Monday, November 09, 2009

The Not-So-Great Wall

Like many a student before me, I assume, one of my social studies assignments in September of 1989 was to take a map of Europe and color all of the Soviet bloc countries in red. Unlike my predecessors, by the time the school year was over, the map that I colored at the beginning of the term was mostly obsolete. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in November, I knew enough to understand why it was important, but the whirlwind nature of my cold war education left a lot of gaps in my knowledge. When your social studies class happens to be in sync with the most important news story in a generation (if not more), it makes the material more engaging, but being a witness to history can give you a false sense of understanding. It wasn't until I visited Berlin several years later that I started to understand the events leading up to that night 20 years ago. Former Newsweek correspondent Michael Meyer has a new book called The Year that Changed the World: The Untold Story Behind the Fall of the Berlin Wall. I haven't read the book, but I heard him discuss it on On Point a few weeks ago and it brought back a lot of memories from both my social studies class and my trip to Berlin.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


The AV Club featured a good interview with Jim O'Rourke yesterday. I've been aware of O'Rourke for a long time, but I never really gave any of his work a good listen until I picked up a copy of Eureka earlier this year (at Jive Time Records, a store that's joined Jazz Record Mart and Downtown Music Gallery as the record store that I visit whenever I'm in Seattle, Chicago, or New York, respectively) and I've really been enjoying it. Even though O'Rourke says in this interview that Eureka is "the one record I can’t fucking stand", I still think it's worth a listen or 20.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Where Men Win Glory

I received a copy of Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer's latest book, and I read the whole thing in a single day while traveling back home from the southwest. The book chronicles the life and death of Pat Tillman, the iconoclastic professional football player who enlisted in the Army shortly after 9/11 and whose death by friendly fire in 2004 was shamefully covered up by the military. The book isn't just about Tillman, it's also one of the best analyses of America's involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq that I've ever read. I never paid as much attention to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as I should have, largely because I became so disillusioned by the Bush administration's mismanagement of them. Of course, the Bush administration is gone and the wars aren't over, so I don't have any excuses now. It's only been a week or so, but I have been paying much closer attention to the news from Iraq and Afghanistan than I was before reading this book. I'm not sure if Krakauer could have covered the wars in real-time as well as he did in this book, but more insightful press coverage certainly would have been nice in the earlier days of the wars.

There wasn't a lot of new information about Tillman in this book, but it did include excerpts from various journals that he kept during most of his adult life. The book focuses on Tillman's dual natures, how he was both an extroverted elite athlete turned soldier as well as an introspective intellectual war critic. When I first learned about Tillman after his death, he immediately struck me as someone who would have been vilified by many of the people who were holding him up as a war hero had they actually known him due to his unconventional and outspoken nature. After reading the book, I get the feeling that hating Pat Tillman would be nearly impossible for all but the most myopic partisans.