For I'm One Too Many Mornings

… and a thousand miles behind: [Mr. Dylan]

  • Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, who turns 70 today. I'm … considerably less than a thousand miles behind. Tyler Cowen has some "underrated highlights of his career." The Beeb has the scoop on his heroin addiction. (Yes, you can go on to have a decent life, but that doesn't make it any easier.) And Scott Johnson at Power Line is very much worth reading on Hibbing, Minnesota's favorite son.

  • You may have heard about President Obama's big speech on the Middle East. Bret Stephens is merciless on the latest example of Barackrobatics:
    For starters, it would be nice if the president could come clean about whether his line about the 1967 line--"mutually agreed swaps" and all--was pathbreaking and controversial, or no big deal. On Sunday, Mr. Obama congratulated himself for choosing the hard road to Mideast peace as he prepares for re-election, only to offer a few minutes later that "there was nothing particularly original in my proposal."
    Good luck figuring that out. I rarely quote twice from the same article, but this was both subtle and devastating:
    On Friday in the Oval Office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered his version of the truth, which was that the 1967 border proposed by Mr. Obama as a basis for negotiating the outlines of a Palestinian state was a nonstarter.

    Administration reaction to this reciprocal act of friendly truth-telling? "That was Bibi over the top," the New York Times quoted one senior U.S. official, using the prime minister's nickname. "That's not how you address the president of the United States."

    Yeah, "Bibi." Don't get so uppity when you're talking to the One.

  • For more on Bibi-vs-Barry, Don Surber has a pictorial juxtaposition that speaks more than the expected thousand words.

  • For libertarians looking around at the GOP presidential field, Ilya Somin compares and contrasts Gary Johnson and Ron Paul. But for we libertarians who are immigration skeptics, Kevin Williamson points out some negatives.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:06 AM EST

Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts

[Amazon Link]

A big scholarly tome that recounts the history of America—as you might guess—prior to the Revolution. The author, Daniel K. Richter, is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. I prevailed upon the library at the University Near Here to buy it after reading this glowing mention from Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, and they graciously complied. But whenever I do that, I feel obliged to check the book out and read it. So…

It's written more for an academic audience, while I was looking for something more aimed at the "semi-curious semi-educated goofball" market. It was kind of a slog. Richter's writing is adequate, but it rarely sparkles. (Occasionally, he'll let slip an opinion or two into the text via strong wording; that's about it.)

So I read this sort of thing for interesting stories, oddball facts, and a better sense of my country's historical roots. But I'm glad I don't have to pass a test on it. A few things I picked up, big and small, that I was insufficiently aware of before:

  • The Little Ice Age (starting around 1300) had profound effects on both Native Americans and Europeans; the collapse of agricultural systems arguably set things up for the European "discovery" and eventual takeover of America.

  • For example, the Native city of Cahokia, just east of today's St. Louis, lasted for hundreds of years; at its peak it probably had more inhabitants than London at the same time. But it began to decline around 1300 and was abandoned a few centuries later. And today, it's just mounds.

  • This one is embarrassing: there was a French-inspired 1690 Indian raid on my home town (then called Salmon Falls); this raid (and others like it) inspired a little prequel to the French and Indian War a few decades later.

Quibble: early on in the book, discussing Native agriculture, Richter is discussing the dietary properties of the crops. He refers to zein as an amino acid; it's not, it's a protein. He discusses lysine and tryptophan "whose absence is a major causes [sic] of pellagra." Although blunders are inevitable in a big work, letting two slip by within the same paragraph doesn't inspire confidence.

But, on the whole, recommended to you history buffs. (Here is a review from Charles C. Mann in the WSJ.)

Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:07 AM EST

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Sorry to the Harry Potter fanboys. I'm just hanging on. Only watching this one because I watched the first six. Don't remember enough about the first six for this one to make total sense. Just wishing it was over.

Plot summary: Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron are on the run after Voldemort has taken over Hogwart's. The V-dude's evil forces are everywhere, competent enough to place Harry in near-constant peril, but not competent enough to finish the job. Convenient! A number of people on Harry's side don't make it to the end of the movie. Harry, Ron, and Hermione bicker (tediously) just about all the time.

Here's an example of the kind of thing that got my goat: An epic battle between good and evil forces near the beginning of the movie is less than epic, because it focuses entirely on Harry. We learn afterwards about the killing of one good guy, and see that another's been seriously injured; why not show this happening during the battle itself? Things are edited MTV-style, fractions of a second per shot, it's difficult to tell what's going on. Didn't these guys see Braveheart or any of the Lord of the Rings movies?

It's very, very dark. In more ways than one. Specifically, two.

And for all the running about and special effects, the situation at the end of the movie isn't that different from the situation at the beginning, other than the body count. I'll put the last DVD into the Netflix queue when it comes out, but grudgingly.

Last Modified 2012-09-26 6:07 AM EST