hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for August, 2013

Anniversary

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 30, 2013

Today is the one month anniversary of my father’s death in my backyard. It still seems so unbelievable, so surreal. One minute, he’s mowing my grass, the next he’s dead on the ground. It really seems cruel. I’m still stunned that I didn’t get to see him coherent on his last day alive. That bothers me so much. I wish I could have said some things, done some things. Mom’s telling people he had been depressed and was “ready to go.” I don’t believe that. Yes, he had been depressed, ever since he retired. He thought he had no further value, which was untrue, but he still had plans and dreams. He wanted to take we four back up to Nova Scotia where we once lived and show my wife around. They were going up to Pittsburgh to be with old friends that weekend. He wanted to take we four up to Iowa and Minnesota to visit family and show Gretchen around. He still had a lot of life in him and I resent the fact that it was yanked away from him, and he from us.

There’s one thing I’m trying to keep in mind though. Mom showed me a computer print out Dad brought over to my house on his last day alive, for me to keep and ponder. It reads “The past should be left in the past because it can destroy your future. Live your life for what tomorrow has to offer, not for what yesterday has taken away.” Wow! How prophetic was that??? Did he somehow know? I can’t believe that he did, but why did he bring that to me on that particular day? I do need to look to the future and quit tormenting myself about the past, about what I didn’t say or didn’t do. I said a lot and did everything I could possibly do to keep him alive. It wasn’t enough. The paramedics couldn’t save him either, so maybe I’ve been too hard on myself.

My mom is doing okay. Yesterday was their 49th wedding anniversary, and she and Gretchen and I went out to eat. Some tears were shed, but Dad was fondly remembered. I just can’t believe I can never pick up the phone and call him again and get one of his funny emails he sent me. It’s quite sad, really. RIP Dad.

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A Review of Rip It Up and Start Again

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 29, 2013

Rip It Up and Start AgainRip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an exhausting book to read, in part, because the author was so exhaustive in his research and, thus, the book is a thorough overview of British, and to a lesser extent, American post-punk rock. It’s also a strangely intellectual book, and at times, it felt like I was reading a modern history textbook.

Early on, Reynolds discusses the demise of punk and the (odd) opinion that The Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Bollocks” actually signaled the end of punk — not the height of its glory. He shows post-punk to be distinct from punk and New Wave, among others. The post-punk bands that followed punk wanted to continue the revolution that it began but failed to fulfill. There was a sense of existing to negate the corporate hit-making machinery and ideology of 70s-era prog and commercial rock, or at least until New Pop and New Wave came along and flailed against such post-punk rebellion by emulating the most listener-friendly pop forms. These early post-punk bands began exploring other forms of music, such as experimentation with art rock, electronics, dub, reggae, funk, and even disco. Some of these early post-punk bands wanted to make a wall of noise and often the bands were made up of a collective as opposed to trained musicians. Often, the traditional instruments (guitars, drums, etc.) were completely ignored for synths and tapes, as well as other assorted unknown instruments. If there were even concerts, film and theater often played large roles. Audience participation was often encouraged.

The book is divided into two halves: one is pure post-punk and the second is “new pop and new rock.” As a result, it read like two distinctly different books. The first chapter is about PIL (Public Image Limited), Johnny Rotten’s band he formed after ditching the Sex Pistols. According to Reynolds, PIL was the start of the post-punk movement. However, numerous other bands formed and began playing, such as Joy Division, Cabaret Voltaire, Devo, Gang of Four, Wire, Pere Ubu, Throbbing Gristle, and tons of bands I’ve never heard of. The second half begins with The Specials, before moving on to ska and Bow Wow Wow, as well as the New Romantics, such as Adam Ant. The author goes further into groups like Gary Numan, Haircut 100, ABC, Duran Duran, and pretty much ties it all together with Madonna, of all people, at the end of the book. It’s a very exhaustive look at hundreds of bands and many scenes throughout the UK and America. And that kind of presents a bit of a problem. The chronology of the book’s chapters runs back and forth as different scenes and genres are covered, which was occasionally confusing. Everything was thrown into the mix together — the bands, band missions, various genres, record stores, record labels, clubs, new types of technology — everything. It was nearly overwhelming.

One of the major problems of the book was its tendency of the chapters to follow a pattern that got a little old fairly soon. Reynolds first discusses a specific post-punk hot spot, often geographically (such as Manchester, Liverpool, NYC, San Francisco, etc.). He then discusses the best band, or several bands, from that scene before mentioning virtually every band possible from that same scene or hot spot. Like I said, it gets a little old….

Another major problem I had with the book was its insistence that this second British invasion was the most important musical movement since the first, citing hundreds of bands, most of whom I’ve never even heard of, and I’d wager many other people never have either. Among the bands Reynolds discusses are The Pop Group, New Age Steppers, Delta 5, The Future, Teenage Jesus, This Heat, Tuxedomoon, Factrix, A Certain Ratio, and so many more. Many of these bands he discusses as so very relevant never even released an album, and those that did usually just released an EP or one debut album that sold something like 5,000 copies and they were never heard from again. I fail to understand why so many of these, frankly, unimportant bands were deemed worthy of inclusion.

The book, and many of the bands in it, pay homage to some that came before them, such as Captain Beefheart, Roxy, Bowie, Eno, etc, and that’s cool. It’s really not a bad read and I learned a lot. I just think a lot of it was unnecessary and I question the author’s intentions. Did he just want to expand the book’s pages to charge more? I also could have done with a little less (band) name dropping and more detail on some of the more significant bands. However, it was good to see personal favs like Bauhaus, The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, and Skinny Puppy mentioned. I’d recommend this book for any 70s music fan and many music enthusiasts, but it’s a bit of a cautious recommendation. I think you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff, and that’s a bit of a pity — but it’s ultimately worth it.

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An Update

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 25, 2013

So after our break in of two weeks ago, we now have a home security system in place. We signed with ADS Security, a regional home security company with a good reputation and we now have an alarm system in place on all four doors, as well as interior motion sensors. We also have signs in our yard. We feel a lot safer now. Yeah, you can have all kinds of weapons in your house and plans for robberies when you’re there, but those don’t do any good when you’re not around. The break ins in this neighborhood have been happening between 10 AM and noon on weekdays when people aren’t around. Ours was on a Tuesday in broad daylight! How brazen. ADS responds in 45 seconds or less, so we feel like this security system is a good investment and we feel a lot safer now.

Meanwhile, we’re still trying to get used to Dad’s death three and a half weeks ago. It still feels so unreal. I can’t believe he’s no longer around. And I can’t get the image of him on the ground gasping and moaning as he died out of my mind, and of my mouth to mouth as he was obviously dead by then. I feel helpless and guilty. I feel a great sense of loss. And my mom is trying to do her best, but she’s been overwhelmed and is a little OCD about many things. I’m trying to be patient with her.

Mom had a DVD made of Dad’s funeral service and we got a copy. We watched it a few days ago. It seemed surreal. I’m glad we have it, but it’s a little weird too.

We got the items that were stolen replaced, and my external backup worked for my computer, so I’m happy about that. There was only one software program I had to buy again, as it didn’t transfer over. That’s okay.

I had a lot of poetry submissions to Ray’s Road Review to go through. They had really piled up. I accepted poems from two people and rejected many from quite a few people.

Yesterday we went to a seminar given on the Affordable Care Act to educate people about the details. It was pretty informative. Since neither of us has employer given insurance, we’re hoping this will really help us out come January.

Mom sold Dad’s car. That was kind of sad. Next up, it’s time to sell his fishing boat. I have no idea how to find out basic information on it and how to determine what to ask for it. I need help with this. Mom’s going to be donating Dad’s books to the library of their home church in Knoxville and I guess she’ll be giving his clothes to Goodwill. She’s going to get rid of his tools, although I think I’ll take a number of them myself. Mom’s freaking out about finances, because she’s never had to worry about this before, but I’m trying to remind her that Dad left her in good shape. She doesn’t seem to get it sometimes.

We didn’t go to church today. Gretchen went biking and I want to cut the grass, but it poured last night and I think the grass is too wet to cut. I think we’ve had one day all summer long without rain. It’s been crazy! You’d think we live in Seattle or London. I’ve never seen a summer like this. I can’t wait for fall. At least football’s here. That’s something. I do think, however, that my Steelers are going to suck this year, and I have no idea how UT is going to do with their new coach.

I guess that’s all for now. Just wanted to give an update. More book reviews to come later this week. Cheers!

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A Review of Just Call Me Mike

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 23, 2013

Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and ActivistJust Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist by Mike Farrell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mike Farrell is an interesting man. I bought this book (for fifty cents at a used bookstore) because of my love for his character in MASH. Truthfully, that’s what I thought the book might be about, although it’s subtitled “A Journey to Actor and Activist.” I just had no idea what an activist Mike is! It’s really overwhelming. I mean, if he’s done half of what he claims to have done, he should be sainted. He traveled to numerous south and central American countries like El Salvador to document human rights abuses. He went to Rwanda to document the genocide there. He became an advocate for prisoner’s rights and has fought hard to abolish the death penalty everywhere. Let me tell you, if you’re a conservative, you won’t like this book. I’m pretty liberal, and even I felt like I was being preached to too often at times! He’s very anti-Bush, but doesn’t hold back on Clinton either, as well as Reagan and Bush 1.

I was disappointed at how little a role MASH plays in this book. A little over a chapter is devoted to the show, with the only major story being about the final episode. I had hoped to read numerous behind the scenes stories about the show, and that was a big let down. At the same time, I didn’t know how much other acting and producing Mike has done, so that was interesting. He got Patch Adams produced (starring Robin Williams), although he was deeply disappointed with the final product, which he thought the director and writer butchered.

Mike’s devotion to his second wife and his kids is awesome. His wife had to go through so much, including a frightening liver transplant, but Mike stood with her the whole way. Mike never went to college, but his kids did, so he was proud of them.

At times, this book bored me, however. I wanted anecdotes, not proselytizing. I feel kind of ripped off by that, even though, again, the words on the book cover should have alerted me to the primary purpose of the book. I mean, most of the blurbs on the cover are from politicians. That should have been a big tip off. If you’re a MASH fan, don’t bother reading this book. You won’t learn anything. If you’re against the death penalty and other human rights abuses, this might prove an interesting read for you. If you’re pro-death penalty, you’ll just get a headache reading this book. I can’t say I recommend it and I’m a little relieved to have finished it. Somewhat of a disappointment, no matter how noble Mike might be….

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A Review of The Final Battle

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 22, 2013

The Final Battle (Legion, #2)The Final Battle by William C. Dietz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

William Dietz’s The Final Battle is a sequel to The Legion of the Damned, and at first glance, it’s not too bad. However, while I generally enjoyed the book, the more I think about it, the more nit picky I get. There are simply too many “issues” to ignore in the writing of this book.

First of all, the book picks up 20 years after the climax of the first book, the victory at the battle of Algeron by the humans led by the Legion (patterned after the French Foreign Legion, but staffed by dead people brought back to life as cyborg killing machines) over the alien Hudathans, who had invaded the human worlds with the intent on the destruction of the human race. We meet William Booly Jr, son of Legion deserter Booly from the first book and his Naa wife. Booly Jr is in the Legion now. We are reintroduced to Hudathan War Leader Poseen-Ka, a prisoner on Worber’s World, along with his remaining army. He’s about to be rescued and rearmed for another war with humanity. Overseeing Worber’s World is General Natalie Norwood, a great character from the first novel. And this is where my first problem begins.

I never thought I’d say this, but there’s too much gratuitous sex in this book. Yeah, you heard me. It was disappointing to discover early in the book Natalie masturbating to the scene of Hudathans on Worber’s World suffering. That was just kind of sick and unnecessary. General Marianne Mosby is a certified sex fiend, and finds a way to seduce the leader of the Hegemony, a human-like race of clones living on three planets. The Hegemony takes up a lot of the first half of the book, as many of the clones want nothing to do with humanity and some are ready to take up with the Hudathans to defeat the humans. There’s even an assassination attempt on the leader of the Confederacy of Sentient Beings, what the former empire is now called. Another complaint. Dietz must have gotten bored with the Hegemony, because it’s dropped permanently halfway through the novel, which is confusing considering how much of a role it played in the first half. What happened? Very odd.

Since the Hudathans were beaten by the Legion’s cyborgs, they decide that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they murder their best academy graduates and transform them into cyborg killing machines to go head to head with the Legion. After Poseen-Ka (who’s a great villain) is rescued and put back in charge of the new Hudathan fleet, he starts obliterating Confederacy planets once more and the Confederacy finds out about the new cyborgs — so they start upgrading theirs, producing Trooper III cyborgs, which have external units to accompany the primary cyborg. It’s an interesting concept and one left largely unwritten about in the book, another complaint I have. In fact, much of the book is about politics and logistics, and little is about actual FIGHTING (unlike the first book), so it’s hard to even call this a straight military sci fi novel. Another disappointment. I would have liked to see cyborg against cyborg more than in the final few pages of the novel, which are somewhat anticlimactic.

Many of the characters we know and meet are killed in this book, including Norwood, so it’s hard to become attached to many of the characters. They die. The Hudathans are eager to avenge their loss at Algeron, so that’s where their primary attack takes place. And the Legion is ready, thanks to a spy. Still, there are thousands of Hudathan ships, outnumbering the Confederacy ships, and it’s not until a secret “weapon” (which is totally foreseeable) is used that the Legion takes control of the battle and wins the second war, thus ending the book.

There are some slow times in the book and times when I wondered why passages were included, including a scene when Booly plays a Legion academy prank. It just doesn’t seem important to the book. Maybe that’s just me though. Booly is hooked up with a female Legionnaire toward the end of the book, thus setting up the author for another book in this series (which has at least nine books in it; I have three more to read). It seems a little too convenient. A little too contrived. But then, I guess the author has to make his money selling a series, doesn’t he?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s an above average book, and at times, fairly enjoyable. It just could have been so much more, I think, and that’s why I’m disappointed. So, three stars and a cautious recommendation….

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A Review of Midlife Orphan

Posted by Scott Holstad on August 20, 2013

Midlife OrphanMidlife Orphan by Jane Brooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure how I feel about this book. My wife bought it for me because my father died three weeks ago today and she thought it might be helpful. And some of it was. But a great deal was not too.

The book is made up mostly of stories about midlife “orphans” who have lost their parents. Most seem to be Jewish, perhaps because the author is. The book centers on losing your last parent, although that wasn’t immediately clear and because I just lost my first parent, it didn’t resonate as much as it might at a later date. The stories are about relationships people had with their parents, their siblings, and their children. Things like inheritances are also brought up.

There were a few interesting passages. One states,

“Of all the relationships we experience, our relationship with our parents is the first significant one. Our earliest and most treasured memories begin with our mother and father. As the decades roll by, we create intimate connections with others and accumulate volumes of additional recollections but all the while we are building on that first relationship. Our parents’ values and their experiences are tightly bound into our life’s tapestry, tangled with threads that we weave for ourselves as our individual character evolves.”

I’m an only child. The book does occasionally address only children. It states that generally, for instance, “only children do not have to worry about sharing an inheritance. But that doesn’t mean an inheritance has less emotional impact for them. For many only children, the death of the last parent magnifies the degree of aloneness.”

Speaking of inheritances, “some children become angry when they realize that their parents did not have to live as frugally as they did.” I think I can relate to this sentiment. After seeing Dad’s financial affairs, I now realize he and Mom could have taken some of the trips they dreamed of taking, but never did. Why did they hold back? It seems so unfair. They should have spoiled themselves. Now Mom doesn’t have Dad to share such experiences with, and that’s just cruel.

My primary complaint with the book is probably not shared by many people. The book focuses on sibling and child/parent relationships. I have no siblings and no children. Aside from my lovely wife, my mom and I are now alone in this world. When Mom goes, I’ll have no one to fall back on. This is a terrifying prospect for me. The book never touches on this. I wish it would have. Also, the book doesn’t offer many concrete suggestions for coping, although it does advocate saving sympathy cards one receives upon a parent’s death. That’s nice, but I could have used more. Instead, the book is made up largely of simple stories of people who lost their parents as middle aged children, and it doesn’t go into much more depth than that. Oh well. It was a decent book, and I’m glad to know I’m (kind of) not the only one, but the book could have done and been more, and I’m sad that it wasn’t. Three stars.

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