Sunday, August 26, 2018

Some Will Not Die by Algis Budrys

I guess I am on a Violin Concerto kick these days.  Here is Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: I. Allegro ma non troppo by New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  The soloist is Hilary Hahn.  I am just becoming acquainted with her playing.  I think she displays a controlled power tempered by a refined and polished technique.

 This is the third book by Algis Budrys I have read but it won't be the last.  I have a few to go.  

The reason is because Josh and I were visiting one of our favorite bookstores, Gladewater Books.  

Let me interrupt myself here and say that Gladewater is a rinky dink town, twenty minutes west of my home with a population of 6, 427 and I'm pretty sure that includes everybody's dogs.  But they have a fabulous bookstore (and about a million antique stores, if you're interested).  The owner and his wife are both lawyers.  He was a prosecution attorney in Houston and came to Gladewater to relax.  He picked the right place.  If you have high blood pressure, move to Gladewater.

But as I said, it boasts of a wonderful bookstore run by this retired attorney and his wife, who is not retired which probably takes the stress off of trying to stay in business.

Recently they hired a young girl who knows where every single book you've ever wanted is in the bookstore.  And that's saying a lot because there's a lot of books.

Anyway, I had just read Algis Budrys' marvelous "Who?" and was eager to get my hands on more of Budrys' books.  The girl, who is maybe almost intrusively friendly, asked if I needed help.  Usually I like to browse without a store clerk following me around begging to help me, but this time I asked,

"Have any Algis Budrys?"

She ran off so fast I thought I had offended her, but shortly she came back with a pile of old paperbacks and handed them to me.  

And that, folks, is why I now own quite a few Budrys and you will be reading the reviews of all of them before the year is out.

While "Who?" was very good, the second, "Michaelmas", was a bit of a bore.  Budrys can get bogged down in minutiae, which really does not propel the plot.  I would place "Some Will Not Die" above Michaelmas and below "Who?"  The review below will hopefully tell why.

Some Will Not DieSome Will Not Die by Algis Budrys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book to my husband as we were traveling from Virginia Beach to Washington D.C. I think if I was not reading this to Josh I would have given up on it. However, I am glad I finished it because the story was not without merit. I will briefly describe the plot, what I liked and what I didn't like.

A plague has hit America and the country is plunged into a culture of barbarism. Everyone is out for themselves, pillaging and looting and killing or being killed.

In New York City, Matthew Garvin is one man who struggles to survive, even killing his best friend (which is understandable because his friend wanted to eat him). He stumbles across a woman who is trying to steal medicine out of an abandoned pharmacy for her father. Garvin and the girl team up, cover each other for snipers on the roofs of buildings.

They finally reach the apartment but the father dies anyway. Garvin lives with the young woman and together they manage to scrape out a living.

One day, the encounter their neighbors and risk getting to know them. They team up and with the leadership of his neighbor, Gustav Berendsten, they eventually unite with all the tenants of their building. This leads ultimately to uniting with other apartments, which inevitably leads to turf and power wars. Berendsten wants to unite all people and he ruthlessly attempts it after building a powerful army which fights other factions.

The story jumps back and forth between prologues which are in the future and the past. Each new section takes place with a different generation. We see that America develops from tribal warfare, to gentry that fights with other towns to people eventually learning to live civilly with each other.

I liked how Budrys kept the story growing and not stagnate. We see multiple generations and how they differ from their forefathers. Budrys writes convincing, powerful characters that are worth reading about.

I did not like the detailed information about war strategy. It was just too mundane for me. However, Josh did like that so hopefully I provided everyone with enough information to decided whether this book is for them.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier by Allen Tate

From a swing my mother and I were sitting on at Boggy Bayou, a little finger full of water that splinters off of Choctawhatchee Bay.  I miss those afternoons, but I'm glad to be back home with my hubby huggy bear.
I am in Texas, but I still dream of Florida.

I have been listening to Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, but with a new twist.  The American jazz pianist, Schickeria, played the cadenza.  It was a live performance on the radio and I cannot find it on YouTube which is a shame because I have never heard a more fantastic cadenza than the one Schickeria played.  However, here is a recording with, I think, the composer at the piano.

This is the second book I read out loud to my mother when I was visiting my parents.  We did not quite finish it before I had to return to Texas so I read the final chapters to her over the phone as Derek and I were driving through Mississippi.

Stonewall Jackson: The Good SoldierStonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier by Allen Tate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This biography of Stonewall Jackson is a worthy read in a couple of ways.

One, the background and description of the battles, even though from a Southern perspective, are accurate and informative.

Tate's description of Stonewall Jackson is even handed, even though Jackson is a somewhat mysterious figure about which not a whole lot is known.

What makes this book interesting, as long as it doesn't offend you, is that it was written in 1927 by the poet Allen Tate in an attempt to renovate the reputation of the South and make a defense for their war.

Tate is a Southerner through and through so while his facts are clear and accurate and his description of Jackson not gushing nor even particularly flattering, his opinions as to the outcome of various battles probably differ than most people's today.

His terminology is slanted toward a legitimate Secession. He refers to Jefferson Davis as "President Davis" and Lincoln as "The Northern President." He faults Davis for losing the war for the South as well as a few Generals he felt were over complacent. He thinks Jackson is eccentric but effective, most of the time.

The only person in his biography with which he finds no fault is General Robert E. Lee.

People looking for a complete record of the Civil War will be disappointed as this historical record ends with Jackson's unexpected death in 1963, two years before the war ended.

Needless to say I disagree with the author's attitude but I think it is invaluable to read this dated piece of historical record in order to remember and understand the attitudes and culture of a past time.

I look forward to reading S.C. Gwynne's Rebel Yell and compare the two biographies of this fascinating historical figure, who I may say, had he lived, might have turned the war around. In my opinion, as much as I respect Jackson's abilities; I think our country benefited from his death.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Tudor Kings and Queens: the Dynasty That Forged a Nation by Alex Woolf

For your listening pleasure here is Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront, from the Movie starring Marlon Brando.

While I was in Florida, each evening I read to my mother.  The first book we read was about the Tudor Dynasty.  We both love history, in fact my mother has a Master's Degree in American History with a concentration on Native Americans, particularly the tribes of Florida.  Her thesis was on the Panhandle of Florida and its history and how it developed to how it is today.
In front of my own waterfront. Destin, Florida.

The Tudor Kings & Queens: The Dynasty That Forged a NationThe Tudor Kings & Queens: The Dynasty That Forged a Nation by Alex Woolf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting overview of the Tudor line starting with Henry VII in 1485, moving on to Henry VIII whose reign was 1509-1547. After King Henry VIII we have the brief reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, not forgetting the even briefer reign of Lady Jane Grey somewhere between the last two before finally concluding with the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I whose reign 1558-1603 finished the Tudor Dynasty.

The chapters are brief but give a good overview of each King or Queen's rule. We learn their character, the good the bad, the ugly, their effectiveness as domestic governing abilities, their foreign policies and their legacies.

Little is known about Henry VII but Henry VIII easily fills up eight chapters. He did, after all, throw off the yoke of Roman Catholic rule and started a uniquely English church with himself as the Ruler. What followed was a lot of upheaval as monasteries and convents and their wealth and properties were confiscated and used to fill the coffers of the King.

Henry's marriages are infamous, of course, but in Woolf's history we get to know each woman a little better; which ones were innocent victims; which were scheming hussies, who died by the axe and who died from sickness.

Edward did not live long enough to make a difference, but was more of a political tool by other people trying to manipulate power. We learn about the scheming powers behind the throne, many succeeded but a lot ended up losing their head or being hanged and drawn and quartered.

I must say, I did not realize there were two Mary's and we learn about both. Both were Catholic, but only one was Bloody Mary and that was the Queen of England. She killed thousands of Protestants in an attempt to terrorize the country into reverting to the Roman religion. Scottish Mary was really more foolish in her choice of husbands then anything else. Her scandals ultimately undid her and she ended up spending the rest of her life in prison under Queen Elizabeth I before finally being condemned to death.

And we end with Queen Elizabeth I and her legacy, one of which was to build the most powerful navy in the world. But she had her own intrigues and scandals.

All in all, an enjoyable read and an excellent overview of a famous dynasty.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hell in Japanese Art by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

Today I thought it would be appropriate to listen to some traditional Japanese music while reading today's post.  I picked some relaxing music, because the book I have reviewed is anything but.

My nephew took these photos of my son, Derek and niece, Athena in Denton, Texas.  I doctored them up a bit for fun.  I could do that for hours.

I like book covers.  I think the last would make a great book cover.  I just need to find a story to go with it.

Hell in Japanese ArtHell in Japanese Art by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is quite simply one of the most fascinating books I have ever read or seen.

I had become curious about the concept of hell in other cultures and came across this book as a result. It is not only enlightening concerning Japanese belief in the afterlife but also particularly in Buddhist writings of the after life.

It was surprising because all I had ever heard of Buddhism was reincarnation; but according to the ancient writings recorded in this book, there is a fiery furnace and exquisite suffering to endure before given another chance. However, the most minute sins are punished so I wonder how anyone can hope to escape returning to punishment.

Buddhism, at least the strain practiced in traditional Japan is quite elaborate and complex in its descriptions of hell. Like Dante's Inferno, there are several layers, but far more intricate and many, many more levels.

There is the realm of the angry demons. This is where evil spirits constantly battle with heavenly beings.

Then there is the realm of human beings. There are hell chambers for every conceivable sin. To name a few: there is the hell of repetitions, the hell of lamentations, the hell of greater lamentations, hell for priests and so many more.

The Buddhist scripture describe each realm in graphic detail, explaining the sins (greed, adultery, hurting animals, abusing authority, stealing etc...) and the specific tortures in each level the condemned person is sentenced to and for how long.

The scripture spares no detail as to every gruesome agony someone endures. Killing animals incurs torture, killing humans, another type of torture, telling a lie incurs another horrible torture.

But the writing is only half of the book. Japanese artists throughout the ages have painted large, ultra-detailed depictions of each and every type of torture. The most profound to me are the people diving head long into flames.

In fact, fire is the main feature of every chamber of hell and figures prominently in the paintings. These paintings are not only on scrolls or canvas but also triptychs and furniture, such as dressers.

/>Finally, there is a tradition Japanese male jacket with full length prints of paintings of people tortured. I do not know why someone would wear such a thing, but I bet it is a conversation starter. At least in American it would. Maybe Japanese form of etiquette doesn't permit frank discussion of hellish attire.

In short, if one wants to learn about the nether world in Japanese Buddhist beliefs as will as witness a visual account. This book is an excellent choice.

For those interested in buying the book, it is over 500 hundred pages long, but most of it is full page paintings of entire works and also close up details. All the images are in color.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silcon Valley Start Up by John Carryrou

Look what I found!!

I am so excited.  I love vintage pop art from the classic Star Trek series.  Inspired by these stamps, I looked for some shirts or something that might have this art.  I did not find that but I did find the art of Juan Ortiz.  I have also bought a book with his Star Trek art, which I will be reviewing later.

On another tack, have I shown you photos of my two keeties lately?  The blue is Lt. Foyle and the green/yellow/blue is Lt. Columbo.  We all like to watch mysteries together.  With Hercule, too.  Hercule is not thrilled with his little bird buddies, but he will ignore them long enough to watch shows with us.

               Hercule likes nesting in my son's hair.

That's enough randomness for now.  Here is Franz Liszt's Die Lorelei to listen to as you read about this fascinating piece of whistle blowing journalism.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley StartupBad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is non fiction but it reads like one of the fastest, action-packed thrillers you will ever read. I read it out loud to my husband and we forced ourselves to only read two chapters a night to make it last, until the end where we could not stop ourselves and read the final four chapters and epilogue in on evening.

Elizabeth Holmes was a wonder child. Coming from a rich family, she made the most of her privileges and connections by dropping out of Stanford and creating her own start-up company. She called it Theranos and it was going to revolutionize the medical world.

Her invention, the Edison was a small, compact device that people could use in their homes. With a tiny prick to their finger they could have their blood analyzed for hundreds of diagnoses, such as potassium levels, thyroid, cancer, etc..

Holmes had the charismatic personality of a TV evangelist and she won many converts who invested millions of dollars into her company, Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, General Mattis (Trump's new Secretary of War) and even Wall Street Journal's owner, Rupert Murdoch. These men, with the exception of Murdoch, all became members of Theranos' board. Notably missing was anyone with a background in Medicine.

She hired innovative engineers, chemists, biologists from the best schools, wooed employees from other companies such as Google and Apple.

Her picture appeared on the front page of Forbes and Fortune. The New Yorker and even the Wall Street Journal gave her glowing reviews. I say even the Wall Street Journal because one of their journalists wrote this book.

There was just one catch: It didn't work. The device never worked. For fifteen years, Theranos employees tried to get the device to work without success.

Who knows? They might have gotten it to work if Elizabeth Holmes and her henchman, second in command and also lover (something she kept secret) Sonny Bahwani had not acted like despots, demanding slavish devotion to themselves and their "vision". If employees did not bow and kiss Holmes' ring by, say, explaining to her the difficulties in making Edison work, they were fired. The turnover rate was astronomical. But because all departing employees had to sign extreme non-disclosures with threat of being financially destroyed by Holmes' lawyer, one of the most expensive and cut throat attorneys in the world, none were willing to expose what they knew was a fraud.

How a few brave souls, including George Schultz's grandson Tyler (Schultz cut his grandson out of his life, inviting Holmes to family events but not Tyler) finally came out at great personal risk to themselves is a suspenseful narrative and all the more breathtaking because it is true.

Bad Blood is fascinating on many levels, but the most interesting of all, is Elizabeth's cult of personality. I have seen this type of person in my own life. People who are surrounded by blind devotees even though they hurt so many. I always wonder about the people who refuse to see the obvious. Is it willful? Are they too proud to admit they are wrong about somebody? Or are they too self-centered? The person likes them so who cares how they treat others.

Holmes was backed by the Obama administration (she also financially supported Hillary Clinton's campaign, she became good friends with Chelsea Clinton). Joe Biden came and inspected her lab. A completely fake lab she had concocted for the Vice President. Holmes had two labs. One she showed to FDA regulators and Medical inspectors and another lab which was the one where her engineers were feverishly trying to get Edison to work. This second lab was kept locked and hidden from inspectors.

The ultimate problem is that Elizabeth Holmes made promises about her technology that she could not deliver, yet carried on a charade that it was already working. She snowed Walgreens and Safeway to start using her device, even though it was defective. Doctors who used Theranos lab soon learned that the test results were unreliable so stopped sending blood tests to them.

Now this is where I want to know where any oversight procedures were. If a lab is producing faulty results, shouldn't there be some kind of protocol where the doctors report this so there can be an investigation?

Apparently not at that time, because when the author John Carryhou tried to interview some of the doctors, they refused to speak. They had been warned by Holmes' lawyer that they would be sued if they shared any information with the journalist.

As I said, there were a few brave souls that risked everything to expose what was going on. Their concern for human life and possible deaths that could incur from false test results overcame their reservations about their personal welfare.

Carryhou's book narrates from beginning to end the rise of Elizabeth Holmes' kingdom and the beginning of her fall. The book was published this past May and Holmes has recently been indicted. The drama is not over yet.

Personally I hope she and her side kick grow old in prison. Trying to foist a defective medical device on people that could kill for the sake of personal fame and fortune is attempted manslaughter, in my opinion.

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