Book Review: Inseparable

Inseparable: The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History
by Yunte Huang

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Copyright 2018 by the author

I doubt there are many people who haven’t heard of Chang and Eng Bunker, the “archetype” of Siamese Twins. There have been a few biographies of the pair, but this is the first I’ve come across. They led a fascinating and complex life, that just happened to coincide with a fascinating and complex era of American history.

Huang, who previously wrote a “biography” of Charlie Chan (in which he covered the lives of Werner Oland, the actor who first portrayed the character in film, Earl Biggers, who wrote the novels, and Chang Apana, the Honolulu policeman who was the inspiration for the character), applies his considerable skills to a real person – or is it real people? He barely touches on the conundrum of whether Chang and Eng should be considered one person or two. To be fair, I don’t think that question has an answer….

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Fixing the Senate

I’ve been reading a bit lately about a general dissatisfaction with the construction of the Senate. Seems people aren’t happy with the rule that gives every state, regardless of population, two senators. Such an arrangement gives a drastically unequal representation to the citizens of the states. Why should Wyoming have the same number of senators as California (to use the example most frequently cited) when they only have about one seventeenth of the population?

This would be a very strong argument – if it weren’t for one thing.

The Senate isn’t the only part of Congress.

There’s also the House of Representatives, which *does* have proportional representation.

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2018 in Review

It’s been five years since I started this blog, and I have to say I really am a little surprised that I’ve been keeping it going for so long. I’ve managed to come up with over 300 posts along the way – a nice average, and what I hoped to achieve. One of these days I might go through and see exactly how many reviews I’ve posted or do a ‘tag cloud’….but not today.

By far and away my most-viewed post has been “Indiana Jones and the Top Men”. I can’t figure out why this essay where I propose that the government agents knew exactly what they were doing with the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark takes that spot. I haven’t been referring people to it at all, but when you put “Indiana Jones Top Men” into your favorite search engine, it shows up in the first few results (after the links to clips from the movie and the obligatory memes / reaction GIFs).

“The Hall of Fame and the Keltner List” from 2017 has gotten a lot of views, largely because I’ve been referring people to it when commenting in threads about the Baseball Hall of Fame. I still think it’s one of my better pieces.

Even though I posted it just two weeks ago, “Terry Gillam’s Christmas Card” turned out to be the most viewed of 2018’s posts. It even bubbled in to the #10 spot for all-time views! And to think I almost forgot to post it.

My personal favorite post for the year is probably “The Greatest World Series Ever” from back in March. I use someone else’s calculations to present the Ten Greatest (i.e. most important) Plays and Games (i.e. most exciting) in the World Series, and then the Ten Greatest (again, most “exciting”) World Series of All Time. It was fun doing the research.

I’ve got two followers who regularly “like” my posts. I’m stingy with my “likes”, rarely giving them out unless I actually do read an entire post, and like it. But Sheree of View from the Back and John Grant of Noirish are kind enough to press the “Like” button on seemingly every one of my posts. So I thought it would be fair to give them a shout out here.

Sheree lives in Europe and writes about travel and cooking and bicycling. She’s got some great photographs accompanying her posts.

John is an author whom I met at a nearby science fiction convention. He’s an award winning writer of SF, fantasy, and science, but is also an authority on film noir. His blog covers books and movies from around the world that don’t exactly fit into that genre – ones he had to leave out of his 2013 work: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir: The Essential Reference Guide. I love the layout of his blog; he uses genre terms for the various tools. You don’t “search” the blog, you “Frisk the Suspect” and the “Previous Posts” lists is under the heading “Prior Offenses”.

Sheree and John are both cool people – check out their blogs, and tell them Pure Blather sent you!

Book Review: The Ends of the World

The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions

Peter Brannen
HarperCollins
(c) 2017 by the author

When one reads essays in the right places, one finds mention of how we are in the sixth great “mass extinction”. Humans seem to be wiping out species left and right, through habitat destruction even in cases where we aren’t really trying. Brannen takes a look at the other five, and extracts lessons for today.

For the record, the “Big Five” are the Late Ordovician, Late Devonian, End Permian, Late Triassic, and the Cretaceous-Tertiary Event. In comparatively short time frames, the vast majority of species – both plant and animal, on land and in the water – were erased from the planet.

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Terry Gilliam’s Christmas Card

Made for the Christmas 1968 episode of the ‘children’s’ show Do Not Adjust Your Set.

Gilliam had moved to London in 1967, and was working as art director for London Life when his friend John Cleese (whom he had worked with in the US) introduced him to Humphrey Barclay, who was producing Do Not Adjust Your Set, which was written by and starred Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle. Barclay happened to be an amateur cartoonist, and loved what Gilliam was doing with his cut-out stop-motion animations. He pretty much forced the trio to include Gilliam’s works.

For the Christmas special, Do Not Adjust Your Stocking, Gilliam went to London’s Tate Gallery, and poked through their huge collection of Victorian era Christmas cards. He made copies, and just started playing around with them. “So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved,” he would write in the Python’s ‘autobiography’. “I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.”

A Christmas Mix for You – 2018

Well, here I go again. Another hour-plus of holiday music, both new and old, that you’re probably not familiar with. With this one, I’ve pretty much taken care of all the songs I originally felt like including way back in 2013. I can’t think of anything else that absolutely must be included. So if I post one again next year, I might just reissue that first mix.

Anyway, the track list and link are below the jump.

By the way, I think I’ve managed to balance the sound levels properly this time. Found a freeware music editor that lets you “normalize” sound files in a “batch process”.

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The New Computer

Well, as it seems that nothing lasts forever, my reliable home computer decided to give up the ghost this past week. A hard drive failure, as far as I can tell.

The good news is that, being reasonably intelligent, I back up my hard drive about every six months. The bad news is that my last backup was five and a half months ago. The long Thanksgiving weekend is when I usually schedule the annual full backup…. The good news is that the drive failed slowly enough so that I was able to download my “mission critical” files and other key personal documents (these blog posts, a couple of media files that I acquired recently, the file where I store all my passwords and login information) that get changed and updated frequently to a flash drive before the thing died completely.

So it’s off to get a new desktop PC…..

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On the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot

It’s nice to know that Major League Baseball has arranged its annual calendar so that we never go more than a week or two without something to talk about. Less than two weeks after the last awards are given out, the Hall of Fame ballot is announced.

This year, we’ve got a couple of no-brainers in the first-timers (Mariano Rivera and Roy Halliday), some likely to make it in this time (Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina). the usual problematic holdovers (e.g. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds), and a whole bunch of other very good players who may or may not get in, but deserve some respect and honor.

Just an aside: Some of the criticism of Edgar Martinez is that he was a designated hitter, and as technically a ‘part-time’ player, he shouldn’t be included among The Greats. But Mariano Rivera, who was also a ‘part-time’ player, is nonetheless one of the All-Time Best? I don’t get it….

Then there are the “one and done” guys, who probably won’t last more than one year on the ballot. They made it to the ballot by being good enough to last ten or more years in the major leagues.

There’s really not much to say about some of them, but let’s give them a salute anyway.

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