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2017 Southern Illinois Salukis
For the past few years, I make it to Drake University to watch their once a year home game against my alma mater Southern Illinois University.

SIU is ranked in the middle of the conference while Drake is ranked near the bottom. SIU has had an up-and-down year which doesn't do much to prove they're much more than middle of the pack- with occasional flashes of brilliance but not quite there. While Drake, with a new coach actually looks like they are better than predicted, though this is a University better known for turning out doctors and lawyers than NBA players (I know, right?).

This was an exciting game which looked like SIU should win, but they ended up losing in OT. You can't shoot 60% from the free throw line and expect to win. SIU lost two of it's best players- Anthony Beane graduated and an injury made him have to reevaluate his choices. It looked like he was going to wind up in the NBADL but ended up in Bulgaria playing pro ball there. Bola Olanyian transferred to Alabama.

The OT win meant Drake has won five in a row now.  SIU had been down by 12 and fought back, and with a minute to go in regulation, it looked like they would win.

The 2016-7 Salukis are led by senior Sean O'Brien who will have over 1000 points in his college career, and Thik Bol, a 6-8 junior from the Sudan via Omaha.  He was one of the leading blockers in the NJCAA at Iowa Western Community College.  O'Brien had an offnight but Point Guard Mike Rodriguez  stepped up with 24 points.  Sophmore Armon Fletcher has been a steady scorer and had 17, while Sean Lloyd, another sophmore with a promising future had 17.

Book Review: Killing the Rising Sun by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
Well, we talked about this, y'know, and like it or not, BillO is one of the most successful writers of 'history' nowadays, and well, it's gift season, so....

You know all about the "Killing.." franchise, which is a dumb title, but is the kind of shock that BillO trades in. Killing WW2-era Japan is a bit of a stretch for the series that has to this point mainly talked about the individuals and their demise (See Bill O has got me doing the purple prose). If you recall, I was not impressed with my only other journey through the "Killing" fields (get it?)- the JFK book which was self-important, but also very light reading, and about all I remember was the emphasis on MLKs infidelities.

I could tell right away KtRS was different and it is. It may be surprising given my view on Bill O, but I am going to say a lot of nice things about this book. For starters, there are a lot of facts that are stored in this book (mostly trivia style facts). This really appealed to me as I felt like I learned a bunch. Given the format, much of this information was added as footnotes. This kept the story clean and simple but also added color.

This being something considered "Popular History", this book actually works really well. It stays fairly shallow, but that's what most people will want when they pick up this book, and at the very least, it should be what most people would expect from this series. That said, i really did enjoy this book. it wasn't as lightweight as his JFK book, which had little to no impact on me.

So given what this book is trying to accomplish, it succeeds. 20 years ago, this would have been called "MTV style". I suppose now they would call it "Social media-style journalism" or maybe today this is just "journalism". Appropriate to his beginnings, this is not Max Hastings, this is WW2 as if it had been covered by Inside Edition.

We are given striking portraits of the characters- Truman, MacArthur,Oppenheimer, Tojo, Hirohito, Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets- but we move on quickly. for example, we get Oppenheimer in Los Alamos- almost an Ellroy character- fixated on the moral quandary of what he is part of, susceptible to drink and infidelity, and as soon as he appeared, he's gone. Oppenheimer gets ten pages total. The others fare slightly better but not by much.

To me , the book feels like someone read six or seven great WW2 books, and then devoted two chapters of this book to each one of those. Again, less a complaint than an observation, as I do think that is the intent, and since this will serve as introductory history to some, I really don't have a major problem with that.

I did have a couple of problems with the book. One is O'Reilly's exploitative style. Kamikaze pilots, atomic fallout and radiation effects, the Rape of Nanking, The Baatan Death March, POW camps, "Comfort Women"- all of these are worth of discussion but BillO seems to take a perverse thrill in describing them in titillating and shocking fashion. Besides veering towards bad taste, it also makes me wonder how fast and loose he is playing with other facts in the book.

The other problem is ostensibly the moral dilemma at the heart of this book is whether we should have dropped the boms. Though BillO gives some lip service to the opposing view (Ike opposed it, various players struggled with the moral dilemma years after the fact), it is handled in such a heavy handed way that you know what the answer is supposed to be.

As far as extras, BillO asked former Presidents if they would have dropped the bomb, and those who responded (Carter, Bush 41 and 43) wrote back to say they would have. BillO has also got his hands on a Truman memo about MacArthur which he includes here. He also pays tribute to his dad, a WW2 Pacific Theater veteran. I have no problem with that. In fact, I thought it was a nice touch, and thought maybe it was too heavy handed, and actually could have been even better.

So overall, it's going to surprise soem of you, but I liked this one, though you should go in with the usual expectations.

Iowa Story: In the middle of the road you see the darnedest things
Almost 15 years in, and so I know alot of the state lore, but occasionally catch something I may have missed, such as apparently Christmas Trees in the middle of the road are a thing.

I first saw this in a western Iowa newspaper but can't find the article as apparently they just archive the headline stories of the day, but take my word for it.

Indeed, for it is not the only city in Iowa that does that.  Story City, Iowa for one has a long tradition of the Tree in the Street.

Which was probably clever in 1914 when electricity was a novelty.  I can't say I'm a Scrooge and there's not a charm, but maybe to the out of town driver who says "OMG!!!>>>"

Exira, Iowa as well.  They celebrated the tradition until the 1960s and the nostalgia for evergreen roadblocs came back in 2003 for the town of 840.

The central Iowa town of Slate (pop 1400) does it too.  Kyle Munson of the Des Moines Register wrote an article about the Christams Tree Iowa drivers have to swerve around.

His article with sped-up video of the tree being hoisted is filled with his usual wit.

Slater so adores its municipal tree that it plops it not on a front lawn or in a city park but smack in the middle of Main Street and the busiest, most prominent intersection.

Forcing motorists to veer around a towering green obstacle for a month may sound like an odd way to spread Christmas cheer, but it works a special charm.

I know because I've lived in this town for more than a decade and have come to cherish the tree as a reassuring seasonal reminder. There's something about being forced to literally slow down, apply your brakes and contemplate the notion of peace on earth and good will to humankind that we so often hear blared to us in the store aisles without letting it sink in.

So there's that.  Again, this came from a tradition that had died out, but couldn't be kept down and was resurected in the 80s.

Music to Blog about Music to
The annual look at what we are spinning in the Bedsitter23 bunker

John Lennon
Rolling Stones
Keith Richards
Bob Dylan
PJ Harvey
Mark Lanegan
Tom Petty
Iggy Pop
Belle and Sebastian
David Bowie
Car Seat Headrest

On the Shelf 177: Pixies
Not that there aren't bigger problems in the world, but what is there to think about this new Pixies album.

There of course are some truths and the reality is once you release more than 3 albums you are flirting with disaster. The greatest of the great- the Smiths, the Clash, the Velvets even Nirvana would have released clunkers of albums. Of course, we are a bit spoiled in that there have been a number of successful reunions.

In any case, none of this was enough to help the Pixies first reunion disc Indie Cindy, which by all measures was not a great reunion album. It become an in-joke with the indie press, and even though i wanted to like it, I found it hard to justify. Certainly as a Pixies record, even as a Frank Black record; though it wasn't totally awful, by most standards, it was unnecessary, to put it kindest.

Which brings us to Head Carrier. Admittedly, the reviews are a bit better, and this time even some positive reviews have crept in. For example, Luke Haines thinks it is a complete heir to the lineage.

Me? I am not sure that i have landed on an opinion. At first blush, it does feel like the Pixies, and it is worth a turn in my rotation. There are a couple of positives for me. Universally, it's agreed that Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) is a perfect compliment to the band. I can't argue that. She seems to fit right in that spot where one can only picture Kim Deal. She's not Kim, but she works. For me, the big ah-ha is Santiago (and Lovering. And Paz), and the melodies feel like what would be the next chapter of Pixies. If not Surfer Rosa, then a follow up to Trompe le Monde.

Which is the problem. The Pixies made their sound so effortless, and we now have 30 years of people who have copied the formula. There's Nirvana of course, but also Arcade Fire. There's Blur and Good Charlotte and indeed what passed for Britpop and modern alt-rock. No Jack White and no Weezer, and I am just dipping my toes in bands who wouldn't exist without the Pixies.

It's hard to re-capture that magic. Otherwise, bands would just do it.

I think Head carrier most succeeds. I think it will make my Top 20 year end list, but it's not a definite. Frank Black says his only vehicle for music going forward is the Pixies. That will change (of course), but if it continues like this, we have a promising future. For me, Black is the weak link here in the reunion, but I am sure given his past, he will be right on track in no time.

Book review: The Forbidden Territory by Dennis Wheatley
My understanding of Dennis Wheatley goes something like this. 

His first book (this one) was a best seller in 1933.  Following that success, he was one of the best selling British authors up to his death in the 70s.  His American contemporaries would include Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Wheatley mainly wrote in two genres - adventure (usually spy fiction) and occult horror, or sometimes a mix of both.  Wheatleys series of novels around Gregory Sallust (of which this is not one) is often cited as an influence on Ian Flemming and the James Bond series.  In a case of art imitating life, Wheatley also used his expertise and helped Britain during the war, i.e. writing real-life espionage plans against the Nazis. 

Wheatley's name has faded, possibly as he was a writer of his times and maybe not all of his thoughts are modern.  I picked up this as a discount ebook in what was part of a major relaunch of Wheatley, with plugs from Neil Gaiman among others.  Perhaps I should have stocked up, but I didn't know how it was going to go, so I started with #1.

What's interesting of course is the book was published in 1933,  It predates James Bond (as mentioned above) but a lot of adventure writers, including much of the spy genre and masters of the craft like John Le carre or those who have taken it to extremes like Mark Millar.  Of note, it actually is a Cold war book despite the date really.  The story is of our two suave European protagonists who travel to Siberia (see the title) to rescue an imprisoned American.  Wheatley draws a strong picture of Stalinist Russia that bests many storytellers

I give it positive points in that it does this story quite well.  It jumps into action and fleshes out the characters enough that it neither slows down the book nor skimps to make them quickly drawn caricatures.   The characters are debonair and knowing, certainly would fit in with Bond or his many imitators.  What is impressive is how well it stands up even after decades of what has come sense.  The logistics are more Bond than Le carre.  Things just work out in the nick of time.  It's more adrenaline rush than cerebral combat.

Books like this do run the risk of running out of steam and Wheatley does a pretty masterly job of moving from scene to scene.  The book is as much of a pageturner as anything on the shelves in this current year.

My main criticism is the book seems like it loses steam when it switches between the three protagonists.  There are logistical reasons why it might make sense, but the book seems to downshift when focused on the less colorful character.  I don't have the problem with the teamup as the three work in a complimentary way, and certainly the story and heroes would work well as a graphic novel.

I liked this and would recommend to those interested in the genre and particularly the history of the genre.  I think I would like to try his other books. 

Iowa Stories: Practice Practice Practice
Iowa is my adopted state, as it seems I just moved here, improbably I have been here a third of my life.

I have got well acquainted with the state and its culture, but occasionally will here something new.

In this case, I was charmed to the hear the story of the Cherry Sisters, a late 18th century vaudeville act, who predated a lineage of "so bad they are good" acts such as The Shaggs, William Hung, Rebecca Black, and Florence Foster Jenkins. Their success got them to Broadway with the help of Oscar Hammerstein, where they played six sold out weeks, and saved Oscar from bankruptcy. (Hammerstein's logic was that for many years he tried putting on the best talent, now he was going to try the worst)

The sister quartet was panned in the newspaper everywhere they went, even resulting in a libel case against a Des Moines newspaper that went all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. As time has faded, it's hard to tell if the libel case was born out of outrage or was a publicity stunt that even 2016ers would be jealous of.  They lost, as the judge saw the act and established athe concept of 'fair comment'.

Indeed, it's hard to tell if the family were in on the joke. Like the Shaggs, the question is did they know how bad they were, or did they think they were really good and didn't "get" it. In any case, the audience reaction of catcalls, derisive laughter and thrown produce was real.

I love this type of cultural history. Here are a few articles that have run.

NPR: Worst Act Ever?


Cedar Rapids gazette:  Time Machine


On the Shelf 176: Allah Las
One of my favorite sources of new music in recent years is the Garage Rock scene. I hesitate to call it a trend, as Nuggets-style Garage rock inspired by the mid-60s bands always exists. It just ebbs and flows.

But certainly, it's at a high point when I look at my favorite musical discoveries of the last decade- John Wesley Coleman III (solo and with his band the Golden Boys), Mystic Braves,and the Growlers. The comeback of King Khan and many of the Estrus and Crypt bands of the 90s, the crossover appeal of King Tuff and Ty Segall, and even reunions from the likes of the Zombies and the Fuzztones. I am surely forgetting many more.

In any case, near the top of that list are the Allah Las, who made my radar with the reverb drenched second album Worship the Sun in 2014.

they return in 2016 with something a bit unexpected. Indeed, they seem to have done what the Mystic Braves did on their last record, which is change gears from '65 to '68. While this seems a logical progression in some ways, it isn't. It was then, but surely at this point, these bands have heard Sgt Peppers and Odessey and Oracle.

Right? In any case, that is the transition they have made on Calico Review, an album that sounds like the band have discovered psychedelics and Saucerful of Secrets, SF Sorrow, and Electric Ladyland have just been released.

WtS is a bit uneven, which I thought of their last album too, though with the new change in style, seems noticeably more uneven. That said, the highs are pretty high, and there is little to complain about. Well worth it though.

Best track is "Famous Phone Figure" which makes one wonder what Andy Partridge is up to these days.

New Music Initative 071: Duchess Says
It's been a good for music but we don't get on here much to post about it.

Duchess Says is a Montreal band with a long history starting in 2003, with a series of EPs and three studio albums, the most recent one called Sciences Nouvelles.

It's hard not to think of Missing Persons for me, both in terms of vocals and music. Both aspects of the music are strong. Vocalist Annie-Claude Deschenes gets comparisons to Karen O and Poly Styrene, and is certainly well deserving of that mantle. The band is new wave influenced but undeniably modern. It's hard to imagine the band's music without describing it as being filtered through more modern influenceslike Le Tigre and the electroclash trend of band like the Faint and others circa 2001.

Worth checking out though.

Book Review- Chasing the Last Laugh

Chasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy TourChasing the Last Laugh: Mark Twain's Raucous and Redemptive Round-the-World Comedy Tour by Richard Zacks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to read some Twain so i can appreciate his title as America's greatest humorist. I thought this was a good place to start as it works his quotes within the context of his times. For that, i got just what I wanted.

Twain was as bad as an investor as he was talented as a writer. He put his money into a typesetting machine that looked to revolutionize printing. It didn't. (It was impossible to fix in comparison to its competitor). This along with some of other bad business decisions put Twain $2million in debt (in terms of modern money).

To get out of debt (and to flee America) Twain plotted out a World speaking tour. This would raise money as well spark ideas for a new book. In essence, Twain may be one of the first comedians to go on a stand-up tour or the first spoken word artist to draw large audiences.

It's a fascinating story. Of course, to get Twain's thoughts on everything, but I find the 1890s an interesting time, and Twain travels through Australia, India, and Africa. We get Twain's takes on these countries and the colorful sights and animals. He falls in love with India, and shares his thoughts on fakirs sleeping on beds of nails, human-powered taxis, and cows in the streets (and people bathing in the same river as the cows and drinking from it). He rides the Darjeeling Express- the world's dangerous railroad- certainly maybe the biggest adventure one could have at that time, hoping that the brakes work. He begins to question Imperialism, as the Boer War goes on, and the US occupies the Philippines.

Twain has become accustomed to living a certain way, and his pride won't let him be see act a pauper. He teams up with HH Rogers, a millionaire who helped found Standard Oil. Rogers allows Twain to make the tour and at least keep up the appearance of living the good life, meanwhile keeping the collectors at bay a little while longer.

Twain's wife comes from money, and largely is his conscience. Twain's performances are brilliant, but he hates the idea of having to do them, and the travel is particularly grueling.

It's a fascinating book, and Zacks uses plenty of reference material (diaries of those involved, newspapers of the day, etc) and really captures Twain's humor well, as well as the context.

Twain's daughter Susy (who did not travel along with her father) dies of spinal meningitis at age 24 near the end of the tour. The Twains are heartbroken by this, and sees it as a punishment. Twain's humor becomes darker, more atheistic and the family feels a lot of guilt.

As the tour ends, Twain is thinking of other ways to make money, mostly unsuccessful. He attempts an ill-advised public (New York newspaper) charity offering asking people to send him money to relieve his debt. This is mocked, and quickly dropped; Twain trying to play it off as a joke. Twain writes a ribald version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and suggests selling a very limited number of copies at a great cost (Sometimes Twain reeled himself back in from the tasteless and sometimes his wife did). Twain does make a significant amount of money from inside trading tips from Rogers on stock (legal then).

The story ends on a relatively good note. Twain's wife has a family relative whose terrible mining investment turns into a too-good-to-be-true deal that turns out to be true (Zacks's words). Between this, the tour, and help from Rogers including negotiating better publishing deals, Twain's fortune is restored and he returns to America a hero.

Always loved for his books, now respected as someone who paid back all of his debts. Twain had been viewed closely in the sensationalist "Rich man loses everything" way, and was constantly in the press, assumed the worst- (leading to the slightly misquoted "Reports of my death..." line).

For me, i think this book would have worked better at half the size. As it stands, it's a week-to-week description of the tour, including audience counts and public reception at every stop. I think it would have worked better as a lighter book. Still, some may want the level of detail, and it is the most minor of quibbles. I recommend for fans of Twain, people looking for an accessible intro into Twain. Also, recommended for the colorful travelography of the 1890s. If you choose not to pick it up, consider viewing Zacks's appearance on C-Spans Book TV. This really is a fascinating story, and recommended.

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