Beard and Cartledge

Jul. 23rd, 2016 07:37 pm
penlessej: (Books)
[personal profile] penlessej

A few nights ago I finished reading SPQR by Mary Beard. It certainly is the best non-fiction book that I have read in a while and almost certainly the best book on the subject of the ancient Roman empire that I have ever read. In fact, it may rank as one of the best history books I have had the pleasure of reading period. Beard's writing style is absolutely accessible and incredably seductive. She draws you into the Roman empire and into the myths and realities of one of the greatest entities to flourish the then known world. Her revisionist version of ancient Rome has left me brimming with a desire to speak with friends and correct or expand on new items that I learned through-out her wonderful book. I would suggest this book to anyone who has even the slightest interest in ancient Rome or history. I am looking forward to getting home and back to my local bookstore to purchase more of her books (if anyone has a suggestion I am more than all ears).

And with one book ending another one is here to replace it.

Paul Cartledge
's Democracy: A Life stood out for me while I was searching for something to read following SPQR while I was at sea. It seemed fitting to move back from Rome and into Greece and Cartledge's book stood out for me because the dust jacket alluded to it being another revisionist form of history writing. So far so good, I am only about 50 pages into the book but I haven't had a desire to put it away and usually for that happens around the 50 page mark. It certainly is not as accessible as Beard's book, but it is a very interesting read. So far we have traced the roots of demos in ancient Greek society (turns out that simply stroking the creation of democracy in Athens is entirely incorrect, go figure) and we are now starting from the Bronze Age and moving forward. I am looking forward to what he has to say about Roman influence on Greek political thought. Beard painted a picture of a haphazard influence of Roman culture in the areas they covered in modern day Europe, but the book alludes to it being a more decisive approach. I can't wait.

My reinterest in the ancient world was sparked by a book called Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the fall of Rome and the Making of Christianity by Peter Brown that I discovered through a common friend here on Dreamwidth. Reading about the influence that Roman thought on society and goodness had on the formation of the early Christian church reignited a fire in me to learn more about the ancient world as a whole. If you have any suggestions on books along the same topic please suggest them here and I would be more than grateful.

Review: The Run of His Life

Jul. 23rd, 2016 07:13 pm
[syndicated profile] eaglespath_feed

Review: The Run of His Life, by Jeffrey Toobin

Publisher: Random House
Copyright: 1996, 1997
Printing: 2015
ISBN: 0-307-82916-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 498

The O.J. Simpson trial needs little introduction to anyone who lived through it in the United States, but a brief summary for those who didn't.

O.J. Simpson is a Hall of Fame football player and one of the best running backs to ever play the game. He's also black, which is very relevant much of what later happened. After he retired from professional play, he became a television football commentator and a spokesperson for various companies (particularly Hertz, a car rental business). In 1994, he was arrested for the murder of two people: his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman (a friend of Nicole's). The arrest happened after a bizarre low-speed police chase across Los Angeles in a white Bronco that was broadcast live on network television. The media turned the resulting criminal trial into a reality TV show, with live cable television broadcasts of all of the court proceedings. After nearly a full year of trial (with the jury sequestered for nine months — more on that later), a mostly black jury returned a verdict of not guilty after a mere four hours of deliberation.

Following the criminal trial, in an extremely unusual legal proceeding, Simpson was found civilly liable for Ron Goldman's death in a lawsuit brought by his family. Bizarre events surrounding the case continued long afterwards. A book titled If I Did It (with "if" in very tiny letters on the cover) was published, ghost-written but allegedly with Simpson's input and cooperation, and was widely considered a confession. Another legal judgment let the Goldman family get all the profits from that book's publication. In an unrelated (but also bizarre) incident in Las Vegas, Simpson was later arrested for kidnapping and armed robbery and is currently in prison until at least 2017.

It is almost impossible to have lived through the O.J. Simpson trial in the United States and not have formed some opinion on it. I was in college and without a TV set at the time, and even I watched some of the live trial coverage. Reactions to the trial were extremely racially polarized, as you might have guessed. A lot of black people believed at the time that Simpson was innocent (probably fewer now, given subsequent events). A lot of white people thought he was obviously guilty and was let off by a black jury for racial reasons. My personal opinion, prior to reading this book, was a common "third way" among white liberals: Simpson almost certainly committed the murders, but the racist Los Angeles police department decided to frame him for a crime that he did commit by trying to make the evidence stronger. That's a legitimate reason in the US justice system for finding someone innocent: the state has an obligation to follow correct procedure and treat the defendant fairly in order to get a conviction. I have a strong bias towards trusting juries; frequently, it seems that the media second-guesses the outcome of a case that makes perfect sense as soon as you see all the information the jury had (or didn't have).

Toobin's book changed my mind. Perhaps because I wasn't watching all of the coverage, I was greatly underestimating the level of incompetence and bad decision-making by everyone involved: the prosecution, the defense, the police, the jury, and the judge. This court case was a disaster from start to finish; no one involved comes away looking good. Simpson was clearly guilty given the evidence presented, but the case was so badly mishandled that it gave the jury room to reach the wrong verdict. (It's telling that, in the far better managed subsequent civil case, the jury had no trouble reaching a guilty verdict.)

The Run of His Life is a very detailed examination of the entire Simpson case, from the night of the murder through the end of the trial and (in an epilogue) the civil case. Toobin was himself involved in the media firestorm, breaking some early news of the defense's decision to focus on race in The New Yorker and then involved throughout the trial as a legal analyst, and he makes it clear when he becomes part of the story. But despite that, this book felt objective to me. There are tons of direct quotes, lots of clear description of the evidence, underlying interviews with many of the people involved to source statements in the book, and a comprehensive approach to the facts. I think Toobin is a bit baffled by the black reaction to the case, and that felt like a gap in the comprehensiveness and the one place where he might be accused of falling back on stereotypes and easy judgments. But other than hole, Toobin applies his criticism even-handedly and devastatingly to all parties.

I won't go into all the details of how Toobin changed my mind. It was a cumulative effect across the whole book, and if you're curious, I do recommend reading it. A lot was the detailed discussion of the forensic evidence, which was undermined for the jury at trial but looks very solid outside the hothouse of the case. But there is one critical piece that I would hope would be handled differently today, twenty years later, than it was by the prosecutors in that case: Simpson's history of domestic violence against Nicole. With what we now know about patterns of domestic abuse, the escalation to murder looks entirely unsurprising. And that history of domestic abuse was exceedingly well-documented: multiple external witnesses, police reports, and one actual prior conviction for spousal abuse (for which Simpson did "community service" that was basically a joke). The prosecution did a very poor job of establishing this history and the jury discounted it. That was a huge mistake by both parties.

I'll mention one other critical collection of facts that Toobin explains well and that contradicted my previous impression of the case: the relationship between Simpson and the police.

Today, in the era of Black Lives Matter, the routine abuse of black Americans by the police is more widely known. At the time of the murders, it was less recognized among white Americans, although black Americans certainly knew about it. But even in 1994, the Los Angeles police department was notorious as one of the most corrupt and racist big-city police departments in the United States. This is the police department that beat Rodney King. Mark Fuhrman, one of the police officers involved in the case (although not that significantly, despite his role at the trial), was clearly racist and had no business being a police officer. It was therefore entirely believable that these people would have decided to frame a black man for a murder he actually committed.

What Toobin argues, quite persuasively and with quite a lot of evidence, is that this analysis may make sense given the racial tensions in Los Angeles but ignores another critical characteristic of Los Angeles politics, namely a deference to celebrity. Prior to this trial, O.J. Simpson largely followed the path of many black athletes who become broadly popular in white America: underplaying race and focusing on his personal celebrity and connections. (Toobin records a quote from Simpson earlier in his life that perfectly captures this approach: "I'm not black, I'm O.J.") Simpson spent more time with white businessmen than the black inhabitants of central Los Angeles. And, more to the point, the police treated him as a celebrity, not as a black man.

Toobin takes some time to chronicle the remarkable history of deference and familiarity that the police showed Simpson. He regularly invited police officers to his house for parties. The police had a long history of largely ignoring or downplaying his abuse of his wife, including not arresting him in situations that clearly seemed to call for that, showing a remarkable amount of deference to his side of the story, not pursuing clear violations of the court judgment after his one conviction for spousal abuse, and never showing much inclination to believe or protect Nicole. Even on the night of the murder, they started following a standard playbook for giving a celebrity advance warning of investigations that might involve them before the news media found out about them. It seems clear, given the evidence that Toobin collected, that the racist Los Angeles police didn't focus that animus at Simpson, a wealthy celebrity living in Brentwood. He wasn't a black man in their eyes; he was a rich Hall of Fame football player and a friend.

This obviously raises the question of how the jury could return an innocent verdict. Toobin provides plenty of material to analyze that question from multiple angles in his detailed account of the case, but I can tell you my conclusion: Judge Lance Ito did a horrifically incompetent job of managing the case. He let the lawyers wander all over the case, interacted bizarrely with the media coverage (and was part of letting the media turn it into a daytime drama), was not crisp or clear about his standards of evidence and admissibility, and, perhaps worst of all, let the case meander on at incredible length. With a fully sequestered jury allowed only brief conjugal visits and no media contact (not even bookstore shopping!).

Quite a lot of anger was focused on the jury after the acquittal, and I do think they reached the wrong conclusion and had all the information they would have needed to reach the correct one. But Toobin touches on something that I think would be very hard to comprehend without having lived through it. The jury and alternate pool essentially lived in prison for nine months, with guards and very strict rules about contact with the outside world, in a country where compensation for jury duty is almost nonexistent. There were a lot of other factors behind their decision, including racial tensions and the sheer pressure from judging a celebrity case about which everyone has an opinion, but I think it's nearly impossible to underestimate the psychological tension and stress from being locked up with random other people under armed guard for three quarters of a year. It's hard for jury members to do an exhaustive and careful deliberation in a typical trial that takes a week and doesn't involve sequestration. People want to get back to their lives and families. I can only imagine the state I would be in after nine months of this, or how poor psychological shape I would be in to make a careful and considered decision.

Similarly, for those who condemned the jury for profiting via books and media appearances after the trial, the current compensation for jurors is $15 per day (not hour). I believe at the time it was around $5 per day. There are a few employers who will pay full salary for the entire jury service, but only a few; many cap the length at a few weeks, and some employers treat all jury duty as unpaid leave. The only legal requirement for employers in the United States is that employees that serve on a jury have their job held for them to return to, but compensation is pathetic, not tied to minimum wage, and employers do not have to supplement it. I'm much less inclined to blame the jurors than the system that badly mistreated them.

As you can probably tell from the length of this review, I found The Run of His Life fascinating. If I had followed the whole saga more closely at the time, this may have been old material, but I think my vague impressions and patchwork of assumptions were more typical than not among people who were around for the trial but didn't invest a lot of effort into following it. If you are like me, and you have any interest in the case or the details of how the US criminal justice system works, this is a fascinating case study, and Toobin does a great job with it. Recommended.

Rating: 8 out of 10

In A Cabin in the Woods

Jul. 23rd, 2016 08:51 pm
yourlibrarian: Stephen Colbert claps (OTH-ColbertClap-valeriehall343)
[personal profile] yourlibrarian
1) I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who was thrilled to see the old Stephen back for The Word. But it also made me laugh to think of all those Stephen/Jon shippers squealing as the skit made it canon that the two have spent the last year together in a remote cabin. Not quite curtain fic given the conditions but still!

2) HT to Petzi for posting Michelle Obama's carpool karaoake segment. Sure going to miss having that family in the White House.

3) Mike has headed off to visit family for 10 days. I was amused by a note he left. Read more... )

4) On one of Mike's remade shelves, I was amused to discover several Star Wars action figures (78 vintage) sitting together in a corner. It made me think of Spike and the Boba Fett. Speaking of action figures, looks like the Ghostbuster toys are doing well. But surprise, surprise, the haters are all over the toy comments at Amazon too, voting down the ratings.

One other plus about these figures is that even the slimmer members of the Ghostbusters don't look stick thin as dolls and, of course, the costume isn't at all sexualized.

5) Heard an NPR story about the coolest birds ever, the Greater Honeyguide Read more... )

knockdown dragout

Jul. 24th, 2016 03:35 am
tielan: (Default)
[personal profile] tielan
Well, if there's anything that could overcome my love of Marvel for the last four years, then DC's Wonder Woman might very well be it.

If they pull it (and Suicide Squad) off, then I might very well jump back to Diana/Bruce, which looks like it already has a few decent writers, and maybe a couple of good ones to boot.

Maria/Steve will always be the MCU pairing of my heart, but it's been hell being the only steady, dedicated writer for it for 4 years, with little encouragement and nobody to share the load who stuck it out for the duration.

I loved Marvel back before the X-men Movies wrecked my favourite character (Scott Summers), I was a fan of the Justice League Animated series between Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis. I enjoyed the Dark Knight trilogy before I got into the MCU with the first Avengers movie, and if DC pull this off, then I'll be there with bells on.

Dr. Strange? Spiderman? No. Not in my interests pile.

Avengers: Infinity War? Well, I'll probably go see it, but it mostly depends on whether they continue to use Maria in the MCU. The odds of that are little-to-nothing, which means the odds of people appreciating her are little-to-nothing, and the odds of people writing her are sweet fuck-all.

But the reports on BvS:DoJ Extended Edition are positive, and Suicide Squad seems to have gone straight for diversity, and WW hits all my 'female characters that I can love' buttons, even before you add in a blond-haired blue-eyed pretty boy as a love interest.
topaz119: (KirkReboot)
[personal profile] topaz119
...and ohhhhhhhh did *that* make me want to ignore ITD even more than I already do and write a Kirk/Pike-on-leave-at-Yorktown sequel to Shining On The Quay.

Also, spoilers, really don't click )

Also, also, I did get more than a little choked up a couple of times, for reals.

High School Meme

Jul. 23rd, 2016 04:58 pm
penlessej: (Default)
[personal profile] penlessej
Slow day at sea, so I figured I would copy this meme from [personal profile] katyakoshka.

Stolen template meme: High School (2001-2005)

1. Did you know your spouse?


No. We would not meet for another two years at a bar we both worked at during University.

2. Did you car pool to school?


No. I lived in the county which meant a one hour bus ride to and from school each morning and afternoon. The plus side was that I was nearly first on and last off and the bus driver was my friends dad (small town), so I often sprawled out across two seats and slept.

3. What kind of car did you have?


I didn't have a car in high school. My first car was purchased in the summer before University, it was a 2000 Neon.

4. What kind of car do you have now?

A 2006 GMC Canyon. Planning on trading in and buying a brand new Canyon when I get home.

5. It's Friday night...where were you?


Probably eating delicious Windsor pizza with Matt at home watching some sort of movie or listening to Canadian indie music. Little did I know that pizza everywhere else in the world would never be as good as back home.

6. What kind of job did you have in high school?

My first job was at the local library as a book shelver and children's program director. When I got my first girlfriend I quickly realized that it did not pay well enough to sustain dinners and movies so I got a job with my best friend working at Canadian Tire, a retail store. I held that job until my first year of University.

7. What kind of job do you have now?


I am an Officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. I joined after quitting Canadian Tire and needing more money to pay for school (and a stable summer job).

8. Were you a party animal?


Not at all.

9. Were you a cheerleader?


No.

10. Were you considered a jock?

No, but I did play football in my final year of high school just to let off some extra steam.

11. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?


No, but I was always somewhat jealous of how close the band students seemed to be.

13. Did you get suspended or expelled?

I was suspended for skipping a full day of class once in grade 11. The school's policy was three detentions meant a suspension and because each class missed was a detention, it translated into a one day suspension and detention upon return. I remember my father was not mad about the suspension, he found it silly that the school sent you home legitimately when you skipped.

14. Can you sing the fight song?


We did not have a fight song. It was a Catholic school and we did have a school song, something about cougars (the school mascot and name of the student body) marching with Jesus Christ leading the way. It was cheesy.

15. Who was/were your favorite high school teacher?

Mrs. Chapman. She taught law and business. Awesome teacher.

16. Where did you sit for lunch?

My school had a large population of Italians from the town the school was in, us white kids stuck together and I generally sat with them and played cards. I do not remember it being cliquey per se, but we all kind of stuck with the same group of kids we moved up through grade school with.

17. What was your school mascot?

Cougar.

18. If you could go back and do it again, would you?

Probably not. I didn't really find myself until after University. I am pleased with who I am now and would not want to go back to all of that confusion and unjustified anger.

19. Did you have fun at Prom?


Prom was fun. I got drunk in the limo to the dinner so I do not remember much. The after-party was in a field and it was fun. My buddy Matt got drunk and passed out. My girlfriend and I spent the night drinking and enjoy each other's company as young adults do.

20. Do you still talk to the person you went to Prom with?

No.

21. Are you planning on going to your next reunion?

Probably not. I live on the other side of the country now.

22. Are you still in contact with people from school?


Some people yes. But generally no. I moved to the other side of the country and really haven't looked back.

23. What are/were your school's colors?

Blue and silver I think. There may have been some red in their somewhere. I do remember the Credo: Integrity, Loyalty and Discipline.

An artist first: Life of the Day

Jul. 23rd, 2016 11:35 pm
[syndicated profile] oxforddnb_feed

Today's biography from the Oxford DNB:
Scott [née Bruce], (Edith Agnes) Kathleen, Lady Scott [other married name (Edith Agnes) Kathleen Young, Lady Kennet; known as Kathleen Kennet] (1878-1947), sculptor

(no subject)

Jul. 23rd, 2016 06:08 pm
sraun: castle (castle)
[personal profile] sraun
Anyone know of a Twin Cities, MN source for colored (AKA anodized) aluminum tumblers? Like these on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Set-Six-Anodized-Aluminum-Tumblers/dp/B0002T7KGG

YIPPEE!

Jul. 23rd, 2016 06:01 pm

(no subject)

Jul. 23rd, 2016 06:35 pm
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)
[personal profile] the_rck
I found us a hotel and made the reservation. I researched costs for transit options in Chicago. I did the dishes. I stripped and partially remade the bed. I sorted the last bin of junk from the basement and then rinsed and soaked all of the plastic stuff in water with bleach in the bathtub (that’s all air drying now). I helped bring in and put away groceries. I scraped labels off of some empty prescription bottles so that I could get rid of them without having someone steal my refills or get detailed information on what meds I’m taking (the pharmacy has changed glues to something more waterproof, so this was more work than I expected). I pulled a few more unread books off the shelves in our bedroom in order to get rid of them.

I still have to finish making the bed (some time in the next four hours) and to wash the dirty sheets (some time in the next two weeks), but I’m pretty exhausted physically speaking. I was starting to get a headache, so I had some coffee about two hours ago, and that helped.

What I still haven’t done is any sort of writing. I really, really need to do that, and it has to be on the WIP Big Bang Narnia story because I have to post that no later than Friday.

But, instead, I’ll probably just stare at my laptop, refreshing a handful of different pages, and think about how I really ought to find something to eat for dinner. Maybe, if I get really motivated, I’ll answer some emails/comments. I’ve shifted from 'answer email' as a thing on my running to-do list to having each specific email/comment response as a separate item. I think I’m more likely to do them if I feel like I’m completing something each time I answer one.

Not Quite a Time Loop

Jul. 23rd, 2016 03:17 pm
lovelyangel: (Ensign Lefler)
[personal profile] lovelyangel
Star Trek Beyond Poster from Cinemark
Star Trek Beyond Poster from Cinemark

I knew I would need to see Star Trek Beyond again before it left the theaters… and last time I freed up my schedule to watch a movie a second time, it was no longer playing… so sooner is better than later. And why not help boost the opening weekend box office numbers? So this morning Katie and I went over to Century Theatres to catch the early bird showing at 10:10 am. (Early Bird admission is $7.25 compared to $8.25 for matinee or $10.75 for weekend evenings.) The movie was every bit as much fun the second time. I also caught some in-jokes that I'd missed the first time around.

The surprise bonus – we each got a free Star Trek Beyond Collectible Poster! I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but the poster is kinda cool.
ithiliana: Powerpuff customized with purple hair and glasses (Default)
[personal profile] ithiliana
Hi there: I see most of the first members of Holtzman_Fans have temporarily dropped -- I've asked the two remaining to temporarily drop so I can rename the community (should be Holtzmann_Fans)--I have the token, but need to be the only member.

This is Saturday 5:00 p.m. Central US time. Will check back in a few hours, and again Sunday, to see if I can do the rename.

Thanks!

Robin

More musicals!

Jul. 23rd, 2016 02:06 pm
aris_tgd: Franklin, "Teach hope" (Teach hope)
[personal profile] aris_tgd
So I finished that copy of Damn Yankees I got, and it was delightful. Singing and dancing A+. It's the run starring Jerry Lewis as the devil, which I actually saw as a child when it toured in San Francisco. When I saw it I remember everyone being on form the whole way through, but it's possible I'm just remembering it through rose-colored glasses, because in this recording Lewis was kind of phoning it in a bit during the first act. He got into it in Act 2, though, and his big solo was as funny as I remember from childhood. (Still has the more-racist version of the lyrics from the original rather than any rewrites, though at least they cut the cannibal line? Ugh, old musicals.) But! Most importantly! ORIGINAL STAGE ENDING!!

Boy, I hate the ending of the movie. I hate it a lot.

Also watched a recording of Follies, one of the Sondheim musicals that people don't perform very often. It was charming and the songs were great, but I really didn't care at all about the lovers at the center of the conflict. Either their young or older versions. I think Phyllis was my favorite, but that's setting kind of a low bar.

There's a great video available on YouTube of Elaine Page performing "I'm Still Here" which I'd recommend if you want a taste of some of the music in the show.

(no subject)

Jul. 23rd, 2016 05:08 pm
the_rck: figure perched in a tree with barren branches (Default)
[personal profile] the_rck
I’ve been seeing all sorts of things talking about the Wonder Woman movie poster and how great it is. I just— I look at it, and all I can think is, "Wait. They cut off her head." To be fair, you can see part of her head, from the nose down, but cutting off part of it tells me what the designers think we care about.

I mean, it’s a pretty poster, and having her holding a sword says something, but… I’d really like her whole head.

Am I overreacting? I can't tell.

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