscious of the inferences that could be drawn from Batman's living arrangements, and that because of this he and writer Bill Finger had Batman's butler Alfred killed and his role in the stories filled by Dick Grayson's Aunt Harriet, providing in effect a female chaperone at Wayne Manor. After the Batman television show debuted with Alfred as a recurring character, he was brought back to life in the strip in order to be consistent with the television version.

Link of the Day
More Japanese Music. A couple more fun songs by The Candies: "Yasashii Akuma"--my sweet little Devil. I thought this song was so funny. It always used to put me in a good mood when I heard it driving to school.
This song, "Ban Ban Ban" is actually originally by "The Spiders" (The Japanese version of the Monkeys), but the The Candies do a nice cover of it. They then go into a song by the Japanese band "Drifters" which has the same "Ban ban ban" chorus.
This was a favorite Karaoke song of mine because it was pretty easy to sing "Ban Ban ban ban ban ban ban". There was also a student of mine named "Ban" in the junior high school class, and I had to resist the urge to sing this song every time I called on her.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman

(Book Review)
Once again I’ve decided to improve my mind by reading a novel based on comics. This time I read the novelization of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” series from 20 years ago.

Whenever I write about something geek related on my blog, I always feel the need to put up some sort of disclaimer like, “If you didn’t already know this, I guess you probably don’t care.” And perhaps nowhere is this more true than “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. If you have even the slightest interest in comic books, chances are you are already familiar with “Crisis” and you don’t need me to recount it for you. On the other hand, if you’re not interested in comics, you probably don’t have the patience to sit through my long winded retelling of it.

If anyone is interested in more information about the “Crisis” series, there’s no lack of it on the web. You can start with the wikipedia article here. Or if you want a more big picture view of it, you can read this wikipedia article on the DC Universe. And the most thorough guide to “Crisis” on the web can be found here.

I also wrote about it in this blog entry back here. Nobody asked me about it, I just felt like writing about it and showing off my knowledge.

If you don’t feel like reading all that, the simplest possible explanation of “Crisis” I can give you is as follows:

1. In order to explain away the continuity differences between the Golden Age (1940s) comics, and the silver age (1960s) comics, DC comics created the idea of two parallel earths: Earth-1, where the modern (silver age) comic book characters live, and Earth-2 where their Golden Age counterparts reside.

2. Eventually this was deemed to be too confusing for new readers, and the editors decided to merge the two worlds together. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is the legendary multi-part comic book mini-series in which the different worlds merged together, and changed comic book history.

3. (If you wanted to get slightly more complicated, you could add the fact that DC comics also acquired the rights to the old Charlton Comics (such as Blue Beetle), the old Quality comics (such as Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters) and the old Fawcett comics (such as Captain Marvel) and used the “Crisis” as a plot device to integrate their worlds into the DC Universe as well. But if you want to get any more detailed than that, you’ll have to use the links above. I’m committed to keeping this as simple as possible).

I didn’t get into comics until my teens, so I missed “Crisis” during its original run. In fact I was only 6 years old when the “Crisis” series began in the spring of 1985. I was familiar with Batman and Superman from the “Superfriends” TV show and the Superman movie. And perhaps I might have been vaguely aware that they also had adventures in comic books, but that is as far as my knowledge went. Even if I had access to comics at that time, I doubt I would have understood the difference between the golden age heroes of Earth-2 and silver age heroes of Earth-1.

When Phil was last in town and the conversation turned to comic books, he indicated to me that as a child he not only followed comics, but was fully aware of the significance of “Crisis” and the fact that the two different Superman’s would no longer exist. If I understood you right Phil, hats off to you. You were a much more precocious child than I.

I, like many other comic book fans who got hooked post-Crisis, read the reprint of the Graphic novel. A couple years ago actually. (I justified buying it by donating it to the Comic book section I had started in the Ajimu Library).

But to be honest the graphic novel left me confused at several parts. I understood the main idea about the several earths merging into one, but the hows and whys didn’t make a ton of sense. And so, when I heard that a novelization of the comic had been created for its 20th anniversary, I marched down to my local Schuler’s and had Bork order me a copy.

As for the actual book itself....
Well to start with it’s a very thin volume. I was hoping the novelization would go into a lot more detail than the graphic novel, but in fact it goes into a lot less.

Secondly, there’s a rather bizarre plot device in which the whole story is told from the perspective of Barry Allen, the original Silver age Flash. Since Barry Allen dies halfway through the Crisis, this makes him a rather unique choice for the narrator.

I was reading an interview with Marv Wolfman, the author of both the novelization and the original comic. Wolfman said he never wanted to kill off the Flash, but the editorial decision came from above and he had to do it. But he’s felt bad about it ever since, and to make up for that he decided to make the novel a tribute to the Flash, narrated entirely from the Flash’s perspective.

The way he gets around this is by having the Flash start slipping in and out of time and able to foresee his own death and events after the death. It’s an interesting idea, but all the jumping around in time just serves to make an already confusing plot even more confusing.

Thirdly, considering this story is based off of a comic book series from 1985-1986, there are a surprising number of anachronisms. References to e-mail, Homer Simpson, Jurassic Park, Yahoo Mapquest, etc. At first I thought they were just honest mistakes, but there were so many of them that I have to believe Marv Wolfman used them on purpose. I’m not quite sure what he’s playing at. Is he trying to update the “Crisis” story? But why would he do that? That doesn’t make any sense. I know in the years since Crisis, DC comics has re-written their continuity every 10 years, but the whole point of “Crisis” is that it was before all that started, and before there was a plot device in place to re-arrange continuity as needed.

On the other hand, there are a few typos in this book which indicates it was poorly proof-read. Maybe the anachronisms are simply just mistakes after all. (In my opinion, there is just no excuse for typos in a major publication in this day and age. It just screams that nobody involved in the publication of the book seemed to care at all.).

Despite all this, I still have to say the same thing I said about Devin Grayson’s “Inheritance”. It was poorly written, and it didn’t really tell me anything new, but I enjoyed it anyway. It gave me an excuse to reconnect with comic books, and made me feel like I was 14 again.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
"Expletive deleted" is an ironic expression which indicates that a profanity has been omitted.
It became popular when transcripts of Richard Nixon's internal tapes were made public. The phrase "Expletive Deleted" was put into the court record when the notoriously profanity-laced discussions with H. R. "Bob" Haldeman and other Watergate insiders went beyond the bounds of common decency.
In later years, the phrase became commonplace and passed into general usage as a convenient linguistic figleaf.


Link of the Day
A passing comment from Doug on his blog causes Guam and I to abuse his comment section debating whether or not "Star Wars" can be classified as a space Western. (I defend the negative).

Also Media Mouse gives Cheney a nice welcome to Grand Rapids. I unfortunately had to sit this one out because I am teaching evenings. Because of my new schedule I haven't had a lot of time for activism, but fortunately I believe in the value of the job I'm doing.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Journal 4/28/2000

(Retrospection)

Spent most of the morning in the computer lab. Talked to Sean Vandermuelen and TJ Vandermolen in Fish house, agreed with them to meet at 5 PM that afternoon for the GAP protest. Sean said he would probably be napping at 5, and TJ was a little bit upset at having been left out of the loop but once I explained that it was just because I hadn’t run into him before today he was cool with that explanation.

It was a sunny day after classes, and there was a big crowd hanging out by Enviromental Stewardship Coalition’s Earth Day table, which I helped to man. John Reinders and others were getting ready to go downtown and join the Media Mouse critical Mass Bike ride. (I would have gone with them had I not accidentally scheduled the GAP protest for the same day.) Ruth Terry had David Bytwerk’s book on Michel Foucault. I commented to her that I was interested in Foucault (although all I really knew about Foucault was that he was loosely connected to the May 68 Revolution), but she was getting comments about it from everyone. Apparently Foucault is very popular at Calvin.

Lindsey Broersma wanted to go rock climbing, and was looking for people to come. I talked to Ruth Terry about her film class. Evita went back to the dorm for various reasons and changed her clothes 3 times. We also talked politics (Evita said she was voting for Bush, and Ruth got on her case, but I defended Evita’s right to vote for who ever she wants. Then when I asked her about Bush she didn’t know why she wanted to vote for him. )

Evita Lopez and Lindsey Broersma showed up as well. Eric Ebels and Jordon Adema were dancing with Megan while Peter Lagrand played on his guitar. Rob was there also and he talked to Molly Blacquiere about the guy he was setting her up with. Rob and Bear jokingly tried to hold me back from going to my afternoon class. Then I looked at the time and realized I was actually late for my class, and they let me go once I realized that.

Eventually I ended up at the apartments, where we organized ourselves in Bork’s room. As usual with these kind of things, it took a while to get everyone there. My brother Kyle stopped by as well. He had actually gone to the mall right after school with a couple girls (one of which was Jen Knoll, the other one I didn’t know). He had somehow thought the protest was right after school, and they had gone to the mall to join us. Now he said it was too late and he was just going home. I was disappointed, because I would have loved to have him join us. It would have been some great brother bonding time, and we could have used the extra people on the demonstration. When I talked to him earlier, I had been clear as a bell about what time we were meeting. I repeated it at least a couple times when I talked to him on Monday (he must not have been listening too closely because he was playing video games while we talked).

We did have 8 people total though: Myself, Amber, TJ, Bork, Buma, Evita Lopez, Shandra Pasma, and Daryl. Daryl, because of his ambitions in pursing a career in law enforcement, did not want to risk getting arrested, but agreed to wander around the mall and act as our eyes and ears and messenger.

During the weeks before we had made flyers which called attention to the sweat shop labor practices of the GAP. The plan was to hand them out in the mall, but we knew we would get evicted by mall security. My plan was to split everyone up to make it hard for mall security to find us. Therefore we could distribute a lot of flyers before we all got kicked out. However everyone else in the group wanted to go in pairs instead, so I compromised on this point. Because we had an odd number, and because my mission was to put the flyers up in the GAP store dressing rooms, I volunteered to go solo while everyone else went in pairs.

I was able to get in and out of the GAP dressing rooms without a hitch, and left flyers up in all of them. As a group we were able to cover the mall completely. It was beautiful actually. Our flyers were everywhere. We all kept moving as to be a roving target for mall security.

A group of probably middle school or early high school girls were very intrigued by our work, and stopped me a couple times to ask me questions. On the second time they asked if they could help us distribute the flyers, so I gave them about half of my stack. I forgot to tell them that what we were doing, distributing literature on private property, was technically illegal. I doubt they got in serious trouble for this, but I was later criticized by the others for this.

For the 1st maybe ½ hour or longer we had no confrontation with Mall security. In fact we were almost getting bored. Carol (our supervisor from dorm cleaning the previous summer) and her husband were in the mall, and I passed them a couple of times. They were very supportive about what we were doing and gave me high fives of support.

Daryl then told me that Mall security was out looking for us. He directed me down the wing of the mall they didn’t have covered yet, and so I was able to avoid them for a little longer, before one of them told me to please leave the mall.

We had previously agreed that we didn’t want to risk arrest and would leave as soon as Mall security found us. However I continued to hand out flyers as I walked out of the mall. The same security guy caught up to me and was very upset that I had continued to hand out flyers. I played like I didn’t understand what the problem was since I was on my way out of the mall while I was doing this. He then escorted me all the way out of the mall (radioing in my every turn, and at times I even overheard him telling them what camera to focus on me). Evita had already been caught, and so he knew she was waiting for me by the car.

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have led him back to my car. On the other hand, he must have known our car was somewhere, and it would have been difficult to ditch him. Of course in hindsight the best move would have been not to park the car in the Mall lot at all, but park across the street and walk to the mall. That just never occurred to me, but I’ll have to remember that for next time. This was, afterall, our first time doing this thing

Anyway he wrote down my license plate number after following me to the car and threatened to send me the bill to clean up the flyers, which was something I never anticipated.

Shandra and Mike were already waiting outside after having been told to leave. I gave them away perhaps by talking to them in front of the security guard. They had already been kicked out at that point, but it was still stupid of me because it alerted the security guard to the fact that there was a larger group of us. He asked me to go back into the mall and get the rest of my group.

Amber and Evita had been a pair originally, but had split up for some reason. Amber was probably being escorted out as Evita and I were going back into the mall. (There is some game called “slug bug” where you get to hit someone if you see a Volkswagen beetle. I never heard of this game, but Evita got me 3 times as we walked across the mall parking lot).

I ran into TJ and Bork (our last remaining team). They had avoided detection because they were a bit more discrete than the rest of us. They kept the flyers in their pockets and only brought them out when they gave them to people. I told them what had happened to the rest of us, but they were still in full swing and wanted to keep going, so I kept walking and pretended I never saw them. I kept walking, and eventually returned to the car after a nice tour of the mall.

3 police cars arrived outside of the mall. Daryl told Bork and TJ about this new development, and they decided it was a prudent time to leave (there wasn’t much more we could have done anyway. We had blanketed the mall with our flyers). As TJ later said, the cops probably didn’t come all this way to ask us nicely to leave the mall, and none of us wanted to ride downtown in the patrol cars.

We returned to Calvin and hung out in the apartments telling anyone who would listen about our adventures in the mall. It was a good feeling, and we were all still excited and very pleased with ourselves. Gradually people left one by one until it was just me and the boys back at the Courtyard apartments. Matt Poole came over looking to borrow one of Brett’s CDs, and the boys introduced him to the computer game “Counterstrike”. Billy Schultz came over too, and I harassed him about not showing up the night before. I also told him about my afternoon adventures in the mall.

Cecil and Rob played Frisbee in the courtyard, and I hung out with them for a while. A bunch of the gang went to Dance guild, but they eventually came back, Butterball included. I retold my Mall adventures, and Butterball became really upset with me. “Why don’t you just leave those people at the GAP alone and let them run their business?” he said.

He became more and more worked up as we continued the conversation, so I decided I could act like I was upset too. I wasn’t really that mad, but I felt like Butterball thought he could yell at me every time we talked politics and expect me to just be calm and take it. So I deliberately acted like I was angrier at him than I was. Probably not the most mature thing I’ve ever done. “I’ve never been so appalled at your lack of morals as I am right now Butterball. I hope you end up working in a sweat shop someday.” By the end Butterball wouldn’t even talk to me.

In the evening I went to a party with Brian Bork, Mike Buma, Daryl, Dan Westerhoff, Jeremy Haulford and his girlfriend, Amanda and Leanna ( both of whom were girls I worked with dorm cleaning the previous summer). The party was at Joel Westerhof’s place on Chester and Diamond. I saw tons of people I haven’t seen there for a while, although several of these people didn’t recognize me at first because my hair has gotten so long.

* I saw Brian Barnes’ fiancĂ© (who informed me that they were getting married this summer)

*Tom and Shelly (who were working the door at the party and let me in for free because I was designated driver)

*Nick Vanhouten ( who was very surprised to find out we were living with Marc Bakker. He also told me to tell Bosch that he wanted to hang out with him more )

*A whole bunch of 2nd Boer boys were there: (Brad Fuller, Joe Palumbo, Jason Devries, Michael Bossenbrook, Mark Solle). I gave Brad a hard time because I never saw him anymore. He had broken his leg and wasn’t getting around much because of his broken leg. I told Joe and Jason how I had seen them on CVN.

* I talked to Kyle Deroos and Jason Kramer (Kyle is in a class of mine, but attends so rarely I didn’t even know he was in the class).

*I talked to Harvey (Dennis’s old friend. He told me Dennis was doing well).

*Talked to my cousin Allysa Bruinsma (We both complained about our paper in history class)

*Joel Westerhof (who is still working for Weesees landscaping, and thus often is at my parents house doing yard work for them).

And many others. Eventually the cops came, and everyone under 21 was told to leave. (I was sitting outside on the porch with Marcus Fuller when the cops came, and we watched the cop cars drive up). The people who owned the house yelled at all those under age to leave, but everyone was slow in doing so and just gently flooded into the street instead. The cops then tried to get people not to just stand around on the sidewalk and stuff.

J.K. (Who I didn’t know well, but had been one year below me at Christian High), was out looking for a fight, and started yelling at this kid in the church parking lot where everyone had parked their cars. I don’t know what the kid had done, but J.K. was just trying to get him to fight. J.K. was really looking stupid, going out of his way to play the hard ass. The kid in question was Canadian, and because the party was at Joel Westerhof’s house, about half of the party goers were Canadians as well, and so the sympathy was somewhat split along national lines. (That is, to the extent J.K. had any sympathy at all. Even his friends were looking a bit embarrassed by his behavior.)

J.K. was convinced to leave, but as he left he make threats to kick the kid’s ass later when he wasn’t expecting it.

There was another party just a couple blocks down which Bork, Buma, me and the rest of the gang walked to, and we ended up going back and forth a lot deciding which party we wanted to go to. The gang was quite impressed that where ever we went I knew a lot of people. They made jokes about what a socialite I was.

Eventually we wound up back at Joel Westerhof’s place. The cops had left by this point. I am of course 22, but all the people I was with were still underage, so they were somewhat cautious.

We hung out there a while longer. Buma and I wanted to head back, but Bork wanted to stay, so we kept staying longer as a compromise. I wasn’t having all that bad of a time anyway. Buma had drank a lot of Beers, 10 by the time we ended up leaving. He certainly held his beers quite well-probably due to his Canadian upbringing. But he did become more silly, and stumbled a bit on stairs, and was hiccuping a lot, but other then that held things well.

When we were walking back to the Calvin apartments, Buma had such a hard time on the stairs (falling twice) that I eventually just put his arm over my shoulder and steadied him. Dan Westerhof was laughing so hard he couldn’t even open the door for a while. Eventually we got Buma inside.

I hung out with the Boys back in the Delta apartment. Margaret Irwin’s brother Jon was staying with us, and my boys had already gotten him addicted to Coutnerstrike. We talked for a while and then went to bed.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
In the fall of 2000, Andy Schrier and Laura Carpenter started the Hattie Beverly Tutoring Center, named in honor of Beverly. It continues to serve Grand Rapids's Southeast Side (specifically the Madison Neighborhood)

Link of the Day
Via Whisky Prajer, here's an interesting Slate article comparing the 4 different versions of "The Office". Very interesting article, even though I have to admit I've still only seen the British one.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Rosa by Jonathon Rabb

(Book Review)
Those of you who hung around with me in summer 2001 may recall that the last couple weeks of June I had my nose buried in “Karl and Rosa” by Alfred Doblin, as I was racing to finish it and return it to the public library before I left for Japan. (Actually you probably don’t remember that, but I was).

Now I’ve stumbled across another fictionalized account of Rosa Luxemburg and the 1918 German Socialist Revolution. This book, however, begins with the discovery of Rosa’s dead body, and creates a murder mystery around her death.

Since the circumstances surrounding Rosa Luxemburg’s death have never been entirely clear, this book takes advantage of the mysterious circumstances to create a fictional explanation for official history. What if in post-revolution Berlin there was a jack the ripper like figure who was going around carving up women? And what if Rosa Luxemburg’s body popped up among the victims? Was this simply part of a string of random killings, or are shadowy figures in the political affairs division trying to make it look that way?

(I’m not sure how exactly this gets classified as a genre. There’s a bit too much fiction in here for me to comfortably call it “historical fiction”. It might be called “alternate history”, but its not alternate history in the sense of Harry Turtledove or “1632" or the idea of history turning and going in a different direction. Rather this is an alternate explanation for established history. Does that still get classified as “alternate history”? Maybe someone could help me out with this.)

Since the time of her death Rosa Luxemburg has always been regarded with a great deal of fascination, as much for what she represents as for who she was. Rosa Luxemburg represents the last hurrah of the German Left before the downward slide into fascism. For a brief moment in 1918, it looked like Germany, along with Russia, was going to be leading the world-wide Socialist Revolution with Rosa Luxemburg and other Jewish leaders at the forefront. Then the revolution is crushed, and ten years later Germany becomes the anti-Semitic capital of the world.

Alfred Doblin, a German Jew himself, wrote his trilogy on the November 1918 Revolution during the age of Hitler. His purpose was to try and discover how the German Left could have everything in its hands, and then blow it all.

Doblin’s work focuses mainly on the failure of the 1918 Revolution. “Rosa” picks up at the end of the Revolution, and the end of “Rosa” in particular focuses on the forces of Fascism and anti-Semitism waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces. For this reason, if one were so inclined, it might be interesting to read first Doblin’s “November 1918" Trilogy, and then follow it up with “Rosa”. The themes of the one lead nicely into the themes of the other. That and the chronology fits nicely as well. “Rosa” starts just where “November 1918" finishes. Since Rosa was published in 2005, a lot more recently than Doblin’s trilogy, I’m not sure if this is intentional or not.

Even though this book takes place after Luxemburg’s death, Jonathon Rabb also makes use of excerpts from her real journal and correspondence throughout the book to help paint a picture of her, and make her into an important part of the book.

The idea of a murder mystery surrounding Rosa Luxemburg is an interesting one, however other elements of “Rosa” can boarder on cliche. The main character is a middle aged detective, who is getting over the recent death of his long time partner and best friend, killed in the line of duty. He is now instead paired with a much younger partner; someone who is eager but very green and at times annoying. He has a less than satisfactory home life and a stressed marriage. He drinks too much on occasion. He has a boss who yells at him when he crosses the line, and he has turf struggles with another internal department inside the police agency. Any of that sound like something you’ve heard/seen before?

There are a few unexpected plot twists along the way, but I suppose even that is cliche for the genre. And in fact after Umberto Eco and Dan Brown, I’m not sure if the idea of a historical setting for a murder mystery is all that original.

But perhaps originality is over-rated. Even if Jonathon Rabb doesn’t feel a need to rise above the cliches of the genre, he does a good job working within them. This was a well written book that held my attention from beginning to end.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The Oxford English Dictionary records the expression "bee's knee" from 1797 as meaning something small or insignificant.
The phrase "the bee's knees", meaning "the height of excellence", became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s along with "the cat's whiskers" (possibly from the use of these in radio crystal sets), "the cat's pajamas" (pajamas were still new enough to be daring), and similar phrases that didn't endure: "the eel's ankle", "the elephant's instep", "the snake's hip" and "the capybara's spats".
The phrase's actual origin has not been determined, but several theories include "b's and e's" (short for "be-alls and end-alls") and a corruption of "business" ("It's the beezness.")


Link of the Day
More Japanese Music
Here's a link to "Nagori Yuki", which is a folk song from the 1970s. This is somewhat like the "Blowin' in the Wind" of Japan in the since that been covered by just about every folk artist at one time or another. No social significance though, it's just a love song.
The basic lyrics are "You're even prettier than when I met you last year." There was a movie made to try and flesh out the story behind the song, which I saw once on a bus ride back from Nagasaki. The movie was about a boy from th e country side who goes into Tokyo for school, and then comes back to see his old girlfriend. Because this story revolved around old country side life, it was filmed in Oita prefecture (where I lived for 3 years as a JET).

Friday, September 15, 2006

New Job

Sorry for not updating recently. (Does it seem like recently I start every entry this way. A year ago at this time I was apologizing for updating too much). Among other things, Internet was out over here most of the week.

I'm now a couple weeks into the new job, teaching English to Migrant workers. It's only 16 hours a week, so I'm still at the supermarket part time. All in all its still a relatively light schedule since I'm only working combined 32 hours a week. However since the supermarket job is 3rd shift, that means I'm still on an unregularly sleeping schedule just for the sake of those 2 days a week. Fortunately the migrant classes are in the evening, so it is not completely unreconciliable. I try and not go to bed as soon as the class finishes, but stay up until about 4 or so, so I will still be in good shape to work 3rd Shift on Friday and Saturday. The only problem is I have trouble making myself be productive after midnight, and I tend to spend most of those post midnight hours doing things like watching reruns of Batman on the Cartoon Network.

For my social calender it is also the worst of both worlds, since I'm working evenings Monday through Thursday, and then can't stay out late on Friday or Saturday night, and sleep most of the weekend. So my apologies if some of you have seen less of me recently. I'm not avoiding you.
As for the new job itself...
Obviously working in the migrant camps is a new experience for me, and it is fascinating to see how these people live. After only a couple weeks, I don't want to start making a lot of generalizing comments (as is usually my habit) but certainly the standard of living is a lot lower than in the suburbs of Cascade. And yet they seem to be very happy people, and extremely kind as well.

We start each day with a general meeting at the local high school, where all the teachers assemble. (I've seen a couple famalier faces from the Christian High/ Calvin College days). And then we go off in pairs to our assigned camp.

I'm pretty sure I'm the only one on this program who doesn't speak any Spanish. It is usually a requirement, but I was hired on the strength of my ESL experience in Japan. Fortunately my partner is a girl who immigrated from Mexico herself. She has no teaching experience, and so I've been doing most of the planning, but I would be at a complete loss without her. Once we actually get rolling, she does most of the talking.

In a way it's very similar to being back in Japan. Most of the time I'm in the room, especially at the beginning of class, there are long conversations conducted in which I have no clue what is being said. I do like to think I'm absorbing some of it however. I come home at night and have Spanish ringing in my ears. I can't make sense of it, but the sound of it stays with me. I feel like I've already learned more than that Spanish class I took in Japan. I would love to meet my friend Jorge again just to show him what I've learned.

(Often I have regretted taking Latin in high school and college instead of Spanish. I actually took Spanish club when I was in Junior High, and wanted to take Spanish my Freshman year of high school, but my parents wouldn't let me because they wanted me to take Freshman band instead. By the time Sophmore year came around, I had decided I wanted to take Latin because of my interest in Classical history. In fact I was really angry that I wouldn't fit 4 years of Latin in, and tried to blame it on my parents. My mother responded that if they had let me out of band, I would have been taking Spanish instead anyway.----
Which just goes to show I guess that you never really know where life is going to take you. If I had stuck with my interest in Classical history, the Latin would actually have been a lot of use. On the other hand if I had known back then that I was going to spend 5 years in Japan, I would probably have signed up for a few Japanese courses).

Lesson planning has been going okay. In the short time I've been doing this, I'd say we've had a couple great lessons and a couple awful lessons. (Something I was told in my Calvin Education classes, which I've always hung onto the past 5 years, is that no matter how long you've been teaching or how good you are, you still will have lessons that fall flat). I'm discovering that my experience in Japan is of limited carry over value. Most of the time I was either in elementary school, where we just did songs and games, or junior high, where the students didn't have a choice about attendance and worked out of a textbook. But we've been making our way along.

Since this is a government program, there is also a lot of beauracracy and paperwork and hopes to jump through. Probably unprofessional to blog about the inner workings of the school, but I do want to quote something from David L. McConnell's Importing DiversityInside Japan's JET Program: "One of the most frequent complaints by JET participants is the beauracracy of the Japanese govenment. This is partly because of the youth and inexperience of most JET participants, they tend to blame on Japanese beaucracy what in fact is true of beauracracy in general world wide."
All paraphrased here as I have no copy in front of me, but man does this ever fit me to a T. Any complaints I have made about Japanese beauracracy on this blog or in conversation I hereby take back. The US can be just as frustrating.

Because this program got its funding cut a number of years ago, among the rules we have to observe is that we only get state funding for students 16-19 not currently attending public schools. If no one in this age range attends the lessons, no matter how many other students are present the class has to be shut down.

In our camp, as it happens, no one in the target age range is there. There are about 5 or 6 guys in their early 20s who seem real keen to learn, and then a couple older people as well. However none of these count for government funding, which means probably next week we'll get transferred to another camp. (Or worst case scenario I'll be out of a job. It didn't sound like this latter was a very likely possibility when I was hired, but a comment was made today about how they're running out of camps to place teachers in.)

After spending a week building relationships, it would kind of suck to get transferred. Not to mention it would be really unfortunate for the people in the camp who currently attend the class. I'm tempted to soap box a little here about government priorities, but this is really an old, old story, isn't it? Government money being cut from social programs to fund foreign wars or pork projects is not a new phenomenon. I'm sure you could tell me stories about the underfunded programs you're working in.

Still, at the risk of repeating myself, I think Bierma really nailed this here:
Xenophobia in the U.S. Senate
Sigh. Declaring English to be the national language of the U.S. is about as necessary and meaningful as declaring Going To The Beach to be the National Summertime Activity. The myth that immigrants to the U.S. lack the incentive and the will to learn English is pervasive but silly. The problem that there aren't enough English classes for immigrants is very real, and widely ignored.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
Harley Quinn and Detective Renee Montoya are both examples of characters introduced first in the Batman animated series, and then later incorporated into the comic books.

Link of the Day
Pictures from my Brother and his family's visit are now on line. (Actually have been for a while, but I'm slow in linking). Pictures of the whole trip can be seen here on Amy's site. And if those are too much to wade through, my sister stole the ones of our family and duplicated them on her own site here, including one of yours truly.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Miss Boer Spring 1997






Retrospection

This was the Miss Boer Contest in the Spring of 1997. As you can see, I made sort of a half-assed effort (like everything else in my life). I put on a dress, but didn't feel like make-up or hair styling. So I just put on a Bandana and said I was a Russian peasant woman. If you look closely or enlarge the pictures, you might notice Brett and the other boys are a little more dolled up than I am, so that's why. I'm thinking of writing a book called, "Joel Sxwagman's Half assed guide to cross Dressing." Or maybe, "The Lazy Man's Guide to Looking Effeminate."

There were 2 parts: a walk way introduction, and a talent. During the introduction, I was asked what invention I think would make the world a better place. Not having a lot of time to think, I simply answered, "A submarine that can go overland". The theory being if the sailors can see land from time to time, it would alieveiate some of their deep sea craziness, and make them less likely to push the red button.

I was lucky for our talent, because Brett Cecil, Dave, Kevin and I all did our song "Curds and Whey" for a combined talent. It is a song we made up one late night in the dorms. I was lead vocal, which might be horrifying to those people who have heard me from the karaoke booth, but not being able to play guitar there wasn't a lot else I could do. Plus "Curds and Whey" was more of a talking blues type song that didn't demand a lot vocally.

Originally I planned to do the song in a high pitched girl's voice like we had all done the introduction and questions in. However when the actual time for the song came, I got stage fright and just did it in my normal voice.

Despite this poor showing, I still ended up getting second place in the contest. I guess people must have thought I looked good in a dress.

If memory serves, there was no "Miss Boer Contest" my sophmore year. Rumor has it some parents complained, and that was the end of another fine Calvin tradition.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
For its time, the film "The Dirty Dozen" was an unconventional and extremely violent depiction of war. Roger Ebert, in his first year as a movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times wrote :
"I'm glad the Chicago Police Censor Board forgot about that part of the local censorship law where it says films shall not depict the burning of the human body. If you have to censor, stick to censoring sex, I say. ... But leave in the mutilation, leave in the sadism, and by all means leave in the human beings burning to death. It's not obscene as long as they burn to death with their clothes on."


Link of the Day
Tall people earn more because they're smarter.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Japanese Music!!

Another way to waste time on You Tube, it turns out, is to look up old Japanese pop music of the 60s and 70s.

I've mentioned on this blog several times that while I was in Japan I really got into Japanese oldies. But up until now I haven't discovered a way to share these treasures with you my blogging audience. Now thanks to the magic of "You Tube", I hope you can enjoy some of these treasures with me.

***One quick disclaimer--I suppose it goes without saying that with "You Tube", you don't necessarily get everything you want. Instead you take what you can find. Many of my favorite songs I couldn't track down, others had been removed due to copyright violations. (It appears NHK--Japan's National broadcast system--has been cracking down on copyright violations on "You Tube" recently). But I hope the following can at least give you a taste

First up is "Ue o muete Aruko" by Sakamoto Kyu, better known in the US as "The Sukiyaki Song". If this song sounds famalier, it is because it was the only Japanese song to chart on the US Pop charts. Not only that, it made it all the way to #1 in 1960, pushing out "It's my Party and I'll cry if I want to." (There was also a really lame English cover of this song in the 1980s by the American group 4PM-which might also be why the tune sounds famalier).

Next is "The Peanuts" (whom I mentioned in this post back here.) They're most famous in the USA for their role as the twin priestess fairies in the 1960s Mothra movies. Here's a video of the "Mothra song" from one of those movies. It's interesting to note that the lyrics aren't Japanese but rather Japanese approximations of the Malay language (Mothra, you'll recall, was from an exotic far away Island, so I guess singing in Japanese wouldn't have given the song the exotic flavour).
In Japan, however, "The Peanuts" were had a famous singing career outside of these movies. They can be seen singing their greatest hit: "Koi no Vacance" here.
[Update: And it looks like You Tube pulled the Mothra video already. Copyright violations. What can I say folks, the dangers of trying to link to You Tube. At the moment I can't find another copy of the original Peanuts, but here is the Mothra song by Pair Bambi, who took over after the Peanuts retired from the role in the late 60s. And the updated modern techno version.)also someone has posted a whole Mothra movie on line. This one (section 8) features the original Peanuts singing a secondary Mothra song. It's not the most famous summoning song, but I'm sure that one is somewhere on this movie if you want to look through it.

Next up is "The Candies", a Japanese girl group from the early 70s. Not serious music, but a lot of fun. They have a lot of videos on the web, so I'll just pick and choose some. Here is the video of "Toshishita no otoko no ko" or "We Love Younger Boys". (Shoko is 9 months older than me so I often tease her about this song.)
Also by the Candies: "Anata ni Yumechu", "Uchiki na aitsu" "Heart no ace wa detekonai"

Unfortunately I couldn't find The Candies's biggest hit: "Haruichiban". It appears NHK is really cracking down on that one. At least I couldn't find the original version by the original artists. Instead I found a rather bluesy cover of it here. As in the US, it is popular for alternative Japanese bands to do satiric covers of old pop hits. In a lot of ways this cover is actually cooler than the original, although it would have been nice to show you the original first for comparisons sake.

There's also a lot of "Pink Lady" on the web. "Pink Lady" is a girl duo from the late 70s. Since I like the old stuff the best, the late 70s is pushing the boundary for me. However "Pink Lady" is very popular among Japanese women in their mid 30s who remember it from their childhood. Whenever I talked about Japanese music with my Japanese teacher, she would always bring up "Pink Lady." And their music was always a popular karaoke favorite for the 30 somethings at our office parties.
Anyway: Pink Lady's biggest hit, UFO, can be seen here. Also good fun are Monster and South Paw and Pepper Keibu. Again none of these are great music from an objective standpoint, but they're bouncy and a bit cheesy and a lot of fun. If nothing else you can just watch the girls dance around in their cute outfits. And if you want to increase the cheesiness factor, here's their cover of "Stop in the Name of Love"

And if you want to combine your fun even more, here's a sing off between "The Candies" and "Pink Lady." (Actually, this does contain parts of "Haruichiban" by the original Candies, so it is probably worth watching just for that). And their combined powers on the Pink Lady Song "Pepper Keibu" here.

Okay, now that I've gotten the silly stuff out of the way:
My favorite Japanese artist is Yoshida Takuro, who was big in the Japanese folk-rock scene in the late 60s/ early 70s. He's been described as the "Japanese Bob Dylan", but I think his stuff is melodic enough that it's closer to the electric folk sounds of Simon and Garfunkel.
Again, unfortunately it looks like NHK has been cracking down on this a bit, and its hard to find videos of his big hits, at least during the time they were popular (there are some videos of the older Yoshida Takuro singing his great hits in concert). That being said, hopeful this will suffice for a brief introduction:
Rakuyo, one of his more famous songs, although it looks like this video is the older Yoshida Takuro. Still, a decent rendition, even if they did add some awful 80s type harmonizing.

Kandegawa, another of his famous older songs being performed by the older Yoshida. And again, the original is better. In this concert version, it sounds a bit like old guy elevator music with the added harmonizing, but still probably worth checking out.

Now this video is the reverse of the other two. It's the younger Yoshida when he was still in his prime and his music had an edge to it, but unfortunately it isn't one of his better known songs.

Kazuki Tomokawa is another great folk singer from the early 70s. His stuff is more acid folk, and he does a lot of shouting when he sings, so it might seem a bit weird at first but give it a chance. Here is ikiterutteittemiro and issaigassaiyomosueda.

Here is archival footage of Student protesters in Japan fighting police against the backdrop of Japanese folk rock music. (For more info on the Japanese student movement, reference my old paper here)

Last up is "Group Sounds", which is the name for all the Japanese garage bands in the late 60s that were influenced by the British invasion (mainly the Beatles and Monkeys) . And once again I have to qualify this by saying I couldn't find a lot of the songs I was looking for, but this will have to suffice for an introduction.
This is a melody of different songs by different artists. When I was first learning Japanese, I used a lot of these songs to practice at the Karaoke, much to the annoyance of my other ex-patriot friends who finally banned me from putting any more Japanese songs into the Karaoke machine.

The most famous group from this era was "The Tigers". I can't find their big hits, but here is the Tiger's song "Yellow Cats". I used to have this song on rotation in my music tapes in my car. When he was riding with me once and this song came on, Chris from Usa commented that my music tastes had hit a new low. From then on just mentioning "Yellow Cats" would be his short hand for describing my eccentric musical tastes.

Some of the later "Group Sounds" were more psychadelic, such as this one by "The Mops". And "The Blue Comets" with "Blue Eyes" and "Blue Chateau".

Okay, I'll stop there. There are a lot more groups and songs I'd love to introduce, but this is all I can find for now, and no point doing too much at once anyway. I hope you'll check out at least some of this music. Remember it's always good to broaden your musical horizons.

Given that this whole post was just a bunch of links, I'll forgo my usual links at the end. You can rejoice or weep as you find appropriate.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

1632 by Eric Flint

(Book Review)
“1632" is yet another time travel story, where present day Americans travel back to medieval Europe. What makes “1632" unique is that instead of one person or a small group, an entire town is suddenly lifted up and transported back in time

Obviously the premise is unprobable, and the author makes little attempt to justify it. You just have to go along with it or find another book. A brief one paragraph description tells how a form of alien art ruptured the space-time continuum, causing the entire fictional town of Grantville, West Virginia to be transported to central Germany during the 30 Years’ War. (I forget the exact year).

Time travel books have become a bit of a genre, but this is the only book I know of in which the entire town (people, buildings, land, everything) is transported whole. Thus it presents some interesting questions for people who like to play the “what if” game. What if a whole American town was transplanted into Germany during the middle of the 30 Years’ War? Would they have to learn German, or would the Germans begin learning English? Would they be able to spread the idea of modern enlightenment? Would they be overwhelmed by the native population, or would they be able to use their modern technology to gain dominance? And if so, would they be able to maintain this, or would the modern machinery eventually start to break down?

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys wondering about these things, then you’ll probably find this book an interesting read. There’s also a lot of historical detail mixed into this book. Apparently the author is a historian, so it’s well researched.

I bought this book because I was looking for light reading. And in the scheme of things it is still pretty light reading I guess. (It’s no “Sound and the Fury”). But you do have to wade through a lot of stuff about King Gustavus Adolphus and his generals, and the political situation in Europe in the 17th century. History geek though I am, I thought a lot of this broke the momentum of the story. On the other hand, I did learn a lot of new stuff. Just the other week, “Gustavus Adolphus College” came up in conversation at the family dinner table, and I was able to tell everyone who he was.

The 30 Years’ War was not a high point of human history, and Eric Flint portrays it as a time of religious wars, mercenary armies, raping and pillaging, and tyranny. Obviously this is a shock to the modern day residents of Grantville, West Virginia. Eric Flint could easily have set this up as a conflict between ancient and the modern values, but interestingly enough he chooses to frame it as a clash between “American” and European values. Every time one of the characters tries to talk about modern values such as freedom of religion or republican governments, it is framed as the American way. I’m not sure if “1632" has been translated into German, but I doubt it would be popular in Europe. (On the other hand, maybe those Europeans are getting a little full of themselves lately and need to be reminded of their history).

Still, I found this mildly irritating. It is a certainly a sentiment I often run into among my conservative friends, who insist that the USA is the only free country in the world, as if we were the only republican government in the world and all of Europe is frozen in 1776.

But to be fair to Eric Flint, based on his sympathetic portrayal of Union activists in this book I gather he’s on the liberal side of the spectrum himself. And it was also from this book that I learned about the Dutch Republics, which preceded the American revolution. (I mentioned this way back in my 4th of July post. I’m a slow reader).

There are also several battle scenes in which the well armed Americans are able to dominate the 17th Century German armies. If you look in the right places, there seem to be a lot of time travel stories in which the heroes are able to travel back in time with modern weapons and annilate the enemy armies. I’m not sure why this makes for interesting reading, but it does. I mean logically you would think it would be a more interesting story if the heroes were struggling against superior weaponry, wouldn’t you? I love Rambo movies as much as the next guy, but if you ask me to explain its appeal, I’d be hard pressed. What is the fascination men have with guns and superior fire arms? Wouldn’t it be more manly to meet your enemies unarmed?

And yet there is some sort of thrill, lived vicariously through the fictional characters, in cutting down all your enemies with big guns. Left over evolutionary impulses or Freud’s theory about the phallic appeal of guns? Or perhaps this is an extension of that peculiarly American supposition that the superior firepower is always in the hands of the good guys.

And yet despite all the bloodshed, the book is very optimistic about the ability of Grantville’s citizens to create a new free and equal society with the surrounding German refugees. This is perhaps another characteristic of American myths: violent stories with idyllic endings. (Actually, come to think of it, that’s probably true of the myths of any people).

The book presents an idealistic portrait of American values and the common American man. The German refugees are welcomed into Grantville, fed and clothed, and given equal voting rights. Eric Flint defends his idealism in the afterward to the book. However, given the current rhetoric on immigration, I’m a bit more skeptical about the American willingness to welcome the outsiders. Since this book was published in 2000, I wonder if Eric Flint would have written it any differently today.

This book is actually the start of a whole series of books that follow the town of Grantville and the new European history in this alternate universe. Although this book was entertaining enough, at this point I don’t think I’m going to pursue the series. There are just too many other books on my list.

Useless Wikipedia Fact
The high demand for tea in Britain caused a huge trade deficit with China. The British set up tea plantations in colonial India to provide their own supply. They also tried to balance the trade deficit by selling opium to the Chinese, which later led to the First Opium War in 1838–1842. So there, Bear!

Link of the Day
So we just got high speed internet set up here, which means I'm back to wasting time on Youtube (as you may have noticed from the last post).
Today's theme is "The Star Wars Christmas Special". This is the infamous TV holiday special produced in 1979 using all the original actors that was so bad that George Lucas declared that it would never again be shown on TV or released on Video.
But now thanks to the internet it's available for those of us too young to remember. I haven't found the whole special yet (maybe somebody could help me out), but based on what I've seen so far I'm not sure I'd even want to.
In the meantime check out: The first ten minutes here
Princess Leia's singing scene here
The Cantina scene here
and the animated segment which ended the holiday special is here

I do realize that in all likely hood if you're interested, you've probably already seen this. But what kind of geek would I be if I didn't link to the Star Wars Holiday special at least once.