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Some Short Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on November 25, 2018

I have a ton of books to review, ideally as many as possible before the end of the year. And my health has been extremely bad, so it’s hard for me to find the time, energy or inspiration to write any. However, today I got a few knocked out, leaving me with just over 150 more (!), so I thought I’d post them all here in one blog post, as they’re all fairly short. Cheers!

 

Forged: Writing in the Name of GodForged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this a fascinating book and really loved it. Much of it was new to me when I started, but for some reason, I set it aside for awhile while I read other books. And some of these other books went on to assert some of the same things I found Ehrman referring to when I later picked up the book to finish. That doesn’t diminish the research or quality of the material, but it does mean some of it isn’t as “original” as I had previously thought, which is the reason I’ve knocked it down from five stars to four. Still, if you want to learn the “real” story of many of the books of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, when they were actually written, who did and did not actually author so many of the books, this is an excellent source. Definitely recommended.

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God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs FailGod Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail by J.D. Brucker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short book is decent, not bad, and makes good and legitimate points. The author’s sections include 1. The Absence of Eternity, 2. The Birth of Ignorance, 3. The Flawed Logic in Modern Miracles, 4. The Error in Faith-Based Morality, 5. The Myth of Intelligent Design, 6. The Imaginary End, and 7. My Fall from “Grace.”

While I enjoyed reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think that these are largely issues that have already been addressed, mostly in more detail, depth, and intellectual mastery, by other authors out there, so aside from my feeling good about seeing another (reader-friendly) atheistic book on the market, I don’t feel like it truly contributes too much, certainly little new. Thus, while again I enjoyed it, I can’t help but view it as an average book, and am thus giving it three stars. If you have not yet read Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and some of the others, this may be a good intro, but I would quickly move on to the meatier resources out there. Cautiously recommended.

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The Templars: The Secret History RevealedThe Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to decide what I think about this book. For virtually my entire life, I’ve heard and read rumors, stories, and myths about the mysterious Knights Templar, and most people know about the Holy Grail and have heard stories that the organization continues to secretly exist to the present day. When I got this book, I wasn’t exactly looking for or expecting to find these stories were justified. However, while I admittedly did enjoy learning about how the Templars were founded, and for what reasons, and the qualities one had to have and the sacrifices one had to make in order to become one, this book then quickly turned into basically a dry textbook of history, places, several events, politics, culminating in a very disappointing (for me) end to what had been an admirable organization, complete with confessions tortured out of the Templars who had been arrested due to political BS between the King of France and the Pope. It was further disappointing to learn that at least some of the confessions were true, as in the Templars’ secret initiation rites, which I cannot believe were original, had degraded into something undeserving of the name and purpose of the organization, and personal requirements and standards had been lowered to recruit new members, thus making for a lack of morals in some that would have probably gotten an original Templar killed by his fellows. It was also disappointing to learn of such a once-splendid organization’s demise, and as the primary author was granted access to the “secret” Vatican files, it’s highly likely that the reports of its termination as an organization are and were indeed true, thus destroying my youthful fantasies of a super-secret organization existing over the centuries to the present, exercising power in all sorts of areas. Like I originally stated, I knew that was essentially a myth, but it was still disappointing to read the historical truth.

This is a well-researched, and professionally written history of a fascinating organization that was quite powerful for several hundred years and which still interests numerous people til this day. The writing gets fairly dry at times, even boring, but there’s enough good details and history in it to make it worth reading. I’d give this book a solid four stars and state that it’s recommended.

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Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing GameSid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game by Josh Katzowitz

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always heard about Sid Gillman my whole life, and about how he “invented” football’s passing game. Yet when the great coaches are mentioned, he’s rarely, if ever, included. I’ve always wanted to know why, and I’ve always wanted to know some real details about him. Thus my excitement when I found this book some time back. I held on to it, like it was a treasure, waiting for the “right” moment to break it open and revel in its contents. So I finally did break it open, after waiting a very long time. And didn’t finish it. Because I didn’t enjoy it. I found it, and Gillman himself, tremendously disappointing. It was frankly a disillusioning read.

Gillman does indeed deserve credit for “inventing” the passing game, and he revolutionized the game of football forever. He quite possibly was an offensive genius. He was a lifelong workaholic. He tutored assistants who went on to amazing careers, like Don Shula and Chuck Noll. You could see elements of his game in the way they coached and won. So why isn’t Gillman typically included in discussions of the great coaches? Maybe it was because he never won a Super Bowl, which is a legitimate point, although he did a good deal of his coaching before Super Bowls existed. Maybe it’s also because he was a giant asshole of a person, unlikeable to almost anyone who ever met him. I hated him from about the 10th page on. And in terms of this book, I felt it was boring, redundant, didn’t exactly go to great lengths to argue for his greatness, although it made some efforts, and it kind of felt like the book went out of its way to ensure I’ll never include Gillman in a discussion of the greatest coaches, and nor will anyone else. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention – I tend to doubt it – but that’s what happened with me. I feel the book could have been a lot better, and possibly if a more experienced, more talented writer had been writing such a book, perhaps the outcome could have been different. However, the best I can do is give it two stars and state that I definitely do not recommend this book at all.

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Well, that’s all for now. I had hoped to do more today, but I feel terrible and I’m glad I got to do any at all. However, some of the ones I have lined up are on Japan at the end of WW II, religion, theism, the NSA, changing American military power and foreign policy, nuclear weapons, Biblical archaeology and how much of the Bible it supports as well as shows to be false, atheism, hockey, the history of Rome, the current and future status of the US and China, spies, American classism, the spread of theistic religions, Sparta, nuclear politics, think tanks, and much more. I hope to get to as many of these as I can. Please bear with me and be patient, and thanks for reading what I put down here. I truly appreciate it. Cheers!

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Book Review: Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 14, 2018

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph M. Siracusa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At a little over 150 pages, this book covers a lot of ground in a short format. Unfortunately, while I did think it was pretty good, its focus wasn’t entirely what I wanted, and it lacked in some areas. There is an initial introduction to the creation of atomic bombs from a very minimal and layman’s technical perspective, but then the book launches into the history of nuclear power, the history behind the Manhattan Project and the WW II race for the atomic bomb, America’s legacy of being the first and only country to use it, and the bulk of the rest of the book is a history and discussion of the Cold War politics, diplomacy, and military strategic readiness (from a US perspective) between the US and the Soviet Union. The book ends with a minor bit on how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has had to try to find a place for the Bomb in its arsenal, for some people, how to justify not only maintaining a large stockpile, but improving it, for others, how to decrease a load of weapons large enough to destroy this planet many times over. It ends by acknowledging the fact that now that there’s not another nuclear “enemy” to construct a strategy around, and with the advent of non-state sponsored organizations, terrorists and the like, the effort to construct a new ideology and strategy is much more difficult than it used to be.

All of that was good, if not occasionally repetitive. What I had hoped to see was more scientific and technical detail behind, not only the creation of the early bombs, but current technology, and where we are heading. And I didn’t get that. I also wanted to see more of a discussion on the ethics behind this, and on the justifications of maintaining the current seven nuclear powers while working to ensure no other country, and especially no other country the US “disapproves” of (Iran…), obtains nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon industry. I mean, why is it okay for Pakistan to have them, but not Iran? Why is it okay for Israel to be thought of of having them (they won’t admit to it), while other countries cannot? I’m not saying I support the idea of more or warmongering countries getting nuclear weapons, but who made America the planet’s god, to decide who gets them and who doesn’t? That strikes me as incredibly arrogant and hypocritical. And I’m American! Naturally, the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but that genie is out of the bottle, so this is a complex problem requiring, yes, political and diplomatic discussions and solutions, and not saber rattling. I’m currently reading another book on “limited” nuclear warfare for the 21st century. It’s incredibly interesting, and I think it would make a good companion piece to this book, maybe as Volume 2 of a two volume series. Because that’s where the world has gone, that’s where the world should and will have to go if we intend to not commit global suicide, and nuclear power countries need to dialogue about these issues and more.

This book doesn’t have the highest rating out there, and I’ve read a lot of reviews and it seems mostly due to lack of sufficient discussion on a wide range of topics, such as I’ve brought up. But I think its lower rating is unfair, because the subtitle for the book is “A Very Short Introduction.” What the hell do you expect for 150 pages?!? Of course I would have liked more. For that, I need to buy a 750 page textbook for $200. This was exactly what it advertised itself to be, so I feel it merits four stars at a minimum. If this is a topic that interests you, I certainly recommend it.

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Book Review: Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 21, 2018

Blitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of DunkirkBlitzkrieg: From the Rise of Hitler to the Fall of Dunkirk by Len Deighton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a pretty good book, but it had some information and assertions that surprised me. I’ve spent my whole life as a war buff, spent much of my youth consumed with WW II, thought I understood how Blitzkrieg theory was actually fought in WW II, but apparently, I’m wrong.

The book gives a pretty good history and summary of German war status, theory, preparation, Hitler’s rise, mindset, theories of various military strategists. And then the war finally commences. Obviously, then, if this is well known to others, I’m showing my own ignorance here, but I’d always heard that Germany’s Blitzkrieg techniques were unleashed on Poland, before excelling in Belgium and France, and ultimately later Russia, to a degree. If you’ve believed that too, Len Deighton will argue you’re wrong. His thesis is it was not used in Poland, it was somehow not used in Russia, and it wasn’t even really used in Belgium. Merely in France, in the Ardennes, to a shocking degree of success. This was news to me, but I’ll grant Len authority status and take his word for it.

I wasn’t totally stunned at how inept France’s leadership, both political and military, was, as I’d read other books on France in other wars of the century where the beaurocracy, logistical and communication nightmares are simply legendary, but it was still a bit of a shock to find out how the previously thought to be best army in Europe/the world was so incredibly fucked up! It took 48-72 hours to relay orders, because the leaders didn’t use radios, everything was hand carried (orders), and just because you got orders, you didn’t do anything until they had been confirmed one to two more times. By which point the German army was 60 miles behind your lines, destroying your country. Fucking idiots! The British, initially, weren’t a lot better, at least not the vaunted RAF, which was disappointing to read, but if the truth hurts, it hurts. Some of the French actually played soldier at Dunkirk, allowing hundreds of thousands of British and French troops to escape to Britain, but again, I continued to be shocked at how willing the French political and military leadership was to surrender to Hitler and essentially conspire in his plot against Jews and others, while the Free French forces in Britain were led by only one real general of note, and we all know who that is. Why France is on the UN Security Council is beyond me. They’ve insisted they’re one of the great world powers, but they got their asses kicked in WW I, went over to Hitler after getting their asses kicked in WW II, lost Indochina (although embarrassingly, America followed France’s exact same mistakes with the same results), lost most or all of their colonies, and while they’re the centuries biggest losers, they land a permanent spot on the UN Security Council. Don’t get it. I’ve read about how they insisted. THEY HELPED HITLER! They shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the UN Security Council! Of course, while implicitly bragging about the US in the first half of the century, like an ugly American, I could admit to a number of American “irregularities” that many people wouldn’t want known about a LOT of countries around the world where uninvited or unwanted westerners stuck their noses into things and propped up or took down “dictators” all over the damn place, so in the end, maybe the US shouldn’t be on the Security Council either, eh? LOL!

Okay, I’ll stop with the politicizing. Sorry. It’s a good book, an easy read, interesting to those who would find the topic interesting, but stops with the capitulation of France, and I guess I knocked a star off because I wish the author had gone on to address Russia and explain just why that was NOT blitzkrieg warfare — what the differences were — because without having studied it in detail lately, it seems like similar tactics were used to launch the Eastern Front, but obviously I’m wrong. I just want to know how and why I’m wrong, and I never got that information from this book, so one star off for that. Otherwise, recommended.

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Book Review: Sparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation

Posted by Scott Holstad on September 17, 2018

Sparta: Rise of a Warrior NationSparta: Rise of a Warrior Nation by Philip Matyszak

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a bitter disappointment for me in a couple of ways, one of which is shared by another book on Sparta that I’m currently reading. I’ve looked up to and admired Sparta and the Spartans my entire life. The first research paper I ever wrote was on Sparta, and it was in elementary school. My whole life, I’ve heard about how tough they were as a people, how they were warriors, the infamous story about the youth and the fox, their innovative political and cultural systems, the incredibly famous stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, their leadership and domination of the Greeks, their rivalry with Athens and eventual defeat of Athens, etc.

But this book dashed those fond beliefs and admirations to pieces, and for that, I cannot forgive the author. I’ll be the first to admit that he’s the expert, he’s done the research, written the book. He knows more, and perhaps knows the truth. But the truth hurts, and most of my beliefs and perceptions of Sparta and the Spartans turned out to be bloody well wrong! They were indeed viewed as a warrior people and tough as hell, but I’m not sure why. They were surrounded by rivals and enemies, most of whom I’d never heard of before, and they fought awesome, hard fought, longass wars against some of the nation states, and it took them over a century, I believe, to simply subdue just one of their rivals on their part of the Greek peninsula! Other enemies they tricked, battled hard against, tried to avoid fighting altogether, and because even though they were allegedly “warriors,” the men had to get back to the fields for harvest season, they rarely laid seige to cities or peoples, and wanted quick victories so they could get home. They also weren’t a sea faring people, while Athens dominated the seas. They played neighbors off one another, getting Athens to fight Thessaly or Thebes or one of the others over a third city state, and while their males trained from a very young age to become warriors, the population of Sparta was so freaking small, they couldn’t even field a remotely respectable army (which may account for their decades long struggles against their neighbors, possibly), often putting a mere 7,000 men in the field. Compare that to the universally believed vastly inflated Persian number of at least a million man army, and even up to a three million man army, and it’s almost impossible to believe Sparta was capable of dominating ANYONE! In fact, during the first Persian invasion, Sparta didn’t even participate because of “religious” rituals they couldn’t leave, so Athens had to fight the Persians off. That’s a little embarrassing, particularly when you believe Sparta made its reputation off fighting the damn Persians! So when Xerxes decides to go after the Greeks again several decades later, Sparta had taken so much grief for pansying out of fighting them the first time and leaving it up to the rest of the Greeks (which is how it was viewed), that this time, even though they were having the SAME DAMN RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS AND RITUALS, they weren’t going to be denied, and gathered the independent Greeks together, and somehow because they were universally viewed as the best and toughest warriors in Greece (which says a lot for the rest of Greece, considering Sparta could barely beat anyone), they were placed in the military leadership position, and one of their two kings (they operated on a two king system), the famous Leonidas, took his famous 300-member honor guard off to hold off the Persians. And even though the battle is famous for the “300” (recall the Hollywoodized movie), they actually had a number of servant-warriors, and even some allies with them, so they had many more warriors than the infamous 300. They had well over 1,000. Nonetheless, they pass they chose to defend was so damn tight, that only about a couple of men could approach at one time, and they built a wall to defend from the top, and also — this isn’t widely known — the actual battle commander was the Athenian naval commander, because evidently Sparta, Athens, and the rest of the Greeks actually believed the few Spartans and their allies could hold the pass indefinitely, while the Athenian navy actually won the battle against the huge Persian fleet, and when the Spartan religious ceremonies were over a week or so later, they’d send their “huge” army of some 7,000 warriors if they were even needed by that point. Bear in mind the “official” history we rely on, by Herodotus I think (???), so vastly overinflates the size of the Persian army, as to be viewed as almost totally unreliable, stating it was between one and three million men large. Against roughly 1,000 defenders led by the 300 Spartans. It boggles the mind. And when Xerxes sent emissaries to the Spartans requesting they put down their weapons and surrender, Leonidas reportedly made that hugely famous statement (in Greek): “Come and get them!” That, my friends, is the true definition of big, bad balls! And as everyone knows, after just 3-4 days, a Greek traitor who lived in the area went to Xerxes and offered to show him a small trail around the other side of the mountain, thus flanking the Spartans and trapping them from the rear. Becoming one of the most infamous traitors in history. The Spartans did indeed fight very nearly to the last man, while the Athenian navy did indeed rip the Persian navy to shreds, but because Xerxes got his men into Greece because the most famous battle the Spartans ever had, and one of the most famous battles in the history of the world, was LOST by the Spartans (although, yes, treachery played a huge role in that), Athens was sacked entirely, but enough time had been salvaged for the citizens to escape, but you know what? I really don’t know how the rest of the Greeks ended up beating and driving back the Persians to ultimately win the war. It wasn’t because of Sparta.

So my major complaint resides in the fact that this book (and the other one) totally demolish my lifelong held perceptions of Sparta and the Spartan warriors, because the best I can tell is, the few wars they won were against insignificant adversaries, sometimes through trickery, and sometimes over the course of many decades. So why did they have this reputation of such badasses? They’re probably the most overrated bad ass “warriors” in the history of the world! And that saddens me more than you can know, but who did they conquer, what territory did they acquire, how much of Greece did they take, etc.? The answer to all is virtually none. Meanwhile, just a hundred or two hundreds years difference shows Alexander, a semi-Greek, destroying Persia, and becoming probably the greatest king the world has ever know, controlling virtually all of Europe, all of north Africa, the Middle East (Asia Minor), the lower parts of what’s now the ex-Soviet Union, all the way through Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, leaving virtually only the relatively unknown Chinese as the only moderately civilized people in the world NOT under his control. And he accomplished all of this before he turned 32! Meanwhile, Rome comes along just a few centuries later to form what’s often thought to be the greatest empire in history (although not nearly as big as Alexander’s) and centuries later, Ghengis Khan conquered China, much of Russia, dominated parts of the Middle East, and spread his territory into eastern and central Europe. And Sparta compares to these truly great leaders and warriors how??? Sparta was “dominant” (if you can even call it that) for maybe 200 years, and even then, only over a very small territory and to a very small degree. So why its huge, gigantic reputation? What the hell did they EVER do to merit it? I’m like a monotheist whose eyes have been opened by science and now the idiocy of my former beliefs are laid out before me, leaving me ashamed and embarrassed.

Finally, my other complaint about this book is it deals almost exclusively with the rise of Sparta through the second Persian war, and then the book just kind of ends, even though Sparta was to play a role in Greek politics, wars, and life for another century or so. It just ends. So it’s really just a half book, and that added to my disappointment.

I wanted to give this book one star, but I can’t because that wouldn’t be fair to the author. It’d just be displaying my biases, and wouldn’t realistically have anything to do with the actual writing, research, or disappointing truths I’ve been forced to endure learning. Nonetheless, I can’t give the book more than three stars, because for one thing, the book went through some very long, dry, boring spells, and ultimately because the book is incomplete, even though the title should indicate that it’s not about the entire history of Sparta, but merely the rise. It SHOULD be about the entire history of Sparta, and I think the author does the reader a disservice by just leaving the story half told. So, interesting, enlightening book, but not recommended for fans of the “traditional” Spartans, but objective ancient history fans might find it moderately interesting….

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A Review of Deconversion: a Journey from Religion to Reason

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 5, 2018

Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to ReasonDeconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason by Seth Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! Seth Andrews lived my own exact life growing up, and we were both traumatized by the same types of things (the movie, “Thief In The Night!”), and we were both fundies/evangelicals for much of our younger lives before we both started asking ourselves some questions, before asking others, and began reading and researching, and while Andrews reached his conclusions and belief system before I did, I admire his resolve and his courage for “coming out” as an atheist in a strong Bible Belt city, because I live in the biggest Bible Belt city in America (I believe it was so named last year…), and unless you’re a Red State Republican bible thumper here, you don’t really feel very welcome in this city, and while I haven’t spent years as an out and out atheist as Andrews has, I may as well, because when I’m not on my feet “praising the lord,” I stick out like a sore thumb, and it can make one very uncomfortable. Yes, there there are “liberal” Christians here, as well as a few Muslims, about 25 Jews, possibly a few Hindus, although I haven’t seen any, some agnostics, some atheists, but no place to really gather and not be in church, because the only alternative is the Unitarian CHURCH, and while it’s a catchall for all beliefs and while they tend to make fun of fundies, it’s still called a “church,” so that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m reading Dawkins, Hitchins, Barker, George W Smith, and others right now, and it’s been really refreshing, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, like I’ve been liberated, and I have Barker and Seth Andrews to thank in many ways, because unlike Hitchins, they’ve BEEN there, they understand, they know what it’s like to “deconvert” and how traumatic that can be for so many reasons, and I have found this book very helpful and very freeing and I recommend it for anyone going through a similar process or who has questions, doubts, etc. It helps fill it the holes, or flesh out the holes one finds gaping wide open in the christian bible. And the stress is not on what one believes, but what one doesn’t believe, unlike what many people think. Atheism is merely “a lack of belief in a god” or supernatural being, etc. It’s NOT a philosophical antithetical belief system, although individual atheists can choose to have antithetical beliefs or any belief they want; it pushes no life agenda, just ration, reason, being a good person, and a lack of belief in a god. That’s it, that’s all. It’s very simple. If there is no rational evidence to convince you that a god exists, you are thus not obligated to believe in a god, nor should anyone else. Very simple. Sure, you can go full blown philosophical and George W Smith does that, but it’s not necessary, and you can find out why by reading most of these authors and finding out in less than 10 minutes. In any event, I’m elated I came across this book and now I listen to the author’s podcasts and have found help, comfort, and entertainment in them. Strongly recommended for those encountering spiritual doubts….

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A Review of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 1, 2018

The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital WorldThe New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is more than just a simple “back to vinyl” sermon, refreshingly. It’s a highly scientific and socio-psychological look at the history of recorded music, the transition from analog to digital, and what that means to people and society.

Damon Krukowski writes as a musician, music fan, and techno nerd, yet mixes this all together quite skillfully. He writes about context, signal, and noise in ways that will make sense to most readers.

Krukowski writes that people hear in stereo sound. That having two ears allows us to make the small, even tiny, mental distinctions providing much-needed context for the world around us. He tells one story, among others, of a person falling over while riding a bicycle wearing earbuds because, while they were focused on the sounds that were being delivered in their ears, they weren’t able to integrate and HEAR other sounds in the world around them. Krukowski asserts that our stereo hearing is incredibly accurate for providing context for what we actually hear (and need to hear, for the most part) while our brains separate signal from noise.

And what’s the distinction? The author explains that signal is the foregrounded sound we’re supposed to concentrate on, ie., music in this case, while noise is the allegedly “unnecessary” sounds that interfere with our being able to focus on signal. The role of technology in separating signal from noise provides the allegedly purer sound that one obtains through digital transmission, eliminating noise entirely. But the question is, is music without (analog) noise what we really want to hear? Krukowski makes the case that it is not.

Krukowski’s “The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World” skillfully examines the science, physiology, and effects of the changes from analog sound to digital sound, not only over time, but now in the rapidly changing musical media world in which we live. By putting our audio experience of recorded music into a bigger context of how people interact with the world, he offers a more intricate view than many who bemoan the emergence of digital music as it’s experienced through devices like head phones, iPods, and even smartphones. He argues that the digital delivery of music replacing analog, tactile music has largely been responsible for the loss of community represented by now many distant-memory record stores where people could hang out, chill, and talk with others about music and other similar interests, while shopping for tangible, artistic items of value that one can hold and play and hear signal WITH noise. He then calls for the re-introduction of the noisy environment once surrounding all music, that would lessen the near-total isolation with which people now experience music.

The only reason I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that he sometimes gets caught up in going seriously too far into hard technology that one might need an engineering degree to fully appreciate, and the middle has an extended section that drags a bit as a result. However, he ultimately delivers a very thoughtful analysis at how rapid technological change leads to unanticipated social consequences that aren’t always good. A very interesting and decent book and recommended for all audiophiles, vinyl (and CD) enthusiasts, and music lovers in general.

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A Review of Long Beach State: A Brief History

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 1, 2018

Long Beach State: A Brief History

Long Beach State: A Brief History

Long Beach State: A Brief History
by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson
Scott Holstad’s review
4 out of 5 stars

 

As an alumnus of Long Beach State, or California State University Long Beach, as it’s officially known, I was really excited to hear this book existed, to get it and read it. And I largely, mostly enjoyed it, and am glad it was written. I liked learning lots of information about its founding and the early days, its growth through the ’50s and ’60s, and even interesting info when I was there for grad school in the early 1990s…. But… I was annoyed it was only “A Brief History,” because as one of the largest and most diverse universities in California, I thought the book could — and should — have been easily three times longer and STILL left out lots of info! The author picked a few key topics and wrote short three and four page chapters, and I felt she could and should have written 10, 15, and 20 page chapters on topics such as, say, the sports programs. Nothing about the baseball team, which went to four College World Series beginning while I was there, or much about the women’s basketball team, which went to two women’s Final Fours during the years my undergraduate alma mater, Tennessee, was winning its first of eight national championships. I also found parts of it depressing, as how while the state created the school, initially as a teacher’s college, and then as a four year state school, and finally as a state university with numerous graduate programs, including even several PhD programs now, there was never enough money for the school to do anything to help itself, and thus, for years, it was just dirt, and muddy when it rained, parking lots, with dirt roads cutting through the campus, and how it initially started in two apartment complexes and how the first buildings, still in evidence there, looked like Soviet-era concrete block bunkers, which I found depressing when I was there, and you could tell how it went through growth spurts just by looking at the differing architectural styles, and how it’s always been a commuter school, unlike Tennessee or UCLA, two other non-commuter schools I went to, and the lack of support for most of the sports teams — except for women’s volleyball, strangely, although in fairness to that excellent program, it’s won a crapload of national championships and finished as second place runner up many other times, so what awesome success, but the school has had other sports programs that have experienced success, such as the baseball team, and at times, the basketball team, and I was disappointed to see how the small part on the basketball team focused on the early Jerry Tarkanian years and never mentioned coach Seth Greenwood, who was coaching when I was there and how two of our players were drafted by the NBA while I was there, one of them especially experiencing great success playing with Karl Malone in Utah, or even how the recent teams have experienced great success and have dominated the conference, gone to the NCAA tournament, and become nationally famous for playing any team, any time, anywhere, and plenty of top 20 teams, such as North Carolina and Kansas at those schools, and being very competitive, even beating some, such as top 20 Xavier, losing at UNC by only 3 points, etc, before going on to own its conference once conference play started. Nothing about that. I would have even liked to find out some info on the water polo and beach volleyball teams! Oh well. I appreciated the history of the Greek system there, because it was an issue when I was a student, as I recall, but again, felt discouraged that CSULB constantly had to hold fund raisers in the community to do things like buy tons of peach trees to plant to hide the ugly concrete buildings, and put brick patterns on the walls of some of these buildings, thus starting a new architectural style, begging for money to finish the famous Long Beach State Pyramid, where the basketball team plays, on how they had to start a new Scholars program, done while I was there, to bring up its academic reputation and attractiveness to students by giving school valedictorians a free ride — which worked! In the 1980s, US News & World Report rated LBSU as a pretty crappy school, but for the past decade or more, it’s gotten outstanding scores in a number of areas and has been listed as basically one of the three most ideal and attractive largely non-PhD granting universities in the West, and how it’s the best school for the money, the best ROI-type school in the entire country, and one of the most diverse schools in the country, and how the students who graduate from Long Beach owe less than most students from virtually all of the other universities in the country, etc, so it’s gotten high US News scores for a long while now, and has established itself as a decent academic school, thanks to a number of good programs instituted in the 1990s and up. I’m very proud of how far my first graduate alma mater has come in just a few short years, relatively speaking, starting with practically nothing and progressing to an appealing, well regarded university. I also enjoyed reading about all of the celebrities who attended Long Beach State, like the Carpenters (they were building the Carpenter Auditorium, or whatever its proper name is, while I was there), Steve Martin, Steven Spielberg, Chris Carter, and numerous baseball players, among others. I already knew about most of them, but it was still cool to read details I didn’t know. And I had to laugh about the t-shirt I read about regarding the now-gone football team. It reads “Long Beach State Football: Unbeaten since 1991.” The program was shut down back in 1991, the year before I got there, after new and legendary coach George Allen had died unexpectedly, because very few people supported the teams by attending the games over the years, and it was a huge drain on an already always tight school budget. I was deeply disappointed to attend a school whose football program had just been shut down, especially after going to UT, where the team competed for — and won — national championships on a regular basis, but a lot of smaller schools shut down their programs back then, like East Tennessee State University, just up the road from Knoxville 100 miles, among others because it takes a LOT of money to have and run a college football program, especially if you want to truly be competitive. I came to accept this over the years, and embraced that t-shirt’s slogan to the point of ordering one from the school just a week ago, literally, and I’ll now proudly wear it and laugh to myself as people will undoubtedly look confused when they see it.

All in all, it’s a decent little book, and I’m glad it was written and I’m glad I read it. But I STILL wish it wasn’t a “Brief History,” because I think the school deserves a “Comprehensive History,” and I guess I’ll just have to wait to see that one written some time in the future. Recommended for anyone who has ever attended or graduated from Long Beach State, as well as any interested Cal State University system supporters and Long Beach/L.A. County residents.

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