What I’m Watching – Moneyball

Finally saw Moneyball last night.  In a word I loved it.  In all honesty, though, I must make a full disclosure here.  I am a lifelong baseball fan.  I am not a “capital F” fan, painting my face and scoring season box seats to cheer on my team, but just someone who was raised in a family who loved the game, who played the game as long as he was tolerated and watches whenever he can.  I am also aware of, and curious about, the trend towards using statistical data from players to make basic decisions on their value and when and how much they play.  So the picture appealed to me on all of those baseball-centric levels.  But that wasn’t all of the attraction. It was a well crafted movie with good actors and an intelligent (and funny) script.  The true test is that I went with my Spouse and friends, all of whom can take the game of baseball or leave it, and they liked it too.

Moneyball was about the arrival of the Bill James’ Sabremetric statistical system in the upper levels of baseball management.  It was a good story told in an, almost, documentary style that centered around (I think) the 2002 season of the Oakland A’s American League baseball team.  They didn’t have the money to hold a successful team together so they had to come up with some other gimmick to have a chance to win.  The General Manager Billy Beane grabbed a young statistician from another team and started tearing the team apart and inserting unproved but statistically attractive players into empty spots.  Needless to say they were more successful than they should have had any right to expect and a new facet of baseball was introduced into the big leagues.  A fun story, especially if you are a baseball fan. See it.

Baseball Generations

What I have been reading…and reading…

I have been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy for most of my adult life (not a trivial span BTW) but had, so far, managed to avoid the mega book series that fantasy writers, especially, seem to regularly churn out.  Don’t get me wrong, some of these marathon reads have been very popular and supposedly well crafted.  It is just that I am basically lazy and I couldn’t bring myself to commit to them for the long haul.  Besides, there were plenty of wonderful stories that somehow found a way to end in the space of one volume.

Recently, however, I noticed that HBO was running a series based on the latest of these unending sagas, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones .  Then one of my book club members mentioned that she had made it through the first four books ( a new one has just been released) and liked them a lot.  My curiosity was hopelessly peaked.  I picked up a really cheap used copy of the first book (just curious mind you) and started to read.  You can probably imagine the rest.  I am now midway through the third volume and feel that I have been reading this story for most of the year.  I usually wait until I have finished a book to post a review but I felt like I had better make this review an installment effort or I wouldn’t ever get it out.  If Mr. Martin can take 8 volumes to write his book, I should be able to write the review in several installments, don’t you think.

I must admit that Martin has structured his story in such a way as to maximize the level of interest.  It is a big story with a huge cast of characters scattered over a vast imaginary map.  The reader is soon made aware of the principals and of their relationship to one another but then their separate adventures scatter them to the four corners of their world so that each is basically grappling with their own  set of circumstances.  Each chapter jumps from one of these stories to the next with only occasional interaction between the main characters.  It feels like you are reading several, only slightly, related novels at once.  I am sure that the stories will all eventually lead to an integrated whole but that is many volumes away so, for now, the characters are all on their own.

I will update this review as I progress.  The novel is supposed to cover eight very fat volumes.  That doesn’t even count the HBO series that I probably have to view now.   It is quite the project and I am not sure I am up to the task to be honest.  I’ll keep you posted.

WikiTree

I have been experimenting with a new genealogy tool call Wiki Tree.  It is a collaborative family tree system that, after guiding you through the entry of your family tree data, tries to match individuals within it to the ancestors of your fellow WikiTree users.  I have used several other family tree projects that attempt to accomplish this same objective but this is the simplest of them all to use.  Interestingly, even though it is pretty easy to use, there is still quite a bit of privacy control and so, for a change, I had little trouble following the basic procedures and producing a basic tree for my family that is just as private as I want it to be.  I am looking forward to exercising some of the more esoteric features and it should really be interesting when my tree starts intersecting with some of the other users.  If any of you have had any experience with this tool I would like to hear how it does with a full compliment of ancestors and all of the complications that entails.

I haven’t spent enough time with it to review it yet, but I will try and remember to update these comments when I have.  So I guess we will have to call this a beta review.  In the meantime I have a new genealogical toy to spend some time on.

 

 

What I’m Reading

Given my love of history and for the game of baseball, it is not difficult to imagine what a sucker I am for a new Baseball History book.  John Thorn (of Total Baseball fame) has written a good one. “Baseball in the Garden of Eden:  The Secret History of the Early Game” is the title and the story, it turns out, is nearly as complicated as the book’s title.

Mr Thorn is clearly a Baseball scholar.  His references are deep and dense.  The notes at the end of the book take up nearly fifty pages.  He has, however, a confusing way of organizing his information that is not quite chronological and not quite categorical.   In the process he seems to do a lot of overlapping and repetition as he goes along.  The story might not be easy to stick with if you are not interested in the subject.

If you are interested in the subject, however, there is much to like.  He makes a good case for the New York game being a true beginning for the institution of American Baseball while at the same time poking holes in most of the existing mythology that surrounds it.  He very nearly labels the Abner Doubleday/Cooperstown myth a conspiracy.   I was quite taken by the Theosophist connection, never having before seen the story laid out in such detailed and damning terms.  I was fascinated by the early history of the professional leagues, teams and players.  I have heard some of these stories before but never in such a complete context.  I would easily recommend this book to a committed Baseball fan but I would hesitate to offer it in hopes of producing a new one.

What I’m Reading

The author of “Sea Biscuit,” Laura Hillenbrand, has a new book out and it is an amazing story.  The book is “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”   The first part of the book follows the life of Louis Zamperini from a rocky childhood through to his unlikely participation, right out of high school,  in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  Then World War II came along and swept his country into war, and him into service to his country.  What followed was an unbelievable story of survival, first in the Pacific Ocean and then, in Japanese POW camps for the duration of the war.  Finally, the book recounted his difficult and frustrating adjustment to life after the war.  The book was one of those rare books that are both difficult to read and to put down.  I was enthralled with the story and took a new appreciation of the US war with Japan from it.  I would recommend this book to anyone but I would urge anyone to read it that is interested in understanding where our GI generation got its stuff.

What I’m Reading

The Zimmerman Telegram by Barbara Tuchman is one of those books that I wish I would have read a long time ago.  It was written in the ’50s and so I don’t have much of an excuse for not having read it before now.  The book takes place during World War I and it takes place among the most highly placed movers and shakers in the world at the time – Kings, Presidents, Chancellors and a stream of powerful diplomats, spies and politicos.  The incident that is described probably brought the United States into the war and therefore probably assured victory for the allies.  All in all a very critical moment in History.  The reason I wished I had read it earlier is that when I finished this book I had a completely different notion of what World War I was all about.

I had encountered many of the story’s characters in my prior reading and I had, of course, read about many of the ongoing WWI events surrounding the story but I had not ever read how all of the characters fit into the big picture and, in particular, how the United States was drawn in to the conflict.  The author did a beautiful job of laying out all of the details and building the story towards its astounding climax.  I am always amazed at how complicated international politics can be and the politics in time of war are probably the most frantic of all.  When it is all laid out  in front of you, as it is in this book, it is sometimes almost hard to believe. If you are wondering how Germany, Mexico, Japan and the United States are related in the context of World War I then you need to read this book.

What I’m Reading

I just finished reading The Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig, and I have to say I loved it.  In this book Mr. Doig manages to squeeze a maximum amount of reading pleasure out of a pretty simple story.  I must admit to a bit of a conflict of interest since the story centers on the trials of a family trying to scrape a living out of the Montana homesteading promise in the early 2oth century.  My fathers family made that same attempt and I was of course enthralled by the details that the book revealed in this regard.  Although it was a fictional setting, there was just enough history to keep me satisfied.  The goings-on in the one room school house that formed the backdrop for much of the story is a peek into a wonderful bit of lost Americana. But those details weren’t the only reason I liked it.  Mr. Doig honestly has a way with words.   The story was from the point of view of a 13 year old boy, as remembered by his adult self many years later and his voice was spot on.  I was never bored and  I think that I will be reading his more recent book soon, Work Song.

George Washington – New site

Occasionally I get contacted by a fellow web administrator hoping to get some help from me promoting his site or trading links, etc.  If the site seems ligit I will usually post a link somewhere in the TimePage site.  Normally it isn’t time sensitive so I tend to carry these links around for awhile and then install the links all at once as I have the time or energy.  It is the least I can do for the web community since links to my sites have been tacked to many web pages out there and that has helped me maintain my traffic, such as it is.

The other day I got one such request, but it had a bit of a time constraint on it.  The administrator is going to introduce his site specifically on February 22.  The reason for this is that his site is about George Washington and the 22nd is his birthday.  Well, I visited the site, took a look around, and I decided I should help him out if I can.  It is an important subject and he appears to have done a good job building his site.  Not a huge amount of content on it yet but what is there is high quality.  I am assuming he will continue to add content with the passage of time.  The site is called First in Peace and it is worth taking a minute to look around.

What I’m Reading

I probably wouldn’t have read “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, if it weren’t a bookclub selection.  It is one of those books that I had classified (from the reviews and promotions) primarily as a puff piece and a hack job for Greg Mortenson and his projects.  I was right about its purpose and it was certainly not a masterpiece of literature, but I was wrong about it worthiness.

The book was truly inspiring.  Greg Mortenson has accomplished so much in his lifetime that it makes the rest of us, no matter how hectic our life seems, seem like real slackers in comparison.   He is one of those people who let a dream get out of hand and has devoted his whole life to a worthy but seemingly impossible goal.   His timing didn’t help.  Talk about being in the right place at the wrong time, he might be the model for that one.  Building schools in Afganistan and Pakistan in the midst of the “war on terrorism” pretty much takes the medal.

I would recommend this book to anyone.  In addition to the inspirational value, it also provides a gentle perspective into the war, we in the United States, find ourselves fighting.  I believe his approach is the right one and I wish him all the luck in the world but I can’t even imagine taking his place.

 

What I’m Reading

Bad Land, by Jonathon Raban, was one of those books that really hit a sensitive spot in my psyche.  The author was writing a story about a group of people, at a particular time and in a specific place.  I was reading it for my book club and, although I knew vaguely what it was about, it wasn’t until I was a ways into the book that I realized that the people he was talking about might as well have been my immediate ancestors.  The time was the early 20th Century and the people were the mass of hopeful immigrants (both American and foreign) who took advantage of the Homestead Law to settle Montana.  My father’s parents were among those immigrants, in their case American farmers from the mid-west, who came in search of a place of their own.  Needless to say, after I made the connection, I couldn’t put this book down. 

The book is ultimately about, not only the ones who arrived, but also about those that were disappointed and eventually left again.   My grandparent’s story ended up that way.   Eventually they ended up on the west coast where my parents met and most of the story of our family took place.  In all of the years I had been listening to the tales my family told, somehow, it had not sunken in that my grandparents were brought to Montana by the Homesteading fever like so many others at that time.  I have a very different view of my family’s history now and I am having to re-read a lot of the things I have collected for my genealogy work in that new light.

The book is well written and very personal in its style.  The author spent a lot of time in Montana recently and talked to the descendants of those Homesteaders.  It was touching to hear how much he found that had been abandoned and still sits where it was left, those many years ago.  It is a sad story but, unfortunately, a common one.  People can be easily persuaded to go almost anywhere if the reward is something for nothing.  Unfortunately, this time the payoff was closer to nothing than something.