The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 136 | The Occasional Digression

Leaving Proof 136 | The Occasional Digression
Published on Tuesday, July 24, 2012 by

The Weekly Digression makes its triumphant return as The Occasional Digression! In today’s round of non-comics discussion, I share selections from my summer book reading list, recap some of the bigger combat sports bouts of the past few weeks, muse on FUNimation’s Fractale series, and more. The Digression columns will be spaced further apart from now on (hence the change from “weekly” to “occasional”) but hey, that just means more material per installment!

The Books of Summer

At the outset of this summer, I set the goal of boning up on my military history. With the Internet at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to dive into any subject no matter how esoteric, but sometimes, I just prefer to sit down with a good old-fashioned bound paper book. So here are four texts from my summer reading list, picked up dirt cheap at my local independent bookseller.

A Guide to Battles: Decisive Conflicts in History (Oxford Paperback Reference), edited by Richard Holmes and Martin Marix Evans

Book description from Ranging from the Peloponnesian war, to Trafalgar and Gettysburg, to the War in Iraq, this exciting book tells the stories of the most dramatic, memorable, and important conflicts in world history. This superb, one-volume reference describes almost 300 battles from around the world—from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as well as from Europe and the Americas. All the battles are grouped in chapters which tell the wider story of a particular era or region, whether it be the ancient world or Asia and the Middle East. Each chapter includes an introduction that sets out the historical, tactical, and technological context, and looks at current debates among military historians. In addition, individual battles are placed within the wars of which they formed a part, allowing readers understand a battle’s full military and historical significance. With detailed maps, a wide range of illustrations, and an extensive index, this book offers a gold mine of information for everyone interested in world or military history.

My thoughts on the book: I actually started reading this book late last year, but put it down at some point during the winter. I picked up where I left off around May and only recently finished it. The volume is an excellent reference, providing concise but detailed summaries of pivotal battles and doing a decent job of providing the historical context for the major conflicts it covers. I did find that I had to supplement the book with Internet research for the more obscure clashes from antiquity, but that says more about the gaps in my knowledge of ancient and medieval Europe’s military history than it does about the quality of the book. I do think that I’ve been spoiled by reading in the Digital Age, as I couldn’t stop thinking about how interactive, animated, Encarta-style maps would have really introduced more depth to the reading experience.

Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, by Anthony Swofford

Book description from In his New York Times bestselling chronicle of military life, Anthony Swofford weaves his experiences in war with vivid accounts of boot camp, reflections on the marines, and remembrances of battles with lovers and family.

When the U.S. Marines—or “jarheads”—were sent to Saudi Arabia in 1990 for the Gulf War, Anthony Swofford was there. He lived in sand for six months; he was punished by boredom and fear; he considered suicide, pulled a gun on a fellow marine, and was targeted by both enemy and friendly fire. As engagement with the Iraqis drew near, he was forced to consider what it means to be an American, a soldier, a son of a soldier, and a man.

My thoughts on the book: It seems awfully reductive to describe this book as “Generation X for the military set,” but that’s really how I felt coming away from reading it. And I mean that label in the most positive sense. Swofford’s debut work is surprisingly nuanced and affecting, and his ruminations on the disparity between the romanticized ideal of the military fighting man and the reality of being a grunt, the tedium of modern warfare, the value of the infantryman in the current battlefield (Swofford served as a scout-sniper during the First Gulf War), and the frank and frequently humorous discussions of the details of his personal life offer the kind of insight into modern warfare that one can’t really get from more academic tomes.

Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, by James R. Arnold

Book description from The end of the cold war promised a new era of international peace. Instead, violence has proliferated across the globe. What does history tell us about how this conflict will play out? Noted military historian James R. Arnold delivers an engrossing narrative history of a century of counterinsurgent warfare. Analyzing past campaigns—the United States in the Philippines, the British in Malaya, the French in Algeria, and the United States in Vietnam—Arnold traces patterns of victory and defeat. Patience, determination, and adaptability are needed—an epilogue examines the occupation of Iraq, where America, to its cost, ignored the lessons of history. Jungle of Snakes is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the ongoing worldwide conflict the Pentagon calls the “Long War.”

My thoughts on the book: If I have one criticism of Arnold’s book, it is that one sometimes gets the feeling that he’s working backwards in his analyses, going from preformed conclusions shaped by contemporary concerns and then cherry-picking the historical data to support those findings. It is an engrossing read nonetheless, clearly highlighting the unique issues surrounding the conduct of counterinsurgency and asymmetrical warfare whilst remaining accessible and largely objective in tone.

Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception, 1914–1945, by Nicholas Rankin

Book description from This is the story of how the British really won two world wars—by conning the Kaiser, hoaxing Hitler and bluffing their way out of trouble. Pretend German radio stations broadcast outrageous British propaganda in German. British geniuses broke German secret codes and eavesdropped on their messages. Every German spy in Britain was captured and many were used to send back false information to their controllers. Forged documents misled their Intelligence. Bogus wireless traffic from entire phantom armies, dummy airfields with model planes, disguised ships and inflatable rubber tanks created a vital illusion of strength. Culminating in the spectacular misdirection that was so essential to the success of D-Day in 1944, “Churchill’s Wizards” is a thrilling work of popular military history.

My thoughts on the book: I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book, and so far, it’s been quite the entertaining work. Rankin peppers his historical accounts with slyly humorous interludes and character sketches. He does have an annoying habit of jumping back-and-forth in time, though, breaking up the flow of the overarching historical narrative.

The Combat Sports Recap

A bunch of highly-anticipated bouts in boxing and MMA played out these past few weeks. Below are my thoughts on the results:

07 July 2012: N. Donaire def. J. Mathebula, UD 12 (boxing, super bantamweights)

It says something about the high expectations boxing fans have of Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire when a convincing unanimous decision win over a once-beaten IBF champion with a sizable height and reach advantage is deemed something of a disappointment. A defining KO win at 122 lbs. still eludes Donaire, but he put on a decent showing in Carson City, California against the vastly underrated Jeffrey Mathebula, knocking down the rangy and resilient South African in the closing seconds of the fourth round:

Mathebula was spitting up blood late in the fight—ringside physicians later confirmed that a Donaire punch broke one of Mathebula’s teeth through his mouthpiece sometime around Round 11. The fourth-round knockdown was really the high point of the bout, and it was all downhill from there in terms of excitement. My favorite moment of the night was actually seeing Kali/Eskrima/Silat/Jeet Kune Do legend (and my personal martial arts hero) Dan Inosanto accompany Donaire on his walk-in (he’s the elderly man in the middle of the picture below):

Sharp-eyed viewers will also have noticed that Donaire and his corner wore Game of Death-themed yellow-and-black outfits for the fight (Inosanto had an on-screen duel with his friend and training partner Bruce Lee in the film).

Donaire has freakish athleticism, dynamite in both hands, and razor-sharp reflexes but it seems like in recent fights, he has been content to abandon the jab early and look solely to land his signature counterpunch, the counter-left hook (which he can uncork with hellacious speed and power, as seen in the knockdown above and in 2011’s ESPN and The Ring knockout of the year). I’d love to see him take on either Mexico’s Jorge Arce or Japan’s Toshiaki Nishioka next. Both guys employ aggressive styles that won’t allow Donaire the luxury of taking his foot off the gas pedal and falling back on his counterpunching.

07 July 2012: A. Silva def. C. Sonnen, TKO 2 (MMA, middleweights)

Hyped as the biggest fight in UFC history, the rematch between Anderson “The Spider” Silva and Chael Sonnen delivered action in spades, as abbreviated as it was. A lot of bad blood had been building between the two ever since Silva pulled out a come-from-behind submission victory in their first meeting (Sonnen was later suspended after that first fight after failing a post-fight check for banned substances). The fight started out just like their previous match, with Sonnen gaining top position within seconds of the cage door closing. Unlike the first fight though, Silva was able to effectively block or at least blunt the impact of Sonnen’s strikes from above and kept him from improving his position. The seeming ease with which Silva neutralized Sonnen’s ground-and-pound attack has me wondering if defending off of his back and conceding the first round was part of some sort of MMA version of Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” strategy. In any event, Sonnen expended a lot of energy trying (and failing) to hurt Silva in the first round and a small opening created by a clumsy Sonnen backfist was all Silva needed to finish the fight early in the second round:

Silva’s 16-fight unbeaten streak and UFC record of 10 consecutive successful title defenses easily marks him as the best middleweight in organized MMA’s history and puts him in the conversation as the greatest MMA fighter of all time. It’s not just the number of wins, though. It’s the way he has won. Outside of his 2010 contest against Sonnen (a fight where Silva had a rib injury sustained in training and Sonnen was juiced up with testosterone), Silva has absolutely dominated his competition. And it’s not like he was taking on cream puffs. The Brazilian wonder has torn through a veritable murderer’s row of middleweights and light heavyweights since his 2006 UFC debut, defeating six past, current, or future UFC, PRIDE, WEC, and Strikeforce champions and a number of highly-accomplished wrestlers and submission specialists. What’s next for Silva? Honestly, I think he’s pretty much done all he can do at middleweight. Sure, there are decent contenders out there like Michael Bisping, Chris Weidman, Brian Stann, Rousimar Palhares, and maybe Mark Muñoz (if he ever tightens up his stand-up defense), but I think we’re getting to the point in Silva’s Hall of Fame-worthy career where retirement or a final blockbuster bout with either Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones are now realistic and reasonable options.

14 July 2012:  D. Garcia def. A. Khan, TKO 4 (boxing, junior welterweights)

A huge upset win for Danny Garcia over the 6-to-1 favorite Amir Khan. I’d have been happier for Garcia if only his father and trainer didn’t engage in what I felt like was an unacceptable level of racially-charged trash-talking in the build-up to the fight. Oh well. I was really disappointed in Khan’s performance. He failed to utilize his reach and height advantage and foolishly tried to slug it out with the smaller man. Maybe all the racist jibes from Angel Garcia got under his skin, but it’s no excuse for how he lost the fight. It even looked like Khan had Garcia on his heels a bit in the second round, but alas, in the third round, Khan left himself exposed to a beauty of a counter-left hook that landed square on his vagus nerve and carotid artery:

The fight was practically over by then for all intents and purposes, as Khan was on wet spaghetti noodle legs after he got up from the knockdown.

It’s not too late for Khan to recover from this setback. Sure, I think it’s established now that he’s fairly “chinny” but there’s still a lot of time for him to reinvent himself and he has innate physical attributes that really set him apart from the competition: He’s only just 25 years old and his combination of reach, height, and handspeed are unmatched in the junior welterweight and welterweight divisions. But as Teddy Atlas noted in last week’s Friday Night Fights broadcast, Khan allows himself to be timed by counterpunches because he is so predictable with his offense. Add to that his occasionally poor management of distance, inconsistent effort on defense, and the reduced pop his punches carry at junior welterweight and maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised that he’s gotten hurt so many times in his forays at 140 lbs.

On FUNimation’s Fractale

I sat through the whole season of Fractale on the official FUNimation Fractale Youtube channel over the weekend. At eleven 22-minute episodes, the whole series clocks in at only an hour or an hour-and-a-half longer than a typical feature-length film, but packs so much more story and action than your typical Hollywood offering. From the ads and preview clips I saw online, I went into Fractale thinking that it was just another “magical girlfriend” type of show (one of my least-liked anime subgenres) but I’d read so many good reviews of the Yutaka Yamamoto-directed series from sources whose tastes in animated entertainment run close to mine I still ended up giving it a try. I started watching it late Friday evening, with the intention of viewing maybe one or two episodes a day for the next few days but before I knew it, it was already Saturday morning and I had burned my way through the whole series. The first two episodes seem like typical “magical girlfriend” fare with a quaint science-fiction twist, but things take a wholly unexpected turn by the end of the third episode (I don’t want to reveal too much more about the plot). It’s also one of the best-looking shows on the FUNimation channel: The character designs for the protagonists are charming, and the future setting, what looks like Ireland-via-a-Moebius-filter, is beautifully rendered. If you like animation and bizarre science-fiction, do yourself a favor and check Fractale out.

The Occasional Mixtape

Song titles link to corresponding audio/video, if available:

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