Sunday, October 30, 2005

Thomas Jefferson Redux

So I just finished The Sage of Monticello, which is Part 6 of Dumas Malone's Jefferson and His Times series (itself a six-parter). Now I don't know enough about biographies in general or about Jefferson biographies specifically to label the series as "definitive," but looking at the whole collection sitting there on the bookshelf in the excellent used bookstore in downtown Fredericksburg, it's easy to see that Mr. Malone put an inordinate amount of effort into the thing. If volume six is anything like the first five, it definitely shows. Also, the back of the book claims that it won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize in history, but they give those things out like candy, so that doesn't mean a whole lot. Seriously though, it takes up like half a shelf.

I started with the last one in the series after my experience with R.E. Lee in Lee: The Last Years by Charles Flood, which infused me with a perhaps unhealthy interest in what old men did with their "autumn years." As luck would have it, Jefferson spent most of his building a university, trying to get out of debt, and writing letters to John Adams, his onetime nemesis.

The book is really very excellent, but you probably will have to love Jefferson or history in general to be able to get through it enjoyably. The UVA parts get really old really fast, as they mostly deal with administrative mumbo-jumbo and the (suprise!) underfunded Virginia education system. These chapters though are easily identifiable and quite modular, so you can skip them and not miss much of the rest of the narrative.

Probably the most contraversial aspect of Jefferson, the fact that he championed the "eternal rights of man" and yet owned hundreds and hundreds of slaves, gets its own chapter, which contains a good quote by the man himself outlining his views. Strangely enough, he manages to come off rather well and nominally non-self-contradictory in the process. As with everyone who has ever lived, he was a victim of his times.

Also of note to Confederate sympathisers are several chapters dealing with Jefferson's rabid support of state's rights. Not these kinds of state's rights, but the kind where local governments have more power over their citizens than federal governments. An interesting idea on this subject was his advocation of splitting each county into 100 "wards," each of which would work on a direct democracy level and would have considerable say over their own affairs. It's an issue that is still relevant today, and Jefferson tells it like it is, even from hundreds of years in the past.

Of course, then there's the famous-ish Jefferson-Adams reconciliation letters, which are pretty interesting and revealing of both of their characters.

Malone is suprisingly even-handed with Jefferson, moreso than in the typical biography one might read. You can tell that he likes the guy (after all, he made him his life's-work), but he does a good job of showing both sides of his character. It makes it easier to understand why Jefferson was such a contraversial (and, yes, hated) figure in his day. You can't help but coming out of it loving him, though - he is endearing even in his faults.

I would give the book 5 out of 5 stars, with the caveat that you will probably only want to read it if you are interested in one or more of the following things: Jefferson, early american history, state's rights, the state of Virginia, UVA, or being a huge nerd. If, on the other hand, you are interested in any of those things, then this books should be a requirement.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Latest From Stafford County

Living in Fredericksburg is awesome, because this is news. I feel like I live in the 1800s.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Fly Her Apart Then!!!"

My mind is blown. George Takei is gay.

Also, and I sort of already knew this, he was in a Japanese internment camp in the US during WW2. That's when we rounded up all the Japanese-Americans we could find and rolled them into concentration camps after Pearl Harbour. You know, just in case.

Sulu is one of the cooler characters in TOS. In The Undiscovered Country he gets his own ship (the Excelsior) which he uses to help out his old crewmates when they get into trouble with that dirty old Klingon guy who is basically Khan from the second movie with an eyepatch and some bumps on his head. Sulu and the Excelsior show up just in time (after speaking the titular line of this post) to take a few hits ("Let's give them something else to shoot at") while Kirk and the boys... well, I won't ruin it for you.

I always thought that he made an excellent captain. Anyways, good for you, man!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Friends Of The Library Booksale

The Friends of the Library's booksale is pretty much my favorite time of the year. It's held at the Central Library, which is the one in this awesome old building on the river in downtown Fredericksburg. It serves all of these places, so it is reasonably big.

Anyways, they have this amazing thing called "box day," which is where they are trying to get rid of all the leftover books on the last day, so you pay either 5$ or 1$ (depending on the day) and you fill up a cardboard box with as many books as you can carry. It's like heaven.

The great thing about it is twofold: 1) all of the crazy-ass random books that get donated to a library booksale. You can find some really wierd stuff there if you look hard enough. 2), which builds off of 1, is that all of the books are basically free, and then you pay a 5$ cover charge to get in. This lets you pick up stuff that you would never spend money on otherwise, and sometimes those things end up being really cool. Like I picked up a Clive Cussler book that I already own because, get this: it is written in Norweigan, or something, I don't know.

Does this book have an unintentionally funny title? Maybe it has a funny looking man on the cover. Perhaps this book was written by a gentleman named "Manly Banister" (see below). Well guess what: it's free!

Last year I found this really neat book called Let The People Know. It was written by a British guy during WW2, as a sort of open letter to America, trying to convince it to join the war against Germany. It was a really interesting book and it gave a lot of insight into what people were thinking about back then, and also (a big part of the book was devoted to this) why we needed to form a better League of Nations (later to become the UN). Anyways, I never would have known it existed, let alone bought it, without the glorious box day.

So this year Maura and I went and we shared a box together, which was very romantic. Below is a list of my new books. Hers are not listed, but she probably got around 15 more. Long live Box Day!

PS: For some reason that I don't understand, my table is showing up way down the page, even though it is right under this text in the editor. Oh well, just scroll down a ways to find it. Table was generated by Booxter, by the way.

The physics and chemistry of life.Popular Mechanics
Automatic control.Popular Mechanics
Galactic ClusterJames Blish
Het Goud der Inka'sClive Cussler9044927132
The Dictionary of Cultural LiteracyE.D., Jr. Hirsch, Joseph F. Kett, James Trefil0395437482
The Joy of Indoor PlantsConsumer Guide
The universe; from flat earth to quasar.Isaac Asimov
Ogre, OgrePiers Anthony0345335090
The Cat Who Walks Through WallsRobert A. Heinlein0425093328
Childhood's end.Arthur Charles Clarke
Existentialism and human emotionsJean Paul Sartre
The new astronomy.Popular Mechanics
Crewel Lye (Magic of Xanth)Piers Anthony0345345991
TreasureClive Cussler0671671138
First book of animalsPopular Mechanics
Travels in Arabia DesertaCharles Montagu Doughty, Edy Legrand, T. E Lawrence, Irvin Silvers, Edward Garnett
The Peace-MakersCurtis W. Casewit
War and PeaceLeo Tolstoy0451516613
German for beginnersCurtis C. D Vail, Dieter Cunz, Ulrich Groenke
Conversational German: A Complete Course in Everyday GermanGenevieve A. Martin, Crown, Kathy Mintz0517557819
Atomic power.Popular Mechanics
Conquest of earth.Manly Miles Banister
DuneFrank Herbert0425080021
How-to-do-it encyclopedia.

Great Books Collection: Readings for DiscussionsThoreau, Plato, Sophocles, Thomas Jefferson
I, Claudius : from the autobiography of Tiberius Claudius, Emperor of the Romans, born 10 B.C., murdered and deified A.D. 54Robert Graves0140003185

Friday, October 21, 2005

Where Do You Go From Associate Justice of the The Supreme Court?

The College of William and Mary in Virginia, of course.

Well this weekend is Homecoming for WM, so here is some WM news to celebrate. Apparently Sandra Day O'Connor is the new Chancellor of William and Mary, replacing crazy old Henry Kissinger. He was a bit, well, contraversial. Ahh the memories.

I don't think anyone ever accepted Kissinger as Chancellor, which is a position that no one is really sure what it is for, except to make speeches on Charter Day and to give WM something to brag about. The position has been filled with this list of ridiculously important people, especially for such a tiny little school. Thatcher was still the favorite when I graduated, where she gave a rousing speech that really got the crowd going, while Kissinger wasn't even given a speaking role. No one could really understand him anyways.

So I am happy to hear this news. Sandra Day has a special place in my heart, as I would always write her name down when I didn't know the answer in history classes. Maybe in some years we'll be honored enough to have her replacement to the SCOTUS as Chancellor. Then again... maybe not.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Here's this. I wish I had known about this, I totally would have gone.

Fredericksburg is extremely crappy for riding bikes around. I guess because the actual city part is so small and most of the population (including me) is in suburbs, each one with a single outlet and connected by narrow little roads with no shoulders. I guess we are still too close to the time when all of this area was farms.

Anyways, it is my dream to be able to ride my bike to work in the morning (it is only 4 miles), but the only exit from my neighborhood is onto one of those aforementioned roads. It's crazy swervy and crazy hilly to the point of just being dangerous to ride on. So I am all in favor of these guy's idea, even though they don't really say what it is exactly.

Also why I will be voting YES for this guy, which happens to include improvements for that very road outside my house. Too bad I will be long gone by the time they get around to actually doing anything. Yay for more taxes!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Virginia Pwns!

Enjoyable article in this month's Front Porch Fredericksburg, the free monthly newspaper for the Fredericksburg area. I know everyone out there already reads this cover to cover, so stop me if you've heard this one, but for those of you who couldn't find one this month (they tend to be rather elusive), here is the article.

In the paper version (which I have cut out and placed on my desk), there is a picture of the Virginia Flag.

It's about how Virginia is great (meatspeak for "pwn"), which is something everyone can agree with. We'll all have to please forgive the typos.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hurricane... Shoot, I Dunno, "Vince"?

Here's an article.

Hurricane Vince has the distinction of being the first tropical storm to hit Spain, ever in recorded history. Now that's pretty neat. Also, and just as important, as this article rightly points out, it is the first hurricane whose name starts with a 'V'! What a day!

Apparently there is only one name remaining on the list; hopefully we will be able to make it through the rest of the season. Cross your fingers, people.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Long Live The Confederacy!

So I finished the book. It was meh. I don't know if this is really a spoiler or not, but the South wins (duh). It kind of had to, cuz there are like 10 other books in the series, and it wouldn't really be an alternate history if the North won (albeit 20 years later) and they (the USA) all became one happy family again.

But the book was alright. Kind of dry. The universe is pretty fun though, which leads me to the conumdrum of should I read the other books to find out what happens, or should I just read the wikipedia article?

Decisions, decisions...