August Medialogging
By Dwip August 31, 2014, 11:59 am Comments (0) RSS Feed for this post

A short month this time. Though I do love the non-fiction, it does have the potential to be extremely slow going at times. Getting through it, it must be said, was unhelped by the appearance on the holds shelf of two seasons of Breaking Bad and the never-ending search for gainful employment.

And a few other things. We’ll talk about those later.

YTD stats:

January:
February:
March: : 4 books; 4 fiction (1,450 p.) / 3 videos; 1 movies (2.6 h.); 2 TV seasons (15.2 h.)
April: : 5 books; 1 graphic (136 p.); 4 fiction (1,269 p.) / 1 videos; 1 TV seasons (6 h.)
May: : 8 books; 5 graphic (1,352 p.); 1 fiction (465 p.); 2 non-fiction (829 p.) / 2 videos; 2 TV seasons (11 h.)
June: : 17 books; 5 graphic (1,584 p.); 12 fiction (4,483 p.) / 1 videos; 1 TV seasons (4.8 h.)
July: : 7 books; 6 fiction (3,221 p.); 1 non-fiction (576 p.) / 7 videos; 1 anime series (10.6 h.); 4 movies (7.7 h.); 2 TV seasons (10.5 h.)
August: : 2 books; 2 non-fiction (894 p.) / 3 videos; 1 anime series (10.8 h.); 2 TV seasons (20.5 h.)

Year to Date: 43 books; 11 graphic (3,072 p.); 27 fiction (10,888 p.); 5 non-fiction (2,299 p.) / 17 videos; 2 anime series (21.5 h.); 5 movies (10.3 h.); 10 TV seasons (67.9 h.)

Details for August after the jump.

08/01/2014 Vince Gilligan, et al., Breaking Bad: The Complete Second Season (2010 Sony Pictures DVD, 615 minutes, 13 episodes – Corvallis Public Library)

Two seasons in, and I’m still enjoying the meth sitcom, though I confess that the actual sitcomish parts are increasingly awkward and uncomfortable for me to watch, since, hey, not a fan of that humor style.

As dramatic television, however, Breaking Bad continues to be excellent. It’s not quite The Wire, but the writing, acting, and storytelling are all top notch. For this season, Walt’s descent into lies and monsterdom proceeds according to plan, but he’s now definitely the villain here. An entertaining villain, but who knew I’d be rooting for Hank? Too, I sympathize far more with Jesse than I ever expected to going in, which is to say nothing of Jane, a character who lives a whole lot in not a lot of episodes.

I’ll be picking up Season 3 just as soon as I finish off Samurai Champloo.

08/08/2014 Shinichiro Watanabe, et al., Samurai Champloo (2006 Geneon DVD, 650 minutes, 26 episodes – Personal collection, 2007)

Coming off of Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo is a bit of an odd duck. It utilizes a lot of the same things that made Cowboy Bebop amazing (music! A group of down and out travellers! Themes!) but does almost all of them less well – though as all other reviews of this series will tell you, falling short of what may be the best anime series ever is no failure.

Briefly, this is the story of Fuu, Jin, and Mugen, a teenage girl, a ronin samurai, and an outlaw, and their crazy road trip all over Japan in the early days of the Tokugawa shogunate. And as an Edo-period road trip series it’s a fine piece of anime storytelling. Hijinks are had. People are met and lost. Emotions are felt. Epic fight scenes abound. Wacky anachronisms are inserted for comic effect. At it’s best, Samurai Champloo is as entertaining a series as you’ll find, and select episodes (most notably Elegy of Entrapment) are among my favorite pieces of visual storytelling. This is a series to watch.

And yet, after Cowboy Bebop one can’t help but feel a little let down by it. The hip-hop samurai vibe could be quite cool, but unlike Cowboy Bebop’s frequent and brilliant usage of music, Samurai Champloo doesn’t really know what’s fairly sparse soundtrack is doing most of the time, and oddly the most effective uses of the hip-hop are the opening theme and one of the clip episodes. The best music in the series isn’t even hip-hop but the beautiful and haunting Kuzunoha no Kowakare and other shamisen pieces from Elegy of Entrapment. It’s not bad music, to be sure, it just could have been so much more.

The Fuu/Jin/Mugen crew is much more solid than the Bebop crew and their reasons for being constantly broke and hungry make a bit more sense, but all of them are a bit more trope and less colorful than Spike, Jet, Faye, and the gang. This works for Champloo’s big moments, but none of these people even approach being as memorable as the Bebop crew, and all the secondary characters are eminently forgettable outside the moment.

The anachronisms, and the comparisons they’re attempting to draw between Edo-period Japan and present day Japan are a mixed bag. Sometimes they work (the beatboxing samurai are particular hilarious), and other times less so (is the baseball episode just insanely racist? Was everyone in the studio smoking the very special drugs? I just don’t even). Perhaps I’d need to be Japanese to make the comparisons work better than they do, but as it is the general Edo-period road trip parts work much better than the anachronism parts.

It’s still going to be one of the best things I watch this year.

08/14/2014 Vince Gilligan, et al., Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season (2011 Sony Pictures DVD, 613 minutes, 13 episodes – Corvallis Public Library)

While I enjoyed the first two seasons of Breaking Bad, this season is where things really took off for me. Most of the more sitcom elements from the first two seasons are gone, those that remain are funny, and we’re now into a show that feels much more like one that somebody like Stringer Bell would feel at home in.

In particular, I think the writing in this season is exceptional. Though the writing for this show has always been supurb, throughout this season I was constantly surprised by things I didn’t think would be surprising, and even the concepts I thought would be dull and lifeless ended up being pretty good. Who knew you could do so much with two guys, a lab, and a fly?

Remains solid entertainment. I’m cursing my wait time to get season 4 from the library.

08/15/2014 David Kilcullen, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars In the Midst Of A Big One (2009 Oxford University Press hardcover, 384 pages – Personal collection, 2010)

I went into this book expecting the usual sort of fare for titles like this – a bunch of high level insights wrapped around your usual sort of military memoir. Generals do this sort of thing all the time, and while sometimes lacking in footnotes, they make up for it in readability. I expected Kilcullen’s book to be essentially the same.

This was an incorrect assumption on my part. The Accidental Guerilla is, at its core a highly academic book that often reads like a doctoral thesis. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise, given the reputation of Dr. Kilcullen, who after spending most of the last ten years advising senior US officials and generals on counterinsurgency basically wrote the college level textbook on it.

Well, mostly. We’ll get to that.

Kilcullen argues that, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, most of the people the US got into fights with, circa 2009 when this book was written, were essentially fighting us because we were there, and we were intruding upon them. Some of them fought because they were paid by the more fearsome and professional Al Qaeda, some of them out of fear of same, but very few apparently due to any sort of religious fanaticism. The number of actual transnational terrorist types is apparently pretty low.

That’s all well and good and tracks very well with what I already understood about counterinsurgency. And if what you’re looking for is a primer on COIN theory as applied in our latest conflicts, this book is absolutely your man, and is, as the New York Times Book Review blurb on the cover states, essential.

Or, if you’re not the book type, this video pretty much gets at the core idea of the thing:

That said, there are some limits to the thing I find somewhat puzzling. This is, let us be absolutely sure, a book extremely focused on Islamist guerilla movements besides the case of one Catholic movement in the late part of the book. While I suspect the arguments made track well to movements like the IRA or the Viet Cong, an analysis of these movements or even an acknowledgement that they even existed in the first place would have been nice. I grant that it would have made the book twice as long, but the ommission seems strange to me.

Second, while the book is very much concerned with setting up the security necessary to achieve political goals, it almost never attempts to stray outside of its lane to discuss these political goals or how an outside actor like the United States might influence local politics to the gain of anyone let alone ourselves. Considering that the United States has been consistently wrong on which political horse to back, the lack of scoping out that particular problem is particularly troubling, as recent events in Iraq may make clear.

All of that said, however, The Accidental Guerilla is a useful and interesting book for anyone interested in the subject material, and my only regret is that it took 4 years of it sitting on my shelf for me to get around to it.

08/31/2014 Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (1994 Ballantine Books trade paperback, 510 pages – Personal collection, c. 2007)

In thinking of things I wanted to read this year, The Guns of August for the 100th anniversary of the August in 1914 when the 19th century met its bloody and tragic end seemed fairly obvious. So, here I am having finished it on the very last day of August, shortly before the centinniel of the Battle of the Marne discussed in the closing pages of the book. Mission accomplished, I suppose.

I find it an odd sort of book. As a chronicle of the run-up to the World War, it seems quite short and not altogether to the point – the focus is on the plans and not the politics, though brief stabs at the latter appear here and there. For this stage of the thing, one much prefers specialist works like Massie’s Dreadnought, which I have read and enjoyed several times now.

As a chronicle of the battles in August, which one feels are the heart of the book, The Guns of August does better for itself, though I felt the maps lacking in detail and not always fitting to the text. As this has always been a sad fact of battle descriptions in books, I can’t particularly fault Tuchman too much for it.

The real star of the show, however, is Tuchman’s prose, which manages to be lively, clear, and entirely readable even when discussing complex military movements. Her eye for characterization and ability to cut a man to shreds with a sentence or two is absolutely legend. For example, her description of von Schlieffen of the Schlieffen Plan fame:

Of the two classes of Prussian officer, the bullnecked and the wasp-waisted, he belonged to the second. Monocled and effete in appearance, cold and distant in manner, he concentrated with such single-mindedness on his profession that when an aide, at the end of an all-night staff ride in East Prussia, pointed out to him the beauty of the river Pregel sparkling in the rising sun, the General gave a brief, hard look and replied “An unimportant obstacle.” So too, he decided, was Belgian neutrality.

One images she must have been particularly fun at parties.

All in all, in isolation The Guns of August does not seem to me to work, forcing the reader to rely upon other materials to get a better grip on the run-up to the war as well as the aftermath of the Marne. Tuchman frequently employs phrases like “all the world knows” that may have been true in 1962 but are not in 2014, and as an introduction to World War I The Guns of August leaves much to be desired. As a more specialized study of August 1914 and of the characters involved in the early part of the war the book seems much better, and as a work of prose The Guns of August is supurb, enjoyable by anyone be they a scholar of the World War or not.


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