Napoleon: Life and Legacy

Napoleon: Life and Legacy
© 2011 Alan Forrest
403 pages

Napoleon is an unavoidable figure of European history, and enjoys no shortage of admirers even today. For years he dominated a continent, using native talents given abundant opportunities opened by the revolution to make himself and his family into Europe’s leading royal family — for a time. Napoleon is a highly accessible survey of his his life and work, with a focus more on politics than military matters, which also examines (in brief) his enduring legacy, as l’empeurer continues to fascinate us.

Much of Bonaparte’s origins are well known to educated readers: his family upbringing on a small island named Corsica, linked to Italy by culture by annexed by France only a few years before Bonaparte’s birth. Between masters Corsica was an independent Republic, and the Bonapartes established themselves as prominent members thereof. That exercise in republican government had been crushed by the time Napoleon came of age, but it left its mark — and when he began working for his and Corsica’s future, it was through the new French Republic, in service as an artillery officer. The French revolution overthrew the nobility and church, and gave French society the chance to recreate itself. although it mostly committed itself to a prolonged spat of self-destruction. Napoleon’s rise to power through his proven talents on the battlefield during the early Wars of the Coalition is fairly boilerplate, but Forrest also introduces readers to Napoleon as a young man, a pseudo-intellectual, writing revolutionary tracts. Napoleon’s pretensions would grow once he’d become First Consul and Emperor, having himself included in the ranks of the French academy.

Napoleon is only a brief survey, so military campaigns are not considered in depth; battles like Abukir, Jena, Austerlitz, etc are dispatched in a sentence or two. Waterloo proves an exception, earning a few paragraphs. Forrest keeps context in view, providing commentary on the ever-evolving Empire, beginning as it did with a militant republic and taking on another form altogether. Forrest notes with surprise that the French people weren’t fussed in the least about the last vestiges of the Republic being scrapped and a new monarchy imposed. Possibly this owes to Napoleon’s new creature in the Empire, which mixed revolutionary ideas with some nods to the past. One example of this would be the Concordant with Rome, which ended the revolutionary efforts to destroy every aspect of Christian culture and Catholic influence from France, but at a price: the Church would henceforth be markedly subordinate to the State, and those bishops who had actively resisted the revolution were barred. Only quisling clericals were allowed to remain in their offices. Although Napoleon was not a friend of republican government or Enlightenment-era liberalism, his status as a usurper meant that he had to obtain legitimacy through compentency, and his commitment to staffing the Empire with the most able men he could find (so long as they were loyal) created the buzz of a meritocracy in Napoleonic Europe. As Forrest notes, during Napoleon’s hundred day comeback tour, l’empereur acknowledged his imperial abuses and pledged himself to the straight and narrow, resuming the good fight against the resurrected abuses of the Bourbon restoration. This, Forrest argues, is part of the Corsican’s enduring popularity in France: he was reinvented as a standard bearer of republicanism against the heavy weight of inefficient and arbitrary traditional authority in Europe.

Although I hadn’t expected to read this book (a patron ordered it via ILL and it caught my eye before I sent it back), and although I’m not a fan of Napoleon, I rather enjoyed this survey. I especially appreciated Forrest’ efforts to deliver a full picture of Napoleon, his times, and the nature of the empire he and so many others forged, rather than being bogged down with countless reviews of military maneuvers.

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Wisdom Wednesday: Try

Scene: A visionary academic, Hari Seldon, has attracted the attention and wrath of the Emperor, and is fleeing for his life with the assistance of “Chester Hummin”, a journalist. The two men take refuge in a dismal diner and Hummin urges Seldon to help him stop the slow death of the Galactic Empire.


“Hummin said, ‘Well, then, you’re part of the decay. You’re ready to accept failure.’
‘What choice have I?’
‘Can’t you try? However useless the effort may seem to you to be, have you anything better to do with your life? Have you some worthier goal? Have you a purpose that will justify you in your own eyes to some greater extent?

Seldon’s eyes blinked rapidly. ‘Millions of worlds. Billions of cultures. Quadrillions of people. Decillions of interrelationships — And you want me to reduce it to order.’
‘No. I want you to try. For the sake of those millions of worlds, billions of cultures, and quadrillions of people. Not for the Emperor. Not for Demerzel. For humanity.’
‘I will fail,’ said Seldon.
‘Then we will be no worse off. Will you try?’

And against his will and not knowing why, Seldon heard himself say, ‘I will try.’ And the course of his life was set.

p. 57-58, Prelude to Foundation. Isaac Asimov. Reading this at supper Tuesday night, I realized with a start that when I first read this twelve years ago, I was Hummin, full of idealism, energy, and optimism. Now I’m definitely across the table, right next to Seldon, in much need of a Hummin (or a Jordan Peterson) to lead me away from cynicism and apathy.

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COVID Reviews #6 Cleaning Up with gangsters, Navajo, politicians, and so many Germans

Back in September and early October when I was under quarantine, I didn’t have computer access, so I couldn’t take many notes or write reviews when things were fresh on my mind. I tried to post comments intermittently, but some titles I still haven’t gotten around to.

I Heard You Paint Houses, based on interviews with Bufalino associate Frank Sheerman, claims to answer the question: what happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Hoffa was an iconic labor leader in the 60s — whose mob affiliation eventually made him the eternal hide and seek champion, for 45 years running, when he disappeared in 1975. Sheeran, who became claims he became jaded to killing and taking what he needed while in combat in WW2. Already a hustler in his teens, after the war he used his position as a driver to steal part of his cargo and sell it on the side — one time emptying out an entire truck. After developing a reputation as a toughguy who knew who to respect and how to keep his mouth shut, Sheeran seems to have become a favored task-man of the Bufalino crime family boss, who later lent his services to Jimmy Hoffa, the teamsters boss who helped fund Mafia rackets and utilized their talent and tactics to help his own goals. I quickly lost interest in this after Sheeran proved more enthusiastic about sharing his apparently accomplished sex life than mob details, but plugged along until the end.

Navajo Weapon, lent to me by someone I’ve not seen since corona hit in March, is a history of the Navajo codetalkers, consisting largely of the men recounting their experiences in training and then in the field, connected with some narrative by the author, who also edited the interviews to flow chronologically. I was surprised to learn that the Army had experimented with creating a cipher based on native languages in WW1, too, and that one of the reasons the Navajo were chosen is that German ‘students’ had traveled in the US in the interwar years and begun familiarizing themselves with some eastern native languages. Navajo belonged to an entirely different lingual family, and was safe. I was pleasantly surprised to learn, according to the interviews here, that interracial/cultural incidents were minimal: only one trainer caused an issue.

Who Killed the Constitution, by historians Tom Woods and Kevin Gutzman, examines ten episodes in 20th century American history in which the rule of law was warped by political expediency or ambition to favor instead the rule of will. As the history indicates, the corrosion of the Republic into our current sad spectacle was not the work of one man, but every branch of government periodically and — consistently.

Ring of Steel covers The Great War from the German and Austrian perspective. Although I read this chiefly to learn about the German homefront, Austria-Hungary’s messy composition made a prolonged war on multiple fronts especially challenging: because the Dual Monarchy contained so many different ethnicities, many of which were eager to be at one another’s throats, the Monarchy’s military administrators had to be careful which troops they sent against which enemies: men who would be doughty and loyal on one front would be unenthused and unreliable on another. I was mildly surprised that the German government did make some tepid efforts to keep the peace, or at least keep the war restrained to a local one instead of a general conflict, but that this was overwhelmed by their desire — in the advent of Willie II undoing the work of Bismark and allowing France and Russia to become besties — to retain the one ally they had, problematic as it was. Also surprising was that Germany took France’s animus for granted, but was surprised by England’s ‘treachery’. Although this is a general history, Watson also engages in some analysis, arguing that Germany’s decision to recommit to unrestricted submarine warfare was its costliest mistake of the war. Overall, this was most impressive.

The German War by Nicholas Stargardt has a similar aim, but given the context is more depressing on the whole. Stargardt points out that Hitler was territorialiy ambitious from the beginning: in the early thirties, he presented his inner circle with various scenarios, all of which involved attacking Czechoslovakia. Regardless of whatever else happened, Czechslovakia — formed from the broken remnants of the Austrian-Hungarian empire — would be taken and its Germans joined to the fatherland. Hitler hoped that the western powers wouldn’t go to war over something as trivial as Poland, and was indignant that they did. I found The German War dispiriting, in part because it makes plain how so many Germans knew perfectly well something was happening in the east: the attitude expressed was often ‘better you than me’.

Finally, and still in Germany, I revisited Stasiland, one journalist’s account of interviewing various people who lived in Eastern Germany and whose lives were touched by the dark shadow of the Stasis, the socialists’ secret police whose network of spies and informants dwarfed that of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany. I was introduced to the Stasi through Das Leben der Andern, the story of an accomplished Stasi man who realizes part of his regime’s corruption. The stories are mostly human interest, conveying a sense of what it was like to live under constant surveilliance and fear, to have one’s life so open to abuse and manipulation. Also explored was the weird disconnect between what socialist authorities proclaimed was truth, and what Germans subject to their rules could tell with their own eyes. The booming prosperity of western Germany, and of western Berlin, testified to the lies that would eventually bankrupt the socialist scheme and send the Union and the East German government to a long overdue grave. I was amused to see the same psychology at work in East Germany as in Nazi Germany: people saw abuses by the state, and fretted to themselves — if only Herr Hitler/Herr Honecker could see what those other men are doing!

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Ten Titles Recommended to me Since 2013

Today the TTT is revisiting a subject from 2013, our favorite books which have been reccommended to us.

  1. Desert Solitaire, anonymous commentator. Years ago someone suggested I read Ed Abbey’s ” Desert Solitaire”, and that book’s descriptions of the southwest were such that I had to visit it several times for myself.
  2. The Age of Absurdity, Cyberkitten. Does a review count as a recommendation? I say it does.
  3. Jayber Crow, The Art of Manliness essential reading list. I may have already encountered Wendell Berry before reading what became My Favorite Novel, but it’s the reason I’ve explored so much of his work since then.
  4. Where the Crawdads Sing, everyone at The Book Bunch, the reading/tea circle I’m a part of at the library. Part nature writing, part character novel.
  5. Inside a Dog, a priestly friend with a love for cardigan Welsh corgies.
  6. 12 Rules for Life, various sources; my interest was cemented in by Marian’s thoughtful review.
  7. The Fountainhead & Atlas Shrugged, James
  8. The Death and Life of Great American Cities….this one is on every urban planning booklist out there.
  9. Ship of Rome, Cyberkitten. The first in a fun series of ancient Roman historical naval fiction.
  10. A Sand County Almanac, biologist friend of mine who shared it with me after I sent her a quote from Where the Crawdads Sing which was actually quoting the Alamanc!
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How to win friends and influence terrorists to chill out

Gary Noesner served as an FBI hostage negotiator for decades, helping defuse many high profile incidents. Below are some of his toughts on communication and persuasian, taken from his memoir Stalling for Time.


Among negotiators, this process of trust building is called the “behavioral change stairway.” You listen to show interest, then respond empathetically, which leads to rapport building, which then leads to influence.

Fred taught us that the key to successful negotiation was to discern the subject’s motivation, goals, and emotional needs and to make use of that knowledge strategically.

Too much action might trigger a firefight, which is what Webster calls the “paradox of power”—the harder we push the more likely we are to be met with resistance.

Dr. Mike Webster says, “People want to work with, cooperate with, and trust people that they like.” It’s hard to like someone who is threatening you or challenging you.

We know that people want to be shown respect, and they want to be understood. Listening is the cheapest, yet most effective concession we can make.

I protested, saying we might well be able to get things back on track, but they were adamant, violating a core principle of the FBI negotiation program: never confuse getting even with getting what you want.

The very first thing I talk about when training new negotiators is the critical importance of self-control. If we cannot control our own emotions, how can we expect to influence the emotions of another party?

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Stalling for Time

Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator
242 pages
© 2010 Gary Noesner

Having read extensively about the Ruby Ridge and Waco debacles, I couldn’t help but be curious about the “other side’s” perspective: the state’s. How did the FBI and ATF make such astonishingly bad judgment calls? In search of answers, I found Gary Noesner’s Stalling for Time, his brief memoirs of working as an FBI negotiator in the eighties and nineties, his highest profile case being the first month of the Waco siege. By the time his career ended, Noesner had visited all fifty states and forty different countries. Engaging in its own way, Noesner also shares insights about communication and persuasion along the way, reminding me of the skills taught by ABQ police officer George Thompson, elaborated on in his book Verbal Judo.

Noesner was riveted by the media of his youth which portrayed FBI agents as superpotent knights of truth, justice, and the American way. He joined the bureau as a clerk, and with the help of an agent who was mentoring him, became an agent in his own right. His mentor stressed the power of communication and persuasian as part of the agency’s toolkit, both to prevent situations from escalating and to make subjects more readily available to volunteer information. Having absorbed those lessons, Noesner was quick to volunteer for the new negotiation teams the FBI formed in the late seventies, and in the eighties he both handled his own cases and advised on others. Much of his early work dealt with overseas terrorism. Throughout this time, Noesner realized that the FBI’s negotiation and tactical teams had to work in concert: both performed better together. Negotiators with armed men behind them could work with confidence, and their “stalling for time” allowed situations to defuse themselves, or else gave the tactical teams more time to gather information on how to do their part without any hangups — or provided information directly.

Noesner was not involved in Ruby Ridge, but he followed the siege via newspaper and was horrified at the sloppy work there. The rules of engagement prescribed by the commanding agent, Dick Rogers, were reckless and asking to turn into trouble for both sides. When the ATF started an even larger cock-up in Waco, Texas, Noesner was asked to assist — and was astonished to find that not only Dick Rogers had retained his job, but that he was even more confident about taking care of the Waco situation in the same way. By Noesner’s account, Rogers commanded the tactical teams, and Noesner the negotatiors: unfortunately, the agent in charge of both didn’t desire to coordinate the two, and allowed them to run separate, conflicting strategies. The most obvious example of this would be Noesner’s efforts to establish a rapport with the Davidians by providing them milk immediately being undermined by Rogers’ team cutting power. Noesner’s frustration with the increasing aggressive tactics of Rogers saw him removed from the negotiating team, replaced by someone who was just as enthusiastic about Revelations as Koresh — and eager to explain Why He was Wrong. Despite growing success from negotiations — a steady trickle of Davidians leaving the complex — ultimately the affair would end with dozens dead, including children. Noesner wasn’t in Texas when everything went sideways and fire consumed the Davidian complex, but he was so disgusted by the spectacle, by both Rogers’ mishandling and Koresh’s intransigence, that he walked out of work in disgust. Despite helping a prison riot reach a successful conclusion shortly thereafter, Noesner writes that he was in a funk for months afterward. The incident did prompt the FBI to be more mindful of the ‘paradox of power’, in which greater force creates greater resistance, and to take negotiation teams more seriously. This bore fruit at an incident in Montana, when the FBI were able to conclude the Freeman affair without gunshed. Easily the most interesting part of that siege was Randy Weaver (from Ruby Ridge) arriving to help mediate, hoping to help his ideological kindred spirits holed up in their ranch from making the same mistakes he did. The FBI didn’t take him up on his offer, though Noesner believed Weaver sincere.

Stalling for Time made for compelling reading, given the variety of incidents and Noesner’s frequent sharing of insights into the art of persuasion. Noesner comes off here as extremely sympathetic, earnestly trying to reach a peaceful resolution and always horrified when the tactical teams get overly rowdy.

Waco: A Survivor’s Story
The Ashes of Waco
Why Waco?
Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family

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A Bright Future

A Bright Future: How Some Nations have Solved Climate Change and How the Rest can Follow
© 2019 Joshua Goldstein & Staffan Qvist
245 pages

It is past time for the global community to take climate change seriously. In order to make any progress, we need to actively reduce emissions by 3% per year. Accomplishing such a goal is beyond lifestyle tweaks like cycling to work or wearing a sweater instead of cranking up the heat. Instead, we need to make a change at the source, by rethinking our energy policy. A Bright Future argues that responding to the threat of climate change can be an opportunity for life-expanding reinvention, not a burden to endure — and it suggests that the answer has been staring us in the face all along.

Coal-fired electrical plants are far and away the largest concentrated polluters on the planet, used across the world for cheap, available energy, the very albumen of developing economies. There are relatively cleaner fossil fuel alternatives, like oil and gas, but shifting to these primarily would only slow emissions growth — not reduce it. Renewable have their advantages, but are too unreliable to form the backbone of an industrial economy: even large arrays like Europe’s continent grid experience highly variable output as the weather fluctuates. There is an alternative, though; a fuel source that allows for reliable, clean, and efficient production throughout the year — a source that allowed Sweden to largely decarbonize their economy, and in such a way as to increase their quality of life rather than decrease it. They call it kärnkraft, but you know it better as nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy has a massive PR problem in the west, despite its sterling safety record. After the early chapters arguing the need for energy reorientation, and the inadequacy of ‘clean’ fossil fuels and renewables to the challenge, Goldstein and Qvist present their argument for the re-embrace of nuclear energy, addressing concerns about safety, pollutants, etc. Their defense of nuclear redoubles as a continued attack on the alternatives — after examining three high profile nuclear accidents, Qvist & Goldstein compare nuclear’s body count to that created by oil&coal accidents, and ditto for environmental harm. Solar, too, gets its nose bloodied given the toxicity of its array materials once it reaches the end of its lifecycle. The authors suspect that Cold War dread, the mystique of radiation from SF films throughout the year, and the intense media coverage of nuclear’s outliers have contributed to making nuclear seem more dangerous than it is. In reality, thousands upon thousands of reactor hours have been accumulated by land-based plants and nuclear navies since nuclear energy became a possibility. Accidents are extreme outliers.

Nuclear energy has already proven itself a superior energy source, and it’s only going to get better. Most nuclear plants in operation today in France, Sweden, etc are second-gen designs. Russia, China, and India are actively pursuing nuclear energy to power their expansion, using safer-still third gen designs, and in both the west and east fourth-gen plants are being designed and prototyped. Reorienting global energy production to nuclear will necessitate standardization; the authors suggest following France’s model, where one or two designs are simply repeated over and over again. Fourth-gen plants using modular designs (fission meets IKEA!) will increase standardization and cut costs tremendously.

As an argument for nuclear energy, A Bright Future is excellent. Frankly, no politician who won’t admit it as an option should be taken seriously. The claim that it will decarbonize our economies is harder to embrace, however, given that transportation and industry (which often uses its own power plants) account for about the same amount of emissions as energy production. It may be that getting that segment decarbonized is enough by itself to do the trick, but I’m uncertain. The authors don’t examine other contributors aside from a brief mention that electric cars will play an important part. On the whole, this book is most impressive, and I especially appreciated how the authors lured readers in by allowing them to first appreciate the promise and potential of kärnkraft before revealing the translation. It was a clever little trick that might enable readers to take nuclear energy more seriously, having examined its virtues without their preconceptions at play.

Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Debate, Vaclav Smil

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Wisdom Wednesday: Know thyself

Today’s quotes are drawn from Suspicious Minds: Why We Believe Conspiracy Theories, by Rob Brotherton. I’m especially happy to have to finished it, because now I can get Elvis out of my head. It was a stellar book, an end-year top ten candidate.

“When we do bad things, we are good at rationalizing our behavior as a momentary lapse or a reasonable and justified response to circumstances. When other people do bad things, though, it’s because they are just bad to the bone; we assume that evildoers are driven primarily by sadism and malice, inflicting harm for the sheer pleasure of doing so, while their victims are wholly innocent. The result is that, like Santa Claus, we have an irresistible compulsion to sort people into just two categories: good or bad, saint or sinner, naughty or nice. [….]

“There is no ‘us versus them.’ They are us. We are them. By painting conspiracism as some bizarre psychological tick that blights the minds of a handful of paranoid kooks, we smugly absolve ourselves of the faulty thinking we see so readily in others. But we’re doing the same thing as conspiracists who blame all of society’s ills on some small shadowy cabal. And we’re wrong. Conspiracy-thinking is ubiquitous, because it’s a product, in part, of how all of our minds are working all the time.”


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COVID Diary # 9: Out of Quarantine

On Thursday, September 24th, I was off work pending the results of a COVID test; I didn’t think much of it, since I only go to 4 places these days and am masked at all of them except for the gym. I didn’t have a fever, or aches, or anything like COVID symptoms I’d heard of, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. Being off work that day worked out well enough, because I was starting a dogsitting gig at lunch that would last for two weeks. Now, instead of burning my lunch hour driving from the library to the house, letting the dogs out, and hoping they’d come back in so I could leave for work on time — eating in a hurry as I waited — I could just go to the house in the late morning, wholly at my leisure. I didn’t bring much with me, just a weekend bag and some taco fixings, because I figured it would be better to get the lay of the land and figure out what I needed to bring for a two-week stay in the house. Immediately after I arrived, I received a call: I was positive for COVID. “Well, crap”, I said to the doctor. “Yes,” he replied.

That left me with a dilemma. My host was on the road to Houston: should I tell her? I’d already been in the house, I reasoned, trying to figure out which bedroom I was meant to use and where everything was. I had eight animals to tend to, with a daily list of things to stay ahead of the chaos they’d create on their own — a litter box to clean twice daily, pills to deliver, etc. The house was dark and I didn’t know where the switches were, so receiving that call only doubled my disorientation. The afternoon was spent with a lot of texts and phone calls to alert people who I’d been in contact with since Sunday (when I recalled feeling oddly tired after the gym), and trying to figure out what I was supposed to do for the next two weeks. Fortunately I was able to arrange a time with my housemates to raid my home in their absence for foodstuffs and books, both equally important. Friends and family also brought me books & food from time to time: I was near both a WinnDixie and a Subway, so it was easy for me to order something and then have someone pick up my order when they were getting groceries for themselves. I wound up telling my host the next day, once she’d arrived and settled in, and she was utterly gracious: her adult daughter even volunteered to bring by supplies if needed. (I was able to return the favor, sort of: my host was later pinned down in Houston by the hurricane, and I was able to stay several more days beyond what we’d originally planned.)

More like “Inside Two Dogs”.

The first weekend was the hardest, as I was simultaneously still coming to terms with the house and its many furry occupants, as well as getting used to being a social pariah. I sorely missed the usual weekend things I do, the company I’d ordinarily keep. My supply-raiding window coincided with one of those events, and it pained me to drive by and see my friends gathering and know I could not be among their number. My friends kept my spirits up by calling and texting me, though, and once the first week started in earnest I established a routine: reading during the day, and watching Netflix only after supper. I was away from my computer, and didn’t want Netflix to become the new sinkhole. I have to fight my tendency to lock-in to the computer, purposely avoiding mine until I’ve gotten stuff done. The schedule worked out: I read over a dozen books in that time, doing serious damage to the the TBR pile, and re-watched most of my favorite episodes from ST TNG, ST DS9, and ST VOY. I also rewatched the first four seasons of The Office, finally got around to The Irishman, and realized: I just don’t care about Narcos Mexico season 2. If I couldn’t watch it during a three week quarantine, I’m not watching it.

I suppose I asked for that given my username.

I also played a lot of Among Us, since I could do it on my phone. Suffice it to say I’ve memorized the Skeld map, I’ve a good chance of winning Imposter rounds, and I’ve had numerous strangers propose to me in chat because for some reason this is a thing in Among Us. If you haven’t heard: this is a game in which players are little crewmen on a spaceship, but one of them is an alien whose mission it is to kill everyone and sabotage the ship. The regular players try to do little tasks on the ship, the Imposter hunts them and kills them. The regular players try to figure out who the imposter is before it’s too late. I blame CallmeKevin for introducing me to it.

Quarantine…so tough.

On Friday, I received the good news: I’m COVID free. I still don’t feel up to spec energy wise, and my visits to the gym have made me realize that between the lack of exercise and the illness itself, I’m not the terror of the track that I was a month ago. When I emerged, I noticed that Walmart had given up on pretty much all of its corona measures: the cattle gates are gone, the impotent stickers on the floor asking customers to treat the aisles as one-way are gone, and the sign urging people to wear a mask is gone. The overwhelming majority of customers are still masked from what I can tell between my two trips, presumably out of habit: it’s been a few months since Walmart introduced those measures. Winn-Dixie is still enforcing its mask habit, as is Subway — though they no longer block the counter with tables. On Saturday I celebrated my freedom with a friend, dining out at my favorite Mexican restaurant and drinking a margarita that cost as much as my food. They and several other businesses I visited during this celebratory trip are still asking for masks, but I don’t think they require them: I saw people in both without masks, and the employees were not bothered. I’ve been more careful with my mask since emerging, though I’m still not convinced they’re particularly efficacious.

Tomorrow will mark my return to work. I’m told that they’ve been overwhelmed in my absence, and it’s nice to know my size 14 shoes are hard to fill. I’m rather dreading tomorrow, as Mondays are always super busy — and I also have three weeks’ of beard growth that I have to shave off now because of the dress code. Alas, corona beard, you were fun to have. I have a bunch of corona reviews I’ve yet to do, but I haven’t done any reading this weekend: not only have I had other things on my mind, but my head is a bit tired. I’ve been postponing my German lump-review in hopes of adding another to it (Collapse in the West or something like that), but I’m crawling through the title. I think my poor head is just tired after tackling so much history these past three weeks.

In the end, I’m grateful for those friends who kept me sane, grateful that I serendipitously was dogsitting for the same exact interim that I was in quarantine, and grateful that my personal COVID experience was extremely mild, considering others are on ventilators. I have several elderly friends in hospital now because of it. I’ve a lot of work to catch up on, from goodreads tags to blog updates and actual work-work. Apparently no one else wants to create the reports I generate for the library board, and they’re meeting this week!

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Back to Lost Heaven

Eighteen years ago (!!!!!) I fell in love with a game: Mafia, by Gathering of Developers. A third-person shooter set in 1930s America, telling the story of a young cab driver who is drawn into a crime family. The setting, the city of Lost Heaven, utterly absorbed me with its working trolleys, el-lines, and drawbridges, and the story was one of the best I’ve ever encountered. It was for Mafia 2 that I finally held my nose and installed Steam for the first time, though neither of Mafia’s sequels ever came close to the original for me. I’ve continued playing and replaying the original — simply for the atmosphere — long after it’s been left in the dust, gameplay & graphics wise. And now….now it’s been remade with modern gameplay elements and modern graphics.

Playing this game is absolutely surreal, because it’s technically a new game — and I yet I know its map. There are differences between the two Lost Heavens, but when I played an early missio, I ignored the on-screen routing in favor of my known shortcuts, and made it there easily. When I wanted to drive across the map to Oak Hill, I ignored the map and found my way easily enough. There are marked differences, however; not just in the flavor of the street (there are far more details in DE-Lost Heaven). For instance, Oak Hill, based on Nob Hill in San Francisco, was an unapproachable mansion district in the original game: there were two roads in, and both were annoying. One was an incredibly steep path that many vehicles couldn’t make, and the other was a very long, winding path on the opposite side of the hill. Now there’s a tunnel that makes the steep path easier, as well as a third road that goes down through some slums


So far I have played the first few missions, up to Fairplay; I’ve also fooled around in Free Ride. I’m getting used to the ‘new’ characters; they’re the same ones I know, but their voice actors are different. Salieri lacked a certain gravitas at first, but I’m warming to his new actor, and frankly I can’t tell Paulie and Sam apart most of the time. They both sound like they’re imitating Joe Pesci & Steve Buscemi at the same time. I LOVE the new dialogue and expansions to existing missions: for instance, during “Ordinary Routine”, Tommy got to go inside a place and collect money from a business instead of just shuttling Paulie and Sam around. Inside, Tommy was sworn at in Italian (or Sicilian). Based on the cognates in the subtitle, the little old lady was calling him a blood-sucker. I was greatly disappointed to discover that the elevated lines & trolleys, while present in the world, are not accessible to the player. The el-lines access stairs are closed, and the trolleys open their doors to let people out — but the player has no ability to pass through the door. The mundane ability to ride around the city on trolleys & elevated lines was one of my favorite features in Mafia, and the el-lines were useful for losing the cops: they didn’t patrol up there, so it was easy to lose the heat after doing something innocuous like borrowing a car. Parts of Free Ride are reminiscent of Mafia 2; players are teleported out of water, and taxis can be driven but not operated for money. I understand that on the PC version there’s an updating pending which will allow players to operate taxis again. I hope, if they’re going to be updating the game, they add trolley transit once again. RDR2 managed it in St. Denis!

Next week, once I’m back to my own home and out of my quarantine quarters, I plan on exploring the story more, and may do some updates here on what I think of it. So far I’m quite pleased despite a few omissions.

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