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.