Saturday, November 23, 2013

DTB Review: Open Cockpit

Product Details

  • File Size: 7363 KB
  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Grub Street Publishing (October 25, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc. (Kindle edition.)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G6SBIN8
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • ISBN-10: 1908117257 (Hardcover)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908117250
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars (11 customer reviews) 
  • Price: hardcover $16.63 plus shipping (what I paid); Kindle $10.09
1. Short review:  (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  Easy-to-read narrative by a flyer in the Great War.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? 80% walk-in-the-park; 20% roller-coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: The photos. There are six pages of black-and-white photos in the book plus the back of the dust cover and the cover photo (see above). They are not integrated into the text. They are just there. The cover photo is of a Nieuport two-seater of 46 Squadron -- AGL's squadron -- jinking to avoid flak, but when 46 Squadron flew Nieuports,  AGL had not joined the squadron.
     The non-scalable font. I have gotten used to e-books. I like to choose the size of the font I read. Not having that ability is an annoyance.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: I don't know. Air combat history buffs -- like me -- prefer hard history like AGL's No Parachute. The general audience does not read air combat history. Open Cockpit lies in no-man's land between the hard air combat history buffs and the general audience.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Had I read only Open Cockpit, I would not buy another book by AGL. Based on No Parachute,  I may order Fly Past.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There is no plot. Instead, there are unconnected chapters. Why AGL bothered to number the chapters I don't know. For examples, Fourteen, Ground Strafer (an account of AGL's ground attacks in a Sopwith Camel); Fifteen, The Red Baron (AGL flew combat against Rittmeister Manfred von Richtofen himself in June 1917 in a Sopwith Pup); Sixteen, Evening Patrol (AGL recounts leading a late patrol of himself, another experienced pilot, and three air-combat virgins). Why are these chapters together? I don't know. 
     The upside is that you can read the book a chapter at a time, as I did, without losing the thread. There isn't any thread.
 2.7. Other:
     A couple of items: 1) Manfred von Richtofen and 2) The Great War.
     The first book I read on air combat in The Great War was Quentin Reynolds, They Fought for the Sky.

     QR painted MvR as the villain of air combat in the Great War. In QR's book, MvR came across as a cold killer.
     That informed my view of MvR for years. But as I read more, including MvR's own Der rote Kampfflieger, I saw a different picture. There are many photos of MvR still extant. When he was photographed with his squadron mates, he smiled. Invariably. And his men smiled. Evidently, he liked them and they liked him. And MvR sat and slumped and relaxed. When he was photographed with his superiors, MvR stood to attention without a smile. Evidently, he was not comfortable with high-ranking officers. There is one photo of him smiling with a general. He was arm-in-arm with a squadron mate and appeared to be singing the praises of his mate to the general.
     That MvR was a calculating killer is born out in his own words. He was calculating. All combat pilots are calculating. Those that live, anyway. MvR took the most favorable attack because he wanted to live. The one combat in which he violated all his own rules cost him his life.
     It is a matter of record that MvR showed courtesy and chivalry to captured British airmen, going so far as to entertain them in his own mess.
     AGL called MvR a fair and worthy foe. That he was.

     In the last chapter, AGL called attention to the impact of the Great War. In one battle -- the Battle of the Somme -- "more British lives were lost than in the whole of the Second World War." During the Battle of Verdun, the French lost ten times as many men as the United States lost in all of the Vietnam War.
     These numbers are the reason I think the Great War is headline news in the military history of the 20th century and all else is below the fold.
     The price given above is what I paid. YMMV.

2.8. Links: 
No Parachute
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book: Open Cockpit

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Keith's Too Easy Sweet Potato Mash

     Gotta brine and roast that turkey. Gotta bake cornbread a day before to make the dressing and bake a single cup of dressing without sage for Uncle Ollie 'cause he doesn't like sage. Gotta shred cabbage and carrot and -- oh, why not? -- daikon for an autumn coleslaw 'cause the green salad last year just did not do the job against that mountain of meat and gravy. Gotta make Mashed Baked Potatoes with Sour Cream and Chives again 'cause they went like a house afire last year. Gotta cook carrots and string beans and umpteen other side dishes.
     Gotta drive to the next county to find a mom-and-pop bakery to buy cherry and apple pies 'cause Aunt Agnes recognized last year's offerings. "In my day we didn't serve up store-bought pies to family. We made 'em from scratch." Yeah, well, scratch me up some room in an oven that's filled with a twenty-five pound bird and two baking pans of dressing, you old bitty.
     Gotta clean the house in what few spare moments you can find so that it looks more like something out of Southern Living and less like something out of Field & Stream. Yeah, good luck with that.

     Need an easy-to-do side dish for Thanksgiving? I give you --

Keith's Too Easy Sweet Potato Mash (TA-DA!)

sweet potatoes (How many? As many as you want.)
1 quart plain yogurt

Microwave the sweet potatoes until they are soft. Don't even have to peel 'em. Cook 'em in their jackets. Let 'em cool for 10 minutes after pulling 'em out of the microwave. Scoop the insides into a bowl or pan or something (it's Thanksgiving and every pot, pan, and cup is in use). Add an equal amount of plain yogurt. Plain. Not the parfait with the fruit on the bottom or that blended mess. Plain. Mash the mixture with a potato masher. Me? I use a potato ricer. Hint: twist as you mash.

Add salt and pepper to taste, but go easy on the salt. One pinch, maybe two if you do a big batch, goes a long way. You should not taste the salt. It acts as an  aromatic to enhance the flavors already there. Fresh cracked pepper works surprisingly well with the sweet potatoes and yogurt.

I have not tried it, but I think a jalapeño, seeded and minced fine, would add a pleasant kick to KTESPM.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Keith's Too Easy Cream of Broccoli Soup

Thanksgiving is coming for Americans.* In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided to share with you my recipe for cream of broccoli soup. 

I shall return to Arthur Gould Lee's No Parachute next time.

Keith's Too Easy Cream of Broccoli Soup

(This recipe requires a large, heat-proof blender.  Mine is a Braun and the container is pyrex. This recipe does not scale; that is, you cannot double the recipe.  You must make multiple batches.)

1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 t  salt
1    small carrot, sliced (or 1/2 large carrot, sliced)
1    rib celery, sliced
1 T olive oil

1   clove garlic, mashed
1   jalapeno pepper**

In a 3-quart pot, heat the olive oil over high heat.  Add the onion, salt, carrot, and celery.  (For more flavor, caramelize the onion before you add the carrot and celery.)  Last, add the garlic (mashed on the cutting board with the flat of your chef's knife) and the jalapeno.  You don't want the garlic to burn (trust me; you really don't want the garlic to burn), so cook it for not more than 1 minute.  Then add

2 C water
1    crown broccoli, quartered

I trim, peel, and slice the broccoli stem and add it, too.

Cook covered on low heat.  How long?  Oh, an hour, maybe two.  Who cares.  You cannot overcook this.  As long as there is water in the pot, everything will be fine.  When you can poke a blunt chopstick into any piece of vegetable, the veggies are ready for the next step.

Spoon the veggies and liquid into a large blender.  Grind some fresh black pepper into the blender.  Put the cover on the blender and cover the top of the blender with a tea towel.  Start the blender at low speed and, step by step, increase the speed to its highest setting.  While the blender is running at its highest speed, pour in

1/2 C cream.

You will be tempted to substitute milk or some other dairy product or (gag) soy milk.  Don't.  The cream will capture air and add volume and lightness to the soup.

Serves four . . . or me.  (I like this soup a lot.)

* Canadians, you've had your Thanksgiving already, but you can still enjoy this soup.

** If heat is not your thing, you can leave out the jalapeno.  Or you can seed the jalapeno and caramelize the hulls for a surprising smoky flavor. (I find the jalapeno does not add much heat, but it acts as an aromatic to carry flavors to the palate.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

DTB Review deja vu: No parachute

Arthur Gould Lee, No Parachute

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 233 pages
  • Publisher: Time Life Education (June 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809496127
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809496129
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (9 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $48.80 plus shipping (<-- What I paid. Currently, Amazon lists a different printing for $21.20. This printing now sells for $152.00.)
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
Books that I rate 5 stars I read again. I found No Parachute more enjoyable the second time around.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:  The contemporaneous account by a flyer in the Great War.
Of all the books I have read on air combat in the Great War, No Parachute is the best. Next is Manfred von Richtofen, The Red Fighter Pilot, and James McCudden, Flying Fury.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.

2.2. What I did not like: See my first review.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Air combat buffs. History buffs.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. No worries.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Writing this post reminded me to order Open Cockpit. The DTB will be here soon; no ebook version available.

2.6. The Contents:
Author's Note
Part One.....The Pilots' Pool
Part Two.....The Ypres Front
Part Three..The Battle of Messines
Part Four....The Vimy Front
Part Five.....Air Defence of London
Part Six.......The Third Battle of Ypres
Part Seven..The Arras Front
Part Eight...The Battle of Cambrai
Part Nine....Cambrai Aftermath 

Appendix A..The Failure in High Command
Appendix B..Trenchard's Strategy of the Offensive 
Appendix C..Why No Parachutes?

     I shall pull out details from the body of the work. I shall not treat with the appendices in this post. I shall treat with each in turn in later posts. 

 2.7. Detail [AGL's words in quotes. My words in plain type.]:

Author's Note:
     "The letters in this volume were written in France in 1917 when I [Arthur Gould Lee] was a pilot in No 46 Fighter Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps. Together with my flying log-book and diary, and some maps, photographs, and official document . . . I have edited them for publication.
     "The names of places and the location of units, of which censorship forbade mention in correspondence, have been inserted throughout. There are occasional extracts from a diary to which were confided both views that might have brought trouble from the censor and subjects too sinister for a young wife to read. There are also linking paragraphs and footnotes . . .  to amplify the text . . . ."

     "This book tells, in unpretentious words, written on the day, hot on the event, of the progress from fledgling to seasoned fighter of one of [the] young flyers of no fame."

Part One.....The Pilots' Pool
From May 18th, 1917, to May 22nd.
     "The gloom merchants [pilots with combat experience] also say that the average life of a scout pilot on the Arras Front is still under three weeks. A lot of bally hot air . . . ." But the gloom merchants were right.
     "I may relieve a time-expired pilot who's done his six months, for that's as much as the average fellow can take if his squadron is a lot in action. If he's not rested then, he begins to crack up under the strain." Prophetic.
     On the 22nd, AGL was posted to 46 Squadron.

Part Two.....The Ypres Front
From May 22nd to May 31st. 
      May 22nd, AGL reported to 46 Squadron. That day, the squadron lost a pilot named Gunnery in a mid-air collision.
     May 23rd. "Today I had my first two flights, I've been to the Lines, and I've seen Hun archie in action. . . . Stephen [another 46 Squadron pilot] had been hit, had come down on this side, but had died of his wounds on the way to hospital. I must say, to have this happen twice in two days put me back a lot. Especially following on Gunnery's funeral, which I attended before my first flip, as one of the six pallbearers."
     May 24th (Diary). "The same sort of thing took place at Stephen's funeral as at Gunnery's. No coffin. But at least nobody fainted. Not a very bracing start for a newcomer to be welcomed with two funerals in two days . . . ."
     May 25th. "R.A.F. 2cs [in the song sung in the pilots' mess] are B.E. 2cs of course. The R.A.F. is the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, which produced them, and all the other bloodsome B.E. range, including the so-called scout-fighter, the B.E.12. I've flown them all at Filton, and though they're all right for gadding around England, they're completely old rope [obsolete] in France. . . .
     "One if the things I realised from these talks was that the old-timers are not only learning to fly Pups expertly but they're new to air fighting." Until May 1917, 46 Squadron flew Nieuport two-seater reconnaissance planes. "Their first operational flights started only nine days before I arrived on the 22nd."
     May 26th (Diary). "On the way back from La Gorgue [cemetery to visit the graves of Gunnery and Stephen], discussing Gunnery's collision Barrager spoke of the time the machine took to get to the ground, even with one wing crumpled back. . . . He had a long way to go, over three miles, with ample time to escape if only he'd had a parachute. Somebody asked why we don't have them. Hundreds of lives would be saved. After all, the balloon chaps do have them, and use them often. . . . [W]hy can't machines be made to accommodate a parachute? Every pilot would sacrifice a little performance to have a chance of escape from break-ups and flamers. It would be a great boost for morale."
     May 31st. First air fight with "six Albatros D-IIIs".

Part Three..The Battle of Messines
From June 1st to June 14th.
     June 1st (Diary). "Last night I lay awake thinking of my narrow squeak in my first scrap. That group of bullet-holes behind my back, plus having a jam in the middle of a dog-fight. The odd thing is that I didn't have time to be scared, it all happened so quickly. . . . It's only later on, especially when you get to bed, that you begin to think about what might have happened."
     June 4th. "I was in another scrap today, and this was a real one, with a Hun shot down, the first the squadron has had confirmed since it re-equipped with Pups. Courtneidge led me and Odell on an early (7.45) O.P." (Offensive Patrol - a flight 1 to 10 miles over the German side of the lines.) "Courtneidge claimed his Hun and I confirmed it."
     June 5th. "The squadron has two big D.O.P.s today." (Distant Offensive Patrol - a flight 10 to 15 miles over the German side of the lines.)
     June 9th (Diary). "I keep thinking of the flamer today. The pilot jumped. He had a light-yellow flying coat, and it bellied out, momentarily checking his fall, like a parachute, so that the machine left him behind. Then he turned over and dived after it, alongside the column of black smoke. A horrid sight. . . . The Hun pilot could easily have got away with it if he'd had a parachute, he'd enough time to get clear before his plane lit up."
      June 12th. "Another new man, Fleming, has arrived, who makes the seventh since I joined the squadron . . . ." In AGL's first three weeks with 46 Squadron, out of a total of eighteen pilots the squadron lost seven. 

Part Four....The Vimy Front
From June 17th to July 10th.
      June 24th. "As we watched [the front], a balloon to the northwards lit up . . . We saw two parachutes beneath, like white parasols, and through field glasses spotted the dark blobs below which were the observers, going down very slowly . . . ."
      June 29th. "[Flight leader] Scott left [our patrol] because he'd shot away half his propeller. The Sopwith-Kauper interrupter gear with which the Pup is fitted is complicated mechanically, and sometimes goes wrong, and then the bullets go through the prop. It's this gear which slows down the rate of fire of the Vickers. In the air, when you press the trigger, instead of getting the fast rattle of a ground gun, you have a frustrating pop! pop! pop! pop! The Huns have a much more efficient gear, for the Spandau fires very fast."  ['Spandau' refers to a license-built Maxim machine gun built at the Spandau Arsenal, Berlin. The British Vickers company had purchased the Maxim company before the war. The Vickers machine gun was a Maxim gun with slight improvements. Thus, the British and Germans used essentially the same machine gun throughout the war.] The reduced firing rate of its gun was a severe handicap to the Sopwith Pup.
     July 8th. "Such wonderful news! It is 5 a.m., and we're all up, dressed, ready to fly to England! Yes, the squadron is coming to England."

Part Five.....Air Defence of London
From July 11th to August 30th. 
     "Britain entered the war without the means to resist air attack. During 1916 an unco-ordinated assortment of naval and military aeroplanes . . . was able to dispose of the menace of Zeppelins, but when the Germans turned to day raids by fast well-armed Gotha formations the planes that rose to meet them . . . were hopelessly outmatched . . . . [O]n June 13th fourteen Gothas reached London and circled around dropping bombs at their pleasure, causing a casualty list of 162 killed and 432 injured . . . . Lloyd George and his War Cabinet hastily decided to double the size of the R.F.C., a futile gesture when even existing demands for aircraft and engines could not be met. . . . Saturday, June (sic, July) 7th, the Gothas came again, twenty-one of them releasing their bombs on the capital without interference, and causing 250 casualties. . . . [T]he cabinet held an immediate meeting in an atmosphere bordering on panic. . . . Following this meeting, [Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir William] Robertson telegraphed [Commander-in-Chief of British Expeditionary Forces Douglas] Haig: 'The Cabinet have decided at a special meeting this afternoon [08 July 1917] that Home Defence Forces must be strengthened at once by two first-class fighting squadrons tomorrow to England.'" Haig ordered Commander of the Royal Flying Corps Hugh 'Boom' Trenchard to dispatch two fighter squadrons immediately. "Trenchard selected No 46 and another squadron. . . . [T]he Cabinet decided on the 9th to make do with one squadron" and the other squadron -- delayed by weather -- stayed at the front.
     For six weeks, 46 Squadron flew out of Sutton's Farm, Essex. They taught themselves to fly what I know as fingertip formation, flew exhibitions, and passed their time at badminton and gardening.
     "[D]uring the six weeks that 46 Squadron spent in England, it never once came within shooting distance of the enemy."
     AGL related this part in narrative written for the publication of the book. "During the time the squadron was in England, [AGL] wrote no letters, for the simple reason that [his] wife was with [him]."

Part Six.......The Third Battle of Ypres
From August 30th to September 6th. 
     August 31st. "It wasn't until I began to write this letter and put down the date that I remembered this is my birthday. Twenty-three! . . .
     "Until a week or so ago, 45 [Squadron] had aged Sopwith two-seaters, but they're re-equipping with Camels, and absolutely rave about them. They say they can now make the Albatros look foolish, and have already shot down a few."
     September 3rd. "[G]ood news about Barrager. He was wounded in the leg . . . . Good old Barrage, a blighty for him, maybe even to Canada." (AGL means Barrager had a wound serious enough to cause him to be withdrawn from the front and posted to the Home Establishment squadrons in England or to a training squadron in his home land, Canada.)
     September 4th. "I've got a Hun at last! And all on my own. And confirmed. An Albatros V-strutter, a D-III. . . . I suppose I ought to say that when I saw him go down, quite certain that I'd got him, I was filled with a wild sensation of triumph, and all that sort of thing, but in fact I was so busy concentrating on what I was doing that I forgot to be excited. In the Mess, afterwards, celebrating, I did feel pretty thrilled, but not at the time."
     September 6th. "The squadron is being moved from this front, as it is too hot for us. We can't hold our own against the newest Huns, especially now that they have triplanes which can literally make rings even round Pups. It's too much like pitting pigeons against hawks. . . . [T]he lack of daily fighting and patrolling for nearly two months has put us older pilots out of practice, and we have five inexperienced chaps, including the two who joined us at Bruay -- the third, Bird, has already gone."

Part Seven..The Arras Front
From September 7th to October 21st. 
     September 11th. "We tried out our new flight tactics this morning, and they worked well. Net result, one two-seater L.V.G. shot down out of control, shared between Scott and me."
     September 14th. "I went with Charles Courtneidge on a joy-ride to Bellevue aerodrome, ten miles south of here, to see one of the 11 Squadron chaps we knew. The have Bristol Fighters, and are doing very well on them, mainly owing to a Canadian, McKeever. He told me that he handles his machine as if it were a scout, fighting with his front gun while the gunner protects their tail." When first introduced, the Brisfits followed the doctrine for two-seaters: fly level and let the gunner do the shooting. The first patrol of six Brisfits ran into Richtofen and his Circus. Result: four Brisfits shot down. When McKeever started flying the Brisfit like a fighter, things changed. On this date McKeever had twelve kills. By the end of November 1917 his total was thirty-one. 
     September 15th (Diary). "Today I found myself thinking what a stupid thing war is, especially when you don't know what it's all about, yet I couldn't have stayed out of it. Now I'm stuck in it, with no thought for the future. . . . [N]ow we can't imagine life without war. I suppose older people can, but most of us have never tasted anything else since we left school or university. And what's so strange is how easily all of us accept this existence of killing or being killed as absolutely the normal."
     September 21st. "'C' Flight also had some excitement, and got another L.V.G., shared by Scott and me. . . . In your last letter you ask why I touch wood just before a scrap when I could pray. But why should God grant me any special favour? The Hun I'm fighting may be calling on Him too. . . . How can I call on God to help me shoot down a man in flames?"
     September 22nd. "As I swirled around, I saw a D-III try to get behind and below [Charles], but I slid behind him, drew close, fired thirty rounds. He jerked up behind the Brisfit, fell over and span (sic, spun) down."
     September 23rd. "We've had definite news at last about the casualties of September 3rd. McDonald died of wounds, but Bird and Williams are prisoners. We get this information through Huns flying over our side periodically with a streamered message bag containing the list of R.F.C. and R.N.A.S. casualties. We do the same for them . . . ."
     September 30th. "I saw below me the D.F.W.s we'd originally spotted. . . . The observer began to fire as I came down, but I dived behind and below him, then zoomed up under the impetus of the dive. From underneath, before the pilot could jink, I got in a long burst along the underbelly. The machine reared up, fell over sideways on to its back, and dived slantingly, turning on to its back twice more before I lost it."
     "When [Armitage] joined us at the hangar we found he'd been wounded in the leg. It was painful, as the bullet was still there, but nothing very serious, though good enough for a blighty."
     October 1st. "Armie's [that is, Armitage's] replacement, called Warwick, has arrived and the batmen are putting his things in the cubicle behind mine, previously occupied by Ferrie, who has just moved to another hut because we other three in the Nissen groused about the noise he made in nightmares -- dreaming his machine was in flames or breaking up, and so on." 
     October 2nd. "In the afternoon several of us drove over [to the hospital] to see Armitage. He'd had an operation, but seemed comfortable, and very cheerful at the prospect of being soon back in England."
     October 4th. "There's been no serious flying for two days, and this afternoon 'C' Flight took the opportunity to go and see Armie again, and take him some chocs and apples, but were surprised to find him looking so ill. The nurse would only allow Nobby and me to see him, and then only for two minutes. She said he'd had another operation and the [anaesthetic] gas upsets him."
     October 5th. "Early this morning came the shocking news that Armie died last night of gangrene poisoning. We can't believe it. Although he looked pale yesterday, he seemed cheerful enough, braced at the expectation of soon being sent to England. What on earth could have caused a simple wound like his, under treatment by hospital staff within an hour of it happening, to go wrong so quickly?"
     October 11th. "I shot down another Hun today, a D-V shared with Joske." (Do you recall how excited AGL was 04 September 1917 when his got his first kill? Now he is matter-of-fact about it.) 

Part Eight...The Battle of Cambrai
From November 7th to December 7th. 
      November 8th. "I've done five flights today, including two short ones on the Camel." In November 1917, 46 Squadron exchanged their Sopwith Pups for Sopwith Camels. At this point, the squadron had only one Camel.
     November 17th. "There are no more Pups in 'C' Flight!" Within days the whole squadron flew Camels.
     November 19th. "So many Camels are being damaged in bad landings that the mechanics are working into the night, getting them serviceable . . . ." Camels were killers, both of the Germans and of Allied flyers. More combat kills were credited to the Sopwith Camel than to any other Allied fighter during the war. More operational losses -- that is, crashes -- were lodged against the Sopwith Camel than against any other Allied fighter during the war.
     November 24th. Flying ground attack 22 November, AGL was shot down by ground fire. He spent two days traveling to get back to his squadron. "Charles was wounded while trench-strafing in the attack on Bourlon Wood yesterday, while I was still out, and has gone to hospital with a nice blighty. Also yesterday, young Hanafy went down the other side, feared dead, and on the 22nd Atkinson was missing. Also on the 22nd, MacLeod, flying with me, crashed into a tree in the mist, and died of his injuries next day."
     November 26th. Flying ground attack, AGL was shot down again by ground fire.
     November 29th (Diary). "[L]ast night, about midnight, I was awakened by awful screeching noises. It was Tommy [Thompson]. I took a torch and went in to him. He was struggling and sweating and shouting, in the throes of a nightmare. The chaps in the other two cubicles heard, and came in, and we awakened him. he was very shamefaced. He'd just been shot down in flames, he said. Of course, this is the same sort of thing that Ferrie used to do in the cubicle behind me until he moved, and he's as stout as they make them."
     December 1st [Writing of the events of 30 November.]. "Once more I have been shot down on the battle front, and am very lucky to be at Izel writing this letter. My companion of the job, Dusgate, is in Hunland, and I don't know whether he's killed or a prisoner. . . .
     "I saw a V-strutter come down with an S.E. after it -- the wings folded back, the pilot was thrown out and fell with the wreckage barely a quarter of a mile from me. Another loss of life that could easily have been saved with a parachute . . . .
     "While I was circling at 4,000, trying to discover the extent of the [German] breakthrough [at Gouzeaucourt], a D.F.W. came gliding along from the south, its occupants too deeply engrossed in examining the ground to notice me. I turned and gave them a deflection shot at 200 yards, fifty rounds, not expecting much, and was staggered when the machine suddenly dropped into a nose dive, engine on, and went down to hit the ground between Havringcourt and Flesquières. . . .
     "Suddenly a D-V passed across my front from the west, about 200 feet below. As it slid by, I saw the pilot looking out of the further side of his cockpit at the smoke of battle below. He hadn't seen me. I swung steeply down on to his tail, and caught him up so quickly he seemed to be coming back towards me. At twenty yards' range I pressed the triggers. The tracers flashed into his back. The machine suddenly reared up vertically in front of me, and I banked to the right to avoid him. He fell over sideways, and went down in a vertical dive. I swung over and followed him down for a thousand feet, but he was going too fast. He didn't pull out, and crashed west of Bourlon village.
     "As I was flattening out at under 3,000 there was a sudden crump! of archie. Then crump, crump, crump. Black bursts all round me a clang in the cowling -- a thud somewhere in front. My engine stopped dead. Not even a splutter. . . .
     "I got down to the ground, and was quickly surrounded by troops, from whom I learned that I'd come down south of the Bapaume-Cambrai round, west of Graincourt, well under a mile this side of the fighting. "

Part Nine....Cambrai Aftermath
From December 8th to January 7th.
     December 9th (Diary). "I had proof last night that this darned trench-strafing had begun to get on my nerves. I performed a show like Thompson's -- maybe it's catching! Apparently, I was yelling in a nightmare, and he had to come into my cubicle and waken me. I was shaking and sweating with it. I was diving, diving, into a black bottomless pit with hundreds of machine-guns blasting up endlessly at me. I didn't like it a bit."
     December 15th. "[T]he Wing [Medical Officer] came to see me again this evening, ostensibly about my appendix. He was very chummy, and said that maybe I didn't know it, but I'd had enough. Being shot down three times had done me no good, apart from other things, such as shell-bursts. He told me that even though I wouldn't admit I was on the way to cracking up, my body knew it, hence the tummy pains and other symptoms. I said there was nothing wrong with me that another good binge wouldn't cure."
     December 22nd. "It is teatime now, I must away and toast. There are four toasting forks, which we use in turn to make a slice, which is then smothered with butter. It's one way of getting warm, because we usually have a decent fire in the Mess, even if there's ice everywhere else. Tea and breakfast are my best meals now, I seem to have gone off lunch and dinner."
     December 26th. "Just before dinner the officers all trooped along to a slap-up champagne dinner which the [enlisted] men were having in a hangar. Then the Major gave them the news, that three of them had been awarded the Military Medal! The three I recommended, Sergeant Dolittle, and Leeding and Edmunds. . . . [These were the only combatant awards gained by other ranks in 46 Squadron throughout the war. In the R.F.C. it was rare for such decorations to be won by other ranks, other than on flying duties.]"
     December 28th. "I slept most of the day, and after dining on my usual milk and brandy, settled down to write this." AGL living on milk and brandy reminds me of Roy Brown in April 1918. When he shot down Manfred von Richtofen, Brown was living on a diet of scotch and soda.
     January 1st, 1918. "After lunch, the Major asked me not to fly any more, as he's recommended me for [Home Establishment]."
     January 3rd. "Ferrie has been killed. . . . A parachute could have saved him, there's no doubt about that. What the hell is wrong with those callous dolts at home that they won't give them to us?"

     "After a spell of leave, and some months of instructing on Camels at Joyce Green, [AGL] was posted to do a second tour, this time on Salamanders, the new armoured plane for ground strafing. The war ended before the squadron could get to France."

2.8. Links: 
Open Cockpit
Fly Past 

2.9. Buy the book:
hardback with ugly cover: No Parachute 
hardback with misleading cover: No Parachute (used) 
paperback with pretty cover: No Parachute (used)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

eBook Review: Moneyball

Michael Lewis, Moneyball

Product Details

  • File Size: 551 KB
  • Print Length: 316 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393057658
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005G5PPGS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (865 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.57
1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)
If I give a book 5 stars, you can bet money and give odds that I will read it again. 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Great writing. Moneyball is about baseball's use of the wrong statistics. Baseball fans who are mathematicians strove to devise the right statistics and get the major outfits to accept them.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? If -- like me -- you have done professional statistics and know how hard it is to get the right measurements, it is a roller coaster. Else, it is a brisk walk-in-the-park.
Worth the money and then some.

2.2. What I did not like: Nothing that I can think of.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Statisticians. Baseball rebels.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? Yes.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Just discovered that Michael Lewis also wrote The Blind Side. I loved the movie. It's an odds-on bet I'll love the book.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     Given that this is non-fiction (why do we refer to books about reality in the negative?), there should not be a plot, but there is.
     The tension in the book builds with the chapter devoted to Bill James. James worked to devise meaningful statistics for baseball. As opposed to the old statistics. James published his work under the title Baseball Abstracts. James was not the first to approach baseball measurements by the scientific method, but, like Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas, his work was the one that led to meaningful exploitation. James cried out in the wilderness for 20 years before a single team in major league baseball started to use his numbers.
     That team was the Oakland A's. Sandy Alderson, the penultimate general manager of the A's, applied James's Sabermetrics to his farm system but not to his major league club. The A's owner at the time, Walter Haas, pumped money into the club to buy championships. That changed when Haas sold the team. The new owners, Lew Wolf and John Fisher, ran and run the A's as a business. Billy Beane became the A's GM when Alderson left. Without the deep pockets of Haas, Beane turned to Sabermetrics to build winning teams on the cheap.
     Beane's decision to use Sabermetrics should have been a non-event. Instead, it started a war.
     If you are keeping score in the war, Sabermetrics is winning.

 2.7. Other:

     The movie of the same title portrays Beane and his manager, Art Howe, as being in constant conflict. The book does not give that feeling at all. The book makes it clear that the A's were run by Beane's directives, not Howe's. If anything, the book hinted that Howe feared Beane.

     Why is there a war over Sabermetrics?
     I was watching a playoff game last week, and I saw the broadcaster post an 'Innovative Stat': OPS. OPS is a Sabermetric for On-base-percentage-Plus-Slugging-percentage. This stat is the most accurate measure available of a hitter's value to his team. Why call it innovative?
     'Cause it ain't Batting Average. That's the traditional stat.
     What about Batting Average?
     It's crap.
     Think about it. Batting Average (Avg) is the number of hits (H) divided by the number of at-bats (AB). Avg = H/AB. But walks do not count as at-bats. Nor do they count as hits. How blind is that?
     If you manage a baseball team, you want runners. Does it matter to you if they got to first by a hit or by a walk? You may think you don't care, but a walk requires more pitches of the opposing team's pitcher and reduces the number of innings he can pitch. In truth, you prefer walks to singles.
     Worse, a single counts the same toward Batting Average as a home-run. That is totally blind.
     Baseball stats came about through the efforts of an Englishman, Henry Chadwick. Chadwick was familiar with cricket and tried to measure performance in baseball using stats from cricket. Cricket does not have walks. Chadwick did not know what to make of walks as measures of performance. So he ignored them. He invented the concept of error which is his opinion of what should have happened. Henry Chadwick is responsible for the nonsense that is baseball statistics. The men of baseball have blindly followed Chadwick's statistics for a hundred and fifty years. These have become the traditional statistics.
     Why don't the-powers-that-be in major league baseball abandon Chadwick's nonsense for James's falsifiable (that is, testable) Sabermetrics?


2.8. Links: Sabermetrics

2.9. Buy the book: Moneyball

Friday, September 27, 2013

eBook Review: Buck Fever

Ben Rehder, Buck Fever

Product Details 

  • File Size: 1034 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ben Rehder (September 9, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005MAA8LY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Price: $4.99
1. Short review: (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The story. The characters that I recognize.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.
Worth the money and then some.

2.2. What I did not like: I was disappointed that the hero did not get the bad guy himself, but the ending was more realistic as written.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Thriller fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? Probably not. No overt sex in the book, but there is reference to bestial necrophilia that you hope your kiddies don't get.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Already have.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     John Marlin, the local game warden, is called to the ranch of retired lobbyist Roy Swank to investigate a case of poaching gone wrong. His adventures lead him to interrupt the traffic of cocaine hidden in trophy deer Swank has imported for the hunting season.

 2.7. Other:

     I found this a fun book. I looked forward to returning to my Kindle to read it each time.
     Buck Fever missed five stars from me by a hair's breadth. I think you will enjoy it. I did. 

2.8. Links: Ben Rehder

2.9. Buy the book: Buck Fever

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie Reviews: Jobs / Moneyball


Jobs / Moneyball   
1. Short review: Jobs  / Moneyball

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:
Jobs: Josh Gad's performance as Steve Wozniak, and sometimes Dermot Mulroney's performance as Mike Markkula. Nothing else.

Moneyball: Brad Pitt's performance. The little girl's song. The truth of Moneyball which managed to fight its way through the twisted conflicts that the screenwriter -- Aaron Sorkin -- believed necessary to insert into a movie that, superficially, is about baseball but is in reality a movie about business.

2.2. What I did not like:
Jobs: Ashton Kutcher's performance as Steve Jobs. Kutcher played the title character, and he botched it. Evidently he spent hours studying Jobs's walk, Jobs's quirky hand gestures, and Jobs's rages. Kutcher seemed to believe that copying those external motions was enough. But his character had none of Jobs's fire, none of the passion, none of the drive. Kutcher's performance was a caricature of Steve Jobs and a poor one.

Moneyball: The script. Aaron Sorkin can write the life out of any story he comes in contact with. Why do we need to see Billy Beane's ex-wife and her new husband? Or Casey Beane? As much as I like the little girl Casey Beane's song -- and I do -- it does not add two cents to the movie.

I would like to say that I liked Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance of Oakland A's manager Art Howe, but I cannot. Hoffman gave a one-dimensional performance. The worst I have ever seen him do. Besides, Hoffman is about as good a fit to play Art Howe as I am to play Prince Harry. Fire the casting director.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:

Jobs: Ashton Kutcher.

Moneyball: Anyone who is interested in baseball or the business of sports. 

2.4. Are the movies appropriate for children to see? No sex, but some foul language. Your call.

2.5. On the basis of viewing these movies, will I pay to see the sequels? No to both.

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.<-- Jobs
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once. <-- Moneyball
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. 

Running time: Jobs, 122 long minutes. Moneyball, 133 minutes (with decent editing, could have done it in 100 minutes).

2.6.2. The plots in a nutshell:

     Jobs plot.
     The plot -- what there is of it -- is incomprehensibly incomplete. The movie begins with Jobs introducing the iPod to Apple employees. That frames rest of the movie. Everything else is a flashback. But the movie never returns to the iPod. The flashback ends in 1996 with Jobs forcing Markkula out of Apple's board. What comes between is only chronicle with no attempt to make sense of any of it. In effect, the screenwriter, Matt Whiteley, gave us an open-faced, regurgitated sandwich with one slice of bread, the rancid meat of Ashton Kutcher, and topped with the cornstarch-based gravy of Apple's mystique.
     Where is the iMac? Where is the iPhone? Why is so much missing?
     Forget the hardware and the software. Where is the passion that drove Steve Jobs? It ain't in this movie.

     Moneyball plot.
     Moneyball is a book about an idea -- sabermetrics -- that changed the business of professional baseball. I have a sample of the book on my Kindle, keeping company with thirty-six other samples. (Hey, that's down from last month's forty-eight samples.) The movie makes it out to be the fight of one man -- Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager -- to change the game against the opposition of his conservative scouts and his unyielding manager.
     Given the history of problems with the production of Moneyball, it is a wonder the movie got made. When it did, it got saddled with Aaron Sorkin who decided to make it a 'One Good Man versus The World' show. I don't know Aaron Sorkin, but I can tell he does not know how business organizations are run. The movie Billy Beane never explains the sabermetrics idea to his scouts or to his manager. He never tries to get them to buy into his philosophy. This is not the way an organization is run. Except in Aaron Sorkin's wild imagination.

2.7. Other:

     My wife is a big fan of Steve Jobs. This movie popped up on VOD, and she had to see it. We paid a premium price for the movie. First-run theater ticket price.
     For crap.
     I am not the only one who thinks so. Steve Wozniak 'read [the script] as far as he "could stomach it and felt it was crap . . . ."'  
     FWIW my wife -- fanatical as she is about Steve Jobs -- fell asleep half an hour in.
     Forget this movie. The writing is bad and Ashton Kutcher's acting is worse. Ashton Kutcher was good in That '70s Show when essentially he played himself. Since then, his best performance has been passable; that is, mediocre.
      If you want to see Steve Jobs, watch Pirates of Silicon Valley, a good movie, or Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, an outstanding interview with the man. Steve Jobs's passion comes across in the interview.

     After I had suffered through the disaster that is Jobs, I flipped off the VOD and lo-and-behold Moneyball came up for free on a different cable channel. I watched it while my wife slept. Why? Well, I like the movie, warts and all.
     There is a lot wrong with Moneyball, but Brad Pitt's performance is spot on.
     I saw A River Runs Through It and thought Pitt was just a pretty boy. Mr and Mrs Smith gave me some indication that he could act. Moneyball proves Pitt can act. Pitt's performance here reminds me of Robert Redford's performance in Jeremiah Johnson. It is a demonstration that he is something more than a pretty face.

     I have read other reviews. Some love Kutcher's performance. Others hate Pitt's performance. So . . .

2.8. Links:
Jobs: IMDb review, Rotten Tomatoes review 
Moneyball: IMDb review, Rotten Tomatoes review

Friday, September 13, 2013

eBook Review: Grumbles from the Grave

(Image from the paperback listing at

Robert A Heinlein, Grumbles from the Grave

Product Details from Baen's Books

Published 11/18/1989
SKU: 9780345362469
Ebook Price: $6.00

1. Short review: (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The intimate look into Heinlein's world.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Walk-in-the-park.
Worth the money. Seems to me that the prices at Baen's Books have gone up. Navigating their website remains an exercise in tedious chaos. If you want the book, I recommend you chase this review's links at the top (click the cover image) or the bottom (click the book title).

2.2. What I did not like: The organization confused me a bit; the book is organized chronologically within topic. That means a topic may end in 1978 and the next chapter begin with a missive written in 1947. I am confident that Virginia Heinlein put much effort into the organization and found this one the best.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: RAH fans. Writers.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? Yes. Rare use of profanity, but the kiddies have heard it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? I buy a Heinlein book about once a month. After reading Grumbles from the Grave, my RAH buying habit will continue. So, yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     This is an epistolary memoir, so there should be no plot. In fact, there are many. The organization Virginia Heinlein chose permitted plots to arise in each chapter as she followed developments within a topic.
     This means there are so many plots that I would need more time and space to detail each than I shall devote to this review. However, I shall give one example.
     CHAPTER III: THE SLICKS AND THE SCRIBNER'S JUVENILES chronicles RAH's continuing fight with his editor at Scribner, Alice Dalgliesh. RAH complained about the changes Ms Dalgliesh insisted he make, but directed his complaints to his agent. For instance, Ms Dalgliesh refused to publish works in which children wielded firearms and demanded that RAH excise or rewrite such scenes. (FWIW I got my first gun when I was eight years old and was expected to use to kill rabid critters. By nine, I had shot rabid skunks at a distance of 300 yards. And buried the bodies deep so that the dogs would not dig them up.)
     RAH made the changes.
     His complaints grew more strident as the years passed. Finally, his agent submitted a work he knew Ms Dalgliesh would reject and that rejection released RAH from his contract with Scribner.

 2.7. Other:

     Writers will get the most from reading this book. It is comforting to find that the first Grandmaster of Science Fiction struggled with editors and garnered rejections.
     What impressed me was that RAH's editors recommended changes but RAH made the changes himself. Most editors I have sampled want to write their changes into my text. That changes the voice from mine to theirs. I have found one editor who does not write in changes, and I stick with her.
     RAH began Stranger in a Strange Land in 1948 and struggled with it for a dozen years. His publisher had him trim off a quarter of his submitted manuscript. I read that version years ago. Another version with excised material stuck in was published in 1991. There is a spirited debate -- that is, a fight with blood running in the streets -- going on in the 1-star reviews for Stranger.

     RAH's agent was named Lurton Blassingame, a name that I find amusing. Apparently, he was quite the congenial gentleman and dedicated agent. Many of his principals adored him and dedicated books to him, including RAH. I wonder if he had a nickname. 'Spanky' maybe?

2.8. Links: Robert A Heinlein

2.9. Buy the book: Grumbles from the Grave

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie Review: The Blind Side

Blind side poster.jpg

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The message. This movie wrapped its message in a pretty package, but it is the message that shines through.

2.2. What I did not like: The fact that I missed it in theaters. 

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everyone. You especially.

2.4. Is the movie appropriate for children to see? Yes. Without a doubt.

2.5. On the basis of viewing this movie, will I pay to see the sequel? There cannot and need not be a sequel. But if there were, I would pay to see it. 

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once.
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. <-- The Blind Side

Running time: 129 minutes.

2.6.2. The plot in a nutshell:
     Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), abandoned by his addict of a mother, is living on the streets where Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) finds him and takes him into her home. He becomes one of the Tuohy family, first by heart, then by law.
     Michael goes out for football in high school and becomes a phenomenon. Colleges across the country recruit him. He chooses Ole Miss, the school the Tuohys attended. The NCAA investigates to determine if there was anything untoward in Michael's choice of Ole Miss. Michael convinces the investigator his choice was sincere. 
     Michael excels in his position at Ole Miss and is drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
2.7. Other:

     I missed this movie in theaters and saw it first on TV. May have been VOD. I do not recall. I have seen it, oh, three more times and enjoyed every viewing.

     The movie cost $29,000,000 to make and, in theaters alone, earned $255,959,475.

     Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Word is that Bullock turned down the role three times. Then she 'visited' with Leigh Anne Tuohy. After that 'visit', Bullock accepted the role and took a pay cut. That musta been some 'visit'. 
     If she would take the job, Leigh Anne Tuohy would make a great US Secretary of State.

     I agree that Sandra Bullock gave a fine performance in The Blind Side, but I preferred the performance Quinton Aaron gave as Michael Oher. His performance was subtle and self-deprecating but always on point and strong. Soft but strong.

     What is the message of The Blind Side?
     Blood and skin color do not make family. Heart makes family.
     There are two scenes that define The Blind Side.
     In the first, Leigh Anne Tuohy confronts the gangbanger Alton in front of the apartment where she suspects Michael went the night before (clip above):
                      LEIGH ANNE
          Michael was here?

          Last night. Sneaked me then took
          off like a little bitch. So you
          tell him, sleep with one eye open.
          You hear me, bitch?

          [Leigh Anne steps closer to Alton, stares him down.]

                         LEIGH ANNE
          No, you hear me, bitch. You
          threaten my son, you threaten me.
     Leigh Anne referred to Michael as her son. In her heart, that's what he is.
     In the second scene that defines the movie, Michael faces the NCAA investigator Granger and answers the question of why he chose Ole Miss:
          You never asked why I wanted to go

          All right, fine, Michael... why do
          you want to go to Ole Miss?

          It's where my family goes to
          school. It's where they've always
          gone to school.
     To me, this is the one scene that defines the movie. Michael considers the Tuohys his family.

     I am an adopted son.
     As far back as I can recall, I have always known that family is a matter not of blood but of heart.
     There was a time when adoption was a hot topic. There were made-for-TV movies about adopted kids searching for their birth parents. I was home from college, and we watched one of those movies. I sat there thinking about the search. Wondering.
     My father opened the topic.
     "You ever want to find out who you came from?"
     Me: "Hadn't given it much thought."
     Pause. "Tell you what. If you want to search for them, I'll support you for a year while you search."
     I looked at my father.
     "You don't have to answer right now. But I want an answer before you go back to school tomorrow night."
     The next night at supper, Daddy looked at me and said, "Well?" We both knew what he meant.
     I answered, "I know who my father is."
     Daddy nodded. He daubed at his eyes with his napkin and did not eat much that night. I saw silent tears running down my mother's face.
     Family is not a matter of blood. Family is a matter of heart.
     Michael Oher knows who his family is. So do I.

     I watched The Blind Side on cable again and discovered why I think Quinton Aaron's performance superior to Sandra Bullock's. Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy does not vary from start to finish. The character is the same at the end as she was in the beginning. One trick pony. In contrast, Quinton Aaron changed the character of Michael Oher. When you watch the movie, mark the facial expressions of Michael Oher at the beginning of the movie and again when he begins school at Ole Miss. Quinton Aaron portrayed an unhappy kid who became a happy man. I think that takes a great deal more acting skill: to portray a changing character. And Quinton Aaron did it with his face. Kudos to Quinton Aaron.


2.8. Links:

IMDb review
Rotten Tomatoes review

Friday, August 30, 2013


     I like Hawaii Five-O. Not the original series with Jack Lord. The new series with Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, and Grace Park. Especially eye-candy Grace Park. Too skinny for my taste, but she sports a pretty face and the most sensual lips currently on TV.
     I got a kick out of episode 2.18 'Lekio' ('Radio') when Scott Caan played opposite his father, James Caan. Rumor has it that Jimmy Caan offered to do the job for the gift of a watch as compensation just so he could spend time with his son. I believe that rumor. Anyway, I enjoyed that show a lot.
     Five-O episodes sometimes leave me thinking about issues that the writers bring up. Episode 2.10 "Ki'ilua" ('Deceiver') was one that left me thinking. Here's my synopsis: 
Without authorization and against standing orders, Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin)  slips into North Korea to ransom the finance of a friend. He gets captured by outlaws. (The friend is complicit in his capture.) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Five-O figures out where Steve is and what has happened. They decide to rescue him and enlist a couple of retired Navy Seals to help them. Bad guys die. Five-O and the Seals rescue Steve.
     On the face of it, this is a straight-forward 'leave no one behind' story. But scratch it just a little and life issues of allegiance and loyalty pop up. Life issues. I'm not talking about "What am I gonna have for breakfast? Cereal or eggs?" I'm talking "What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?" That's the heart of this story.
     You see, Steve violated his oath of commission in the Navy to help a friend. This struck me with tremendous force immediately. He dishonored his sworn allegiance to the US Constitution to go to the aid of a friend. In other words, his implied loyalty took precedence over his sworn loyalty.
     To rescue Steve, every remaining member of Five-O plus two Navy Seals violated their oaths. That says that their implied loyalty to Steve took precedence over their sworn loyalty.
     What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?

     Above is the full current text of the Pledge of Allegiance. It has been such since 1954 when the words 'under God' were added in an attempt to exclude godless Communists.
     I will not recite this pledge. To do so would violate my sworn oath.

     This is the oath I swore when I was commissioned in the US Air Force. I swore my allegiance to the Constitution, not to the Flag and not to the Republic. There is a meaningful difference.
     About a month after I resigned my commission, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Air Force that informed me that, while I was no longer on active duty, I was still bound by my oath and, if the Air Force needed me, I was subject to recall at their discretion for the rest of my life. And, yes, they have recalled soldiers to active duty. Douglas MacArthur retired from military service 31 December 1937 but was recalled to active duty in 1941.
     All my fellow officers took the same oath. The oath of enlistment is similar. In its allegiance to the Constitution, it is identical.

allegiance, (noun) loyalty or commitment to a superior or to a group or cause
--Oxford Dictionaries

     What is the Constitution? A cause? It is not a superior or a group. Is it just a document? Did I and my fellow officers swear allegiance to a scrap of parchment?
     Perhaps Oxford's definition is lacking.

al·le·giance, n.
1. Loyalty or the obligation of loyalty, as to a nation, sovereign, or cause. See Synonyms at fidelity.
2. The obligations of a vassal to a lord.
--The American Heritage Dictionary

     The AHD definition adds more detail. I note the obligation of loyalty to a sovereign. Officers of the Royal Army and Royal Air Force swear their allegiance to the monarch. Curiously, officers of the Royal Navy do not.
     AHD's second definition makes it seem as if the vassal owes loyalty to his lord but the lord owes no loyalty in return. Perhaps this is a deliberate attempt to keep the definition short. It does, however, overlook the fact that the lord has a duty to his vassal. For the vassal's pledge, the lord undertakes to confirm the vassal in his possessions and to defend such so that the vassal will have the means to execute his pledge.

     The Constitution is different. It is an ideal. It is an ideal that changes, and we who swore allegiance to it do not control the changes.
     In 1896, the Constitution said that separate institutions for blacks gave equal treatment. From 1954, the Constitution says that separate institutions for blacks are inherently unequal. I prefer the latter interpretation. There have been other changes I was not so fond of.
     When that to which I swore allegiance changes to espouse a view that is antithetical to my beliefs, am I still bound by my oath?
     In a nutshell, I owe my loyalty to the Constitution, but the Constitution owes no loyalty to me.

     In the Five-O episode 'Deceiver', everyone owed loyalty to the Constitution. The Constitution owed no loyalty to them. And yet the writers would have us believe that each and every one chose to abandon his sworn oath to help a friend. The whole story fails or succeeds on whether we find that choice credible.
     And we do.


     Why should we believe that men who served the toughest military organization in the world, men whose word is their bond, would dishonor their sworn oath to help a friend?
     Because that's the choice we would make.
     I watched that episode, and I thought, "Yeah, I would do that." I would risk blood, life, and dishonor to save Steve because I believe Steve would do the same for me. My loyalty to Steve is returned.
     My loyalty to the Constitution is not returned.

     There is a story, "No Truce with Kings" by Poul Anderson. Won the Hugo for 1964. Beat out Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes". In "No Truce with Kings", the United States has dissolved. How, we don't know. In its place are smaller states, and the Pacific States of America is one of them. One group tries to forge a new, continent-spanning nation-state like the United States. They are defeated by the clannish armies of the PSA, men who owe allegiance to their colonels, colonels who owe allegiance to their lords, lords who owe allegiance to the sovereign or to no man.
     "No Truce with Kings" is an argument for the feudal concept of loyalty. Loyalty to a person. Loyalty that is returned. In the story, the feudal concept of loyalty prevails over the concept of loyalty to an ideal.

     It is a dangerous thing when a man begins to question his sworn allegiance, but these are dangerous times.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

eBook Review: Scratch

Danny Gillan, Scratch

Product Details

  • File Size: 575 KB
  • Print Length: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Jakobian Books, 1 edition (March 10, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004RQ8WEO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (37 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.99
1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.) Chick lit with testicles.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The characters.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Walk-in-the-park.
Worth the money. 

2.2. What I did not like: There is a lot of profanity and a lot of drunkenness. Are Scots truly foul-mouthed sots?

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Chick lit fans. 

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? No. Not at all. 17+ only.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe. Danny writes well, but I am not a fan of chick lit.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     Boy had girl. Boy lost girl. Boy gets girl back. Boy loses girl again. Boy's father shoves epiphany down boy's throat.

 2.7. Other:

     The hero of the tale is James Cooper. He is a wanker. His friends say so, his work associates say so, his girlfriend says so, and his girlfriend's father says so. But he's a lovable wanker. The spineless git.
     I was two-thirds of the way through this book when it dawned on me that I was reading chick lit. With testicles. Danny gives the reader Cooper's feelings and thoughts in detail. But by that time I was thoroughly engaged with the characters, and I liked the book: 4 stars.
     Within spitting distance of the ending, Cooper's girlfriend dumped him. Cooper's lack of reaction incensed me. At that point I hated the book: 0 stars. Had it been a paperback, I would have thrown it away then and there.
     A hair's breadth away from the ending, Cooper's father -- who had been a cypher until that point -- shoved an epiphany down Cooper's wanker throat. And Cooper swallowed it. Not whole, but little by little. The non-redemptive yet hopeful ending followed soon thereafter.
     That is when I realized that Danny had taken me on an emotional roller coaster in the course of a single book. That's why I read. 5 stars.

     You need to know some Scottish slang to understand the text:
bint, n. an attractive but difficult woman
pish, n. rubbish
pished, adj. drunk
skelp, v. to hit
skite, v. to hit

If you need more, here is a Scottish slang dictionary.
     To this day, I still have no idea why Danny chose that title. 

2.8. Links: Danny Gillan

2.9. Buy the book: Scratch