Podcasts of the Week Ending December 8


On the Media :: Whose Streets?

An expose on news media coverage that biases the priority of the automobile and questions the “heartwarming” stories of people walking long ways to work and transit inequality.

BackStory :: Forgotten Flu

100 years ago, a deadly influenza tore through the United States killing people in their peak of health.

Code Switch :: The Story of Mine Mill

The history of a radical leftist union that organized miners and millworkers in Birminham, Alabama, bringing together Black and white workers at the height of Jim Crow in the 1930s-1960s.

The Memory Palace :: Revolutions

A tribute to the humble – and noisy – washing machine.

99% Invisible :: Oñate’s Foot

The controversy over how Albuquerque would commemorate the conquistador who some see as New Mexico’s founding father and others see as a mass murderer

Nobody’s Home :: “Brown in a Different Way:” The Gentrification Dilemma

Nobody’s Home is a miniseries focusing on the problem of vacant housing in the United States.  It’s strange to listen to in Boston where the shortage of housing is the big problem.  But this episode on gentrification and the long history of inequality in housing ties both issues together well.

Book Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman


Author: William Goldman
TitleThe Princess Bride
Narrator: Rob Reiner
Publication Info: Phoenix Books (1999) [Original published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1973)]
Other books read by the same author: The Silent Gondoliers (as S. Morgenstern)
Summary/Review:

“Life isn’t fair, it’s just fairer than death, that’s all.”

The recent death of William Goldman prompted me to seek out one of my all-time favorite books, The Princess Bride.  If you’re familiar with the classic 1987 film adaptation, Goldman’s book is even more funny, more clever, and more sweetly satirical. The book is written with a framing device in which he discovers that a beloved adventure book read to him by his father when he was sick as a child, was actually a long political satire that bored his own son.  So Goldman decides to publish an abridged version with only the good parts.  All of this framing device is fictional, as Goldman invented both the story of The Princess Bride and a fictional wife and son.

The audio book version I found to listen too is disappointingly an abridged version, ironic since The Princess Bride is already supposed to be an abridged book. Many of the scenes that don’t correspond directly to the movie are left out of the audiobook, including the majority of Goldman’s framing device interrupting the narrative.  The audiobook doesn’t even have the Reunion Scene.  As a bonus, the book is read by Rob Reiner – director of the film – in his wonderful Bronx accent.

It’s definitely worth putting this on to play to your kids if you’re not up for reading the book out loud yourself.

Recommended booksThe Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, and The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Rating: ****1/2

An even dozen


Hokey smokes, I completely forgot to commemorate by 12th anniversary of this blog’s first on December 4, 2006!  It seems amazing to do anything for 12 years, much less spend hundreds of hours writing something no one reads. (j/k)

Here are some thoughts on being twelve:

  • This is the 3,049th post I’ve published.
  • In the past year I’ve quit Facebook and Tumblr, so I’m trying to rely on this blog to connect with people even more.
  • Nevertheless, I still maintain an accounts on Instagram, Pocket, and two Twitter accounts: @Othemts for general tweets and @ArchivaLiam for archives & library issues.
  • I also moved my Doctor Who sideblog from Tumblr to WordPress.
  • I’m curious about what other social media alternatives may be out there.  Mastodon? MeWe? Vero?  Where’s the next bold internet venture where all the good people are hanging out?
  • This year I debuted the following new features;
    • Monthly Mixtape – the best new songs from every month.
    • City Stories – my personal reflections on experiences in the world’s great cities
  • I created new pages as indexes to help you find some of my best back posts:
  • I enjoyed participating in the following blogging projects:
    • AdventWord – reflections and photographs for each day in Advent.  I should be doing this again right now but I’m not so organized this year.
    • Blogging A to Z Challenge – in which I watched and reviewed documentary films
    • 30 Day Song Challenge – 30 of my favorite songs and stories that go with them.

 

My most popular posts from the past year according to WordPress stats:

  1. VOTE on September 4th! Massachusetts Primary Elections
  2. Major League Baseball Expansion: A 32 Team Option
  3. Concert Review: Janelle Monáe
  4. Movie Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) #atozchallenge
  5. Album Review: The Beatles “White Album” Super Deluxe Edition

Here are five of my personal favorite posts that I think more people should read and comment on:

But most of all, I really, REALLY want people to give some attention to my City Stories.  I plan to write more of these in 2019 and it would be great to get some feedback.

  1. Brooklyn
  2. Derry
  3. London
  4. Chicago
  5. Venice

And now onto a Lucky 13th year!

Previously:

Music Discoveries: The Beatles Go Solo, part 1


I’ve been a Beatles fan for as long as I remember, but I’ve never spent much time with the individual works outside of their Beatles contribution. Sure, I’ve enjoyed songs by John Lennon, George Harrison, and even Ringo Starr – and been disappointed by Paul McCartney’s solo mediocrity – but there’s a lot out there I’ve never listened to. So I’m going to spend the next month listening to all the albums John, Paul, George, & Ringo produced – on their own and with new collaborators – from the first solo release in 1968 to 1980. I chose that cutoff, because Lennon’s December 8, 1980 death meant that there would be no new releases from all of the Beatles after that date. Also, that way I don’t have to listen to any of McCartney’s truly awful music from the 1980s.

So let’s hop back in the time machine to 1968, when the Beatles were squabbling, nearing divorce, and decided to some experimentation on their own.

Artist: George Harrison
Album: Wonderwall Music
Released: 1 November 1968
Favorite Tracks: Drilling a Home, Party Seacombe, and Glass Box
Thoughts:

The first Beatle to venture into solo territory is not surprisingly George Harrison, whose musical interests began to diverge early on and was never able to make a dent in the Lennon/McCartney songwriting powerhouse.  Wonderwall Music is considered curiosity for being the first solo Beatle album and the inspiration for the title of an Oasis hit.  I hadn’t realized that it was the soundtrack to a psychedelic move called Wonderwall, or that Harrison worked with a number of classical Indian musicians to record it.  More surprising, I came to like it.  The mix of Indian tracks with rock, country, and ragtime was interesting and may have made a bigger impression in, say, the 1980s, when Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon were making hit records with this type of world music fusion. Harrison was ahead of his time


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins
Released: 29 November 1968
Thoughts:

With Wonderwall Music, the “White Album,” and this, the Beatles managed to release 4 LPs worth of music in the month of November 1968. Of course, Lennon and Ono didn’t likely spend a ton of time working on this one. The collection of tape loops, piano, and vocal eccentricities is a boutique recording documenting the couple’s intense attraction more than anything else.


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions
Released: 9 May 1969
Thoughts:

Kind of and odd duck of a collection. Like there’s a serious attempt to express the anguish of losing a baby to miscarriage but there’s also switching around of radio stations for a long time. Still basically the audio journal of John & Yoko, rather than an album.


Artist: George Harrison
Album: Electronic Sound
Released: 9 May 1969
Thoughts:

Harrison trades in Indian instruments for a Moog synthesizer and creates two extended pieces of instrumental electronic music.  I have a soft spot for atmospheric music like this, although I don’t have the critical skills to evaluate if Harrison was a good Moog-er for his time.  Still, a worthy experiment.


Artist: John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Album: Wedding Album
Released: 7 November 1969
Thoughts:

This might be the most pretentious John & Yoko album yet if they a) didn’t have reporters constantly asking them about themselves and b) expected anyone would want to buy this album.


Artist: Ringo Starr
Album: Sentimental Journey
Favorite Tracks: I’m a Fool to Care, Dream
Released: 27 March 1970
Thoughts:

God bless Ringo Starr! While George and John & Yoko are being all experimental and avant-garde, Ringo records an album of standards his mother loved. This is why Ringo was the heart of The Beatles.


Artist: Paul McCartney
Album: McCartney
Favorite Tracks: That Would Be Something, Every Night, Maybe I’m Amazed
Released: 17 April 1970
Thoughts:

McCartney finally joins the soloist club, working in secret at a home studio to create his first album largely on his own. The songs have either a stripped-down quality or McCartney rushed to release unfinished demos, depending on one’s perspective. Pairing the release with the announcement of the Beatles breaking up probably made this album more harshly reviewed than the other Beatles side projects, but there are some good songs amid the dithering about. “Maybe I’m Amazed” is my favorite McCartney song and that makes me wonder if it’s all downhill from here.


And the Beatles are officially broken up. Next week, a virtual deluge of new music from four individuals with their own distinct visions as well as some wives and other collaborators, and some continued infighting.

Book Review: Greed and Glory by Sean Deveney


Author:  Sean Deveney
TitleGreed and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Doc Gooden, Lawrence Taylor, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump, and the Mafia in 1980s New York
Publication Info: Skyhorse Publishing (2018)
Summary/Review:

Sean Deveney follows up his book about New York City in the 1960s through the lens of local politics and sports, Fun City, with this book about New York City in the 1980s through the lens of local politics and sports.  Fun City focused on two figures, Mayor John Lindsay and Jets quarterback Joe Namath, both handsome, young men who rose to prominence alongside the 60s youth culture and offered the promise of a great future (for themselves and the city) but also had hubris that lead to colossal failures.  Greed and Glory, as evident by the extraordinarily long subtitle is not so focused.  Greed and Glory cuts from storyline to storyline with no clear theme, and often is not even arranged chronologically.

The sports angle is covered by the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets and 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants.  Star players Dwight Gooden for the Mets and Lawrence Taylor for the Giants each struggle with their celebrity in New York and each end up with cocaine addictions that mar their careers.  But Deveney just can’t seem to focus on these two players and what they mean to the larger story of New York in the 1980s, and instead spends a lot of time describing the experiences of other Mets and other Giants and play-by-plays of important games in their championship seasons.  And while this kind of narrative can be interesting, there are whole other books dedicated to these teams’ champion seasons, whereas this one promises and fails to tell a more relevant story of Gooden and Taylor in 1980s New York.

The other storylines focus on New York mayor Ed Koch as his third term is rocked by scandals among the Democratic party leaders throughout the city.  Future mayor Rudy Giuliani makes his mark as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York by aggressively pursuing cases against the Mafia as well as the political corruption in the Koch administration.  And Donald Trump carries out a convoluted plot to get a NFL team and a domed stadium in Queens (paid for with other peoples’ money, naturally) by suing the NFL on behalf of the USFL.  The plan fails, but he somehow redeems himself by restoring the Wollman skating rink in Central Park.  Pretty much every sketchy detail of his character (and lack thereof) was evident in the 1980s, but for some reason people still decided to make him famous and then elect him President.  Ugh!

These storylines – if the Mets/Giants stories were excised – could almost make a good book, but there’s still too much and it just comes out messy. Granted, the 1980s in New York were a mess and it’s still difficult to make any sense of it.  Deveney doesn’t make a dent in that mess, but I will give him credit for at least making it a pageturner of a read, if ultimately too fluffy for its own good.

Recommended books:

  • The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform–and Maybe the Best by Jeff Pearlman
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
  • New York Calling : From Blackout to Bloomberg edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes


Author: Chris Hayes
TitleA Colony in a Nation
Narrator: Chris Hayes
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

Riffing off a phrase from Richard Nixon’s nomination speech, journalist Chris Hayes writes a series of essays about how African Americans have in fact become a “colony within a nation” in the decades since Nixon stressed the importance of law and order. The “colony” within the United States is denied the right people enjoy in the largely white “nation” and the nation is built on exploitation of the colony.  Issues covered include police violence against Black Americans, and systems of police enforcement driven by drawing revenue from largely Black populations, the War on Drugs, the militarization of police, white fear, and Broken Windows ideology. Hayes notes that the “nation” requires that the “order” part of “law and order” be prioritized and thus law is often used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of justice.

Hayes’ strongest writing comes in the analogies he uses to explain his ideas.  The life for Black Americans in the colony is similar to Colonial Americans who rebelled against British rule.  While unjust taxation is often credited with starting the American Revolution, Hayes traces the history of excessive force used by the British in an attempt to stop smuggling and make the Colonials pay tariffs being the real source of division.  White fear that drives police officers and white gun owners to shoot Black people without thinking is similar to the siege mentality of early colonists living among Native Americans and slave owners who lived in constant fear that they’d be victims of violence from Native Americans and enslaved Africans.  The idea of how community policing may work in comparison with the increasingly militarized and punitive policing in America today is demonstrated by how college campuses are policed. Colleges have a considerable amount of disorder and a high level of law breaking that is tolerated and even encouraged in a way that is opposite of how a poor, urban neighborhood is treating.

This is a well-written and thoughtful book and a good one to read to reflect on current events and how we can change things for the better.

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Rating: ****

 

Album Review: Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor


Album: Stranger Fruit
Artist: Zeal & Ardor
Release Date: June 7, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gravedigger’s Chant
  • Row, Row
  • Stranger Fruit
  • Built on Ashes

Thoughts:

Swiss-born Manuel Gagneux is part African-American on his mother’s side and his black metal band incorporates blues and spirituals into their metal sound.  It has the raging guitars and propulsive percussion that I like of metal, without the “I’m singing like a demon, aren’t I scary” vocals that I deeply dislike.   This album is a good companion to Algiers’ The Underside of Power, one of my favorite albums of last year.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 1


The New Yorker Radio Hour (via Re:Sound) :: John Thompson vs. American Justice

This podcast about the corruption and racism built into America’s criminal justice system was released in March, but brought to my attention by winning the bronze medal in the 2018 Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition.  John Thompson was tried and found guilty for two crimes he didn’t commit and spent 20 years trying to prove his innocence.  By the end of this story you’ll be cursing as much as Thompson.