Saturday, October 25, 2014

eBook Review: Ball Four

Jim BoutonBall Four

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 2187 KB
    • Print Length: 508 pages
    • Publisher: RosettaBooks (March 20, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00CME4ROM
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (295 customer reviews)
    • Price: $1.99 (Sale price. Now $9.99.)

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

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The continuations. Jim Bouton added Ball Five, Ball Six, and Ball Seven to the end of the book. These sections update the story to 10 years after Ball Four, 20 years after, and 30 years after. They are much happier than the main book.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A sometimes amusing and always interesting walk in the park.
Good value for the money I paid. I recommend you wait for a sale.

2.2. What I did not like: The depressing account of Bouton's time with the Seattle Pilots.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Sports fans. Baseball fans.

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

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No. I believe Jim Bouton can write and write well, but I have only a passing interest in baseball.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     Jim Bouton kept a diary during the 1969 season and published it under the title Ball Four. Bouton took a lot of heat for telling the truth about baseball: the low pay, the childish pranks, the clubhouse politics, the prolific use of profanity, and the rampant drug use.
     The book started with Bouton negotiating his salary with the New York Yankees. Next he went to spring training in Arizona with the Seattle Pilots. I do not recall if the Pilots got him in the expansion draft or traded for him.
     Bouton was a knuckleball pitcher. He had his good days and his bad days. Throughout the book, Bouton worked on developing his rhythm to throw the knuckleball.
     Soon after the season began, the Pilots sent Bouton down to their AAA club, the Vancouver (BC) Mounties. A month later they called him back up to Seattle. In August, Seattle traded him to the Houston Astros, who were in a pennant race when Bouton joined them. The Astros faded in September and fell out of the playoff picture.
     When Bouton was with the Pilots, he seemed sad and depressed. When Bouton was with the Astros, he seemed much happier.
     Ball Five related Bouton's story for the years 1970-1979. He retired in 1970 when the Astros sent him down to the minors, but came back to baseball in the minors in 1975. He traveled around minor league baseball as a journeyman pitcher and finally made it to the majors again with the Atlanta Braves.
     Ball Six related Bouton's story for the years 1980-1989. He divorced Bobbie. He continued to play baseball with semi-pro and amateur leagues. He invented things and marketed his inventions. He met and married Paula Kurman.
     Ball Seven started with the death of Bouton's daughter, Laurie, in a car accident. That happened in 1997, and the grief was still with Bouton when he wrote Ball Seven in 1999. He got his first invitation to a Yankees Old-Timers game in 1998 through the campaign of his son Michael.
     Even with Laurie's death and the grief Bouton felt taken into account, Ball Five, Ball Six, and Ball Seven are much happier reads than Ball Four.

2.7. Other:
Quotes from Ball Four:
Publishers like sports books because, while they rarely make a lot of money, they never lose money. 
There's a difference between optimism and wishful thinking. 
The world doesn't want to hear about labor pains. It only wants to see the baby. 
[W]hat these kids need is not a half-hour of conversation with some big-name guy who's just passing through. What they need is day-to-day-attention . . . .
A young girl asked one of the guys in the bullpen if he was married. "Yeah," he said, "but I'm not a fanatic about it."
[Y]ou are what people think you are. 
[I]n order for rules to exist, deviant members must be punished by the group. 
[T]he real experience of baseball was the bus rides and the country ballparks and the chili at 3 A.M. with a bunch of guys chasing a dream. And it was true enough. 
Think of a ballplayer as a fifteen-year-old in a twenty-five-year-old body. 
Being a professional athlete allows you to postpone your adulthood. 
[P]eople need to do what they love or find a way to love what they do. 
[P]eople don't want to hear the truth. They prefer their steadfast beliefs, acquired over time and developed into a mantra. 
     Bouton gave much of the credit for Ball Four to his editor, Leonard Shecter. It is evident that Bouton considered Shecter a friend and that Bouton loved Shecter dearly. Shecter edited Ball Four. He could not have edited Ball Five, because he died 5 years before it was written. Paula Kurman edited Ball Six and Ball Seven. I prefer Ball Six and Ball Seven to Ball Four and think Kurman's editing better than Shecter's, but that may be because she had happier material to work with or that may be because Bouton had more experience writing when he wrote those sections.


2.8. Links: Jim Bouton

2.9. Buy the book:  Ball Four

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


     The title of this post is Celery. The subtitle could be My Life and Welcome to It.
     Not so long ago, my wife, Bunny, found celery on sale. Sale. Put that word in the air around her and the consequences are akin to what you get when the shop doors open on Black Friday.
     This is one bunch of celery:

     I don't know how to describe the amount she bought. The collective noun that comes to mind is 'mob'. Like kangaroos.
     See that picture up top? That's about half of what she brought home. Filled a shopping bag. I'm not talking about one of those little plastic shopping bags you get at Kroger. Or even one of their brown paper shopping bags.

     No. I mean an industrial-strength re-usable canvas bag.

     Maybe you have seen these. I just pulled one out -- the one she leaves at home because "it's too small" -- and it measures 10"x15"x15". That is 1.3 cubic feet, not counting what sticks out of the top.
     Imagine that filled with bunches of celery.
     How did we use up that much celery before it turned to mush?
     I made mirepoix and cooked with it. Pints and pints of mirepoix. Added thin slices of celery and celery leaves to all kinds of salads. (Celery leaves have a strong flavor and add a lot to any salad.) Added celery to guacamole. Added celery to soups. Made cream of celery soup. Ate celery as snacks. (Dark green celery has more taste than the pale stuff.) It was Celery City in our kitchen.
     You get the picture.
     Five days after the entrance of the celery mob, I opened the fridge to find no celery. "Wow!" I thought. "I survived the Great Celery Tsunami of 2014," I thought.
     Imagine my surprise and horror when today my wife gleefully pulled out a bunch of celery from the freezer. Gleefully. That is, with an ear-to-ear grin. I was quick to point out that thawed celery is no longer useful as celery. All the crunch is gone and all you have is mushy green stuff.
     "No problem," she said and disappeared into the kitchen.
     She hauled out the wand mixer.
* * *
     I interrupt the story of celery to bring you the shorter story of the wand mixer.
     The wand mixer was what Bunny gave me for my birthday. Philips calls it a Hand Blender.
     "That's nice," said I.
     "That's all you got to say. 'That's nice,'" said she.
     "Well, Bunny, the truth is, I don't much like wand mixers. I prefer my blender."
     "You need this," said she, and she shook the hand mixer at me for emphasis.
     "Why do I need this?"
     "It was on SALE!"
     Well. There it was. The incontrovertible reason for buying me anything.
     Look for my wife on Twitter under #saleaddict.
     I return you now to your regularly scheduled story.
* * *
     As I sat at my computer reading The Passive Voice, I heard the whine of the wand mixer coming from the kitchen followed by "Hmmph" followed by more mixer whine followed by another "Hmmph." Then silence. I queued up and played some military marches (hey, you play the music you like and I'll play . . . ) and continued to peruse the offerings on the World Wide Web.
     Bunny came to me and gleefully presented me with a glass of green liquid. Gleefully. (See above.)

[I swear to you that this is what it looked like.]

     "What's this?" I asked.
     "Celery smoothie," said she.
     I knew it could not be a true smoothie, 'cause we have no bananas.
     "Drink," said she.
     Resistance was futile, and I knew that, too, so I drank.
     It had HONEY in it. 
     "Good, huh?" she asked gleefully. (See above.)
     I looked at her in silence for a good 30 seconds. All that time she nodded gleefully (see above) to persuade me to agree.
     "That's not the word I would use to describe it."
     "Oh? What would you say?"
     "It's good for the environment and okay for you." She did not get the Judge Dredd reference. Probably better for me that she didn't.
     Bunny pursed her lips. "I'll be back." She disappeared into the kitchen again.
     Within minutes she returned with another glass that looked the same as the first. Resistance was futile, so I drank. I detected no difference. Before I could say anything, she said, "Now with broccoli!" Gleefully. (See above.)

     Bunny used my blender to make the 'celery smoothie'. I don't know why. We have a juicer.
[Everyone touts the benefits of juice. No one tells you what a pain it is to clean a juicer.]

     Remember, kids, vegetables smoothies are like drugs. When someone offers you one, just say no.

# # # 

     Bunny went to Costco yesterday. Alone. Came back with TWO bags of avocados; five avocados to a bag, ten in all. Well, I survived the Celery Tsunami. By Halloween we will know if I survive the Avocado Avalanche.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

eBook Review: Military Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

Publius Flavius Vegetius RenatusMilitary Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 191 KB
    • Print Length: 114 pages
    • Publisher: (April 30, 2011)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004YTJ4D2 
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (17 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.99 

1. Short review:   (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.) I shall read this again.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The only book on the Roman army by a Roman. Details that I cannot find anywhere else.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? An absorbing walk in the park.
Good value for the money.

2.2. What I did not like: Not available at Project Gutenberg.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Military history nuts. Like me.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes, if they are military history nuts.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? No. Only one other book by Vegetius survives. It is a book on the practice of veterinary medicine -- in Roman times.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell:
     There was no plot. For the Emperor Valentinian, Vegetius summarized the organization, training, and practice of Roman armies from the late republic through the early empire.  
 2.7. Other:
     Scholars argue over which Valentinian Vegetius wrote for. There were three. Given what Vegetius wrote about the military successes of the emperor, I think he must have written for Valentinian I.
     Vegetius wrote at a time when Cataphracts were replacing the Legions as the backbone of the Roman army. At the time he wrote, the subject had more academic interest than practical application.
     Vegetius wrote that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours. This is astonishing. Today's armies quicktime march pace is 3 miles an hour.


     On reflection, I do not believe Vegetius statement that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours. To do that, the Legion needed to maintain a pace of 160 steps to the minute. That is doubletime. That means running.
     In effect, Vegetius claims the Legions ran a Marathon every day.
     Turns out the Roman mile is shorter than the English mile: 1,620 yards versus 1,760 yards. So a Roman mile is 0.92 of an English mile. That means the Legions covered 18.4 English miles in 5 hours.
     That is still a fast pace. This means the Legions covered 108 yards every minute. That translates to 132 paces a minute. Do-able but still fast.

     I thought some more about Vegetius's statement that the Legions marched 20 miles in 5 hours.
     First, Vegetius did not witness this himself. He was clear about that. What he did was summarize the military writings of the ancients. Sort of like the Readers' Digest version of Caesar's Gallic Wars and Tacitus's Histories.
     Second, where does 5 hours come from? Did Vegetius -- and Caesar before him -- think in terms of hours? Or was this period of time inserted by the translator, John Clarke, in 1767? I read Military Institutions of the Romans in English. I have not read it in Latin, have not searched for a Latin edition, and have no plan to do so.
     Let's give this some thought.
     What was a day's march for a Legion?
     A Roman Legion began its day in camp. The Roman camp was a prepared defensive position:
     This illustrates a camp to be used for a long time. On the march, the Romans did not build watchtowers and stockades every day, but they did entrench around their camp and build a glacis. One Roman Legate omitted to build a proper camp when he campaigned against Spartacus. Spartacus led his forces to overrun him at night. The Roman survived. He was tried by the Senate, found guilty of negligence, and exiled from Rome.
     The Romans were serious about building a camp every day.
     I infer that the day began for a typical Legion at sunrise. Each maniple found its own breakfast, some cooking for themselves, others having camp followers do it for them. After breakfast, the men packed and prepared to march. At the sound of horns, each maniple fell in formation. Once formed up, the Legion marched out of camp, horse first, followed by flankers of the first cohort, followed by the first cohort. The first cohort marched at the head of the formation because 1) the first cohort was the most veteran and best able to deal with contingencies in march and 2) the head of the formation encountered less dust.
     This is where Vegetius's statement that the Legion marched for 5 hours comes in. I do not know how the Romans determined that 5 hours had passed, but I shall take Vegetius's statement at face value. I do not mean that the Romans marched exactly 5 hours, but 5 hours give or take a bit.
     I infer that the Romans marched 5 hours without a break and that the 5-hour march was their day's march. I do not know if the lead elements of the horse or the first cohort staked out the next camp, but a 5-hour march left time for the Legion to dig the trench, build the glacis, pitch camp, set the watch, and gather wood and water. After all that, the maniples laid down to dinner. (The Romans reclined to eat. For a minor infraction, a Roman soldier was made to stand while he ate.)
     I infer that the 5-hour march means the Legionnaire ate twice a day: once in the morning before the march and once in the evening after he built the camp.


2.8. Links: Vegetius

2.9. Buy the book:  Military Institutions of the Romans (De re militari)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

eBooks Review: American Fighting Sail


C S ForesterThe Age of Fighting Sail

Product Details

  • File Size: 856 KB 
  • Print Length: 234 pages 
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited 
  • Publisher: eNet Press Inc. (May 28, 2012) 
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0087455GA 
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Not Enabled 
  • Lending: Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars (26 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $6.99 
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The fact that the narrative was easily readable vice the impenetrable prose of the academics who write on the subject. The surprising favorable view of the young American Navy from an Englishman.

2.2. What I did not like: Does not apply.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: American naval 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.

2.6. Summary:

     It is odd, but the title of the book is incorrect. If it were correct, it would be 'A History of the Naval War of 1812.' The age of fighting sail would cover the period from 1588 to 1865.
     Once you get past that bit of bait-and-switch, you have a readable account of acts and actions of the American captains and naval ships in the War of 1812.
     I have read the history of the early US Navy for more years than I care to count. I am always delighted when I discover something I have not read before. Forester delighted me more times than any writer I recall, excepting Toll whose book I read after this one.
     For example, John Rodgers commanded an American squadron at anchor off New York City. When he received news that the US had declared war against the UK, he took his squadron to sea without waiting for orders. His cruise yielded no actions against the Royal Navy and little in the way of prizes, but Rodgers's cruise tied the Royal Navy in knots. Vice-Admiral Herbert Sawyer, commanding His Majesty's ships in Halifax, Bermuda, and soon in the Bahamas and across the Caribbean, found his numerically superior fleet tasked to 1) convoy British merchantmen to the UK, 2) engage and destroy the American navy, 3) destroy American privateers, 4) blockade American ports, and 5) carry the war to the American homeland. His forces were sufficient for any one of these tasks, but they were woefully inadequate to accomplish them all.
     By the time Sawyer learned that Rodgers had put to sea, it was apparent that the American squadron could be anywhere in the Atlantic. It could fall on almost any point with superior force. Sawyer faced the impossible tasks of protecting British merchant shipping against this threat while he sought for Rodgers's squadron to bring it to battle. These tasks occupied the whole of his naval assets. He had no ships left to blockade American ports. The entire American navy and hundreds of privateers were able to put to sea to multiply Sawyer's problems. And they did.
     I finally got a timeline for the American naval victories at sea: 1812 and 1815. None in 1813 and 1814. In those years, the US Navy got whipped or found its ships blockaded.
     When John Warren replaced Sawyer, the Royal Navy got serious about blockading American ports. He sent a sizable squadron to blockade Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay. This blockade effectively cut off Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania from the sea. American maritime commerce from these states ceased. And after Napoleon surrendered the first time (in 1814) a brigade of Wellington's troops joined the Royal Marines and raided cities in Virginia and Maryland and burned Washington, DC. (Jefferson's beloved militia ran at the sight of the British. (Many historians consider Jefferson to be the smartest man to ever hold the office of President of the United States. In my opinion, Jefferson was an idiot, because he valued his theories more than the experience of better men.) The only force to acquit itself honorably in battle against the British was an artillery battery manned by sailors and supported by a Marine company and commanded by Joshua Barney. an American hero who is too little known and too little celebrated. This force fought until the men were physically captured after hand-to-hand fighting. Congress voted Barney a sword for his valor. (FYI the Wikipedia piece on Barney does not do justice to the man. It is hard to find his history, but it is worth ever minute of the time it takes. The man was phenomenal.))
     The British wanted to keep the blockade in place and wanted to continue to raid the American mainland. But Ross, their general, was killed by an American sniper on a raid, so the raiding stopped for lack of an energetic commanding officer. The blockade could not be kept because the strength of the fleet was wasting away. Sailors who had been impressed into service -- and that was most of 'em -- deserted, some when ashore to get water and victuals for their ships, others slipping over the sides in the night and swimming away. The Royal Navy suffered attrition during the blockade as if they were in combat. In the autumn of 1814, the Royal Navy quit Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay.
     The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent in which the US and the UK merely agreed to stop fighting. On its face, the American causus belli was the British impressment of American seamen. The British had stopped the practice by an Order in Council in 1812, but the news did not reach the US before the declaration of war. Impressment was not mentioned in the Treaty of Ghent, so the British retained the 'right' of impressment. However, orders went out to the British navy captains to leave the Americans alone. The British had got their fill of fighting Americans and did not want to repeat the experience.
     Jim Dunnigan once said that a nation wins a war only if its position after the war is better than its position before the war. In this light, the US won the War of 1812, but the UK did not lose because its position was not materially lessened.
     Forester applauds the American privateers for their depredations on British shipping and cites the increases in British shipping insurance and captures of merchant vessels as evidence of the privateers' effectiveness. I think it would be interesting to study American privateering against the British in the War of 1812 in some detail (I'm strange that way; different strokes), but I am not convinced that American privateers materially affected the outcome of the war. The British merchant marine had survived French privateers through four wars in the 18th century and finished each war with more sails and more shipping tonnage than at the beginning.
     A delightful fact that Forester brought up was that throughout the war American merchantmen supplied Wellington's army in Spain. Wellington himself said that his army lived on American grain. Wellington supplied all American merchantmen who brought him supplies written passes to excuse them from capture or impressment should they be boarded by His Majesty's Navy.
     All this is presented in an easy-to-read narrative. A most enjoyable book if you are interested in American naval history.


2.7. Links:

2.8. Buy the book:
The Age of Fighting Sail 

Ian W TollSix Frigates

Product Details

  • File Size: 1785 KB 
  • Print Length: 592 pages 
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (March 17, 2008) 
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000W5MINK 
  • Text-to-Speech: Not Enabled 
  • X-Ray: Enabled 
  • Lending: Not Enabled 
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars (313 customer reviews) 
  • Price: $9.99 
1. Short review:    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Impressive sources: diaries and letters of captains, officers, midshipmen, and ordinary sailors.

2.2. What I did not like: The lack of textual coverage of the incident of the USS Baltimore under the command of Isaac Philips. Toll covered it in a footnote. Twenty-eight years after the occurrence, Philips published his account of the incident. Philips was dismissed from service -- that is, cashiered -- by order of President John Adams for allowing British officers to employ force aboard the Baltimore while it was still under his command; that is, he had not surrendered. The dismissal set a precedent that remained unique until 1970 when Coast Guard Commander Ralph Eustis allowed Russian sailors to use force aboard the USCGC Vigilant to return Simas Kudirka to their Russian trawler. (Kudirka was seeking asylum.) Wikipedia says that Eustis was given a non-punitive letter of reprimand. This is false. Eustis was cashiered, and those above him in the chain of command were given the option to retire or be cashiered. One of my friends, Wes Miller, sat the Coast Guard investigation board on the Kudirka incident. The board recommended court martial for Eustis. but the President overrode their recommendation and cashiered Eustis and cited the Baltimore incident as precedent. Wes and I argued the propriety of the dismissal many times. I think an incident that occurred in 1798 that echoed in the 20th century deserves more than a footnote.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: American naval 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.

2.6. Summary:

     (I read Six Frigates immediately after The Age of Fighting Sail, and for that reason chose to review them together.)
     From the title, you would expect Six Frigates to be about the original six frigates of the United States Navy. It is that and more.
     At first I was displeased with the attention Mr Toll gave to the politics of the creation of the Navy, but that may be because I studied the creation of the Navy in depth years ago and can recall a great deal of it in excruciating detail. Ask anyone who has ever conversed with me on the subject.
     However, Toll soon rewarded my reading with details I did not know. Like the fact that Joshua Humphreys, the architect of the American big frigates, had to compromise the original six that he intended to be built as 44s to build only three 44s, two 38s, and one 36 (the runt of the litter Chesapeake). (The Chesapeake is often listed as a 38, and like all warships of the era, she carried more guns than she was rated for, but the truth is the Chesapeake was shorter than her sisters, and 36 describes her better than 38.)
      Toll covered the War of 1812 with more detail on the actions at sea than Forester gave, but his conclusions echoed Forester's.
      Toll covered the Quasi-War with France and Thomas Truxtun's command of the Constellation in action against L'Insurgente and La Vengeance. Something I did not know: the Constellation mounted 24-pounders when she fought L'Insurgente, but Truxtun found they made the Constellation top heavy and swapped them for 18-pounders. The Constellation fought La Vengeance with 18-pounders on her gun deck.
     Toll covered both the First Barbary War and the Second Barbary War. (There was not much to the Second Barbary War. The Navy sailed in and blew hell out of any ship the Algerines put in the water.)
     Toll covered William Bainbridge's loss of the USS Philadelphia and his and his officers' surprisingly luxurious captivity in Tripoli. Toll also covered the brutal conditions of the seamen in captivity. The Algerines put them to work like slaves on public works.
     Once Edward Preble sailed into the Mediterranean with an American squadron, things got hot for the Algerines. Preble put matters to rest in Tangiers and Tunis before he made his base in Syracuse. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was already at war with the Algerines and happily lent Preble six shallow-draft gunboats to use to bombard Tripoli. Preble sailed to Tripoli and proceeded to do just that. In time, a peace was concluded with the Dey of Algiers, and the Americans went away.
     Toll details the pig's breakfast President Jefferson made of the navy with his erroneous notions of naval militia manning unseaworthy gunboats. Those damned gunboats were useless. They could not sail and they could not fight.
     Toll covered the Chesapeake-Leopard affair and the Little Belt affair in extraordinary detail.
     If you have an interest in the early US Navy, this is a book you must have in your library.


2.7. Links:

2.8. Buy the book:
Six Frigates