Sunday, January 20, 2013

10 Fun Facts About Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States

1. William Jefferson Clinton was born in August of 1942 in Hope, Arkansas.  At birth, his name was William Jefferson Blythe III, named for his biological father, who died in a car accident three months before his son was born.  Clinton's mother later remarried, and he eventually took his stepfather's name.  Despite this, Clinton's stepfather was an abusive alcoholic who died of cancer in 1967.

2. Deciding as a teenager that he wanted to be a politician, Clinton earned an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, and later studied at Oxford before earning a law degree from Yale.  At Yale he met Hillary Rodham, a fellow law student, and they were married in 1975.  They have one child, Chelsea, who was a teenager during her father's time in office.

3. Clinton's first foray into politics occurred in 1972, when he helped coordinate the Dallas office of Democrat George McGovern's presidential bid.  While working on the McGovern campaign, Clinton met Steven Spielberg, who was, at the time, a little known TV director.  The two have remained friends ever since.

4. Clinton ran for Congress in 1974, but was defeated by the Republican incumbent.  Two years later, he was elected Attorney General for Arkansas in an uncontested election.  Only two more years after that, he was elected governor.  At the age of 32, he was the youngest governor in the nation, and the second youngest elected in the 20th century.  He lost his re-election bid in 1980, but won again in 1982 and kept the office until his presidential bid in 1992.

5. Clinton considered a White House run in 1988.  This was in the middle of one of his terms as governor, and the idea was floated that if he resigned as governor to run for president, Hillary might run to replace him as governor of Arkansas.  The idea was eventually dropped, and Clinton gave his support to Democrat Michael Dukakis.  He also delivered the opening night address of the Democratic National Convention that year, as one of the party's rising stars.

6. In 1992, Clinton ran for president against six other contenders, including the popular California governor, Jerry Brown.  Despite a slow start in the primaries, Clinton began attracting attention late in the primary season and ended up winning the nomination.  In the general election, he faced George H.W. Bush, who had seen his popularity during the Gulf War evaporate under a broken pledge not to raise taxes and a weak economy.  In addition to this, the Republican ticket was largely split by a major third party run from Texas billionaire Ross Perot.  Perot ended up winning almost 20% of the popular vote.  Clinton won the election with 43% of the popular vote, the lowest total for a winning candidate since 1912, and the second lowest since 1860.

7. Clinton's time as president was a successful one for the country, though Clinton himself remained consistently under scrutiny from his political enemies.  Despite this, he managed to pass a significant amount of popular legislation, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the North American Free Trade Act, the Brady Bill regarding gun control, bills on immigration reform and welfare reform, a balanced budget bill, and Don't Ask/Don't Tell, which effectively allowed gays to serve in the military.  He attempted to pass a major bill overhauling healthcare early in his presidency, but this measure was defeated in Congress.  In 1994, the Clinton administration launched the first White House website.

8. Despite legislative success and a booming economy, the last few years of Clinton's presidency were marred by the revelation of an affair with a White House intern, which Clinton lied about while under oath.  This led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, the first such action taken by the U.S. House since the 1860's.  The Senate, despite having a significant Republican majority, acquitted him of the charges.

9. Unlike most presidents, whose approval ratings tend to drop over time, particularly during their second term, Clinton's actually improved significantly during his second term, and he left the White House with an approval rating between 65 and 70%, the highest for any president upon leaving office.  His peak approval rating, about 75%, actually came right in the middle of the impeachment proceedings against him in late 1998 and early 1999.

10. Having taken the White House as one of America's youngest presidents, Clinton has had a prominent post-presidential career, writing a best-selling memoir and devoting his time to charity work with other former presidents.  He has also remained active in politics, supporting his wife in her own presidential run in 2008 and through her term as Secretary of State under Barack Obama.  Clinton has won two Grammy awards for spoken word albums, and although he was the first president to win a Grammy, both Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama have since won the award as well.  Hillary Clinton has also won a Grammy.  Clinton's vice-president, Al Gore, has controversially won both an Oscar and a Nobel Prize.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 Reading List

It's that time of year again - January - which means it's time for another run-down of my annual reading list.  With 18 books finished, 2011 was my lowest year ever (since I started keeping track), but I only barely bounced back in 2012, finishing just 20.  That's a total of 38 in the last two years, which is less than I used to do in a single year.

That being said, the books I read now tend to be longer than in the past, as I have largely given up the mindless thrillers and adventure novels and turned instead to lengthier, denser works of fiction and non-fiction.

Watching 120+ episodes of "Lost" reruns in the first few months of the year is what really set me back.  I only finished 1 book in the first three months of 2012.  So it was a game of catch-up after that.


The Deeds of the Disturber - Elizabeth Peters

This is the 5th book in the Amelia Peabody mystery series, and while I really liked the first four, this one never grabbed me.  I started reading this one in mid-December of 2011 and didn't finish it until almost the end of February, 2012 - more than two months later.  And it was just a short little paperback mystery!  I could have read it in three days if I'd wanted.  I haven't read any more books in the series since this one, but I plan to start up again with the sixth book this year, hoping to write off Disturber as just a bump in the road.  

Rock Deadly - Kathryn Lively

This is a murder mystery written by a friend of mine - an indie author in Virginia who happens to be a fellow Rush fan.  If you like good mysteries with a touch of humor and a rock n' roll theme, I highly recommend it.

The Selkie Spell - Sophie Moss

This is another indie authored book.  I don't know this writer personally, but the book was a good one.  It takes place in modern Ireland and is about an abused woman taking refuge from her murderous husband in a little Irish town.  My wife read part of this one and commented that the reason I liked it so much is because her writing style was exactly like mine!  

Speaks the Nightbird - Robert McCammon

I just can't say enough about Robert McCammon's novels.  He's one of those authors that you discover one day, and once you do, you are a fan for life.  As a writer myself, he's also one of those authors whose books I wish I had written.  This one is the first in an ongoing series starring law-clerk-turned-private-eye Matthew Corbett.  This first novel is set in 1699 in the Carolina colony and is about a witch trial in a tiny little town on the edge of the wilderness.  It is absolutely magnificent.  

The Queen of Bedlam - Robert McCammon

Book 2 in the Matthew Corbett series.  In this one, Corbett has moved from the Carolinas to post-Dutch New York City.  It is 1702 and a murderer called "the Masker" is loose in the town.  A worthy follow-up to Nightbird.  

Queen Isabella - Alison Weir

This is a history book about Isabella, Queen of England and wife of Edward II.  A great read for anyone interested in Medieval Europe.  Isabella's story, though not widely known, is a really interesting one.  After becoming disenfranchised with her neglectful husband, who was also widely known to be a homosexual, she fled to France, took one of Edward's mortal enemies as a lover, gathered an army, then invaded England.  Isabella and her lover overthrew Edward, had him imprisoned and eventually murdered, and set her son up as king in his place (as Edward III).  Included are daring escapes from the Tower of London and a very persuasive theory that Edward II may, in fact,  have survived his own assassination.  

If this stuff hadn't really happened, it would seem like a great novel.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Book 3 in the popular "Dragon Tattoo" series.  I had read the first two books a year or two ago, and finally got around to finishing the series.  Overall, I give the whole series a B-minus.  I certainly don't understand what all the enormous fuss was about when these books were the hottest thing going.  But there's certainly no rhyme or reason to what kind of tripe people will go ga-ga over when it comes to pop fiction.

Excalibur - Bernard Cornwell

Book 3 in Cornwell's series about King Arthur.  Like all of Cornwell's stuff, these books are must-reads for folks who like historical "action-adventure" fiction.  There are not very many people out there who can write historical novels like Cornwell.  He's one of my "old friend" writers - one of those authors who, when I sit down with their books, I feel like I'm sitting down for drinks with an old friend.

Death of Kings - Bernard Cornwell

Book 5 in Cornwell's ongoing series about King Alfred and the Viking invasion of England.  Noticing a trend here, with "series" books?  I made a sincere effort throughout 2012 to get caught up on all the ongoing series novels that I was involved in.  Series' are the new "thing" in modern fiction, and frankly I hate it.  But it is what it is, and it's almost unavoidable nowadays.  I still prefer stand-alone novels, though.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire


Yes, I let the 20-something girls I work with at the hospital talk me into reading this series.  After about five of them pestered me for six months to read the books, none of them acted like they even cared once I finally started.  Typical.  :)  Like the Dragon Tattoo series, I give Hunger Games a B-minus, and that's being nice.  I'm sure if you're a 19-year-old girl without a literary bone in your body, you'd probably love it.

Bloody Passage - Jack Higgins

Higgins is another "old friend" writer.  He writes short, gritty adventure novels, mass produced like cigarettes in a factory, but somehow really, really good.  When I'm looking for something quick, easy, and predictable to absorb myself in for a few days, a Higgins novel always hits the spot.

Shit My Dad Says - Justin Halpern

This is another book that was recommended to me by friends at work.  If you are familiar with the famous Twitter feed, or the short-lived sitcom, you'll know what it's about.  Another B-minus.  It was amusing, but no more than that. 

Clockwork Angels: The Novel - Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart

This was a novel that accompanied the release of Rush's latest studio album, also called Clockwork Angels.  As a novelty (pardon the pun) it was a fun read, but I can't say that I would recommend it to anyone who wasn't either a big time sci-fi/fantasy fan, or a big fan of Rush.  It read more like an indie book than anything else, even though Anderson is apparently a best-selling sci-fi writer.  

Presidential Inaugural Addresses

I got this book for free on my Kindle, and it's exactly what it sounds like - every single inaugural address, from George Washington in 1789 to Barack Obama in 2008.  It was interesting to see how the "big issues" have changed over time, how the language has changed over time, and how the ideology of the nation, in general, has changed over time.  

Lionheart - Sharon Kay Penman

This is book 4 in a series about Henry II of England and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, although this books takes place after Henry has died and been replaced by his son, Richard the Lionheart.  The entire book covers Richard's adventures on the 3rd Crusade in the 1190's.  One more book in the series is planned, covering the remainder of Richard's life.  

I loved the first three books in this series, but I found Lionheart to be a bit plodding.  Being about the Crusades, it was naturally top-heavy with military strategy and battle scenes, and frankly I don't think that sort of thing is Penman's strength.  This is a subject more suited to someone like Bernard Cornwell.  Still, I enjoyed it and look forward to the final installment.  

Mister Slaughter - Robert McCammon

The Providence Rider

These are books 3 and 4 in the Matthew Corbett series.  Yes, I sort of had a thing for Robert McCammon this year, in case you hadn't noticed.  

Mr. Slaughter was up to par with the previous two books, but The Providence Rider was a bit on the weak side.  That's relatively-speaking, of course.  If Nightbird and Bedlam were both 10's, then Slaughter was a 9, and Providence Rider was a 7.5.  They continue the story of Corbett as he establishes himself as a private investigator in early 18th century New York, chasing down murderers and bad guys, and ultimately squaring off with his arch nemesis, Dr. Fell.  Dr. Fell is sort of a "master criminal" type based on Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes fame.  

Napoleon's Pyramids - William Dietrich

I got this book for my Kindle about a year ago after seeing it offered for free one day.  I finally got around to reading it and was not particularly impressed.  It's the first in a series (imagine that) set in 1799 and starring American ex-patriot Ethan Gage as he goes to Egypt with Napoleon's army, aiming to figure out the mystery behind a medallion he won playing cards.  The best way I can think to describe this novel is that it's a mix of Dan Brown intrigue and Indiana Jones adventure, set during the Napoleonic wars.  Gage is sort of a lovable rogue type and, like Indiana Jones, manages to get involved in some pretty amazing predicaments, but always comes out clean on the other side.  He also gets laid a lot.  

Even though Dietrich is actually a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, his novel-writing skills are only okay, and overall I kind of found the book to be a bore.  But that's probably because I just am not really into this sort of fiction anymore.  I suspect that 10 years ago, I would have loved it.  


I didn't realize it until I sat down to write this post, but I seem to have read a lot of books this year that I didn't really care for!  Not sure why it turned out that way, but I suppose that's just how it goes.  

In any case, I started the tradition last year of naming a Serene Musings Book of the Year, which basically goes to my favorite book from among those that I read that year.  Last year's winner was Swan Song, by Robert McCammon.  I went back and added Books of the Year for each year that I've been doing a reading list, and you can see them at the bottom of the blog page.  

Among this year's books, my favorites were Queen Isabella, Speaks the Nightbird, and Excalibur (with honorable mention to Queen of Bedlam and Mr. Slaughter).  

And the winner of the 2012 Serene Musings Book of the Year is......(drum roll please)...............