Book Review: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
Title: One of Our Thursdays is Missing
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 2011.
ISBN: 9780670022526

Previously Read by Same Author:

  • The Eyre Affair
  • Lost in a Good Book
  • The Well of Lost Plots
  • Something Rotten
  • The Big Over Easy
  • First Among Sequels
  • The Fourth Bear

Summary/Review: This is the sixth book in the Thursday Next series, one of the most imaginative and entertaining book series I’ve read.  This book took me some time to warm up to though.  It’s set in the BookWorld with the written version of Thursday Next as the protagonist and narrator with the conceit that they are something like actors performing the book each time someone reads.  One of my favorite aspects of the Thursday Next series is Fforde’s alternate universe Swindon, England so the narrative set almost entirely in the BookWorld is a bit of a disappointment (my least favorite book in the series The Well of Lost Plots is also set entirely in the BookWorld).  Yet Fforde is masterful in developing the fictional version of the fictional Thursday as a similar yet different character.  I was totally won over by written Thursday’s automaton sidekick Sprocket.  In the end, this book is a masterful job by Fforde to keep the series alive with the requisite creativity and fun.

Favorite Passages:

“Not many people traveled to the RealWorld, and those who did generally noted two things: one, that it was hysterically funny and hideously tragic in almost equal measure, and two, that there were far more domestic cats than baobabs, when it should probably be the other way round.”

“All three were experts, and all three had conflicting views.  I was reminded of Clarke’s Second Law of Egodynamics: ‘For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.'” – p. 159

“Literature is claimed to be a mirror of the world but the Outlanders are fooling themselves.  The BookWorld is as orderly as people in the RealWorld hope their own world to be — it isn’t a mirror, it’s an aspiration.” – p. 359

Rating: ****

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Soccer Spectating Report 7-26 June: Gold Cup Edition


The CONCACAF Gold Cup came and went with the US Men’s National Team’s uninspiring loss. The Boston Breakers are treading water and the New England Revolution are abysmal so things are pretty miserable in my soccer world. Luckily the Women’s World Cup is starting and hopefully that will lift my spirits.

Canada 0:2 United States (June 7)

The USMNT opened their Gold Cup campaign with a satisfying win against our neighbors to the north.  Clint Dempsey’s goal was especially pleasing.  Tim Howard made several dramatic saves in the second half to keep Canada from getting back in the game.

New York Red Bulls 2:1 New England Revolution (10 June)

The Revolution once again fought back late, showing that at times they do have some talent, but it was too little too late to get a point on the road against Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls.

Panama 2:1 United States (11 June)

Hopefully this game can be a wake-up call about underestimating one’s opponents.  Panama is better than expected but the US really shot themselves in the foot in their first ever loss in Gold Cup group play.

United States 1:0 Guadeloupe (14 June)

This was a “must-win” for the USMNT and the game was really not much in doubt, but the result is still startlingly close considering how often the US tested the Guadeloupe goal.

New England Revolution 1:1 Chicago Fire (18 June)

Once again the Revs were shaky in the first half and settled down to play in the second half.  Rajko Lekic got off the schneid with his 48th minute goal, but once again too little too late.  This game was marred also by Gillette Stadium security using excessive force to regulate profanity by supporters in The Fort.  This team and this season are just ugly, ugly, ugly.

United States 2:0 Jamaica (19 June)

After a shaky group stage the USMNT finally appeared to be coming into form with this quarterfinal victory over the Reggae Boyz.  Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey scored the goals.

Atlanta 0:0 Boston (19 June)

With the top players off to prepare for the Women’s World Cup and Georgia under some oppressive heat, the two sides endured a grueling if lethargic draw.  Hey, a point on the road, right?

United States 1:0 Panama (22 June)

The USMNT extracted a measure of revenge against the still competitive Panama side with this semifinal victory.  Clint Dempsey once again provided the goal scoring on an assist by Landon Donovan.  Freddy Adu was a surprise substitute and played impressively.

Mexico 2:0 Honduras (22 June)

I had good intentions of watching more than just the USMNT games in the Gold Cup but this semifinal is the only non-US game I caught.  Mexico was truly the class of the tournament but a scrappy Honduran side held them scoreless until extra time.  Then the wheels fell off and Mexico scored twice including a “crotch shot” by Chicharito.

United States 2:4 Mexico (25 June)

First the positives.  It was an exciting, dramatic game and it was great to see the USMNT get off to a hot start with two early games.  After that, it was awful.  The US could not defend to save their lives and Mexico scored four unanswered goals in front of an audience largely made up of Mexico supporters.  Mexico is obviously the better team right now but it didn’t need to be this ugly.  This is obviously a wake-up call for the USMNT if they hope to get the team deep into the 2014 World Cup.

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Book Review: Soccernomics by Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi


Author: Simon Kuper and Stefan Syzmanksi
Title: Soccernomics : why England loses, why Germany and Brazil win, and why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey and even India are destined to become the kings of the world’s most popular sport
Publication Info: New York : Nation Books, c2009.
ISBN: 9781568584256

Also by the same author: Football Against the Enemy

Summary/Review: A soccer writer and an economist bring a sabermetrics/Freakonomics approach to global soccer.  Issues covered include:

  • That England based on their experience, population, and other demographics they are actually not underachievers but win more often than they should.  The authors also give some tips on how England can improve (like not playing in the physically taxing Premier League).
  • Why soccer clubs are bad businesses and should not be run as a business.
  • Secrets of the transfer market, such as the wisdom of crowds, buy players in their early 20s, sell whenever another club offers more than he’s worth, and help players to relocate and adjust to their new culture.  Olympique Lyonnais is the Moneyball club of Europe winning French titles using unconventional techniques.
  • Fans are analyzed with the devoted Nick Hornby-type fan proving a rarity (not so surprising) and the world’s most soccer-mad fans are in an unexpected nation.
  • Rankings of the most overperforming and underperforming soccer nations in the world and a glimpse at the future world soccer order.

It’s a fun book with a lot of analysis that seems to be based on  hard data – although I sometimes wonder if it’s relevant data – but I can’t quibble too much with the results.

Recommended books: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby and How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman


Author: Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
Title: Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us
Publication Info: HighBridge Company (2011)
ISBN: 1611744881
Summary/Review: This Library Thing Early Reviewers audiobook ask what the following things have in common: listening to someone else’s cell phone conversation, Zinedine Zidane’s World Cup Final, Huntington’s chorea, Joba Chamberlain & midges, chili peppers and skunks.  They all involve annoyances, and what annoys is apparently something scientists are only beginning to study.  There’s a basic 3-step process to annoyance: 1. something is unpleasant or distracting, 2. it’s hard to predict when it will end, and 3. it’s impossible to ignore. The stories illustrating annoying things and the scientific studies are entertaining.  The authors make pleasant if not professional readers and I like that they alternate voices.  The book reads like a long episode of Radiolab and is a good bit of popular science.

Recommended books: Thumbs, Toes, and Tears: And Other Traits That Make Us Human by Chip Walter, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and Out of Our Heads: Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness, by Alva Noë.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Once in a lifetime by Gavin Newsham


Author: Gavin Newsham
Title: Once in a lifetime : the incredible story of the New York Cosmos
Publication Info: New York : [Berkeley] : Grove Press ; Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2006.
ISBN: 9780802142887
Summary/Review: Having watched the documentary film Once in a Lifetime and read Soccer in a Football World, I continue to be obsessed with the unlikely story of the Cosmos.  An American team playing in a podunk stadium suddenly signs Pele to the biggest contract in sports’ history and goes on to become a BIG THING attraction 70,000 fans to their games.  And then the team and the league collapse.  It all seems so unlikely.  The Cosmos of course were my introduction to soccer as a young sports fan when I was too little to realize that American’s don’t like soccer.  I probably wouldn’t have liked them so much if I knew about all the back-biting and nastiness behind the scenes that Newsham goes into in this book.  It’s not all tell-all though, it’s actually fairly respectful, and even figures like the guy who dressed up as Bugs Bunny get a write-up.  Newsham also depicts the corporate power of Steve Ross and how he got Warner Communications to bankroll the team.  Ross’ investment in the video game Atari offers an interesting parallel as that company goes bust around the same time as NASL.  It’s an unbelievable story and a great story that touches my nostalgia centers, but on the other hand it’s best that this is all in the past.

Recommended books: Soccer in a football world : the story of America’s forgotten game by David Wangerin, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler,  The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman and Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests by James A. Miller
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


Author:  Rebecca Skloot
Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2010)
ISBN:  9780307712509
Summary/Review: In 1951, a woman named Henrietta Lacks died in Baltimore due to cervical cancer.  The remarkably tenacious continued to survive and divide and become the subject of numerous medical studies known as HeLa cells.  This book is partly a science book recounting the medical advances HeLa cells have made possible. But the heart of this book is a biography of Henrietta Lacks and her family, particularly her daughter Deborah.  While medical supplies companies have made millions selling HeLa cells, Lacks’ own family have suffered many indignities and poverty, lacking even basic health care.  Skloot goes beyond typical journalistic barriers to become Deborah’s ally, helping her find out the history of her mother’s immortal cells. Skloot also examines the medical ethics surrounding the use of individual’s tissues and cells.  There are not clear answers but the book is a fascinating and heartbreaking account of medicine and American family.
Recommended books: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, The Dangerous Joy of Dr. Sex and Other True Stories by Pagan Kennedy and Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen


Author: Tess Gerritsen
Title: The Bone Garden
Publication Info: New York : Ballantine Books, c2007.
ISBN: 9780345497604
Summary/Review: It’s 1830 in Boston, a young medical student of modest means is force to become a resurrection man to make ends meet.  A young Irish woman is fiercely determined to care for her baby niece after her sister dies in labor. And a Jack the Ripper-type killer is gruesomely murdering people in the West End.  This historical mystery/thriller is enjoyable despite its many flaws: characters who are just “too good,” coincidences, questionable historical accuracy and a modern-day counter-story that serves nothing more than exposition.  I liked the medical school scenes and the body snatching for medical cadavers parts as well as the general historical feel of Boston in 1830.

Recommended books: The Alienist by Caleb Carr and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Whites of Their Eyes by Jill Lepore


Author: Jill Lepore
Title: The Whites of Their Eyes: the Tea Party’s revolution and the battle over American history
Publication Info: Princeton : Princeton University Press, c2010.
ISBN: 9780691150277
Summary/Review: Harvard historian Jill Lepore investigates the rhetoric of the Tea Party particularly the claim by many right-wing politicians to speak to the original intent of the Revolutionary generation and the framers of the Constitution.  Lepore meets with Tea Party activists in the Boston area and respectfully reports their views while not leaving them unchallenged.  Lepore also writes about the historical figures of the Revolution and how their memory is claimed and interpreted throughout American political history (particularly by left-wing activists during the Bicentennial celebration).  The book skips around a bit  – especially distracting in the later pages – but it is a good, brief journalistic take on the politics of cultural memory.
Favorite Passages:

The founders were not prophets.  Nor did they hope to be worshiped.  They believed that to defer without examination to what your forefathers believed is to become a slave to the tyranny of the past. – p. 113

Citizens and their elected officials have all sorts of reasons to support or oppose all sorts of legislation and government action, including constitutionality, precedence and the weight of history.  But it’s possible to cherish the stability of the law and the durability of the Constitution, as amended over two and a half centuries of change and one civil war, and tested in the courts, without dragging the Founding Fathers from their graves.  To point this out neither dishonors the past nor relieves anyone of the obligation to study it.  The the contrary.

“What would the founders do?” is, from the point of view  of historical analysis, an ill-considered and unanswerable question, and pointless, too.  Jurists and legislators need to investigate what the framers meant, and some Christians make moral decisions by wondering what Jesus would do, but no NASA scientist decides what to do about the Hubble by asking what Isaac Newton would make of it.  People who ask what the founders would do quite commonly declare that they know, they know, they just know what the founders would do and, mostly it comes to this: if only the could see us now, they would be rolling over in their graves.  …

That’s not  history.  It’s not civil religion, the faith in democracy that binds Americans together.  It’s not original ism or even constitutionalism.  That’s fundamentalism.  – p. 124-25

This, I guess, was the belly of the beast, the alarming left-wing lunacy, the godless irreverence, the socialist political indocrination taught in the public schools of the People’s Republic of Cambridge: an assignment that requires research, that raises questions about perspective, that demands distinctions between fact and opinion, that bears an audience in mind — an assignment that teaches the art of historical writing. – p. 161

Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman, The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionaries by Jack Rakove, and The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Author: Suzanne Collins
Title: The Hunger Games
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio Books (2008)
ISBN: 0545091020
Summary/Review: I heard a lot of hype about this book and when I saw it available for download as an audiobook from my library, I decided to give it a listen with no knowledge of the plot.  The book is set in a future dystopia where the United States has been divided into 12 strictly controlled districts.  Each year the authoritarian government holds a lottery for 1 boy and 1 girl from each district who are brought to a wilderness arena to battle until all but one is dead.  The games are required tv viewing and serve as a cross between ancient gladiatorial combat and reality television. The premise is very familiar and reminiscent of works such as “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell, Stephen King’s The Long Walk and The Running Man and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale among others.

With the plot very familiar, Collins works on character development.  The narrator and protagonist is Katniss, the tribute from the poorest of the districts who has to rely on her hunting and survival skills to compete against wealthier and better prepared opponents.  One of the more interesting aspects of the book is that since the competitors know they’re being watched on tv, they can manipulate the audience in hopes of having them contribute gifts that can be parachuted into the arena. An added twist to the story is that the boy from Katniss’ district, Peeta, may or may not be in love with her and they use the star-crossed lovers’ story to appeal to the audience.  Katniss is an interesting ambiguous character in that while knowing of the farce behind the tyrannical government she is also fully willing to participate in the competition.  On the downside of the novel, there is far too much internal monologue that reads as expository filler.

The book is good enough although I’m not sure it’s worthy of the hype and I’m not certain I’d want to read the rest of the series.   The completionist in me wants to know how the story ends but what I’ve read about the following book doesn’t sound like it would be all the interesting.

Recommended books: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson


Author: Jonathan Wilson
Title: Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics
Publication Info: Orion (2008)
ISBN:  0752889958
Summary/Review: This book traces this history of tactics, formations and styles over 100 years of soccer.  The title refers to the general trend toward defensive play moving players from the top of the formation to the bottom of the formation.  I’m still a novice viewer so I have trouble recognizing formations since they don’t seem to look the same with human beings as they do in diagrams.  The book required a great familiarity with tactics than I already have but was still very interesting and informative.  Wilson writes about the changes made by various coaches from around the world who made innovations that changed the game.  Often the typical coach would adhere to old tactics out of sense of conservatism and safety until someone took the risk.  Tactics usually only succeed until they’re universally adopted and then someone has to come up with something else.  Wilson raises the question of whether or not there are any innovations left in the game.

Recommended books: Beastly Fury: The Strange Birth of British Football by Richard Sanders, The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Rating: ***

Book Review:Soccer in a Football World by David Wangerin


Author: David Wangerin
Title: Soccer in a Football World
Publication Info: Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2008.
ISBN:
Summary/Review: Following up on Beastly Fury, the story of the origin of the game of football in Britain, I wanted to know the history of soccer in my own country.  Foreigners and Americans alike will claim that there isn’t any history to soccer in the United States, but the game does stretch back to 1863 when the Oneida Football Club played a pre-codified version of the game on Boston Common.  The British version of Association Football arrived early but did not gain much acceptance at American universities who ended up taking to a modified version of Rugby instead.  Soccer would find its adherents in patches across America especially around Kearny, NJ, St. Louis, MO, and Fall River, MA.  From the 1910s to 1930s, a team sponsored by Bethlehem Steel would be known as being among the best in the country although attracted more attention when traveling than when playing in their somewhat remote industrial town.

Competition began to blossom with the National Challenge Cup (forerunner of the US Open Cup) in 1914 and the emergence of the first viable league in 1921, the American Soccer League (ASL).  Wangerin illustrates that the ASL was a popular league, growing in success and attracting European players as well as developing local talent.  But the ASL and soccer in general were done in by conflicts between the ASL and the United States Football Association and the economic crisis of the Great Depression.  Soccer would be reduced to mostly pockets of amateur competitions played by immigrants for the coming three decades.

Investors in the 1960s decided to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of the game by creating two leagues that would eventually merge to form the North American Soccer League in 1968.  The league grew slowly until the game changer of the New York Cosmos signing Pele preceded an unlikely surge in soccer’s popularity in the mid-to-late 70s.  The NASL expanded way too fast and created an unsustainable model of signing expensive star players from Europe and South America that eventually lead to the league’s collapse.  The best attempt to develop local talent in the NASL was in 1983 when the US national team actually played as a franchise, Team America, based in Washington, but sadly finished last.  A more lasting legacy was children’s and youth soccer leagues resulting in many more Americans playing soccer than watching soccer.

After a brief fling with the hybrid sport of indoor soccer in the 80s & 90s, the outdoor game regained prominence with US men’s team qualifying for the World Cup in 1990 and hosting in 1994.  Major League Soccer was born in 1996 and the US women’s team would gain sudden popularity in 1999 hosting the Women’s World Cup.  By the 200os, the men’s national team were finding success and MLS was stabilizing if not a runaway success.  Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the country but it has found its niche and left a lot of history behind.

Recommended books: The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill, The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World by Jere Longman, and Once in a Lifetime by Gavin Newsham.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football by Richard Sanders


Author: Richard Sanders
Title: Beastly fury : the strange birth of British football
Publication Info: London : Bantam, 2009.
ISBN: 9780593059708
Summary/Review: This is a concise history of the game of association football in Great Britain from its origins to World War I.  Sanders makes it clear that he’s out to bust some popular misconceptions of football’s origins, but I didn’t know much football history coming into this book so it’s all new to me.  Sanders traces the origins of the game not only to massive Shrove Tuesday games played in provincial towns but also to a smaller vernacular game played by farmers and laborers in their free time.  These games were adopted by English public schools that were often crude and violent affairs.  Alumni of public schools created the first football codes to standardize the rules of the games but working class players in the industrial North would also play a role in the organization of the game.

Sanders notes that class conflict was central in the early days of football.  The wealthy elites stood for an amateur ideal that found it not only ungentlemanly to accept pay but even to practice as a team.  The working class were more eager to professionalize the game and thus earn income from their well-honed skills.  A middle class of industrialists who would organize clubs and competitions and eventually the Football League kept football from becoming an elite sport like cricket or from splitting into different codes like Rugby.

I was surprised to learn that football was most successful in the Midlands and North in the early days of the sport and not in London.  It seems analogous to the Pacific Coast League being the premier baseball league  in the United States a century ago instead of teams based in the Northeast and Midwest.  I also had no previous knowledge that football was improved by Scottish players – who basically invented the passing game – and many of the best players in the early Football League came down from Scotland.
Recommended books: The Simplest Game: The Intelligent Fan’s Guide to the World of Soccer by Paul Gardner, Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson, and Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: As It Was in the Beginning by Robert McClory


Author: Robert McClory
Title:  As It Was in the Beginning
Publication Info: New York : Crossroad Pub., c2007.
ISBN: 9780824524197

Books by the same author: Faithful Dissenters
Summary/Review: McClory boldly declares that democratization is coming to the Catholic Church, and soon, something not readily evident by the Church hierarchy’s growing conservatism in the past 3 to 4 decades.  His patient and hopeful thesis is built on a well-researched historical record of changing structures within the Church that have always returned to consensus fidelium.  Examples range from the efforts of the people to support the teachings of the Council of Nicea against bishops who campaigned for a contrary teaching to reform of the 20th century evident in the Second Vatican Council.  McClory illustrates a possible future in which the laity is included in a way that seems not just hopeful, but even possible.
Favorite Passages:

If modernity stressed reason, the church stressed faith.  If modernity stressed human progress, the church stressed original sin.  If modernity stressed freedom of thought, the church stressed the binding nature of its dogmas.  If modernity stressed democracy, the church stressed authority.  This stress-filled stalemate was to perdure for the better part of four hundred years.  If there had been even a small opening for discussion and dialogue between these two rivals, I think the church might well have served as a helpful brake on the runaway exuberance of modernity that led to riots, wars, and mass executions, of which the French Revolution is one well-known example.  By the same token, some discussion and dialogue between the two sides might have helped the church realize that many Enlightenment insights were not fundamentally different from some of its own foundational values. – p. 118-19

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Why You Can Disagree & Remain a Faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman
Rating: ***

Book Review: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic by Philip S. Kaufman


Author: Philip S. Kaufman
Title: Why you can disagree– and remain a faithful Catholic
Publication Info: Bloomington, IN : Meyer-Stone Books, c1989.
ISBN: 0940989239
Summary/Review:

A provocative title but a well-researched and informed look at many of the issues that divide the Catholic Church hierarchy and many of the faithful today.  Kaufman  explores the development of conscience among the people of the church over the centuries and how it has always been valued when regarding moral questions.  The idea of infallibility in teachings of the church has always had to consider the sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium) something that has not been considered or reached in many of the controversial issues of today.  These issues include birth control, divorce & remarriage, and democracy within the church.  Kaufman addresses each of these issues in detail exploring Biblical and traditional takes on the issues and how they’ve changed over time.  This is a good book to get an informed look at issues affecting the Church today and realizing that they’re not always as simple or clear-cut as they’ve been presented.
Favorite Passages:

The list of moral questions on which authoritative teaching has changed is long.  Defenders of a call for absolute obedience to all such teaching often hold that the doctrines taught were correct for their own time and circumstances, but that changed conditions and further enlightenment led to the formulation of new positions.  But such a justification can hardly be applied to Pope St. Gregory the Great’s condemnation of pleasure in marital intercourse, Innocent IV’s teaching on witches and the use of torture in judicial interrogations, or Pius IX’s condemnation of the proposition “that freedom of conscience and of worship is the proper right of each man, and that this should be proclaimed and asserted in every rightly constituted society. – p. 21

It is often argued that scandal will be given by a relaxation of current practice [regarding divorce & remarriage].  If available statistics are any indication, lack of compassion toward people in great suffering and need gives even greater scandal.  It is a question of who is being scandalized.  Should our concern be only for those who will not accept change in church teaching?  What of the scandal of those who ask: Is it moral in the face of so much suffering by so many millions of the church’s own members to maintain a discipline with such a weak biblical, historical, and doctrinal foundation? – p. 115

Since God does not govern the church directly, however, but through human beings, it is legitimate and necessary to ask what type of government comes closest to realizing the New Testament ideal.  I doubt that autocracy, in which the educated, privileged few teach and control the uneducated masses, the so-called simple faithful, ever realized that ideal.  Autocracy is particularly inappropriate in the modern world.  The form of church government that accords best with the gospel spirit is democracy. – p. 119

Recommended books: Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism by Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faithful Dissenters: Stories of Men and Women Who Loved and Changed the Church by Robert McClory, and Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Poverty of Spirit by Johannes B. Metz


Author: Johannes B. Metz
Title:  Poverty of Spirit
Publication Info: Paulist Pr (1976)
ISBN: 0809119242
Summary/Review:

This is a short, but profound book reflecting on the humanity of Christ incarnated and our own human condition.  It’s one of those books that I really ought to reread and meditate upon to do it justice.  Nevertheless I can say that it is a work that is deeply challenging and examines the many forms of poverty that exist in humanity and must be embraced to follow the way of Christ.
Favorite Passages:

“The only image of God is the face of our brother, who is also the brother of God’s Son, of God’s own likeness (2 Cor. 4, 4; Col. 1, 15).  Our human brother now becomes a “sacrament” of God’s hidden presence among us, a mediator between God and man.  Every authentic religious act is directed toward the concreteness of God in our human brother and his world.  There it finds it living fulfillment and its transcendent point of contact.  Could man be taken more seriously than that?  Is anything more anthropocentric than God’s creative love?” – p. 35

“Every genuine human encounter must be inspired by poverty of spirit.  We must forget ourselves in order to let the other person approach us.  We must be able to open up to him, to let his distinctive personality unfold — even though it often frightens or repels us.  We often keep the other person down, and only see what we want to see; thus we never really encounter the mysterious secret of his being,  only ourselves.  Failing to risk the poverty of encounter, we indulge in a new form of self-assertion and pay a price for it: loneliness.  Because we did not risk the poverty of openness (cf. Mt. 10, 39), our lives are not graced with the warm fullness of human existence.  We are left with only a shadow of our real self.” – p. 45

Recommended books: The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Awakened from Within: Meditations on the Christian Life by Frere Roger, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Francis Of Assisi and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day.
Rating:

Book Review: Ambassadors of reconciliation by Ched Myers & Elaine Enns


Author: Ched Myers & Elaine Enns
Title: Ambassadors of reconciliation
Publication Info: Maryknoll, N.Y. : Orbis Books, 2009
ISBN:  9781570758317
Summary/Review:
This beautiful book explores the ideas of forgiveness and restorative justice based on the Gospel and Christian teaching.  As a modern example of the teaching of Christ the authors frequently cite the writings and actions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights activists of the 1950s & 60s.  Both Christ and King demonstrate how through nonviolent action “peacemaking must first be peace disturbing.”  This is the first of two volumes and I hope to find the time to read the second part.

Recommended books: Bound to Forgive: The Pilgrimage to Reconciliation of a Beirut Hostage by Martin Jenco, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow, and The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Take Time for Paradise by A. Bartlett Giamatti


Author: A. Bartlett Giamatti
Title: Take time for paradise : Americans and their games
Publication Info: Bloomsbury USA, 2011.
ISBN: 9781608192243
Summary/Review:

When I was young and stupid, I hated Giamatti for banning Pete Rose from baseball.  Over the years I came to realize that Rose is a cheater and a liar, and that Giamatti’s premature death was a great loss for Major League Baseball.   This charming little book shows why.  Giammatti was an intellectual who took time to philosophize over why Americans play games dropping in a few classical references here and there to illustrate his points.  It’s a pretty little book that should be enjoyed by baseball fans or people who want to understand the games we play.
Favorite Passages:

I do not believe human beings have played games or sports from the beginning merely to summon or to please or to appease the gods.   If anthropologists and historians believe that, it is because they believe whatever they have been able to recover about what humankind told the gods humankind was doing I believe we have played games, and watched games, to imitate the gods, to become godlike in our worship of each other and, through those moments of transmutation, to know for an instant what the gods know. – p. 24-25

Recommended books: Why Time Begins on Opening Day by Thomas Boswell, This Time Lets Not Eat the Bones by Bill James, Out of My League by George Plimpton.
Rating: ***

Book Review: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang


Author: Ha-Joon Chang
Title: 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism
Publication Info: Bloomsbury Press (2011)
ISBN: 97816081916666
Summary/Review:

I received this book as an advanced reading copy through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  Like the title says, it goes through 23 aspects of capitalism that are myths, misrepresentations, or simply bald-faced lies.  Now this book is not anti-capitalism, but the author does seek to debunk the ideology of free-market capitalism (itself misnamed) that over the past three decades has gained an almost religious reverence in political and economic circles.  Some of the most interesting tidbits include:

  • The economic and technological revolution of the internet has been vastly overstated.  We do not live in a post-industrial age and the washing machine has changed the world more than the internet has.
  • There is no such thing as a free market as there is some level of regulation in all markets.
  • Running a company for shareholder interest is inefficient for the company and bad for the national economy.
  • If we assume the worst about people we will get the worst out of them (this applies to the frequently repeated belief that the economy is based on individual self-interest and denials that people are moral agents).
  • Many successful endeavors have been initiated by the government or through public-private partnerships.
  • Regulation works not because the government knows better but because it deliberately restricts our choices within the scope of humanity’s bounded rationality.
  • Bigger government allows people to take more risks by re-tooling their work skills knowing there is a safety net if they fail.

Chang’s writing style can be dry – although there are flashes of good humor – and he gets repetitive since the 23 things overlap often.  I found it an interesting overview of economics and capitalism and makes a lot of good points about what’s wrong with the prevailing opinion.  Of course, I may be predisposed to agree with Chang’s thesis, but I also feel I learned a number of things I never understood before.
Favorite Passages:

“The higher purchasing power of US citizens (compared to the citizens of other rich countries) is owed in large part to the poverty and insecurity of many of their fellow citizens, especially in the service industries.  The Americans also work considerably longer than their counterparts in competitor nations. Per hour worked, US incomes is lower than that of several European countries, even in purchasing power terms.  It is debatable that that can be described as having a higher living standard.” – p. 111

“Simply making the rich richer does not make the rest of us richer.  If giving more to the rich is going to benefit the rest of society, the rich have to be made to deliver higher investment and thus higher growth through policy measures (e.g., tax cuts for the rich individuals and corporations, conditional on investment), and then share the fruits of such growth through a mechanism such as the welfare state.” – p. 147

“When the managerial classes in the US and, to a lesser extent Britain, possess such economic, political and ideological power that they can manipulate the market and pass on the negative consequences of their actions to other people, it is an illusion to think that executive pay is something whose optimal levels and structures are going to be, and should be, determined by the market.” – p. 156

“Unless we deliberately restrict our choices by creating restrictive rules, thereby simplifying the environment that we have to deal with, our bounded rationality cannot cope with the complexity of the world.  It is not  because the government necessarily knows better that we need regulation.  It is in the humble recognition of our limited mental capability that we do.”  – p. 177

Recommended books: The Great Unraveling by Paul Krugman, Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston, The Big Short by Michael Lewis
Rating: ***

Soccer Spectating Report 16 May-6 June


With the Champions League final, the European season comes to the end. I watched a lot of teams and lot of games and determined that the clubs I like best are Everton of the English Premier League and Ajax of the Dutch Eredivisie. Next year I’m thinking I’ll try to watch as many games featuring those clubs as possible as well as pick out one other “game of the week” featuring European sides. I’ll also continue following Ireland in their Euro 2012 campaign. Of course I plan to continue supporting my home teams the New England Revolution and the Boston Breakers and maybe check out some games from Mexico, South America, Australia and Japan. But I do plan to lower the intensity and I don’t intend to continue writing about it.

I figured this would be my last soccer spectating report, but with the USMNT competing in the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the USWNT hoping to regain the Women’s World Cup, I think I will make two more soccer spectating reports before I quit.

United States 2:0 Japan (18 May)

Another Women’s World Cup warm-up for the USWNT and it felt like it.  It was not an exciting win and Japan seemed overmatched while both sides were more focused on testing things out.  But a win’s a win.

Everton 1:0 Chelsea (22 May)

An exciting final game for Everton who defeated Chelsea on a late-game goal by Jermaine Beckford after they’d been reduced to 10 men.  Everton’s  late season form helps them finish in 7th place which is about as good as one can expect right now with the Big 6 dominating the top 6 spots.

Sporting KC 5:0 New England Revolution (25 May)

Egads, the Revs crushed all the hopes built up by their good performance in their game against DC United in this truly awful US Open Cup qualifier in a torrential downpour in Kansas City.  Well, let’s hope they can make something of the league season at least.

Barcelona 3:1 Manchester United (28 May)

United started off strong, and the goal by Wayne Rooney was impressive, but otherwise were totally overmatched by Barcelona in this UEFA Champions League final.  Barça showed that they are truly great teams of all time by dominating the English league champions.

New England Revolution 0:1 Los Angeles Galaxy (28 May)

The Revs showed some signs of life in the second life, but not enough to avoid yet another shutout.  One kind of hopes that they’ll finally pull things together and start playing more competitively for all 90 minutes, but the season is slipping away.

United States 0:4 Spain (4 June)

I had tickets to this game but did not see it live because after being stuck in horrendous traffic was faced with paying $40 for parking at Gillette Stadium who would not accept credit cars.  So rather than find a bank and pay extortionate rates for half a  game I gave up.  It’s really a shame that the Krafts built their temple of greed in the middle of nowhere rather than in the urban core near public transportation.  We watched the replay on ESPN3 and it was disappointing as well.  Spain started their best players and dominated.  Bob Bradley tinkered with his lineup – perhaps a little understandable with the the Gold Cup coming up – but disappointing to people who paid a lot of money to see (or not be able to see) their team compete.

Macedonia 0:2 Ireland (4 June)

Ireland kept themselves in a good position for Euro 2012 qualifying with captain Robbie Keane scoring both the goals.

Boston Breakers 2:1 magicJack (5 June)

Boston picks up another 3 points against the worst-named team in WPS with Meghan Klingenberg scoring her first goal for the team.

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