Review: Pros and Cons

Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL

Jeff Benedict and Don Yaeger’s Pros and Cons is a 1999 book about the massive instances of NFL players who had criminal records. These players were not just chosen in the draft in spite of their criminal backgrounds, but were often shielded by their teams to great extents. So far, that does not sound surprising, being just a few years removed from the OJ Simpson trial. But they deliberately avoid talking about the obvious “superstar power” and instead focus near-entirely on how the teams twist to protect criminal players who are not stars by any definition of the term.

It’s well-researched and has many harrowing examples. But it comes across as flawed for two big reasons. The first is that it ultimately feels sensationalist for the sake of sensationalism. This is of course a massive inherent issue for true crime books like it. But it seems to go further in that it assumes its readers are holding to a hopelessly outdated “Gee whiz, look at that Mickey Mantle, so nice and clean” mindset that I can assure you was not present even in children at the time of the book’s release (I know this because I was one at the time. I can tell you that I knew more about Dennis Rodman’s off-court antics than about what made him good on it).

Which leads to the second not-its-fault problem. This is like a book on unrestrained warfare-released in 1913. The internet was a paradigm shift in how these inevitable incidents were processed and viewed, and arriving just before it really broke out massively makes it horrendously dated.

I can’t really recommend this book. It’s a dated true crime book that’s basically redundant by this point.

Review: Day of Confession

Day of Confession

Alan Folsom’s second thriller novel was 1998’s Day of Confession. Following the “big” so-bad-its-good shoes of predecessor The Day After Tomorrow, it stumbles. Badly. That involved a bizarre plot centered around giving Adolph Hitler a head transplant. This, like a 1990s technothriller out of Central Casting, involves Catholic Church higher-ups launching a conspiracy to take control of China.

(Look, this is what you get when you don’t have a definite opponent. You can get Cauldron or you can get stuff like this.)

Anyway, this more mundane premise dooms the book. It has all of its predecessor’s weaknesses, like so much of the book just being people going places. But by having a more boring thriller plot, it lacks the crazed strengths that made Day After Tomorrow such a good bad book. The writing isn’t the worst ever, but there are better thrillers out there.

Review: Forever And Five Days

Forever And Five Days

Fitting the “lurid true crime” genre exactly, Forever and Five Days tells the story of female lovers and serial killers Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood, nurses aides at a Grand Rapids care home who murdered several patients. The story of a questionably run facility filled with dispirited elderly people, the description of Alpine Manor would be creepy even if there were no murders.

The saga of Graham and Wood is yet more proof that serial killers are not Lex Luthor evil geniuses. The two made so many unsuccessful attacks that their prospective victims openly claimed people were trying to kill them, only avoiding suspicion as long as they did because many old people were delirious.

While it has the weaknesses of the sensationalist true crime book, this also has the strengths. If you like historical stories of serial killers, I’d recommend this.

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale

Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale is a classic horror novel about high school students being thrown onto an island by a totalitarian government and forced to kill each other until only one is left. I knew I had to read it. Although I think the timing is off. After this, the similar Hunger Games (whose author believably said that the similarities were a coincidence), and an entire popular genre of “one shall survive” video games like Fortnite and PUBG, it’s not as out-there as it would have been at the time.

One area that did not slow the gory book down is the translation, which is at the very least sufficient. The writing style, regardless of language, conveys the action very well.

However, the book is still kind of flawed. And I’d argue that there’s two main reasons. The first is that the setting is so dark that it’s hard to care about anyone, since even if their class had avoided “The Program” in the first place, it would be unlikely that they’d come to a happy end in such a ruthless state. The second is that the book is just too long for its premise.

It has the substance of a fairly short cheap thriller, which it still is in spite of its pretensions-which are a little too prominent. I had to groan at the main characters suddenly dipping into “As you know, Bob…” setting exposition at the worst possible moments. Not the book’s finest hour. Anyway, there’s a good 200 page novel there, but it’s 600 pages. And the bulk of those pages consist of kills that probably should have happened offscreen, so we could focus on the real protagonists.

That being said, I’m still glad I read this book. But it’s very much a “mean 51%”. And that’s fine!

Review: The Machine That Changed The World

The Machine That Changed The World

The product of a large MIT study of the auto industry, The Machine That Changed The World attempts to tell the story of “lean production”. The two other production types of motor vehicles mentioned in the book are obvious: Handmade/custom “craft production”, only used for a handful of low-unit firms, and classic assembly line “mass production”. But what is “lean production”? This was and still is a hard question to answer. But in its attempt, the book is an excellent study of the car industry.

One hand, this is a masterpiece in many ways. It’s a very technical but also very accessible study. It shows the difference between the older and newer ways of auto production very clearly. And its anecdotes are good in and of themselves.

But it also has some pretty serious flaws. This book is not only dated, but also was released at the absolute peak of the Japanese market bubble. So its veneration of Japanese production when the industry had a huge tailwind and was yet to experience a massive stress test needs to be taken with a large quantity of salt.

That being said, while not the most definitive book on auto production, it’s still a great historical resource.

Review: The City, The Village

The City, The Village….

Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi fancied himself a writer and authored a collection of “short stories” that were translated and complied under various names. The stories (if one can call them that) are extremely bizarre, an example of the depths to which dictators can sink in terms of writing. First, there is “The City”, a tirade against urban cities where such horrible things as music and sports interest people, as compared to the glory of “The Village” (where people are nice and so on…)

The most famous story in the collection is “The Suicide Of The Astronaut”, where an astronaut returns from a bare moon to the earth, where he cannot find a job due to not having the right skills. After trying and failing to impress a farmer with his knowledge of outer space, the astronaut kills himself (SPOILER ALERT).

The “Escape To Hell” story is only interesting in that Gaddafi seems to foreshadow his own later fate (not exactly a surprising one) by bringing up the execution of Mussolini. Other than that, it’s rambling incomprehensible gibberish, as is “The Blessed Herb and the Cursed Tree” and the navel-gazy “Death”. There’s a pseudo-environmentalist screed in “The Earth”, and finally a reversion to talking about Abrahamic figures in “The Cursed Family of Jacob and the Blessed Caravan”.

This is, well, something… It’s just not a good something. But you probably expected that.

The Plutonium Red Team Study

In the mid-1990s, a “Red Team” (simulated adversary) was launched by the Sandia national laboratory. It looked at all the processes for disposing of excess plutonium (especially after the fall of the USSR) and studied their potential vulnerabilities for unsavory acquisition of nuclear materials. The report is a very interesting read.

Everything from fuel assemblies to mixed/ceramic encased disposed plutonium is studied. The vulnerabilities studied include both accessing it at the storage site and separating the weapons-usable material. It’s quite interesting, yet gives the impression that most nuclear thieves would need to be employed by either a state or the cast of Payday 2. Which is kind of the point, showing the difference between more and less plausible points of failure.

Review: K Company

K Company

For the first in literal years, I deliberately sought out and read a western, Robert Broomall’s K Company. A story of army life on a hardscrabble post on the Kansas frontier and the inevitable conflict with Native Americans, it combines two genres that have never really gelled with me: The western and the historical war novel. How is it? Ok.

The old west is, of course, a setting more than anything else. Westerns can range from the cheapest cheap thrillers to the most staid literary epics. This book is more on the ‘realistic’ end, and I like that it’s vastly more evenhanded about the native/settler conflict than I feared it would be. Still, if I had to sum up the book in one sentence, it’d be “good, but not good enough”.

The writing is good, but not good enough for me to really get into it. The action is good, but not good enough for me to get into it. The characters-you get the idea. Still, I would recommend it if you do like westerns and/or more grounded historical war novels.

Review: In The Balance

Worldwar: In The Balance

In 1994, Harry Turtledove decided to run with what can rationally and scientifically be called one of the most awesome fictional concepts ever: Aliens invade during World War II. The opening book, In The Balance, starts things off with a bang.

A group of lizard-aliens known only as “The Race” with juuust the right amount of technological balancing to make for a great story attack a humanity that’s stronger and more advanced than anticipated. While the issues Turtledove has with long series (pacing, repetition, etc…) appear even during this book, they’re not deal-breakers. And the weaknesses are more than made up for by the amazing first impression the book makes.

If you like alternate history, science fiction, World War II, or just strange concepts in general, this is worth checking out.

Weird Wargaming: The Abrams-SPH

The year is 1995. Faced with either leaping into the unknown with a clean-sheet system or plugging along with legacy platforms, several contributors to Armor Magazine decided to pursue a middle ground. In the November-December edition, they unveiled their contraption: An Abrams-chassis 52-caliber (same as the PzH2000 and Archer) self propelled howitzer with an autoloader and a whopping 80 rounds inside.

The M1-Arty, or AFAS/M1. Of note is the Archer-esque “backwards” layout of the main gun.

AFAS/M1 would fire 4 to 8 rounds in a Simultaneous Impact Mission (SIM) between 6-40 km. All rounds will impact within 4 seconds (first-to-last round). This requirement can be attained with an effective combination of a battle management system, fire control system, global positioning system (GPS) and an autoloader.-claim for its power from the article.

A resupply vehicle on the same chassis would also be designed. The AFAS/M1 had a target weight of 55 tons.

For all the unusual elements about its design, in practice this beast would have been deployed conventionally. In action, it would have served with heavy divisions/brigades in the usual format. It could be simmed by using the offensive stats of the PzH-2000. Yet it still stands out, in appearance if nothing else.