Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Last Politician by Franklin Foer

The Last Politician by Franklin Foer is a really good book subtitled Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future. Foer provides great writing about Biden and his first two years as President.

The book starts with the inauguration, 14 days after the storming of the Capitol, and then passage of the American Rescue Plan stemming from the pandemic. After this is detailed production of the Covid vaccine and its rollout, something that had to have the plan created for it as the Trump Administration apparently didn’t have one. Also written about is the withdrawal from Afghanistan, an incredibly difficult task that was hit at the end by a suicide bomber, resulting in the loss of 13 American soldiers. 

Legislation that Biden fought successfully to have passed included the Inflation Reduction Act, a significant investment in alternative energy, and CHIPS Act and infrastructure bill investing in technology and manufacturing. Also during these two years was the backing of Ukraine with Russia’s invasion, while avoiding direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia, and management of the relationship with China. 

Foer shows himself to be a wordsmith in the book and writes of the tasks Biden faced in his first two years in office. He had up times and down times, with both his leadership propelling causes forward and gaffes holding them back, and in his first two years in office accomplished much for the country and beyond.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Breathless by David Quammen

Breathless by David Quammen is a thorough work of nonfiction subtitled The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus. The book jacket notes that it "traces the journey of SARS-CoV-2 through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its genome, its ever-changing nature, the much-argued question of its origin, and its capacity to kill us." 

Quammen provides a detailed investigation of Covid-19 through his interviews with close to 100 experts and while it can be a heavy read at times, it's a well-done book. He details where the argument for the virus being lab-made came from, and how the evidence shows that to be unlikely. 

It's fascinating reading of how scientists in late December started to hear about patients in Wuhan, most of them having connection to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, with an unknown cause of pneumonia. By January 19, 2020, the Wuhan CDC noted a case count of 198 and were calling the disease a novel-coronavirus-infected pneumonia. At this time, the virus had already spread beyond the country and the thing that scared scientists perhaps the most about the new virus was that people could have and transmit it without showing symptoms themselves. 

It was fascinating reading of the work that went into understanding the novel coronavirus and interesting information about how the virus spreads between both human and animal populations (with spillover occurring when it crosses between them). This makes the virus much more difficult to eradicate, and increases the mutations and variants that occur in it. Quammen notes that transmission to humans likely occurred in the market, from an animal source, and then spread from there with Wuhan a hub for travelers. He also covers how the Chinese government restricted access to information, likely both because restricting access to information is what they do, and from their experience with another coronavirus, SARS-CoV in 2003 that originated in China. Quammen also discusses the fallacy of herd immunity. especially with something that travels between humans and animals, and the rapid development of mRNA covid vaccines. Also noted is Dr. Peter Hotez and the effort to create non-mRNA vaccines, recombinant-protein methodology-built ones that are cheaper, more stable, and can be taken orally or as a nasal squirt.

The Midcoast by Adam White

 The Midcoast by Adam White is a novel set on the coast of Maine, with White telling a suspenseful story of families involved in drug running in a small community. There's some compelling writing about the choices people make and social classes and the juxtaposition between wealth and just getting by.

Why We Love Baseball by Joe Posnanski

Why We Love Baseball by Joe Posnanski is an entertaining book subtitled A History in 50 Moments. Posnanski covers the moments in baseball that stuck with him, ranging from the well-known moments of triumph to the simply interesting. It's noted in the introduction that there's actually 108 moments covered in the book and some of those that stood out are listed below:

- Five unlikely homers - including pitcher Bartolo Colon homering in 2016
- "There's no crying in baseball" from A League of Their Own
- The pine tar homer by George Brett in 1983 during a Royals-Yankees game
- The Bo throw by Bo Jackson vs. the Mariners in 1989
- A home run off Jose Canseco's head in 1993
- The Edgar Martinez double scoring Ken Griffrey Jr. for the Mariners against the Yankees in game 5 of the ALDS
- The 1947 embrace of Jackie Robinson by Pee Wee Reese (which may not have been an actual embrace, but likely still was a big moment)
- Joe Carter of the Blue Jays homering against Mitch Williams of the Phillies to win the 1993 World Series
- The bat flip by Jose Bautista in the 2015 Blue Jays-Rangers playoff game
- Vin Scully's call of the Sandy Koufax perfect game September 9, 1965
- One-handed pitcher Jim Abbott throws a no-hitter September 4, 1993
- Dee Strange-Gordon homers in September 2016, the first Marlins game after the death of Jose Fernandez
- Cal Ripken in 1995 passing Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played
- The last .400 season in 1941, with Ted Williams going into the final day at .3995 and then going 6-8 in the final day doubleheader, taking his average to .406
- Armando Galarraga throwing a near-perfect game in 2010, taken away by Jim Joyce blowing the call on what should have been the final out, and Galarraga graciously accepting his heartfelt apology
- David Ortiz in 2013 speaking to the crowd at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombing and saying "this is our fucking city. And nobody's gonna dictate our freedom. Stay strong."
- Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers homering off Dennis Eckersley of the A's to win game one of the 1998 World Series, with Vin Scully simply saying "high fly ball into right field... she is GONE!"
- The speech by Jason Hayward during the 9th inning rain delay of the 2016 World Series 7th game between the Cubs and Indians, helping end the Cubs long run of failure