Life and Fate

[Amazon Link]

Once every few years, I take it into my fool head to read a big, ponderous, Russian novel. It's an eat-your-vegetables thing, a reaction to a self-induced guilt trip about having too much reading fun. So this book went on the to-be-read pile a few years back; it had been sitting on my shelves since 1987 or so.

Its pedigree is pretty good. The author, Vasily Grossman, was a combat correspondent during the Second World War, reporting on the battle for Stalingrad, the fall of Berlin, and the Nazi's Treblinka death camp. He submitted the manuscript of Life and Fate in 1960 to a USSR literary journal. He was rewarded with rejection, and a visit from the KGB, who confiscated all known copies of the manuscript, plus the carbon paper and typewriter ribbons used to type it up. Grossman died a few years later. Eventually, a copy of the manuscript found its way to the West.

I'm sure this oversimplifies things massively: it's War and Peace, set during WW2. There's a huge cast of characters, all going through the agony of (a) war; (b) Nazi oppression; and/or (c) Stalinist oppression. The Battle of Stalingrad is described in all its grisly detail. Grossman pulls no punches on any front; most notably, he's absolutely chilling in detailing the nasty degradation of living under a totalitarian regime, living in fear that some innocent remark or decent act might get you ostracized or imprisoned. Did Trotsky politely praise an essay you wrote years back? Oh oh.

[By sheer coincidence, this book shares a near-identical scenario with the Chinese sci-fi novel I read slightly before this, The Three-Body Problem. In both, a physicist finds himself in deep political trouble for holding to "counter-revolutionary" interpretations of relativity and quantum mechanics. Thank goodness we don't politicize science here in the US these days … oh, wait.]

All in all, an arduous 871-page slog, full of those three-foot long patronymic names. (E.g., Yevgenia "call me Zhenya" Nicolaevna Shaposhnikovna.) I can't say it was fun, but it was worthwhile.

The Fractured Republic

Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism

[Amazon Link]

Gosh, I wish I'd liked this book better. I was really looking forward to reading it, wasted a Boston Library Consortium pick on it. It isn't awful, but not very good. I was encouraged to read it by Charles Murray's review at National Review, where he deemed it "a must read for those who wish to understand modern America." Um, well, maybe. I, for one, don't think my understanding improved much.

Yuval Levin says some insightful things here, especially near the beginning. He points out that both conservatives and liberals have a misty-eyed view of mid-20th century America. The conservatives like the strong families, the relative prosperity. Liberals point to the 91% marginal rate on the Federal income tax and the strong unions. All this is remembered through the eyes of baby boomers, the bump-in-the-demographic-python that has inordinate sway over interpreting the past, reporting the present, and guessing about the future. (Mea Culpa.)

Levin then takes us on a brief cultural/political historical tour of post-WW2 America, up to the present day. This is a short book, this tour is only a fraction of it, so it's necessarily superficial. But the trends are (according to Levin) unmistakable: centralization of power at the Federal level, an unexpected bifurcation in well-being between those working in high-skilled jobs versus those in low-to-medium skilled jobs, a weakening of family, community, and religious ties.

My own recommendation would be to (instead) read America 3.0. Or visit their website (which seems to be unfortunately inactive).

Levin's preferred way forward is to step away from (what he calls) hyper-individualism and excessive centralization, returning strength to the "mediating" institutions at more local levels: family, church, fraternal organizations, local governments, etc.

The latter part of the book is frustratingly vague and hand-waving. Looking for concrete proposals? I'm pretty sure you'll have to look elsewhere. Although there's a mention of increased early childhood education.

The latter part of the book is somewhat (I thought) repetitious. That term "hyper-individualism" appears over and over—and we know anything "hyper" is bad news. It's blamed for everything: weakening of the family, drug use, violent crime, and (probably) disco. It goes hand in hand with the other Levin boogeyman, power centralization.


Last Modified 2016-09-05 5:06 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2016-09-04 Update

PredictWise has Hillary at a 76% win probability, down from 80% last week. Why, at this rate, the race could be an even matchup by late October!

Sorry. We need something to get excited about at Pun Salad.

In the phony polling, Jill Stein continues to pull away from the crowd:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2016-08-28
"Jill Stein" phony 1,560,000 +400,000
"Donald Trump" phony 1,010,000 +196,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 796,000 +27,000
"Gary Johnson" phony 76,400 -13,200

  • If you're looking forward to attending a Jill Stein campaign rally, you might want to leave a lot of time in your schedule for it: "Jill Stein delays rally after landing in wrong Ohio city".

    The presidential long shot accidentally flew to Cincinnati instead of Columbus, where she had been scheduled to speak at Capital University.

    I've long noticed that Ohio has a lot of localities beginning with "C". Very confusing!

    The article is from The Hill, and the comments are an amusing mirror image to the ones I usually see. ("A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump").

    Dr. Jill notes (probably correctly) the Democrats-with-bylines press coverage:

  • There are gonna be Trump/Clinton debates, probably, at some point. Barring a polling miracle, no Johnson or Stein participation. I was going to say "you couldn't pay me to watch" but as a theoretical matter, you probably could pay me to watch.

    In any case, the NYT reports that "Hillary Clinton Piles Up Research in Bid to Needle Donald Trump at First Debate". Sounds like a laff riot! Trump, on the other hand, is disdaining "laborious and theatrical practice sessions":

    “I believe you can prep too much for those things,” Mr. Trump said in an interview last week. “It can be dangerous. You can sound scripted or phony — like you’re trying to be someone you’re not.”

    Given high unfavorability ratings, being someone you're not might be a decent debate strategy for both Trump and Hillary. Who can be the more convincing phony?

  • Donald Trump went to Detroit, speaking at a mostly African-American church about economic issues. Meanwhile, Hillary's been fundraising among what the NYT describes as the "ultrarich": Jimmy Buffett, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, etc.

    Naturally, the mayor of Detroit noticed the difference here and … "Duggan blasts Trump as phony candidate without solutions".

    "This is the most phony major party nominee that I’ve seen in my lifetime, and that’s why we’re skeptical," Mayor Mike Duggan said at a news conference with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield "I feel like I'm watching the next season of The Apprentice."

    I hear you, Mike. When I watch Hillary, it's like I'm listening to the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" for the five thousandth time.

  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File is always worth reading. This week is devoted to defending himself against prominent conservative Trump fans who are put out that Jonah won't get in line. RTWT of course, but as a one-liner, I snorted at this Trump observation:

    Every time you hear him talk about the Constitution, it’s like he’s trying to remember his high-school French.

  • The New York Daily News reports: "Phony ‘Dinner with Trump’ contest raised $1 million, donated $0 to Republican’s campaign".

    If you donated for a chance to win dinner with Donald Trump, your check may not have gone to the Republican’s campaign — and you certainly won’t be sharing an intimate meal at a table for two.

    Darn it! Also:

    I've been known to sign up for "Dinner with Hillary" contests, if and only if I can find the "enter without contributing" page.

Afflicted

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

One of Mrs. Salad's picks, and I liked it! Good job, honey!

Because of spoilers, I don't want to go much beyond this official description:

Best friends Derek and Clif set out on a trip of lifetime. Their plan: travel to the ends of the earth, see the world, and live life to the fullest. But the trip soon takes a dark and bloody turn. Just days in, one of the men shows signs of a mysterious affliction which gradually takes over his entire body and being. Now, thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land, they must race to uncover the source before it consumes him completely. Footage meant to be travel memories may now become evidence of one of the most shocking discoveries ever captured on film...and perhaps will be their only postcard home.

That's pretty much all I knew going in. Also (MPAA): "Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, and language." Can't really blame them for the language, though, given all the disturbing bloody violence.

Although this movie was (more or less) direct-to-DVD-and-streaming, it's a very professional effort, shot on a shoestring budget of (it says here) $318,000. That's impressive!