Good Taste, Prez.

I have always appreciated that President Obama cites MY favorite show (and many others), The Wire, as his own favorite and apparently that extends to other favorites of mine. President Obama recently requested screeners of Game of Thrones and my newest favorite show, True Detective. That was amusing, I guess, but then, imagine actress Alexandra Daddario (from True Detective)'s perspective on this:


Rain On Your Wedding Day

Rain on Your Wedding DayRain on Your Wedding Day by Curtis Edmonds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Curtis Edmonds has written an absolutely satisfying debut novel here. Will Morse, an ex-NFL player, has retreated to a mountain cabin, to put some physical distance between his memories and as a form of self-penance. When his daughter shows up with her fiancee, as well as a woman named Dot, Will is forced to make some choices about whether he wants to stare down his demons, and what that will mean. In its premise, "Rain on Your Wedding Day" reminded me of Per Petterson's wonderful "Out Stealing Horses," and though the books are quite different, I enjoyed this almost as much as that master work. If I had any complaints, it would be that as a diehard NFL fan, I would have liked a bit more details about that part of Will's background, and maybe a fuller expansion of his relationship with Dot. These are mere requests for 'more' as I absolutely enjoyed this story, the tone, the characters and the size of the story as well. This is Curtis Edmonds' first novel; let's hope there are many more to come.

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Why BatKid Matters

Unless you managed to avoid the internet on Friday, November 15, you know that a 5-year old boy named Miles Scott, who has been fighting leukemia since he was 20 months old, was granted a wish by Make-A-Wish -- to be "BatKid."

The best news in all of this is that Miles is actually now in remission - but nobody but his family would know that if not for Friday. Because Miles got his wish - and entranced anybody and everybody who heard about it.

You may know the specifics of what he did - it started with a plea from the "Gotham" Police Chief (really the SF Police Chief). BatKid, along with Batman, then rescued a damsel in distress, locked up the Riddler and saved Lou Seal from the Penguin at AT&T Park. As they arrived, crowds were packed near the Batmobile Lamborghini (which had a booster seat for 5-year old Miles), cheering him on with signs, etc.

Still interested? Click here to read more

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

Night FilmNight Film by Marisha Pessl
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A serious disappointment. I give NIGHT FILM two stars instead of one because the opening half is really fun and engaging - a disgraced journalist becomes interested in the death of the daughter of a famous filmmaker. Along the way, he picks up two sidekicks as they try to determine why this woman - Ashley Cordova - killed herself -- or if she did, at all.

OK, so interesting premise. It's coupled with interesting dialogue and - the book's main gimmick - inserted material that we read as the "detectives" do. For instance, a Vanity Fair profile of Ashley Cordova is in the book, in perfect replica form. It's fun as a reader to see an article (that of course was created for the book, as Ashley Cordova is a fictional character) and to read it, looking for the same clues that the main characters are.

Sure, she's cute, but the book isnt'.
Then, a few things happen that absolutely make the book a serious miss, and in many ways not very fun to read. For one, author Marisha Pessl just STOPS with the inserted material, which was incredibly fun to read and a MAJOR component of the first act of the book. It's absence is very obvious and feels like she just ran out of ideas. But far worse is what happens in the third act, which could be titled, "Exposition 101." Pessl has told us a rich, detailed tale but managed to get us no closer to an answer. So, she has the character "realize" a few things that the reader couldn't, because it's based on information we didn't have. She has him meet not one but SEVERAL new characters (or folks we barely met previously) who explain to him (and the reader) the answers to several of our mysteries in a way that is maddening - again, because it's based on information we never had.

When you read a mystery, part of the fun is trying to figure out the end on your own. If you watch a movie and at the end, a character sits down for dinner and explains, "This is what was really happening," that's because the filmmakers realized they didn't do a good job of explaining it previously. This entire book is like that.

Pessl is obviously a talented writer - but this is not her genre. I cannot recommend this book at all, and would advise folks thinking about this one to look elsewhere.


Rating: 4.0/10.0

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The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro is a massive book - my copy was 1162 pages NOT including the lengthy notes and bibliography. It is a book that I've heard rave reviews about for years and resisted purchasing only because of that size ... not because the length is daunting, but because it's not available in electronic format.

At all.

That's a deal breaker for me ... or at least, it was, until I no longer could resist the siren songs of the book - it won the Pulitzer Prize and people whose opinions I really respect kept talking it up. So I took the plunge and bought it, and read it over the last month or so.

Totally worth it.

Robert Moses is someone whose name I never knew - but he's largely responsible for SO much of what everybody considers modern New York -- here's just a sample of what almost certainly wouldn't exist in its current form without Robert Moses:

The Triborough Bridge, Jones Beach State Park, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, West Side Highway, the Long Island parkway system, and the Niagara and St. Lawrence power projects, to name a few. He preserved and created 2,567,256 acres of parks. He built 658 playgrounds in New York City, 416 miles of parkways and 13 bridges.

And yet ... it is impossible to simply call Moses a hero.

Robert Moses was a hero. Robert Moses was a villain.

Robert Moses was a visionary. Robert Moses was incredibly close-minded.

It is easy to be in awe of what Robert Moses did, and just as easy to be disgusted with what Robert Moses did. It is easy to feel envy for Robert Moses, and easy to feel pity for him.

I could go on, but importantly, this is the EPIC story of Robert Moses, who not only created all these parks, bridges and other public entities, but did so over almost 40 years, through seven governors - and in most of that time, in many ways had more power and control than those very governors. The tale of how Moses became the man he was is fascinating and heartbreaking - because its complicated, like life.

Moses rose to power by turning on his values and doing everything he could to gather power for himself - all while he presumably was doing things for the people. He spent the equivalent of $150 billion in state and federal funds - and did so only according to his plans. Anyone else who wanted to suggest changes - changes that would, as an example, not destroy entire neighborhoods for a parkway, but instead gently route the parkway around the town - were threats to that power. And so he crushed those attempts.

Moses was not a fan of the very people he seemed to be building for - he refused to address mass transportation, building more bridges instead (which mathematically cannot help in the volume that subways and buses can). Moses found ways to cement his own power, in political, practical and financial terms that are absolutely fascinating. He got away with this because of the genius of his financial funding of the Triborough Authority - he got banks to sell bonds worth millions, and instead of ever paying off the debt service, he used the funds made from tolls, etc., to develop new projects. Had he paid off those bonds, his power would have gone away with that debt.

His negative impact -- destroying lower-class towns and buildings, while routing around the estates of the wealthy, failing to use those vast funds to truly address the traffic and congestion (and the misery that comes with commuting in it), are brutal. One quote from the book emphasizes this:
“To build his highways, Moses threw out of their homes 250,000 persons — more people than lived in Albany or Chattanooga, or in Spokane, Tacoma, Duluth, Akron, Baton Rouge, Mobile, Nashville or Sacramento. He tore out the hearts of a score of neighborhoods.”
Moses didn't want low-class things like buses on his parkways so he built the overpasses to be too low for buses to clear - hence, folks who take buses got no benefit. He refused to put even the room for a train to ride in the center of new auto parkways, meaning they'd be costly and prohibitive forever after.

Did he do all this because he was racist and class-ist? Not all - but that's certainly a factor. But the real reason he wouldn't allow ANY changes to HIS plans were that if someone could allow a single change, then his power was eroded. The string would start to unravel.

But similarly ... without that same arrogance, power and drive, those bridges, parks and beaches never get built. Did the end justify the means? As one example, many people were pressing him to use funds to build the "Second Avenue Subway" for what would have likely been $25-30 million, a very large sum. I thought about this and realized there still was no Second Avenue Subway - this eventually (in 2006) did start development, at an almost certain UNDER estimate of $17 billion.

It would take way too long to detail all the remarkable points of The Power Broker - which details in perfect measures the man and what he did - and the book picks up speed and momentum as it develops - so I won't. But it's brilliant. Truly a genius book and one I can't help but "see" in daily life. As I write this, the Bay Bridge is closed for the final transition to the new extension - and people are complaining about its budget, etc., and I think of how Moses got so many projects done. He lied about how much they'd cost, and then shrugged later - are you going to leave a bridge half-built? You can't. I wondered how he could get away with that ... and then I thought about if a half-built Bay Bridge sat empty and incomplete next to Treasure Island, and that any Governor would lose his job over that. I hear about a road being paved in the Amazon to help Ecuador dig for oil, and I think of Robert Moses paving roads where none were in remote Long Island.

The book will change how you look at power, at how public entities are run (for this progressive voter, it was eye opening to say the least) and at the individual of Robert Moses. It is recommended for basically everybody. It's a challenge, but read it.

I will add this - while reading it, I discovered the following blog of someone who kept a running diary of the book as he read it. It's very helpful and I'd recommend it to anyone as a nice supplement to use while reading it yourself.

Rating: 9.5/10.0

James Gandalfini

The other day I tweeted out what I thought was hilarious -- the concept of a character based on Gandalf the Grey, and James Gandolfini. It would, of course, be called Gandalfini.

Then, I looked around the internet and ... nothing. I couldn't have been the only person to think of this, idiotic and useless as it is. So, I took my incredibly remedial copy and paste skills and came up with this.

Worse shows have been built on flimsier ideas than THIS. Do you remember Cop Rock?

C'mon Internet. DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING? Let's make this real. A mob boss with the powers of magic? GOLD, JERRY, GOLD!

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