hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Archive for October, 2013

A Review of Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 27, 2013

Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last HeroClemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero by David Maraniss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I became a Pirates fan when I moved from Canada to Pittsburgh in 1971 as a small boy with my family. I don’t remember much of Roberto Clemente, but I remember how huge he was in the city. Willie Stargell was my favorite Pirate. Still, I remember when Clemente died on New Year’s Eve, 1972, and what a shock it was to the world, to the baseball community, and to Pittsburgh, and what a sense of loss it brought.

Maraniss writes a pretty good book about Clemente. It’s not perfect, but the highlights are well written and one learns a lot about the man. Coming from Puerto Rico up to Montreal, in the minors, around 1954 was a huge shock for him, and then when the Pirates drafted him from the minors in 1955, it continued to be a culture shock for him, not only as a Latino player, but as a black Latino player. Since Spring Training was in Florida, Clemente was exposed first hand to Jim Crowe laws and couldn’t stay with the team, eat with the team, do anything but stay in the “colored” sections of towns and play ball. He wasn’t an immediate star, but he was obviously talented. He had a rocket for an arm and played a mean right field. He could hit fairly well, and with some power. He was primed for stardom.

By the time 1960 rolled around, the Pirates had risen from mediocre to National League champs, but they had to play the dreaded Yankees (with Mantle and Maris) in the World Series. And NY bombed Pittsburgh in three games by huge margins. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh won three games too, setting up a seventh and deciding game. The game was tied going into the ninth inning. Finally, at the end of the ninth inning, Bill Mazeroski hit a home run out of the park in one of the most famous moments in Pittsburgh sports history, winning the Series for the Pirates. It was the “shot heard round the world,” and to this day, is probably the most readily remembered World Series home run. For the Series, Clemente hit safely in every game.

Now my complaint with the author comes into play. He basically skips entire seasons after that Series. The 1967 season isn’t even mentioned, and Clemente was the 1966 National League MVP. You’d think Maraniss would want to follow up on that. Also, while we learn about Clemente’s tempestuous relationship with the press, who really never truly understood him, we don’t get as much on his relationship with the team, such as his manager Danny Murtaugh. It would have been nice to read more about their interactions.

Finally, we come to another good chapter – the one on the 1971 World Series against Baltimore, a team with four 20 game winning pitchers. By this time, Clemente was the old man on the team, but he hit safely in all seven games of this Series too, and was named Series MVP as Pittsburgh won another World Series.

In all, Clemente finished his career with a .317 batting average, 3000 hits, four N.L. batting titles, 12 Gold Gloves, the 1966 National League MVP, the 1971 World Series MVP, and was the first Latino elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

At the end of 1972, there was a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua, a country where Clemente had just managed the Puerto Rican national team in a playoffs. He was determined to help the people and helped gather over $100,000 and hundreds of tons of supplies to take to Nicaragua for disaster relief. Unfortunately, he put his trust in a shady character who had a plane he contracted out. This guy had 66 FAA violations and couldn’t even fly the plane, even though he was the co-pilot. The pilot had 12 violations and was exhausted from a trip he had just taken. Additionally, the plane was in bad shape and had been wrecked just two weeks before. Finally, it was overloaded by something like 4,500 pounds. It could barely lift off the ground. Nonetheless, Clemente said goodbye to his wife and three boys, took off, and never made it, as the planed crashed into the ocean shortly after takeoff, smashing everything to smithereens. His body was never found.

Roberto Clemente was the pride of the Latino world, could have ruled Puerto Rico, was much loved by kids around the world, who he related to quite well, and had millions of fans everywhere. While he didn’t always get along with the press, they decided to do something that had only been done once before – bypass the five year minimum requirement of being away from baseball for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame (the other player was Lou Gehrig), and he was elected 11 weeks after his death.

It’s a good book, even though it does leave details out. (Why did Clemente give one of his Silver Slugger awards to announcer Bob Prince?) It’s well researched and documented and it sheds light on one of the greatest athletes of our time. Clemente will never be forgotten, and I certainly recommend this book.

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A Review of Hunting the Jackal

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 19, 2013

Hunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier's Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against TerrorismHunting the Jackal: A Special Forces and CIA Soldier’s Fifty Years on the Frontlines of the War Against Terrorism by Billy Waugh

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted to give this somewhat exciting book more stars, but it leaves out too much information to merit it. For instance, the author joins the military in 1947 and apparently fights in Korea, but the first we see of him is in 1965 Vietnam, after he’s joined the Special Forces and is hunting NVA units. There are a couple of exciting, if somewhat unbelievable, tales of his time in Nam, particularly when he thought he might catch Giap (which didn’t happen, obviously). He earned eight Purple Hearts and other assorted medals.

After he leaves the army, as a master sergeant (which is odd, considering the high level talks he allegedly has with colonels and generals), he joins the postal service and is bored stiff. Then, in the mid-70s, he’s recruited to go to Libya to train “elite” commandos for an impending war with Egypt. He’s also recruited by the CIA to take photographs and spy for them. Let me tell you, he doesn’t hold Arabs in high regard.

After skipping ahead to the early 90s, he’s stationed in Khartoum, Sudan where there are apparently tons of terrorists. He comes across “Usama” bin Laden, but he’s such a low level target in 1992, that he doesn’t really think anything of it. Instead, he’s after Carlos the Jackal, the world’s most notorious terrorist. He gets actual pictures of Carlos, the first any have been made of him in 10 years, and then sits in an observation post taking more pictures. We’re supposed to be leading up to an exciting climax here, but we then learn the French have taken Carlos in because they have a warrant, the US doesn’t, and we handed him over to them. It’s REALLY anti-climactic.

Later in the book, he discusses 9/11, but not much. He’s clearly anti-Clinton, and I guess pro-Bush, so there you have it. In 2001/2, at age 72, he joins Special Forces in Afghanistan to hunt the Taliban and bin Laden. He’s amazed by all of the new high tech war weapons, such as drones, and puts forth his belief that bin Laden died from a drone strike. I don’t know when this book was written and I don’t know if the author is still alive, but I’d be interested in hearing his opinion after knowing the facts of bin Laden’s actual demise. This last part of the book leaves you feeling fairly empty though, because nothing happens. Nothing. His Special Forces team occupies a deserted Afghan school. He’s very cold. They smell bad. Ooooh!

There’s almost no background information on Waugh in this book, some of the stories seem exaggerated, he leaves out lots of details because they’re classified (he apparently went to 64 countries as a CIA operative, but talks about three of them), he served, apparently, in Iraq and the Balkans, but we hear nothing about that, just like we hear nothing about Korea. WTF? Why did he pick and choose four or five scenes from his 50 years of combat to share? He could have made this book four times as long and 10 times more interesting if he had chosen to include more information. Oh, he also gets married to a wonderful girl and then we hear nothing more about her. He’s also fairly narcissistic. The soldiers in Afghanistan “worshiped” him. He’s a legend in his own mind. I really wanted to like this book, and parts of it were exciting, yes, but so much is left out that I can’t recommend it at all. I feel like I’m doing the author a favor by giving it three stars…..

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A Review of Giap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 16, 2013

Giap: The General Who Defeated America in VietnamGiap: The General Who Defeated America in Vietnam by James A. Warren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

General Vo Nguyen Giap was the North Vietnamese mastermind who defeated the French and American superpowers over 30 years in what was previously an unthinkable possibility — that countries with so so much more military and economic power could lose to an underdeveloped third world country. And yet it happened. (Also, Giap had to battle the Japanese toward the end of World War Two.)

Giap came from humble beginnings — a history professor turned professional solider from the Quang Binh Province of Vietnam. He was self taught. Aside from Hi Chi Minh, Giap was probably North Vietnam’s most important figure. He learned communism from Ho and never strayed. He learned how to battle from the Chinese and adapted what he learned to the Vietnamese battlefield. When the Vietminh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu to end the French colonial war with what was then Indochina, he showed that he had mastered guerrilla tactics as well as conventional war strategies, and these carried over to the American war. He was also a master at logistics. It took months for the Vietminh to carry broken down parts of artillery pieces up into the mountains surrounding Dien Bien Phu, where they were then assembled and used with devastating success. Another strength Giap possessed was learning that the political counted as much as the military. He indoctrinated his soldiers, the Vietnamese peasants, and won a war of attrition against both France and America — both countries, he knew, that wouldn’t have the stomach for a protracted war. He was right. Now he took horrifying losses throughout both wars. When all was said and done, the NVA and Vietminh lost over a million soldiers (to America’s 56,000), but he knew that a country united in revolution against colonialism was destined for victory. He never lacked in confidence. The Tet offensive was, of course, the turning point in the Vietnam war with America. Looked at it militarily, the US won, giving the NVA and Viet Cong horrifying casualties, but strategically, North Vietnam won because America now wanted out and started the process of withdrawing troops and halting the bombing of North Vietnam in an effort to get to the negotiating table — a place where America had no leverage.

The author makes some good points in his final chapter in this excellent book.

“The power of the US military machine posted immense challenges to Giap as a commander. He knew that the conflict would result in horrific losses, but he also realized that those causalities were the inevitable cost of victory, and neither the reality of those casualties, as regrettable as they were, nor the destructive capacity of American forces, would prove to be decisive factors in the war’s outcome…. Giap was first and foremost a revolutionary war strategist, which is to say he conceived of war primarily as a social struggle by people committed to breaking down the status quo and replacing it with a new set of power relationships and institutions, not as a strictly military activity carried out by full-time soldiers and guerrillas…. the work of building a powerful political infrastructure that could challenge French and American efforts was far more important than achieving victory in a series of conventional military battles and campaigns…. He also believed that he could instill a sense of futility and exhaustion in the French and American armies by avoiding large-scale combat engagements in favor of harassing tactics, including ambushes, booby traps, and luring the enemy into patrolling forbidding mountainous terrain and steamy jungles where his own troops were more at home.”

“Giap never doubted that the power of his soldiers’ and citizen’s commitment to the Vietnamese revolutionary vision would compensate for the inferiority of their military forces. It was only necessary to instill the same level of belief and determination he himself possessed for the cause into the Revolution as a whole, and to direct that energy toward victory…. When all is said and done, Giap’s enduring importance lies in recognizing that he was a successful general largely because he could see with extraordinary clarity all the factors and forces that shaped the trajectory of the wars in which he fought, and how each element related to all the others.”

Giap than, who might still be alive at over 100 years old, was the instrumental commander that foresaw victory and instilled that vision in his troops and citizens. He was Ho’s second, and as such, wielded great power. He built his army up from a tiny platoon in 1945 to hundreds of thousands of hardened troops by war’s end. When the NVA rolled into Saigon in 1975, the revolution was complete and Vietnam was reunited. Communist, yes, but under no colonial authority for the first time in over a century. It was a mighty struggle, and even though I’m an American, I’ve studied this war for decades and have seen how American stupidity lost us the war — which we could have won with the right strategies and leadership, I believe. Giap’s commitment never wavered. He should be looked at as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. I can’t think of a single instance in which a tiny, impoverished, technically backwards country defeated two of the world’s superpowers within two to three decades of each other. His legacy will live on for a long time. This was an excellent book to read and I certainly recommend it to any military buff or historian, or to anyone interested in the Vietnam war. Great book!

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Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 13, 2013

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – Recap – October 12, 2013 – ESPN.

I’m so glad hockey season’s back! Sidney Crosby has scored in all five Penguins games so far this season. Nice way to begin the season. Go Pens!

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A Review of Hot Wired Guitar

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 9, 2013

Hot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff BeckHot Wired Guitar: The Life of Jeff Beck by Martin J. Power

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First things first. Jeff Beck is my favorite guitarist. (Brian May is a close second.) I think he’s the best who’s ever lived, and that sentiment is shared by many, including many famous musicians. So I approached this book rather eagerly, hoping it would be a good read and that I’d learn a lot. And it did not disappoint.

Jeff Beck is one of the few musicians who can claim to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: once for his years with the Yardbirds and once for his own solo career. I think that makes him pretty special. The thing that was special about the Yardbirds is they probably are the only group in history to launch the careers of three of the greatest guitar players ever: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. How Clapton and Page went on to glory while Beck toiled in relative obscurity has always been a mystery to me, but the author of this book reveals what happened. Basically, Jeff got bored every couple of years. After he left the Yardbirds, he formed his own “supergroup” with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and his first solo album, Truth, was a masterpiece. His follow up, Beck-Ola, was good, but not great. He then split the band up and started working on his true love — old hot rods. He basically split his time between cars and guitars the rest of his life. In the mid-70s, his classic Blow by Blow album came out to major critical acclaim. It was a jazz fusion album, which threw off his rock followers of previous years, but earned him new followers. His 1976 Wired album was also extra special. It’s one of my favorite albums of all time. I first heard it in 1981 in my cousin’s car. Beck teamed with Jan Hammer to do some truly special songs. Then he broke up his band again. Went out touring with Hammer’s band for awhile, but didn’t do anything for a few years, while Clapton and Page were raking in the dough. He came out with There and Back in 1980, which I think is a very good album and which did well in the US, but not his native UK, where he’s never done very well. This was more rock-oriented again, leaving fusion behind. He then fiddled around playing on other people’s albums for much of the ’80s, content to do nothing major himself. In the late ’90s, he was intrigued by techno, so incorporated elements of it into a new album, which did nothing, and then two more increasingly harder edged albums — Jeff and You Had It Coming, both of which I really like and both of which didn’t do very well. It seems like the public had forgotten him. Then he changed management. In 2007, he was contracted to play 5 straight nights at London’s infamous Ronnie Scott’s club, where attendees included Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Brian May, and John Bon Jovi. He teamed with my favorite bass player, the 21 year old prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld and their chemistry was obvious. They really played well together. Seeing the DVD of those shows brought me to purchase her solo album, and I haven’t been disappointed. The DVD of the Ronnie Scott’s performance sold over a million copies and he was back. He did a Les Paul tribute, which was also captured on disc and sold, I believe, quite well. In 2010, he released his first new album in some time, Emotion and Commotion, which had some female vocalists on it, like Imelda May and Joss Stone, both great singers. The album hit the charts at number 11 its first week out and it sold well. He went on tour, and I was fortunate enough to see him with my cousin at his show in Atlanta. It was amazing. He was 66 and could still play better than anyone. He’s still touring, although I don’t know how many more albums will be forthcoming. He’s won 8 Grammy awards, he’s met the Queen, he’s in the R&R HoF twice. What more could you want, right? He’s a legend, and this book was an enjoyable read and quite revealing about many things. If you’re a music fan, a blues or jazz fan, a fan of early metal, or a Jeff Beck fan, then this book is definitely for you. You won’t be disappointed.

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5 Verses about the Poor We Need to Take Seriously | Jayson D. Bradley

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 5, 2013

5 Verses about the Poor We Need to Take Seriously | Jayson D. Bradley.

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