Postwar by Tony Judt is a history of Europe since World War II. I haven't gotten a chance to finish it because it's 900+ pages in hardback and my checkout, plus one renewal period, wasn't enough to finish it. It's a very tough slog for me, but I think that's because it's dense with details I didn't learn in history class. Since it's more of a history of social, political and economic forces in postwar Europe, there are a lot of names and "minor" events I didn't learn. Sure, I learned about the 1968 pseudo-invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries. We didn't learn so much about why and who of the liberalization that lead to the Soviets taking firmer control.
Other neat bits so far (page 550 or earlier) to an ignorant American:
- Parts of Western Europe were ridiculously "communist" for quite a while. France's communist party, which was apparently very aligned with "official" communism as promulgated from the USSR, regularly polled above 10%. This is strange to someone raised in a culture where "communist" is an unspeakable word (unless you're using it as an insult) and "socialism" is a dirty word. The strong alignment of the Western countries during the Cold War gives the impression that of course there wouldn't be that many commies among our allies. But of course that isn't true.
- Related to the above, when there was a chance that the Italian government would be lead by the mainstream Italian communist party, Kissinger made some statement shortly before the election about the US not welcoming a commie government in Italy ... and then the leader of the Italian communist party apparently pulled back and toned it down. And they weren't put into leading the government.
- In high school, we learned plenty about the US helping Europe out with food and rebuilding. You know, Marshall Plan, etc. What we didn't learn was how dire it was and how completely destroyed esp parts of eastern Europe were (which due to the coming Soviet hegemony didn't generally accept Marshall Plan aid). Things like Britain only implementing food rationing after the war ended or that there were some really bad winters and famines in '47-48.
- The interplay and contrariness and (desired) vindictiveness between especially France and Germany are a bit shocking. It seems that at quite a few points, France did something because it was opposite of Germany or would reduce (future) German power. Understandable and all given the recent past, but not something covered in detail in high school history. Especially interesting to be was how urgent it was the US that Germany (well FRG) re-start its manufacturing (including weapons) in order to arm NATO -- and to re-form German troops. Obviously France didn't like this one bit, but the whole "Free World" vs the Commies attitude from the US eventually forced the issue.
- Probably some other really interesting bits and too many numerous details to speak of, but there you go.
All in all, a good book which hopefully I will finish once I have my own copy.
Ecology of Fear by Mike Davis was recommended by MillMan on #husi when everyone was talking about books after a link to some random blog I hadn't read before. Ecology of Fear isn't exactly the usual book I would read except that I read pretty much every fictional disaster novel (as long as it can be classed as "sci-fi" anyway). And it's basically about real and imagined disasters in/around LA.
Parts of it are mostly just discussions of the various forms of disaster awaiting LA (earthquake, fire, various weather disasters, etc.) There were some disturbing parts dealing with the social class dimensions of disaster response. Basically, we spend millions and billions fighting forest fires (that ecologically should probably just be allowed to burn) while meanwhile completely preventable neglect and corruption in the city creates fire traps that kill as many people (but don't cause as much property damage).
The later chapter on fictional/imagined LA disaster was less good, although entertaining. The author seemed to be hung up with the notion that because a disaster author lets a bunch of minorities die, it is implicitly racist. Never mind that in LA, at least, there are a lot of people who are more vulnerable in a disaster than others. Due to the social and economic stratification of minorities in LA, those more vulnerable people are blacks, hispanics, etc. It's not unreasonable to imagine that the people with the least resources would die in greater numbers (and be forced to more extreme action) in a disaster.
That said, there are apparently a lot of blatantly racist pieces of fiction out there. :)
Mostly an entertaining book.
I've also been reading a wider variety of "blogs". I thought Science Blogs would be better than it is, but unfortunately there is way too much political crap and not that much science news/discussion. Going to have to find some other science blogs...
So, wii reviews. I know you were all waiting for it.
Last night I played a bit of everything. The wii sports package was interesting and incredibly intuitive. Not the best graphics or anything, but you really can beat a tennis match where you do a sort of back swing and your character does a back swing. I don't have the hang of the bowling yet, but swinging a bat on the baseball bit (I only did a batting practice thing) was fun. Haven't touched golf or boxing yet. Sorry theboz.
The Super Monkey Ball main game isn't as good as the previous versions. The levels don't seem as well thought out. There are plenty of fun levels, just not quite as good as the original. :) The addition of a "jump" though pleases me. There were quite a few levels in the original(s) where to get the best score (or to the hidden warp) you had to basically just hit the corner of something right in order to (seemingly randomly) bounce to the right place.
The SMB party games are just way to many to describe them. I think they went wild with them because it gave them a chance to try out as many different ways of using the wii controllers. For instance, there is, of course, a Monkey Race. In it you hold the Wii remote horizontally and rotate it left and right like a steering wheel. Very cool. Then there are games that take advantage of what I'm calling "pointer mode" where you just point the end of the mote (usually with a cursor on screen) and grab something to move it. The darts game shows off the force feedback -- if you "throw" the controller harder, then it the parabolic decay on the screen is less and you don't get a zero score by hitting way below the board. :)
There are also essentially 3-D versions of space invaders and asteroids. Yeah, you would say "lame" but asteroids is a lot of fun when the controller rumbles when you miss an asteroid and it hits you (you can get hit a few times before dying). :)
Zelda last night was both a frustration and a wonder. Like most Zelda games there is an introduction part where you have to do some various tasks to gain items (and along the way learn the mechanics of the game). Unfortunately for me, this one involved fishing. Fishing has been a staple of several zelda games. Unfortunately, I never really got into it. Once I figured out the trick though, I was able to fish correctly (which changed the state of a character so that I could buy something that moved the story along that got me the sword which lets me head to the first dungeon).
A little frustrating of an intro but the controller is quite different. The trigger button ('B') can be assigned to one of three "arrow" items (if you've played Ocarina of Time, this is like the yellow C-buttons). You whip it out and do stuff with it. The slingshot is excellent: you can rotate your view at the same time as using "pointer mode" to shoot stuff. Sword fighting is just super hack and slash -- but it's a lot of fun because you're flailing your arms about.
Okay, that last might not seem fun to many, but it's good role-playing. :)
The above wii-fan-boy(girl)-ism must seem ridiculous (is this an ad for Nintendo?) but the controller really is just pretty cool. There are some weirdnesses to it and it can be frustrating, but it really feels like a different way to do things.
One major frustration is that the console is a little buggy as regards disk changing. If you eject the disk out while your on the "game channel" and are on anything but the game's "start" menu, then the unit will churn for a minute or two and then demand you put the "XYZ game disk" back in. Then, after you do, it churns for a while and usually locks up, requiring you to eject the disk and power cycle the machine (by unplugging it -- the power button doesn't work). It also seems to do this about half the time when I eject a disk and put a new one in while the screen is sitting at the main Wii menu. Easily worked around bugs, but annoying. I'm going to let it try system update tonight when I get a chance (I disabled the auto-update thing right after I configured its wireless access).
Tomorrow my sister and Mom fly in for Thanksgiving. No big turkey crap -- we'll probably have Chinese -- but we'll play a lot of games. Including contract rummy and probably can convince Mom and Cara to play video games. I'll have to pick up some more controllers though. Two isn't enough for four. :)
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