Saturday, December 31, 2005

The hookah smoking caterpillar is giving you the call

Apparently if you smoke tobacco, you should invest in a hookah as it filters out some of the toxins. And it makes you look all decadent and shit. Hard to take it around to the bars and places where one might smoke though.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Kavalier and Clay goodness

I know all y'all are down with some Kavalier and Clay so I know you will want to spend some time over here at the Amazing Website of Kavalier and Clay. Haters beware, there is lots of talk about the comics, but you can find other things as well, such as references to related short stories or pieces. Such an awesome book, but I am much less into the comics, so there are no tears in my beer concerning news the comics are fairing poorly. The man himself is telling us to give it another try so maybe...

I just picked up the graphic novel talk of the town, so I am going to be busy comics wise.

Goddam you, my friend

If Joe Queenan is to be believed I have brought untold woe and misery upon my friends' heads. They shake their fists and curse my name. What have I done to earn this opprobrium? Given scads of books as Christmas gifts. He is really railing against poor book selection or pressing favorite books upon people who don't share your tastes. Fair enough. Remember that Queenan is a professional curmudgeon. On his book covers he looks pretty sullen. Check this, and this. Here he is smiling, but that is because he is about to laugh at you. If he were writing a column about giving money to help Rwandan mountain gorillas, he'd come out with "That's nice man, that's really nice, but where were you when the Hutus were killing the Tutsis in Rwanda, where were you then?"

Thursday, December 29, 2005

If you need to buy some books for kids

Powells has many of the Toot and Puddle books on sale. These are some of the best childrens's (2-6 or so) books out now. The title characters are a set of pigs living in Vermont. The first book features post cards from one of the pigs trip around the world. The art is great, the stories are sweet and both parents and kids love them. At seven bones you can buy a few and look like a crackerjack gift giver.

A few amusing gifts

Two of the books I received for Christmas are pretty amusing. The first is Modern Drunkard, which is a guide to being a lush in our puritan society. You can get a taste at the website, I thought this typical night at a bar was amusing. It's hard to tell how tongue in cheek the book is, I hope for his liver's sake that the author is kidding. I also got a memoir titled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. With a title that great, it doesn't matter what it is about, you just have to read it.

The sounds of old T. Rex

I speed read Tyrannosaur Canyon over the last few days. Finding a technothriller that isn't garbage is so nice. They can be such fun, but they are nearly always overhwhelmed by cliche. I was trying to analyze why this one works when so many fail. The plot is interesting for one. It starts out on the moon in 1972, but quickly switches to today's New Mexico. Thrillers have secrets at their heart and successful writers slowly reveal each secret and when all is revealed they have to create some form of excitement to keep the reader engaged. Preston does a good job with it. The author uses cliffhangers in short chapters which keeps the pace lively. He also doesn't mind killing people off which keeps the book from getting A-Teamish. If you like technothrillers this will satisfy, but I doubt this will convert the wary.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

I am superman and I can do anything

I'm all for putting aside a book that doesn't click in the first 100 or so pages. That happened in the last few days with Still Life With Crows by Preston and Child. The authors tend to write books about nasty killings that appear supernatural but are later explained in scientific terms. This worked really well in Relic and others, but the steam is running out in this one. The recurring main character Pendergast is simply unbelievable. His knowledge is deep in too many places, his senses are too powerful and he is always smarter than every other character. It just gets a little boring. He is also a deadly combatant, of course. He is even more cartoonish than James Bond whose knowledge was generally limited to weapons, women and wine. It was all the easier to put this one down when I have Plot Against America waiting. I should say that I generally like these authors, but this one just felt a little weak and the inherent ridiculousness of Pendergast's character was too obvious in the weak and uninteresting plot.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

There go the gun click

Nina Gordon has a brief cover of NWA's Straight out of Compton which should entertain. Not as good as her Veruca Salt era cover of the Sex Pistol's "Bodies," but what are you going to do? Guess you'll have to buy that one.

It must be the devil, trying to make you go astray

I watched the Exorcism of Emily Rose and it didn't work for me. The ads led me to expect lots of horror like the Exorcist, but it is mostly a courtroom drama with wierd mildy scary interludes. The opening shots reference the Exorcist, but don't reach the Exorcist's opening creepiness. Remember the fighting dogs, the broken clocks and then the really scary demon statue? You don't get that.

I also didn't like the theological message of the film. It was pretty medieval, and concerns martyrdom. It seemed out of place today and I didn't work for me. I should ask some Catholics what they think. Maybe they would be down, but I wasn't. This wasn't my biggest problem, but it didn't help.

Also if you are watching 40 year old virgin, the ending is sweet so be sure to wait for it.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

He was a rebel jew, he was a re-bel jew, let him in

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah. I hope there are plenty of books and piles of candy for all. Here is South Park's Jesus vs. Santa Claus to help you start a debate on the state of the holidays.

Old school thrillers

I am reading Eric Ambler's State of Siege. Ambler is cited by Alan Furst as one of his critical influences. Ambler has a similar smart and nuanced approach to politics. This book is set in a recently decolonized SE Asian state where atrocities occur on a regular and almost casual basis. The main character is an Englishman in the capital at the wrong time. He tries to survive as various faction's fortunes wax and wane. It's a short book, but it paints a rather dark picture of how post colonial politics operate. Try it.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Double your candy pleasure.

Two candy items of note today.

Joanna sent this Sugar Savvy article on salted butter caramel. I was highly dubious on the salty/sweet combo when it comes to caramel, but I tried some at Sahagun and it was a delight. The salt in the caramel really is a delight. The Sugar Savvy site now has a candy librarian where you can submit questions on candy, like is dark chocolate increasing market share vs. milk or is it just more available?

Brack sent note of Hometown Favorites, which is in the town next to our mutual hometown. They stock hard to find candy and other food items. There is a $20 minimum order, but unlike a lot of other mail order candy stores, they do sell individual items. So if you read Candyfreak and want to try the Twin Bing, but don't want to buy a case of them, this is your place. You can get Valomilks at the store too, but you can also get those at Cracker Barrel.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Through double-gifting, I have come into a copy of the City of Falling Angels. It's written by the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and concerns Venice. One of my favorite afternoons of all time was spent on the Punta Della Dogana. Nothing spectacular happened, the view was just so great that I sat there reading and enjoying the view. I also like the city's atmosphere, the languor and the sense of decayed opulence. I'm not sure if books like Death in Venice or Dead Lagoon feed off of the city's atmosphere or help create it. My tentative answer is both, the writers come because of the culture or atmosphere, but their books inform everyone's views after they are written.

Math is hard

I finished a good scifi read on the long plane ride east. It was Nancy Kress's Probability Moon. Like many scifi writers, Kress has a theme to which she returns in most books. Her hot topic is evolution and human genetic change (natural or manipulated.) In this book, Earth people crossing the stars (she avoids violating relativity, don't worry) find a society where any violation, in thought or otherwise, against the societal moral code causes crushing headaches. So there is little crime, but also limits on diverse approaches to problem solving. The plot hinges on an anthropological study of these people that takes place in the middle of a war that Earth is losing. At the very end, when I was most tired, she got the most difficult in her use of quantam mechanics. But don't let that scare you, it wasn't that hard. Not as hard as this for example. If you really want some headaches check the related wiki.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Huge leap forward

Metric is going to open for the Rolling Stones? Yikes, that is a leap from the Doug Fir. Same link also has a mp3 of Sleater-Kinney playing Mother. The world needs more Danzig covers. Or maybe some Misfits covers, forget the Danzig covers.

Timewasting with upside

Sometimes wasting time has an upside. I applied for a job at the National Defense University, but my resume with filled with all this dot-com stuff so my future boss was concerned. She googled me, saw all my Amazon reviews that covered security issues and decided I was serious. So web activity didn't get me a book deal, but a job is pretty good too. Here is a timewaster than can turn you into a hero with the kids. It is an online lego design tool. You build something with virtual blocks, save it and Lego packages it up and sends it out to you. You can even become a lego design celebrity as those tricksy Lego people will make your design available to all. It's win-win I tell you.

How do I get this job?

This woman has the job I want. People come in and describe the likes of their friends and she recommends books and movies for them. Of course Amazon already does this very well, but as here stories illustrate, it is more fun in person.

Ways to spend your holiday cash

Well, this is more likely to be used for gift card redemption/holiday money/exchange purposes than gift giving, but check out the Food Section's holiday buying guide. I am rather taken by these high end marmalades. Then again citrus tasting is one of my favorite's at New Season's so that should be no surprise. ( via A Full Belly)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Yes I like candy too much

Sugar Savvy links to a chocolate shop with the winners of the chocolate awards. Take a look at the chocopedia, with reviews of lots of chocolate you won't be able to find at the store, so you will have to order from them. I don't feel so bad exploring high end chocolate, or beer for that matter, as the most expensive choices are still single digit prices. Wine on the other hand requires expense accounts, the lottery or an IPO to feel comfortable in exploring.

Snow crash can happen here

With the reissue of Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here and Harold Bloom's Democracy is Dead piece in the Guardian, you might get the feeling that some kind of authoritarian government is in the offing. I think this is the wrong model. A more appropriate literary model can be found in Snow Crash, where society has fragmented into subclasses that rarely interact and corporations have replaced or made redundant government function. While it is true that the Bush administration is to expand the state's military power and is alarmingly willing to use intelligence, it appears to be willing to let the rest of the state's responsibility wither. This takes the US not back to the authoritarian 30s, but to the 19th century when the American state limited itself to external affairs. The corporate cronyism sets the administration apart from the 19th cen and makes Snow Crash seem more prophetic.

From the Bayou to the North

So I finished (with a little skimming) Barry Maitland's Malcontenta last night. It was decent, good enough that I will probably read another one of his books at some point. For my money, the best British mystery writer is Peter Robinson. His later stuff is better, try In a Dry Season. The books remind me of those of James Lee Burke. Like Burke, Robinson develops his main and secondary characters over the books, which makes reading more of them rewarding. Unlike other mystery writers, the stories aren't just backgrounds for the main characters, they are interesting, involving and often tragic on their own. Both writers focus on one part of the world, Burke on Louisiana and Robinson on Yorkshire. Burke's character is actually the less realistic one. In most of the books, he picks a fight with someone, usually of some influence, and often capable of violence. He should be dead by now.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The most inept that ever stepped

Well my Christmas cookie curse struck again. I tried to make amareti, from the King Arthur Flour cookie cookbook, but I disobeyed an apparently important step. Rather than chilling over night, I chilled for one hour. So rather than getting happy little hill shaped cookies, I got wafer thin flat disasters. Better luck next time. My sis-in-law was kind enough to give me Baking Illustrated, from the Cook's Illustrated people. This cookbook holds your hand throughout the ingredient selection and preparation of each item. This is important for me I think. They have a recipe for apple pandowdy which makes me think of the last of Updike's Rabbit books. Rabbit, trying to bond with his sister over a favorite memory, mention apple pandowdy, but she can't recall what he is talking about. It's a bummer. Nonetheless, I still want to eat it.

On the topic of food, I am reading The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten. It is a collection of his essays written for Vogue. His curiosity drives his topic selection, he will fixate on something and apply a crazy energy to answering whatever question he has asked himself. Not all of the essays are great, but there are plenty of good ones. In books like these you just skip to the next. If his taste test of 32 ketchups doesn't ring your bell, maybe his discussion of why so much supermarket fruit is flavorless will.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I picked the wrong year to move to the West Coast

Not only are the Pogues hitting the east, but also the Silver Jews. With nary a West Coast show on the list!!! Take advantage east coasters, these opportunities may not come again.

Gifts for nerds

I easily fall into the trap of focusing on reading the newest books. I like recommending books, so reading new ones helps me do that. Unfortunately, it also means you are the fall guy for some pretty mediocre reading. Finding the gems in older books isn't always easy either. The Booker can be great, but you can't always rely on it. Gollancz in Britain publishes a series called Sci Fi Masterworks. The idea is that these are classics that should be promoted as prominently as the new stuff. From my experience, the selection is great. The books on page 4 are among the greatest of all SF books. The Masterworks editions are not easy to find in the US, but you can use the list as a reference at the bookstore or library.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Spy on your neighbor's voting habits

(via google maps mania - which is awesome) As part of a security class, someone has merged public political donation data with google maps to show who donated what to whom in any zip code. Some of the info didn't surprise me. My Arlington, VA zip was blue and dense with donations. My PDX zip was blue and but less intense on the donation (bitch all you want Portland, but pony up some cash if you want to move things.) My parent's zip which is in the same town as Pat Robertson was the most balanced between red and blue. Who'd a thunk it?

On a related security note, this little confession on group hug made me think I should change my passwords more often. " I went out with a girl briefly 4 years ago and she told me her webmail password. I still read all her email on a regular basis."

Too much horror biz-ness

I've written before that today's horror is all about the gross out, and not the creep-you-out-so-you -can't-sleep-alone-in-your-cold-drafty-house scary. Eli Roth, maker of the reasonably gross but still funny Cabin Fever, apparently watched a lot of Takeshi Miike films, and has now made an ultra gross montage. Hostel, (fraught with double meaning, eh?) concerns two Americans on a carousing tour of Europe who end up in some hotel where people pay large sums to kill other people. And they do it in the nastiest ways imaginable. Here is the trailer, which will make you want to go pick daisies for the elderly as some kind of karmic rebalancing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

White Countess

When I saw mention of movie called the White Countess set in 1930s Shanghai and involving White Russians and intrigue, I figured it must be an adaptation of the excellent Master of Rain by Tom Bradby. Turns out it is even better, the script was written by Kazuo Ishiguro apparently not long after he finished his Shanghai-set When We Were Orphans. Sounds like a winner.

For the candy historians

The accidental hedonist has a history of candy canes and how they came to be associated with Christmas. On the subject of holiday treats, the Washington Post reports on a store in Bethesda that has gen-u-wine Ricciarelli available for mail order. And here is someone who likes the new Hershey dark chocolate and then there is the See's Awesome Bar, which is apparently the dark nougat in bar form, a sure fire winner.

Flavors of fantasy

Reading the Narrows, I thought of Tim Powers, as opposed to one of the other obvious urban fantasist, Neil Gaiman. Today I realized why. In the Narrows and much of Powers, the characters, the action and the storyline is non-fantastical at least until the conclusion. In Gaiman's work the fantasy elements are much more dominant. In American Gods for example, the main characters are almost all gods, going about regular tasks maybe, but gods nonetheless. I don't think either approach is necessarily better, although they both have their challenges. In the all fantastical model, how is it that everyday people don't notice all these goings on? With the Powers style, how do you blend the fantasy elements into everyday existence?

If you haven't picked up American Gods, do so, it's great. I liked it a little less than Neverwhere, but this is like the difference between War and Piece and Anna Karenina, both are excellent, but people generally favor one over the other.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We can have play time in my little play room

I saw the French art-porn flick Romance last night. Get ready to suspend some disbelief. It seems our (demurely hot) heroine's boyfriend loves her, but doesn't want to sleep with her. Not so likely so far. Anyway, due to this lack of physical contact, Marie begins a series of destructive sexual relationships. I think it is about men are no good. Whatever. This movie is part of the mainstream actors perform sex on camera trend. Not all of the actors are mainstream, check out this guy's filmography. He was chosen for an asset other than acting chops. As a movieRomance is pretty boring, if you want a truly surprising dirty art film, look no further than In the Realm of the Senses (available at Multnomah Public Library!). That one will blow your doors off.

Y'all gonna make me lose my mind

I caught Gunner Palace over the weekend. It is Iraq from the non-commissioned perspective. Yes, officers are interviewed, but far more time is spent with the 20 year old soldier who drives down streets with possible IEDs, has rocks thrown at them and breaks down people's doors at 3 in the morning. I imagine if you have strongly held views on the war, this movie may confirm them (soldiers are heros/Iraqis are oppressed,) but I think the more valuable insight is the lives and perspectives of the soldiers. The movie has a number of solider's rap interludes that remind you that the armed forces are a very integrated segment of society.

One sergeant comments that no one cares about them back in the US, even those people watching the movie will forget about them once they go get a soda from the fridge. I've heard from military people in DC that they do not like that they are suffering while the American people at large have made little or no sacrifice. Given the unpopularity of the war, it is not obvious what kind of sacrifice we are capable of making.

During one raid, "Ride of the Valkyries" plays over the soundtrack. This was an interesting choice, on the one hand we see the Army as giant intrusion into the lives of the Iraqis. On the other hand, they are remarkably restrained and when compared to the sheer carnage of the Ride scene in Apocalypse Now, they look like cops in a big city more than soldiers. The question is, can even a kind and gentle military presence not be resented.

Free Vanderslice live album

If you go to his website, John Vanderslice has a free show available. Who knows how long it will last so go grab it. Free shows feels so happy and Grateful Dead like, except that the Dead tried to prevent the downloading of their songs. I guess they didn't manage to invest the $50M/year they earned touring in income producing securities.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More media recommendation sites

A while back, I posted National Review's list of holiday books but failed to find a similar list from a leftie mag. Well wait no more, as I ran into Washington Monthly's recommendation site. It is a little random. Not many other websites will recommend the Boards of Canada, Martin Van Creveld and HP Lovecraft on a single page. It is an ongoing project so you can keep going back. If you click the picture of the book/CD/DVD you get brief Amazon reviews and maybe the viewpoint of the staffer that recommends it.

The virtuous among us

Everbody had to read Plato, Aristotle and the like back in college. If you didn't you probably went to some hippie school that doesn't like dead white males. If you studied international relations, you almost certainly also had to read Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. It's a good if challenging read, if you have lots of time on your hands. If you want something written from the modern perspective you might look at Victor Davis Hanson's A War Like No Other. Thanks to some of the things he has written on NRO, I've always taken Hanson as an ideologue, but none of that is evident in this book. He doesn't present a political/strategic narrative of the war's main events, but rather uses a thematic approach to describe how the war was fought and how it was experienced by warrior and citizen alike. It helps to have a little background on the overall history as to illustrate each theme (terror, plague, and so on) he jumps backward and forward throughout history.

One of my favorite books to detail the daily lot of soldiers in difficult circumstance is Touched with Fire, written by Eric Bergerud. He writes about American and Australians fighting in New Guinea and the South Pacific islands. It's like Vietnam with fewer amenities.


(via Dan Drezner) Given the annoyances and hassles of moving, I was tickled by the Life's little annoyances page. This is like the Consumerist, but deals with a broader set of things that suck. Be sure to read the older posts. Speaking of things which probably suck, Hershey's put out a strawberries and cream candy bar. Yes I just sung the praises of the orange and cream Kit Kat, but strawberry? Come on.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

At least my addiction is cheap

Unpacking I counted 200 unread books. That is six shelves worth. Apparently the slope of my buy/read curve is steeper than I thought. The books vary in quality from the truly awful embarassing to own to the far too long to ever actually read to the apparently not bright and shiny enough to catch my wayward reading eye. Fortunately none of them are worthy of inclusion on a Kieran Healy-esque Books I Did Not Read this year list.

Golems vs. Nazis

I started the Narrows (not the one by Michael Connelly) last night. It's urban fantasy in the Tim Powers mode, which means it is fantastical but is presented in such a matter of fact way that it doesn't seem hokey or preposterous. The book is set in Detroit in WW2. Instead of making tanks or airplanes, this plant is making golems. If you played D&D or are Jewish, you know that a golem is a living creature animated out of inanimate material, in this case clay. The main character was maimed in a mysterious accident and therefore cannot go to the front. Instead he builds golems and of course he can't talk about it. The book is heading into the political intrigue arena as the FBI, the Ford Corporation and others work the magical scene in Detroit. It feels a little bit like Declare in that regard. I found out about the book on SF Site, which does a nice job of reviewing lesser known sci-fi and fantasy. If you read in those genres at all, you should bookmark it.

Gender swapping at Disney

To please the PC gods and to "update the brand," Christopher Robin is getting the toe. He will be replaced by a young lass in future Winnie the Pooh products. Now having a daughter myself, I have seen that she seeks out female characters in these things, and there aren't any since they stopped using Kanga, so why not just bring back Kanga? Or create a cousin of C. Robin or whatever. Dropping him seems silly. It isn't of great note to me as I've not much liked the Disney Pooh output of late, although my kids adore it. The Many of Adventures of Pooh, is an important exception. Like Fantasia, it is one of the few kids's DVDs that doesn't rapidly drive you crazy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Thai food will make you masturbate

Or so the Mormons have it. Number 15 on their jacking-off-prevention techniques is to avoid spicy food. You should also keep a calendar and color in each day you abuse yourself in black. This will be your book of shame. Unfortunately you are going to get fat if you follow their rules, as you are advised to head to the kitchen and snack whenever the temptation becomes too great. On the plus side it is going to save the lives of a lot of kittens.

I'm too much

Down at the grocery today I saw some toys based on Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Sure I always to play with Jessica and Meisterburger BurgerMeister and all, but WTF? Where are the Year Without Santa Claus toys? Heatmiser and Coldmiser are easily the tops of the Rankin and Bass characters. We are getting rooked I tell you.

With mention of Heatmiser, I am reminded of the band. People who think rock sucked in the mid-90s should check Mic City Sons. It has what may be the best song about anoynmous gay bathroom sex that you will ever hear.

Better than nothing

Ok, it's not that great, but if you like Sarah Silverman, you will probably enjoy her little ditty "Give the Jew Girl Toys." If Jesus is Magic is a Valrohna bar, this video is a Reese's cup. Tasty, but not something you get all that excited about. Sometimes that's enough.

Imagine all the downloads

Cover songs make me strangely giddy. Part of it is the anticipation of something truly weird like the Aquabats cover of "Love without Anger." Or maybe just a different take like Evan Dando's cover of "Skulls." If you like John Lennon and Amnesty International, then you are about to get a exciting two-fer. Starting Dec 10, you can start downloading Lennon covers by bands like Postal Service and Snow Patrol. Amnesty has annoyed me of late, but they are generally a force for good and you can support them 99 cents at a time. (via PF)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hit and Run

From a policy perspective I think libertarians are a little pie in the sky. That said, they can be pretty funny. See this from Hit and Run, the daily blog of Reason magazine.

The question of empire

I'm reading American Empire right now. This book is not to be confused with the hard left American Empire Project series of books. It is actually written from a conservative perspective that questions the predominant narrative about American power. The standard line is that the US was only reluctantly brought into global leadership and stumbled into it in the post-Cold War world. Bacevich argues that the US has actively sought global dominance since at least Wilson and has developed institutions, both national and international, to support that goal.

I'm not done with the book and I am not sure how I feel about it. I agree that on a number of issues the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations are similar, most importantly on American dominance. The means differ greatly though. I also dislike the use of the word empire. That is such a loaded and imprecise word. The American system is quite different from the British, Russian, Chinese or Roman models and may be something else entirely. So far, the most valuable question the books asks is whether the world really needs American involvement and whether that involvement can ever be anything other than intrusive.

Find new music

Harris sent along Pandora today. A bit of odd branding there, but it is an improvement on Launch in a number of ways. The sound quality is better, it's still free with unlimited skipping and you create a variety of stations that start with a single band or song. I've tried Shellac and John Vanderslice so far. If you like this sort of thing you might resemble one of the specimens in the Field Guide to Hipsters. I really hope I don't.

Honey I'm a Mess

Or I would be if I had purchased a new Shotgun 2.0. No, it's not a firearm, it's a bottle-opener that can also create a nice clean hole for shot-gunning a beer. And really, when was the last time you liked shot-gunning a beer? The pre-requisites seem to be 1) want to get fall-down drunk and 2) think drinking Busch is acceptable. I'm not sure I ever liked doing it, but back when we had to get really drunk so that we could embarrassingly hit on women, it seemed like a good idea. If your drunk ways have continued to the present day, you might want to become a Maker's Mark Ambassador. In your new role, you can get your name printed on a barrel of whisky and buy from the same barrell!!! If you are going to be a lush, you might as well go big. (links from Liquorsnob)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fixing customer service

Having taken on New York, Washington DC, technology and sex, Nick Denton's Gawker empire has expanded with the Consumerist. Given the existing websites excellence and irreverence, I plan to check this one regularly. If you don't know the gawker sites, be sure to check them all. As you can imagine, the sex one is very work unsafe.

Disappointed a few people

Stephen King has another book coming out. Called Cell, it concerns a cell phone-transmitted something that turns people into crazed killers. Sounds like he is jumping on the 28 Days train. And given his recent output, I just can't get excited. Then again, the plot sounds similar to the Mist, my fave of all time King novella. Small group of people facing a titanic and invincible enemy and all that. The Multnomah County library has purchased a bazillion copies, so you should be able to score a hardback for a few dollars at the library's used book store by summer.

Best bookstores

Canadian Jeremy Mercer lists his top ten bookshops in the world. I've only visited one, City Lights. So obviously Powell's is not on the list. Although some bookstore that is closed is on the list. Lame.

If you're having problems with the high school head...

(via Fark) There is a new service called the Alibi Network which helps create cover stories for, say, having affairs, or dodging unwanted commitments, like baby showers. Most of it is standard cover story assistance like phone calls and paperwork. There is some creepier stuff as well. Under end/start relationship they say "Just let us know when and what you would like us to manage and we will handle it for you!" I wonder if they are willing to use ninjas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Buying books for myself in December

It is poor form to buy yourself books in December, at least for me. If people are going to give me gifts they generally opt for books, as they know I will like that. I therefore usually avoid buying any in December. Today I sold some books at Powell's and bought The Darkness that Comes Before and the Plot Against America. I could say something smarmy like I needed to do something nice for myself or whatever, but really I was just feeling greedy.

Repeat after me, Nazis are bad

I read this review regarding alien invasion novel Watch on the Rhine with bemusement. In 2005, with the invasion of the earth by evil aliens, the German governments uses high tech to resurrect or make young again....the Waffen SS. Before getting to moral issues, the Nazis did LOSE the war. If you planned to win how about the US Army or the Red Army since, they you know, won. The moral problem is that the Waffen SS were the Nazi's Nazis. Real racist killers. I thought maybe the reviewer was exaggerating about the book being an attempt to rehabilitate bad guys until I read the Amazon reviews. These kids seem to be buying the misunderstood soldiers line. There is also lots of "in war you must do terrible things," which is a convenient dodge. Down that path lies Abu Ghraib, so no thanks. All those fellows need to pick up Masters of Death which details the role of the SS in the programmatic murder of millions.

In military geek circles, there is a wierd fascination with supposedly superior forces that lost out to "mongrel" forces. The Germans in WW2, the Confederate Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy get lavish attention in military history while the opposing side is often ignored. There are a variety of reasons for this, but I suspect that one is that these armies are perceived as somehow more martial and virtuous. All I know is they lost, so in addition to being on the wrong side morally, they are failed models for military success.

On the road again

Travel writers these days tend to be adventurers. The books focus on daredevil eating, extreme sports or dangerous locations. William Least Heat Moon is a poet and his Blue Highways is poetic. Following the collapse of his marriage he drove 13,000 miles across the backroads of America. The local roads on maps used to be printed in blue, hence the title. The author gives lyrical descriptions of each area he visits and he manages to meet a number of interesting characters along the way. Description of local color often descends into cheese or camp, sometimes because the author is an middle class to uppermiddle class person patronizing the locals. Least Heat Moon was down on his luck and was able to interact on a more personal level. He wanted to find local communities with their own characters, but he found they were slowly dying. The book was written in the late 70s and early 80s, so it may be that the small communities he finds have further diminished and become homogenized. If you are interested in an America other than the one that has been cut and pasted across the metros, you will like this book.

Now for something completely different

Disney has released more of their Treasures DVDs. The DVDs assemble unreleased content along some common theme, like Black and White Mickey, or the 1950s space films. In order to create buzz, the sets are limited and generally sell out within a year. One of this year collects the Mickey Mouse Club adventures of Spin and Marty. I've heard my Dad wax nostalgic over that one, so this might be a good gift for boomer parents.

My favorite of all the Disney treasures is the On the Front Lines DVD, which collects the shorts made to support the war effort in WW2. Some of the shorts are fascinatingly creepy and strange, at least from our self-centered, disengaged modern perspective. One shows Donald Duck considering whether to spend some cash or to pay his taxes. He finally opts for the latter and the narrator begins to intone more and more aggressively about " CRUSH THE AXIS...taxes for guns....tank guns....anti-aircraft guns" It is intensely violent, but then so was the war. I'm not belittling the effort or the need to propagandize given the immense burden borne by society. In fact it is hard to imagine our current society rallying to do anything.

There is another short which concerns the spread of malaria. The Seven Dwarfs volunteer to kill all the mosquitoes on the farm, for as the narrator tells us, mosquitoes lead to malaria which leads to a loss of productivity! Oh and life too. The Dwarves blanket the farm with something called Paris Green. At one point the narrator applauds Dopey saying"That's right Dopey, kill her dead" The Dwarves are also encouraged to cover all standing water with oil to prevent breeding of skeeters.

There are also some very creepy shorts about life in Nazi Germany. One features a sensitive young lad brow beaten into becoming a hate spewing Nazi. They are quite effective, but also not easy to do today. One side of cultural debate find it too easy to caricature our enemies, while the other is too busy complaining about America's ills to admit that other countries are capable of bad acts.

This DVD is hours of entertainment, but it is also no longer on sale. It's Ebay, Amazon sellers or the library for you, I am afraid.

Tell them now your pleasure's set on slow release

Apparently Barbie and Ken decided to spice things up by inviting a few friends over and breaking out the wine and Sade (the singer, not the libertine). (via Viviane)

Guilty pleasure of the week

I have fallen to "Tear you apart" by She Wants Revenge. It feels like a novelty song I may curse myself for liking one day, but right now I dig it. The band gets compared to Interpol and Joy Division. You've probably already caught the reference in the song title. I don't see the Interpol connection as Interpol is cool and distant even when talking about sex, while this song is insistent and urgent, more like Joy Division really. And the bass line makes me think of early P.I.L.. The song is as dirty as all get out, which should make it all the more attractive to most of you.

Monday, December 05, 2005

There's no way back from this

Ever since Lucas changed Star Wars to make Greedo fire first, my childhood love of Star Wars has slowly deflated. Five years ago (ok, ten) I would have gone crazy for this Star Wars Wiki, but now it mostly seems like a reminder of someone you stopped dating a few years back and now wonder what you saw in them. Today's featured article concerns the infamous holiday special. Portlanders can rent this flick down at Movie Madness, and I recommend you do so, if only to see how long you can stand it.

I am become Shiva, destroyer of productivity

You may have already seen this, if not you will need to cancel an appointment or two to check it out. The poster is a picture of an intersection of two city streets and the images in the picture represent 72 bands. The emphasis is on current music but there is plenty of back catalogue for those that ignore current tunes.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

2005 yet again

Thanks to Marginal Revolution, I saw this metalist of 2005 lists. You get top bands in the US, best travel books of 05, and best comics/graphic novels of 05.


I ran into another cupcake site. This woman makes this incredibly elaborate cupcakes such as Ricotta Raspberry Almond Cupcakes with Citrus Meringue Frosting. Her descriptions and recipes are detailed and interesting, she explains what went well and what went poorly. She is a bit of a super chef, noting that had she more time before making the cupcakes mentioned above, she would have made home-made ricotta and almond paste. If you are interested in baking, you will like her site.

I felt so ugly before, I didn't know what to do

Until I found anal bleaching cream that is. With my nicely bleached back passage I look years younger. From the 10 worst gifts of the year.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

More PDX chocolate

Alma Chocolate is having a tasting party today and tomorrow 12-5 PM. The goal is to get holiday orders but you can just taste as well. I can't speak for the chocolate myself, but I have heard good things.

Alma Chocolate140 NE 28th Ave, Portland 503 473 4278

Best caramel in Portland

One of the many reasons to live in Portland is the enjoyment of food and drink. Sure, the Chinese food sucks, but when something takes off, it really takes off. Chocolate is big here and yesterday I hit Sahagun with some friends. It's a tiny space just off Burnside on NW 16th. The owner makes a variety of bittersweet chocolates with nuts, berries, coffee, pumpkin seeds and other ingredients. She also sells boutique candy bars. The highlight for me was the caramel. It is a salty caramel in a bittersweet cup topped with a hazelnut. If you get them fresh, the caramel oozes out of the top, so you have to eat it carefully. You could pop the whole thing in your mouth but that would be a waste. Eating one of these is like drinking Patron or Basil Hayden. It's meant to be savored.

The only downside is that I cannot run out and bike off all those calories. One reason not to be psyched about Portland is the winter weather.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Spice up your conversation with these 1,500 synonyms for female privates. I for one will be sure to use "Best in Christendom" (17th century) the "Cape of Good Hope" (19th century) and "Sigourney Weaver" ( bit of the old Cockney rhyming slang like Charley Hunt).

Update: link fixed, sorry.

Gift recommendation

If you are shopping for literary-minded friends but are afraid of buying a book they already own, consider the Sweet Shop Owner. It is one of Graham Swift's (Last Orders) earlier books. I've read almost all of Swift's novels and this is my favorite. Like nearly all of his books, the main character is a working class Briton. The action of the book takes place on a single day in the candy store of the title character. As he goes about his daily tasks, he reviews his life and his successes and failures. Swift's characterization is excellent and I particularly liked the estranged relationship with his daughter. Books like these always make me reflect on my own relationships and how I might improve them. If your friends like books about the examined life, then this will be a big hit.

Can't we all just get along?

(via Arts and Literature Daily) Michael Nelson defends Narnia against Philip Pullman's charges of racism, sexism and other modern sins. I so dislike this debate, Pullman and Lewis are both excellent. Watching it is like watching Mommy and Daddy fight. Or rather watching drunk Daddy rail against dead Mommy.

Nerds with money

Amazon has yet to offer another (almost) Complete Criterion Collection this year, but you may be able to get your hands on the complete Star Trek DVD collection for a similiar price. For a few grand you get all the movies and all the TV shows on DVD. The Amazon page has some amusing intra-Trekker squabbling over the price of the set and the quality of the shows. There is lots of math demonstrating that the set is or is not a good value. You also get wierd declarations like "Besides, you should know that the average Star Trek fan is more affluent than any other fan base. AND you can bet your favorite tricorder that Paramount knows that too." Is this some sort of wierd self-validation? If you are a nerd and feel you should be able to look down on these people, use this handy nerd hierarchy flow chart to determine where you stand in the nerd universe.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Feast for Crows Primer

All the people I know who started Feast For Crows are having a hard time remembering who is who in this rather epic tale. Someone has been kind enough to write a short primer to bring you back up to speed. On the same website, you can find a database of characters, houses and geography. If you have lots of time on your hands you can read summaries of each chapter of each book. For those of you who have not yet started this series of books, I imagine you are either fascinated or horrified that someone has taken this much time to analyze these books.

Kit Kats

Hershey's continues to roll out new Kit Kats! Today I tried the Orange Cream Kit Kat. Not a lick of chocolate in this one, just orange creamy goodness. If you turned down the Nutty Buddies and ice cream sandwiches for the dreamsicles, then you would probably dig this. If not, pick up the Mint Kit Kat instead.

I had the misfortune of hearing "Honky Tonk BaDonkaDonk" on the radio today. Apparently rednecks also like a big ole ass.

You're the reason I'm watching

Michael Chabon, author of my current favorite book of all time, is going to appear on the Simpsons next season. Apparently his pa is excited. Winning the Pulitzer is one thing, but appearing on the Simpsons? That is life achievement action, friends.

Is it wrong not to always be glad ?

Apparently it is splatter the icon season over at Slate. It was Billy Joel earlier this week and yesterday it is the Watchmen. The author argues that the comic is overly bleak and adolescent in its existential questioning and its overt political stances. He claims we adults have no time for such jibber jabber and "Life is too short. Frankly, we'd much rather be watching The Incredibles." He goes on to deride the entire graphic novel concept. It seems he would like to keep the boring 70s style comic. Keep in mind this person wrote a book to convince us that the Hollywood blockbuster machine is a good thing. I agree that the comic book is bleak, but it is set in a bleak world and like all speculative fiction it extrapolates trends to make us question our current political and sociological environment. I don't want all art to be political, but there is nothing wrong with political art. Unless it is Socialist Realism.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Keep my advent to yourself

I see in the NYT that a group of jazz musicians are interpreting Pavement. All the Amazon reviews are written from the jazz instead of the indie side of the line. And it is called Gold Sounds instead of Gold Soundz. Trivial, but telling? Then again when Apocalyptica covered Metallica using nothing but cellos, that sounded pretty cool. Look how metal those guys look though. They could be in Sepultura for all I know.

Now that it's gone, it's like it wasn't there at all that is. I saw this list for the top ten dot-com flops and I was a little sad to see that my old dot-com didn't make the list. In fact there is very little evidence for anywhere online or elsewhere. The old building (NW Thurman and 15) is now a day care facility. Dammit, this is two melancholy posts in a row. Ok this is pretty funny, it is a banned ad for the Xbox, which has some nice violent movie spoofs.

Know thyself

I used to think I was an independent, go it alone type. Over time I realized I really hate being alone and must have the company of people. Yes, man is a social animal,blah blah blah, but really I start to go nuts when I am by myself. When I drove cross country two months ago (in four days - bad idea) I was so starved for human interaction that I actually welcomed the 6AM drunk who sat at my breakfast table and ate half of my food. I truly understood this about myself when I visited Florence in an attempt to meet my friend Danielle (I was living in London at the time.) I never found her, so I was by myself in a town where I couldn't speak the language and the only book I had was Andre Dubus' Collected Stories. If Carver is vaguely sad, Dubus is out and out morose, not the sort of thing you should read when by yourself. No more travelling by myself, or at least it should be with a happy book.

2005 the Amazon way

With it's wealth of data and presentation skills, it's no surprise that Amazon's best of 2005 is the biggest. You get customer faves, editor faves and detailed genre top tens. For example, the editors picked the History of Love as the best novel of 2005, while the readers voted (with their dollars) for The Shadow of the Wind. In paperback at least. If you've not read Shadow of the Wind, I recommend it. It's a Spanish novel and fits in the literary thriller category. The comparison to his countrymen Arturo Perez Reverte is inevitable. I would say that Ruiz Zafon, author of Shadow, is a more vibrant writer, his prose is much more engaging and alive. His plot also holds together better than Reverte's, which often limp along at the end. Being literary it is filled with great sadness of course.

Didion's Year of Magical Thinking tops the Amazon best of list. If you don't know it, the book deals with the death of Didion's husband while their only daughter was battling for her life in the hospital. I must read this, but I should probably wait until my life has calmed down. The editors line up lots of obvious books but through in a guide to cool hotels, a photography book and a book about Star Wars posters. Iain Banks made the list as well. I have this one, but have not yet read it yet.

More of 2005

With it's wealth of data and presentation skills, it's no surprise that Amazon's best of 2005 is the biggest. You get customer faves, editor faves and detailed genre top tens. For example, the editors picked the History of Love as the best novel of 2005, while the readers voted (with their dollars) for The Shadow of the Wind. In paperback at least. If you've not read Shadow of the Wind, I recommend it. It's a Spanish novel and fits in the literary thriller category. The comparison to his countrymen Arturo Perez Reverte is inevitable. I would say that Ruiz Zafon, author of Shadow, is a more vibrant writer, his prose is much more engaging and alive. His plot also holds together better than Reverte's, which often limp along at the end. Being literary it is filled with great sadness of course.

Didion's Year of Magical Thinking tops the Amazon best of list. If you don't know it, the book deals with the death of Didion's husband while their only daughter was battling for her life in the hospital. I must read this, but I should probably wait until my life has calmed down. The editors line up lots of obvious books but through in a guide to cool hotels, a photography book and a book about Star Wars posters. Iain Banks made the list as well. I have this one, but have not yet read it yet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Is bad sex better than no sex?

Yes, but is bad sex writing worse than leaving out the sex? The Guardian has helpfully published the long list contenders for this year's Bad Sex writing contest. The competition is fierce, I won't bother quoting just go look, but I will say that it makes Penthouse Forum letter writers appear to be Booker class in comparison.

Coffee time

Not that people in Portland need any more coffee shops to visit, but today I went to Jackman Joe's.
It's on NW 16th and Marshall, under the 405. The decor and layout are excellent, we drank coffee in a little library. It also has free wi-fi. If you drink a mug rather than paper, a large coffee is only a buck, it's sweet I'm telling you.

My next show

Mark you calendars PDX peeps, Dec 30 at the Crystal you can see Sleater-Kinney, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and Quasi (yep I bet Janet will be tired). If you don't have the Woods or Face the Truth yet then put them on the holiday wishlist.

On the opposite side of the musical goodness scale, we have Billy Joel, scourge of radio listeners everywhere. Going to school with pile of NYCers I had to listen to that jackass all the time. Slate has a nice dis/retrospective.

The new Broken Social Scene takes about five listens to appreciate. So don't despair, keep listening. Maybe it will be fewer for you as listens 2-4 took place while I was painting and slowly being poisoned from the carbon monoxide being pumped out by our broken furnace (one of the bad, bad things mentioned below).

Amazon customers are stupid

This is old news, but Amazon has a best books of the millenium list. The list was compiled by taking Amazon customer votes, so the list is a strange mix of the sacred and the profane. Lot of classics, but Jurrasic Park, Robert Jordan (kill me now if that is as good as it gets), Rainbow Six????? ? SF gets some love with Stranger In a Strange Land, Ender's Game, Neuromancer and Foundation on the list. At least personal faves Karamazov and Gravity's Rainbow made the list.

I generally take a democratic approach to reading. One should read meaningful books, but there is nothing wrong with driving over to the wrong side of town for a date with some trash. This though is a list of the BEST, and Left Behind and the Celestine Prophecy do not belong on any such list. If the list is the best books published between 3 and 4 PM on July 6, 1999 maybe, but nothing more than that. Ayn Rand is on there, she may be wacky, but at least it is literature. Owen Meany is on there too, but I have already expressed my distaste for that novel. My only hope is that these readers can transition to something a little more literary.

A dreaded sunny day, so I meet you at the Cemetry Gates

Some people (like reader CG) seem to think that if you read the Christian Science Monitor you have to stop taking medicine or some such. Not the case! You may feel compelled to visit Mary Baker Eddy's grave though. Seriously, if you are in Boston or Cambridge, hit the cemetery, it is gorgeous.

The Monitor has a list of the best fiction of the year. It can serve either as a gift list or as a reminder that you have been reading shitty books all year. My only defense is that I was grad school for most of the year.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Christmas for conservatives

Have some conservatives on your holiday list? Then you should check out National Review's holiday reading list. I was pleased as punch to see that Tom Holland, author of the excellent Rubicon, has a new book on the Greco-Persian wars. (the only downside is you have to order it from the UK to get this year) Non-conservatives should take a look too. Yes, you will have to wade through "Why Liberals Want To Rape Your Children," but there are some interesting and thoughtful choices as well. I tried to find a leftish list from the Nation, the New Republic or the Atlantic, but came up empty. Sorry.

Give me something to stop the bleeding

Man, my shit sucks right now*. I'm not going to go all weepy on you, but let's just say if things can go wrong, they are. The next step would be a bio-terror attack on PDX. What is amazing is that David Rakoff's Don't Get Too Comfortable has me laughing out loud. The people around me at Cha Cha Cha were getting a little nervous what with all my titters and guffaws. Being paint covered and unshaven probably didn't help.

The book is marketed as trenchant analysis of the foibles of the upper middle class. There is certainly some of that in here. Rakoff gets sent to fashion shows, to be a waiter in a South Beach hotel and to ride the Concorde. He also goes on midnight treasure hunts and ponders the mystery of the Log Cabin Republicans. Rakoff is the sort of person I with whom I like spending evenings (yes, yes, ha-ha). He is articulate, cutting, observant and self deprecating. Some find him overly snarky, but he isn't cruel, at least to my reading. Only downside is that the book is short and you magazine readers may have hit some of these essays in the past.

*No interventions kids, it is all stuff that will pass, but sucks severely at the moment.

Let's hear it for the nerds

With all the cool kids playing World of Warcraft, what's a true nerd to do? I suggest you consider the upcoming Neverwinter Nights 2. While it is not massively multiplayer, you can (for free) log on to a server and play with your friends.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Blackened is the end

Back in my livin' in China days (93-94) I got sick a few times. I had the "kill me now" food poisoning just once, but I never need that again. You think you know pain? You know nothing. Never before or since have I experienced such complete body suffering. Anyway, that was a memorable acute problem. I had a chronic breathing problem, as breathing Chinese air is like hooking up a face mask to a running car engine. The environment is so compromised that cities are having to stop using their sources of water. The city in question, Harbin, was known for its Russian influence and its ice festival. Now it will be the Love Canal of China. The book to read (full disclosure, I own it, but haven't read it) is The River Runs Black, a study of China's environmental crisis. Some of the Government/China PhD candidates I met at Georgetown were convinced that place is going to fall apart. Take that with a can of Morton's, but also be skeptical of the China will crush us all talk.

Nor the nails of the cross nor the blood of Christ can bring you hope this eve

Do you like your novels dark and bitter, like your shriveled, decaying soul? Then you have probably already started reading James Ellroy. Ellroy has become synonymous with a number of things including: near dystopian depictions of American life in the 20th century; violence; small crimes tied to larger conspiracies driven by corrupt politicians and cops; a world where everyone is corrupt; epic length novels; experimentation in language and heavily damaged heroes who often are killed. Given this wealth of association, when you hear that a new novel reminds someone of James Ellroy you have to ask, in what way?

Michael Simon's Dirty Sally is set in Austin in the 80s. OK so Ellroy is all about LA in the 50s and 60s. There are brutal killings, a corrupt police force composed of homicidal rednecks and a few lonely outsiders. The local civic leadership is implicated in some nasty business that gets our hero, properly damaged and lusting after his dead partner's wife, into the shit. So yeah thematically it is much like Ellroy. The language isn't as good, but it is this guy's first novel. It is also much more brisk, capable of being consumed in a long evening. Ellroy will wear you out before that happens. I think his future books will be even better. That is often review code for "don't read this one, wait for later ones." In this case, if you like darkly toned mysteries, I say pick this one up.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Sorry J

Bad news for reader J, who worried recently about hipsters discovering the Spare Room. Now, someone is blogging about it. The hipsters can't be far behind. There is always McPeet's which is so old school while still sitting on increasingly trendy Fremont.

Best of 2005

The Guardian asked a bunch of famous people (famous in Britain at least) to talk about their fave books of 2005. We actually learn why they like the book. This is much more useful, to my mind, that the NY Times best of 2005 list, which simply lists books that got good reviews in the Times. I so prefer personal recommendations and the Guardian are like secondhand personal recommendations. If, for whatever reason, you admire these famous people, then maybe you should look at their book recommendations. Not sure what goes on my best of list, as with books, I tend to jump years quite a bit. Top CDs of 2005 is another story.

Friday, November 25, 2005

That's what the fuck life is... one vile fucking task after another

Or at least so it seems sometimes. Today I had to rush finish painting the house. Painting walls is so bad that it makes we want to find new substances to abuse. Tomorrow we unpack the truck. We as in me and my equally out of shape friends. I hope we aren't cursing one another by the end. I'll probably start smoking, drink too much and get in a fight at a strip club. Oh sorry, that was my bachelor party. I'll have to try something better.

On the happy side, we just caught Walk the Line. Hats off to Reese and Joaquin for some excellent acting. Reese creeped me out a little since she looks EXACTLY like my sister in this movie. Normally they are slightly similar, but this was eerie, as in why is Johnny Cash hooking up with my sister?

Why markets (and PDX) are nice

I rather like this Marginal Revolution take on why markets are good to have. The author talks about how he has specific needs for peanut butter but really doesn't care about toothpaste while his wife feels the opposite way. As he points out, this argues against the newly fashionable idea that more choice is bad or somehow debilitating. Really, we only make choices about the things we care about, but for those we want lots of options. I for one want to see every beer on earth at the grocery. What galls me are the people who want to hold back the profusion of goods because they know better and want to protect me from the hazards of choice. These are the same paternalistic people who wag their fingers at drinkers and smokers. At the same time the God Warrior's people are rising on the right, the nanny staters are rising on the left. Thank goodness I live in happily libertarian PDX.

Powers 2

Tim Powers has a short story collection out in stores. This one hasn't got the promotion of Declare, I hope this doesn't indicate that Powers in on the outs. Sci-fi short stories are great, as they allow an author to throw a cool idea at you without necessarily having to resolve anything. I think this is why Stephen King's continues to excel at short stories as his novels have fallen off. Salon has a review of the book in which the reviewer compares Powers to Gibson, Dick and Hemingway. Yes, you will have to sit through the Salon commercial thing to read the article, but just tab over to Hype Machine and download some tunes while it loads. I recommend the Long Winters or John Vanderslice today.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

We can have playtime in my little playroom

My smut-addled readers, which would be most of you, will want to check the Williamette Week gift guide section titled "Sacred and Profane." The ladies on my list are sure to love the eight week stripper class. Those who need lighting will want to get their hands on the Tramp Lamp, a lamp made of sexy underthings. I could do without the nude hot tubbin' with hippies though.

Where to put the sci-fi?

I generally think the argument that the UK is more literate than the US is overblown. That said, you don't see that many newspaper articles like this one here in the States. The author describes her problems in arranging the books on her bookshelf. Does she put the high minded titles out for all to see and more questionable ones in the bedroom? Does she alphabetize, or categorize? What makes the grade for the living room?

I will soon face these challenges as we move back into our old house. I am sure I will end up hiding my genre books from guest's eyes unless they my copy is a class-conferring trade paperback. We used to alphabetize the fiction and organize the non-fiction, but then after the kids arrived all the books would be re-arranged on a daily basis.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I love your friends, they're all so arty

I am not the greatest Dandies fan, but I must admit that "You Were The Last High" is a great song. Watch the video here and bask in the pretension.

The lost King Kong scene

One of the most famous lost scenes in movies is the spider attack from the original King Kong. Legend has it that it was so scary that it was removed from the film. Later sources say it was dropped for pacing purposes. In any case, Peter Jackson has re-created the scene as part of the new DVD release of the original movie. Retrocrush has a good story on the topic.

Antipodean rock

I heard this song called "Beautiful to Me" on Launch cast. It is some light indie pop with alt country elements. The band, Little Birdy, is from OZ and and if you click on this link you can find the video. The video is not great, but you might like the song.

Another bookcast

Powell's new bookcast is up, for all you non-RSS users. Salman Rushdie is on this one, which makes me feel guily for reading Dirty Sally, instead of something more meaningful. Just in time for Thanksgiving and awkward family gatherings, Po Bronson brings his tales of family dysfunction and the underlying factors which hold people together.

If you like DC public radio, you will be happy to learn that Diane Rehm and Kojo Nnamdi now have podcasts. Kojo does a lot of DC insider baseball, but he is still good. Today's show generated a list of the best winter books of 2005, which is here.

Wait, the trust has gone, something's going very wrong

(Via Cup of Joe Powell) There is an amusing parody trailer for a biopic of Bush 43. It's not as good as the God Warrior or the Shining thing, so don't get too excited.

I push my fingers into my eyes, it's the only way to slowly stop the pain

Right now, the "quiet storm, soft and warm" type radio stations are going all Christmas all the time. That's cool with me, especially as I love the crooner stuff, Crosby, Sinatra and so on. Just like my taste in candy, I like my seasonal music and TV. That said, listening to Christmas radio is like playing Russian Roulette. While I might get a Crosby singing "O Holy Night," I might also get my least favorite song of all time....Christmas shoes. (link has lyrics and a sound file...if you dare)

It's the most maudlin piece of dreck to beset the airwaves, ever. You would need to have women and children crying non-stop for three minutes to top it. The song concerns a poverty stricken child who hits up a stranger for a few bones to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother. Just to turn the knife the little tyke says "And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight" That's right she might not make it to Christmas, sniff. I hate this manipulative crap. What's worse, the boy is sent to our narrator (by the deity, no less) to remind him that Christmas is not about buying presents. No, it's about dying mothers and self absorbed people who think God goes around and uses other's misfortune to make the righteous feel more righteous. I bet the God Warrior LOVES this song.

Come on now

I usually like reading Pitchfork dissing of a new CD (unless I like the CD). The review of the DFA79 remix CD is beyond me unfortunately. For example:

But the Braxe/Falke and Dählback joints here are so flimsy, that vocoder'd out Makuziak futuro-disco bullshit so obnoxiously tongue-in-cheek, I can't imagine anybody really psyched to hit up his neighb Fixed or Making Time party to try out his new Diesel hightops on the dancefloor.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Dark clouds always waiting for you

You can bet that Frank Gaffney, author of the forthcoming War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take To Prevail in War for the Free World, is going to get a lot of air time on Fox News. They just love breathless those-damn-traitor-liberals won't let us defend our nation stories. Bill Gertz of the WashTimes takes a cue from Gaffney regarding the EMP (or electro-magnetic pulse) threat. Those of you who have read nuclear war fiction will recall that in addition to a blast wave, a heat flash that can set skin on fire and a boatload of radioactive particles, a nuclear explosion will create a pulse that can destroy unhardened electronics. This new threat assumes that an enemy nation will detonate a warhead in space, spreading the EMP effect across a great swath of the nation.

Yes the US is undefended against this threat. The US is also undefended against a 25+ missile nuclear strike and there are no plans to be able to deal with that, as it is economically unfeasible. Economics aside, there is little reason to fear an attack of this nature. If some nation sends a ballistic missile towards the US, they are going to get one or likely many more back. Even if the entire US electrical grid was shut down by EMP, the nuclear missile armed submarines could and bombers could still retaliate. It is difficult to conceive of a nation actually deciding to attack the United States in this way. It is equally difficult to conceive of a terrorist group acquiring a missile and a nuclear warhead small enough to be placed on the missile.

The US has enough real security threats with which to deal to spend much time on things like this. Gaffney has an almost theological commitment to missile defense. As such he is naturally attracted to threats like this one. People without that commitment should look elsewhere.

Sing a song about fucking

Now, those who know me will tell you I am no prude. Nope, not me, I like talking about things dirty, lascivious or smutty. That said, I am most displeased with the band calling itself....Morningwood. I even dislike their URL, which is Morningwood Rocks? Oh really? It rocks? According to whom? Not people who wake up at 6AM to active children I tell you. One of the last things I want to think about is Morningwood. I suppose we can have more band names about sexual misfortune. I look forward to bands like Whiskeydick, Cameltoe and Smegma.

I smell sex and candy

The eldest child was hit by pneumonia last night (he's fine). After a visit to the ER, I headed over to the all night Walgreen's so he could get his antibiotic on. In my post-midnight delirious state I was lulled into thinking that the new Cadbury's Limited Edition Dark Chocolate might be a good call. Why? The dark chocolate bar isn't that good, I would rather eat Hershey's Special Dark than that. Bad dark choc+raisins+almonds should not equal tasty treat, but hey I was tired. Who knows, maybe it is Hershey's fault since they make it here in the States. The Creme egg still rules.

On the British candy tip, myaybe if we are lucky we will get the Texan bar, a oldie that is being re-released. This bar gets the top rating on this British candy rating website. I was also excited to see there are many, many versions of the Crunchie.

Check out the kinky interracial candy threesome on the Cadbury website(you may need to refresh to get the image). The tagline is "Throughout history chocolate has been associated with romance and sharing." Is that all it takes?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Back to the well

Stephen King has put out Extra Special Edition of Salem's Lot. It's more or less the book equivalent of Pavement's re-release of Slanted and Enchanted. There isn't much reason to buy either unless you are a long time fan with lots more money than back in the day. OK, there's more reason to pick up the SE, since you may not have Watery Domestic or some of the B-sides. With the Salem's Lot, you get some short stories you have likely read already if you are a fan. And come on if you are willing to drop $35 on a book you can get for $7 in the same store, you're a fan. There are also some deleted scenes that are apparently more violent than in the original. This is probably the best of the Stephen King's but I don't know that I need to read it again.

I like the concept of adding content after the hardcover release. You see this in paperbacks all the time, particularly in non-fiction where events may reduce the value of the book's thesis. The authors of the Ice Limit published a web only epilogue after readers complained the book ended a bit too abruptly. I disagree, it may be my favorite of the Preston-Child books, but it was fun to get a little extra.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Packer and Assassin's Gate

I finished the Assassin's Gate and definitely recommend it. If you are pressed for time, read the Memorial day chapter which details with a dead soldier's father's attempt to untangle his complex feelings about the war and his son's death. You don't get the usual right v. left blather, but a normal person's attempt to understand.

Packer nicely elucidates why so much of today's political commentary is without value. It's worth quoting

The one slender American novel the war has produced so far, Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker, a dialogue over lunch in a Washington hotel room between two old friends, one of whom is preparing to assassinate George W Bush, was a perfect emblem of a political culture in which hysteria took the place of thought. Baker's novel had nothing to do with Iraq and everything to do with the ugliness of politics in this country.... Iraq provided a blank screen on which Americans were free to project anything they wanted and because so few Americans had anything directly at stake there, many of them never saw more than the image of their own feelings.

I avoid so many books and articles on the war for this reason. Do you really think the Nation or the Weekly Standard are going to surprise you with a nuanced look at the war?

He goes on to criticize the right and left's knee jerk talking points response to each news item, which prevents any meaningful discussion of the war. Bush and the new conservatives denigration of public service comes into play as well. Because public service and public life are so poorly thought of in modern conservative thought (outside of the national greatness conservatives of course) Bush could hardly call upon the American people to do any more than shop. Judging by conversations in Washington this weekend, the lack of sacrifice by the broader public is bitter consolation for the soldiers in Iraq. The yellow ribbon sticker on the cars just doesn't cut it.

Roses really smell like boo hoo hoo

With all the Guerilla bar excitement, I seemed to have missed the blooming of the corpse flower in DC's botanical garden. I rather like the Post description of the flower's aroma "reminiscent of long-dead rat with just a hint of brie." People are lining up to take a whiff. When I heard about it, I cursed my bad luck at missing my chance. There is something strangely compelling about bad smells. Maybe our hyper-clean society lacks range in the stink department. Or maybe we are all still adolescent. I used to think this was a guy only thing as in "Dude, this reeks! Smell it!" But no. I have found chicks exhibit similar behavior. One female friend tried some dubious Czech candy and said "It tasted like ass. I'm saving one for you so you can taste it too." Nice.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

21st century liner notes

Matt lent me the new John Vanderslice CD for my trip to DC. It's good, kind of like the guy from Neutral Milk Hotel playing with a stripped down early Death Cab. Or something like that. Anyway, I like the song "Exodus Damage" which I didn't quite get. Turns out John's website provides liner notes and production notes. Turns out the song title is a Silver Jews reference!!! I like it even more now.


If you read Candyfreak, you saw that the Goldenberg family was considering selling their company, the one that makes the peanut chews. Well they did, which is all well and good, I imagine they want to retire and the candy biz is a tough one. Unfortunately, those that acquired the rights to the candy renamed them Chew-etts, which isn't even a fucking word. Anti-semitic to drop Goldenbergs? Maybe. Ridiculous? Yes. To go with the change, they made this Gen Y web site (apparently Chew-etts are the official candy of the Dew Action Sports Tour. Huzzah. )

It is interesting to note that on the Powell's site, those who bought Candyfreak bought a guide to homeopathy. I thought the homeopaths stay the hell away from super sugary treats.

Carrying pictures of Chairman Mao

I am about halfway through George Packer's The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq and I recommend it. An early review(in the NYT I think) said it cribbed too much from other books like Plan of Attack, Rise of the Vulcans and Squandered Victory. While these books are referenced and similar ground is covered, the bulk of the book is based on Packer's interviews he undertook as a writer for the New Yorker. Packer is a Clintonian national defense democrat, and he believes in using force to further humanitarian goals. This viewpoint gives him both sympathy and a distance from the war effort. It makes for a measured even tone, which is helpful because so much of what he relates is infuriating. The sheer incompetence of the Pentagon's "effort" at reconstructing Iraq is made evident time and time again. In truth, the Pentagon or more specifically, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, prevented the State Department from properly planning for the post-war, while not making any effort on its own.

Back in the cultural revolution, the Chinese communists had a saying "Better Red than Expert." In other words, for any given job, ideological purity trumped knowledge or skill. This is clearly the Bush administration's mantra as well. Actual experts in reconstruction, democracy and the Middle East were shoved aside in favor of properly conservative non-entities. We saw this again in Katrina where cronies in power screwed up. In Iraq, actual knowledge of state building carried a whiff of Clinton and another saying in Bush's DC is ABC or Anything But Clinton. It's all so junior high that it would be laughable if thousands of Americans and Iraqis weren't dead thanks to the failure at the top.