Sunday, December 31, 2006

Lemon pie, me oh my oh

One of my new year's resolutions is to eat more pie. 2006 saw entirely too few slices of pie travel down my gullet. Luckily, at Christmas I received a copy of Ken Haedrich's pie cookbook, called Pie: 300 Tried and True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. There is a lot to like about this book. Yes there are 300 recipes for pies, but he also includes a wide range of pie crusts. After all that he admits that the store bought roll out pie crust isn't that bad. Since my homemade pastry is generally weak, I tend to go store bought, unless it is a specialty crust.

Each of the recipes has a small story/introduction. For example, he has a recipe for a Peanut Pie Like Virginia Diner's, because the people at the Virginia Diner wouldn't give up the recipe. There are pies from all over the US, and pies of every type and for each one we hear why the pie is distinct from others and from whence it came.

My first one was a Shaker Lemon Pie, see here for an example. This person has a nice variation using Meyer lemons and ginger. It's a delightful pie, with a consistency in between lemon chess and custard but with macerated lemon slices. I don't think I sliced my lemons quite thinly enough as they were close to too tart (my spouse said they were easily over the line into too tart.) Next up is the orange pie with the pistachio crust. After that, the turtle pie. Who knew resolutions could be so easy?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Oh baby, just you shut your mouth

This Bookslut review of fave book covers of 2006 has some enjoyable writing. I rather like this sentence about a Japanese comic book.

This is also one of the few editions of Japanese comics that, to American eyes, will not make you look like someone who spends a lot of time at home composing personal ads expressing one's interest in Asian women.

Remembrance of things past

Via SF Signal, here is a huge collection of science fiction cover art from 2006. I like some of the new covers, but I am a much bigger fan of the golden era artists like Kelly Freas. One of my favorite books as a kids was one like this that collected science fiction art. It was one of those books that you keep long after the spine cracks and pages start falling out. Of course I tossed it at some point, which is too bad. It has taken awhile for me to develop a good criteria for keeping or donating/selling books.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Yeah I'm working, but I'm not working for you

If you have ever worked in a service role or watched some tool belittle someone because he can, you will like this.

It's all about the truffles

I generally don't care what people buy, but I must say that I find conspicuous consumption rather vulgar. This in-depth article on a Dallas chocolate shop describes one of the most vulgar examples of all. There are so many choice bits here but I particularly like this list of things that cost less per pound then Noka chocolate:

Foie gras -- $50 per pound
Domestic sturgeon caviar -- $275 per pound
American Wagyu and Japanese Kobe beef -- $100 to $300 per pound
Sterling silver -- $170 per pound
Marijuana in El Paso -- $350 per pound
A fat stack of dollar bills -- $454 per pound

Via Brad DeLong.

The islands of Phoenix, in 2016, are making it up with hardihood

Fans of big think op-eds will want to read Anatol Lieven's piece on global warming and the end of the current global society. He raises some pertinent questions. And the news of a large piece of ice breaking off of Greenland isn't going to help matters. Time to buy some land in the hills.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

That was awesome

In honor of my first episode of the Wire which is awesome as promised, here is some awesome for you.

Here you have Sebadoh covering a Foreigner song. Can the indie power of Lou Barlow suddenly make Foreigner cool? No. But it is a fun listen anyway.

Scroll down on this page for Forest Fire, my fave song of the last few months. Warning, it is some off kilter alt-country.

TV on the Radio covers the Pixies.

There is a new Interpol record next year.

The Editors of We Love Joy Division fame have a nice understated cover of Road to Nowhere (scroll down).

Here's a entire Modest Mouse live show featuring two of my faves, Out of Gas and Perfect Disguise. Did I tell you about the time I saw Broken Social Scene and Issac and Joe came out and played Out of Gas w/BSS? Awesome.

Speak, Memory

I've always been interested in the interaction between a biographer and his still-living subject. I read Boswell's Presumptuous Task last year and really enjoyed the window it opened into Johnson's Britain and the relationship between the two men. A special bonus is that I feel less stupid now for never having actually read the Life of Johnson (although Laura will tell you that a copy has occupied a truly prodigious amount of space on my bedside table for some time now).

George Bush has recently learned that even hack biographers can turn on you when it suits their financial purposes. It is only a matter of time before Hannity, Coulter and their hellbound ilk follow suit. A much worthier subject, Nadine Gordimer, has recently learned a similar lesson. Yet another reason to put off choosing my Boswell.

A few new ones

Despite owning two of his books, I have yet to read any Robert Wilson. He has written scads of thrillers and his latest and supposed to be his finest. This USAToday review of The Hidden Assassins certainly piques my interest.

One of the most bittersweet moments for me is finishing reading a favorite author's books. With some authors, like Dickens or Trollope, this isn't going to be an issue as I am unlikely to read them all. With others, like Robertson Davies, I have read them all and I keep wishing there would be more. Philip K Dick fans will be excited to learn about an unreleased book of his coming to light. The reviews make the book look marginal, which is why it hasn't yet been released no doubt, but I imagine most will be pleased for something new.

I am dubious about this one, but I put a library hold on it anyway. Taking a page from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the book Fangland updates Dracula with a more aggressive Mina Harker (Evangeline Harker in this one, I for one always think of Angelheart when I hear the name Evangeline).

From fear of Priests with empty plates, from guilt and weeping effigies

One of the more underutilized historical settings for a novel is the Irish Potato Famine of the late 1840s. Given that it killed up to a million people and started the Irish diaspora, you would think there would be more written about it. Joseph O'Connor sets his novel Star of the Sea in the midst of the event. The Star of the Sea is a ship sailing from Ireland to New York carrying a few well off passengers, including a downwardly mobile aristocrat fleeing the collapse of his family fortune in Ireland. The bulk of the passengers are refugees fleeing the famine.

As it happens, one of the refugees has been sent to kill the aristocrat, Lord Kingscourt. The book alternates between the life on the passage and the stories of Kingscourt, the family maid and the would-be assassin. None of their stories is happy and all are bound up in the twisted Anglo-Irish relationship in the 19th century. As you can imagine, none end terribly well either.

The book's structure allows for narrative flexibility. You learn from the first page that it is the work of one of the characters in the novel, some years after the events. So he can add log pages, which detail the numerous deaths by starvation and disease along the way. It also has police reports and interviews with bystanders. There are a few cases where it is not apparent that the character could have learned what he did, so it is unclear if it is invented or if he is supposed to have spent years researching it. At the end of the book, we see why he is so dedicated, which supports the idea that he researched it.

This is a big bleak story, appropriate to the era. If you like tragic tales this one is for you.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Full stop

There are some book reviews that communicate all I need to know in a single sentence. SciFi Weekly is one of the better sources for science fiction reviews, and I saw a book called Scar Night got an A-. I got as far as the first third of the first sentence "This debut novel from a writer whose previous notoriety stems from his contributions to the video game Grand Theft Auto inaugurates..."

Thanks, but no thanks.

The same site has a review of a new movie based on Peter Suskind's Perfume. Since that book is almost entirely about smell and a madman obsessed with it, it is very hard to imagine a movie based upon it. I suppose they could bring in Smell-o-Vision or Odorama.

Book sales a plenty

If you have lots of Christmas cash in your hands, or if you just want some books at a low cost, you're in luck. The major online bookstores have some inventory clearances of which you might take advantage. Quite a bit of the stuff is made up of the same sad old books that sit in the remainder pile all year. But don't let that hold you back, with a bit of looking you can find some gems. Be aware that you might get a remainder mark on some of these books.

Amazon's page is OK. The treasure to trash ratio isn't that high, but you can get John Barry's The Great Influenza for five bucks. You can pick up the excellent Fifth Business by Robertson Davies for three. There are a fair number of art books on sale too, in case your coffee table is looking a little bare.

The Powells' page isn't a special holiday page but their normal sale page is worth a look. One of my favorite short story collections of all time, Lost in the City, is available for seven dollars. You can get the splendid Cloud Atlas for the same price.

The Barnes and Noble sale is large. You can get Sean Wilentz's Rise of American Democracy for a mere five dollars. One of the rare-everyone-should-read-it books, Guns, Germs and Steel can be yours for a little more than the price of an eggnog latte. Another surprise is that you can get Krepinevich's essential The Army and Vietnam at five dollars.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

There's a road block on the corner, they put up from time to time

V for Vendetta does have to be one of the most political major releases in years. While the source graphic novel is more ambivalent, the movie comes out as anti-authoritarian call to arms against complaceny. To me the movie already seems out of date, as the tide appears to be turning against the Bush revolution. Certainly, it is hard to expect many more preventative wars, although the expansion of executive power still needs to be curtailed. One can only hope that the new Congress will get working upon that.

Politics aside, the movie is quite good as a dystopian thriller. As V, scifi superstar Hugo Weaving is excellent, particularly when you consider he wears a mask for the entire movie. For most of the movie, the dicataor appear only as a giant image on a TV screen, which helps communicate his omnipresence. The heroine, Evey, is pulled into V's plan of vengeance and revolution and serves as a proxy for the whole nation. Her shift from keeping her head down to awareness to action parallels that of the entire English nation.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Things to think about

BookFox has a list of some 2007 book releases. Can't say I am all that thrilled about them, although the new Lethem is good news.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Got a barrel that's blue and cold.

Apparently the NRA has a crazy new bit of scaremongering for the fans. Wonkette has the amusing details along with the snark.

My life, my love and my lady is the sea

Fans of naval history will want to have a look at this review of a new book on the early American Navy. I for one cannot get enough naval history. I did grow up in a navy town, which probably has something to do with it. The general American love of big machines may also play a role. At the moment, I am reading an account of the First World War at Sea, called Castles of Steel.

It's a great read and is a follow up to Massey's account of the decline in Anglo-German relations, Dreadnought. They are great reads, although I think Massey pays a little too much attention to mini-biographies of the various politicians and Admirals involved. I would have liked more attention paid to the reasons the navies developed as they did and more analysis of the respective strategies.

For more on the "how did they get here" question, I would like to read the hard to find Rules of the Game. I nearly picked it up once, when it was still in print. Foolish, foolish me. For a more analytical, if less readable, account of the First World War at Sea, I highly recommend A Naval History of World War One.

Yes, the world is headed for destruction

What better way to spread the holiday cheer than reading about global warming? I just finished Field Notes from a Catastrophe and man was it good. The author Elizabeth Kolbert, is a New Yorker writer, and like similar authors she can communicate ideas and arguments in clear, concise and meaningful terms. Some may find the book too short and more focused on outcomes than causes, but I found that to helpful to me. She made crystal clear why disappearing species is a problem. Yes it is sad that kids will see fewer frogs, but more importantly what effect will that have on things like pests, diseases, and crops? As she notes, we are changing the biosphere and the biosphere is what keeps us alive.

I personally found this a more engaging read than the Weather Makers, a book on the same topic. If you want (much) greater scientific detail, that book is more your speed. I hesitate to make such statements, but this is a topic that informed people should understand.

I guess I picked the wrong week to give up super high test egg nog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

If loving these songs is wrong, I don't want to be right

Haters like NBK will dis me. Of this I have no doubt. But I must say the following songs are in fact good.

Marcy Playground - Saint Joe on the Schoolbus. It's not just sex and candy with these guys. It is also a really strange video.

Presidents of the United States - Volcano. The lack of love for this one befuddles me. Such a happy little pop tune with amusing lyrics. Yes, the song, the band and the video are all nerdtastic, but what is wrong with that?

Creed - What's this Life For. Don't spit out your Coke Zero. The song itself is in fact terrible. But rarely has there been a song that is so much fun to mock. Best part of the video is that idea that the members of Creed are some kind of John the Baptists calling the alterna-faithful out into the desert. Apparently if you are full kickin' beater like Scott Stapp it is totally cool to drop a "gotdam".

Veruca Salt - Number One Blind. Yes, yes, yes "Sounds like the Bree-ders,"and all that, but this really is a good song. I swear. The single was backed by an awesome cover of "Bodies," which I can't find on youtube, so here is the Pistols doing it live (in 78.) Pop quiz. In which Pavement video did Veruca Salt appear? Give up? This one. Hey did you know that Pavement was once on Space Ghost? Me neither.

Chevelle - Send the Pain Below. I SO don't want to like this song. It is cheesier than the Hickory Farms food cart. And the dudes in the video are feelin' it too much. But I gotta own up, I like it.

Refreshments - Banditos. More queso, but at least these guys know they are goofs. Only for those who like dumb frat rock songs. Which apparently includes me. In some sense a descendent of the fabled Mexican Radio. Ok, not really, I just wanted to link to Mexican Radio.

That Dog - Never Say Never. No teasing, I love this one. Another victim of the mid to late 90s collapse of alternative. Curse you Fred Durst. Another cool one from the era is Wax's California.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Who can it be knocking at my door?

Is it possible to enjoy a movie while disagreeing with it? Yes. I watched Cache, a movie by social critic Michael Haneke last night and found it fascinating, if philosophically incorrect. The film concerns a French family that learns it is being watched. They know this because someone is leaving videotapes of their movements. With the tapes come strange drawings. Thanks to the drawings, the father thinks he knows who is behind it.

The name of the movie means Hidden in French, and the father wants to hide his relationship with the perceived perpetrator. Other family members have their own concerns to hide and all of these tear at their relationship. What I most liked about the movie is that Haneke leaves so much open and unanswered, letting the audience decide what happens in a few spots. Pay close attention at the end (having a largish TV will help) for a final revelation.

I said I disagreed with the movie. On a philosophical level we are supposed to believe that the father is wrong and at some level should be punished. I am not so sure that is valid. The film is ultimately political although you don't have to believe his politics to enjoy the movie. A most interesting and complete critique of the film's politics can be found on the World Socialist Web Site (Beware: serious spoilers, do not click if you haven't seen the film). I disagree on a principle level with many (if not all) of the WSWS reviews, but I always find them interesting. The reviewers are so analytical as well as true to their beliefs. Since the movie is political their style of review is appropriate. And they elucidate many of my concerns with the movie. I can't go deeply into them as it will reveal too much. But read that review after you see the movie.

Coming down the mountain

I'm pleased to note that I have visited one of the five most dangerous roads in the world, at least as defined here. Most of them look like inspirations for The Wages of Fear. The last one on the list is Huashan (Mt. Hua) and man is it scary. I did not take some of the more daring bits, but I did manage a few hair raising hikes.

Unlike hikes in the US where the climb is solitary, this one is a crowd event. The normal plan is this. Arrive late at night and sleep until about 3Am. Get up and start walking up the hill, with a few hundred other people all around you. Sit at the top and enjoy the sunrise. If you are so bold you can try some of the really frightening trails, most of which involve climbing ladders with a thousand foot drop behind you. And no means of arresting your fall. The natural beauty is reduced by the annoying Chinese habit of tossing garbage down the side of the mountain.

On the way back down, during the day, you notice just how precarious the trip up was. On one long section, which you can see on the site above, you walk along a ridge with giant drops on both sides. On the way up you don't care that people are pushing into you, but this seems all the more foolish when you see what a losing your foothold might bring.

Gifts of the Magi version 2.0

This is a great gift idea but I still think I'd rather have a Playstation 3.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sometimes yes, sometimes no

At the risk of being derivative - okay, this derivative as hell but still kind of fun - here are a few of the better books that I read in 2006:

Tripp has written about the excellence of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. Let me just add that, although there is no real mystery as to what happens, who does what to whom or why, the novel is difficult to put down. Both Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro, in Never Let Me Go, pull off one of the great and necessary tricks of speculative fiction: they create worlds that are as believable as any in "conventional" fiction. One clear indication of how tough this is to do is how few authors really pull it off. Atwood and Ishiguro use one trick that I love when it works by creating credible slang for the near (or, in Ishiguro's case, alternate) future. Three dimensional figures who speak and think in an internally consistent idiom make the more fantastic goings-on in each of these novels entirely believable.

Incidentally, the fact that Ishiguro's book got a number of one star reviews is definitive proof that monkeys can work the computer (sorry, M).

Jeffrey Ford's The Girl in the Glass is another semi-fantastic tale, this one set in early-Depression Long Island. Not literature but a hell of a read and a terrific follow-up to The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque. Ford has joined the Jonathans (Carroll and Lethem) on my short list of must-read writers of mildly to wildly fantastic fiction.

The most difficult, dense and ultimately beautiful book I read this year was certainly Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness. Billed as a memoir of his family's journey to Palestine and his childhood in Jerusalem, it is more of a long, dense slice of Jewish history. Oz tells his story through the prism of his family, writing surprisingly little about himself - a trick that would benefit many of the lame memoirs being published these days. The passages about his parents - and particularly his brilliant, doomed mother - are luminous and sad and ultimately redemptive. This is a great book.

Rory Stewart has become recently famous for the story of his time in Iraq as governor of one of the southern provinces (The Prince of the Marshes), but his previous book The Places In Between is destined to take its place among the truly exceptional travelogues. Good travel writing requires three things: a good story, good writing and a narrative thread other than the trip itself. Stewart hits all three.

Finally, Bill Buford's memoir of his apprenticeship in Mario Batali's kitchen, Heat, is a foodie book for non-foodies. Even the good food/kitchen memoirs tend to lag a bit, but this one made me hungry - and kept me interested - on every page.

I'm Dreaming of a Sandy, Fly-blown Christmas

I like the annual "Best of" lists (although the music lists make me feel old and the book lists just depress me - what kind of crap have I spent the last year on?), but Scroogey "worst of" lists are more fun. Pitchfork - naturally - posts 25 candidates that merit sneering commentary.

And if you haven't yet had your fill of fruitcake, try these carols on for size. I must say I expect more from Pensacola Junior College.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Unwish list

I wish Amazon and Powells had un-wish lists in addition to their wish lists. It would be very handy to list the books that you would never want to read. For me this would include the Mitch Albom oeuvre, the new Hannibal Lecter book, low content ideological books of any stripe, or any of those life knowledge books with cutesy titles about moving cheese.

It's not like I can re-gift them. I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with such books or to make it plain that I think the recipient would like them.

Stonehenge, where the demons dwell

Your Band Sucks on Something Awful has a nice bit on metal. My fave part:

I have to laugh when I hear metalheads complain that some of the best pure musicians of our time are being ignored and neglected by the ivory-tower establishment just because they play in the metal genre. Here, it’s simple: imagine if William Butler Yeats only wrote poems about dogs eating peanut butter, and if he used only the same fifteen or twenty words in every single poem. People who espouse the shredding merits of metal guitarists and the double-bass technique of metal drummers crack me the fuck up. Maybe they also think books are better when they have lots of pages.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Daddy tell me another story

One of the things I like about country and country influenced music is the story telling element. Rockers Drive By Truckers who might be called latter day southern rockers are clearly influenced by story tellers, in their case by backwoods story tellers. CMT has a well recorded live show on their site.

Among the standouts are Lookout Mountain, a tale of suicide, Where the Devil Don't Stay, a populist take on the moonshine trade, the Buford Stick, the story of Sheriff Buford Pusser from the moonshiners perspective and the Day John Henry Died.

As you can surmise, many of these songs are not too happy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I think about this loveless fascination

I am in a reading happy place. Almost all of my recent books have been winners, and William Gibson's Pattern Recognition is no exception. It's typical Gibson, meaning he provides razor particular descriptions of the world in which his characters live. His descriptions heavily on the things that help define a person, whether it is what they wear or what they seek. While this can be superficial, Gibson's focus on design makes it interesting.

Many of Gibson's favorite themes return. We have the globalized creative class that travels the world using airplanes like subways. We have the emerging influence of some non-Western Other, in this case Russia. His characters are often autonomous with few human connections. That is certainly the case in this book. The characters are bound by intense obsessions, whether shared or simply overlapping. The MacGuffin of the film is an obscure film called the footage, which people the world over are watching scene by scene over the Internet. Our heroine, a cool hunter herself obsessed with the authenticity and timelessness of the film, is recruited by a billionaire to find the film's creator.

The hunt itself is interesting, but to be honest I most enjoyed this peculiar person, who is allergic to marketing and the strange obsessives she encounters on her quest. This is less a scifi novel as it is a globalization novel. Gibson was always one of the more pessimistic scifi writers and that pessimism seems appropriate in this context.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Palpable hits

Bookworld has some pithy notes on books unfinished in 2006. She says of Booker winner the Sea "Nothing happened and it didn't happen in very pretentious language." Black Swan Green gets this: "Cloud Atlas was fabulous, this was a crashing disappointment. An underwhelming story about a mopey boy. " There are ten others, be sure to read them all.

I have become more disciplined about putting aside books that don't work for me. Highlights this year include House of Leaves and Confederacy of Dunces. Based on the Amazon ratings ( 4 and 4.5 stars respectively) I am in the minority, but who cares, I didn't like these books. House of Leaves is a post-modern puzzle, which will either thrill through or make you run screaming. The author plays with the font size and color, word placement, word order and runs a separate over-written storyline in the footnotes. So boring.

Dunces is a book of humor. The main character is a buffoon who rejects the modern world in nearly every form. He is meant to amuse and make us question our ways, but I just found it annoying.


I wish Loretta Sanchez was my Congresswoman so I could look forward to her awesome Christmas cards.

Best title I have seen in some time: Lifestyles of the Rich and Fascist.

The other day, I coyly mentioned the best Silence of the Lambs reference of all time. Here it is.

Here's a scary looking serial killer account about a rogue RAF pilot in blackout London.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Dream dream, filling up an idle hour

Call me a philistine, but the art horror film Don't Look Now really didn't do much for me. As such, I shan't rend my clothing and beat my breast over the 2007 remake. This reviewer from a NZ film site, with whom I normally agree, calls it an intellectual puzzle. I suppose so. It definately is an imagery bomb with all that water, fractured glass and red. Our man Donald Sutherland, a medieval church restorer, has the gift of second sight, but will not recognize it. As you can guess, this bodes poorly for him. After his daughter drowns, he and his wife go off to Venice, perhaps chosen so that the director can bombard you with water imagery. They then encounter some strange British women who may or may not be trying to help the couple.

There is some disturbing stuff in the movie, but nothing really creepy. I think Venice is used well, although mostly to signify or to create mood. Perhaps this is cultural, but I also thought that the people generally acted strangely. This may have been on purpose to show that Sutherland is in a waking nightmare, but for me the effect was just puzzlement.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In days of old when ships were bold just like the men who sailed them

Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History is a good book with an inappropriate name. The battles covered range from the well known, Midway, to the should be well known, Lake Erie, to the not particularly important, Operation Praying Mantis. For each chapter, Symonds sets up the political context, shows how the battle came to be and then provides a good short explanation of what happened. In two cases, the battle turned on chance. In others, the end result was pre-ordained. For all of them Symonds nicely sums up what happened without bogging down in the detail that bedevils much military history. He then describes what came after the battle. The short chapters build on each other as he shows how technology, leadership and sailors changed over the decades. He also illustrates the changing fortunes of the US Navy.

It's a very engaging read, although I think the idea that the battles shaped American history is a bit of stretch. Sure, Lake Erie and Manila Bay truly changed the direction of history, by helping prevent a US loss in the War of 1812 and by starting the brief Imperial phase of US interaction with Asia. Midway was important, but mostly for shortening a war that already started. Hampton Roads is important, but more from its role as the first ironclad battle than as a change in direction.

To get a sense of how the Navy sees these battles, we should see which have ships named after them. There is Lake Erie in service, it is one of the Aegis cruisers. The aircraft carrier USS Midway recently became a museum. The last Manila Bay served in World War 2 as an escort carrier. Hampton Roads has yet to get a ship, although recent ship names from the Civil War include Shiloh, Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg and the naval battle Mobile Bay. A small complaint is that there are a few trivial factual errors. This makes some people crazy, but I can live with it.

Debating the historical importance of the battles is really a quibble. The main value in the book is getting a contextual battle history of the Navy and the growth of American power and influence. It also shows the importance of contingency in history. If you are a fan of naval history or interested in learning about it, this would be a good choice.


I started reading Overblown and had to put it down. There were too many dodgy arguments for me. I came out feeling much like David Bell in TNR's Open University, a good idea overwhelmed by annoyances. The idea is that the terrorist threat is far smaller than we reckon and that it is kept alive by those with an interest in keeping it alive. He brings up the statistic of how many people are killed each year on the highways and then notes how unlikely people are to be killed in a terrorist attack. Well people are unlikely to be killed by hurricanes either but that doesn't mean if you live in a coastal zone, you shouldn't be concerned. Like Bell, what really did me in was Mueller's bizarre recommendation that after Pearl Harbor the US would have been better off pursuing a policy of containment against Japan. That's right, the whole fleet gets destroyed and the US should "contain" the Japanese. Bizarre really. He goes on to talk about Vietnam, the Rise of the Communists in China, and how the US would have been better off with the Japanese running Asia. You may as well argue that we should have let the Nazis kill all the Jews so that we wouldn't have all this Mid-east unpleasantness.

Anyway, I think his overall argument, that the terrorist threat is overstated, is a worthwhile one. I suppose you could skip all the wierd parts and just read the policy recommendations. For some more positive non-fiction recommendations have a look at Kevin Drum's list.

My memory has just been sold

Oh the sadness. Orson Scott Card is pulling his very own Phantom Menace. He is sullying the memory of Ender's Game with his latest. First of all his latest book Empire is a video game tie-in. That in itself is terrible. What's worse the book concerns a Red State vs. Blue State civil war. Now there is no way this can be pulled off without looking stupid, but from the reviews, Card has done his best to make it extra stupid. Card is now one of those advocating civilizational war as seen in this article where he calls for attacks on Iran.

The whole idea of a Civil War in the United State is silly. For one, there are few states that are all blue or all red and those that are have about five people in them. For another, the Federal gov owns a good chunk of the land and most of the usable military power and I suspect any fussing about would get the same treatment the Whiskey Rebellion did. And what about the elites? It's not like the Senate is full of a bunch of John Calhouns advocating for states rights or red state vs. blue state rights. And really, how many people actually care? Sure, people will read their Michael Moore or their Ann Coulter, mutter "there ought to be a law," but even they will just move on.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I think it's time to go back to Rome

Adrian Goldsworthy, no slouch when it comes to the classical world, has this to say about The Classical World by Robin Lane Fox.

Lane Fox's survey deserves to be widely read. Indeed, I cannot think of a better introduction to the subject for those with no prior knowledge. ...Lane Fox's strong and clear narrative will stimulate those reacquainting themselves with this fascinating era as much as it enthralls newcomers.

From the description it appears to avoid the trap of squeezing all of history into a brief narrative, instead focusing on key themes.

Friday, December 08, 2006

A video motif I can do without

Surgery. Why do we want to watch (or think about) people getting sliced up while listening to music we presumably like? Yes, I am a big pussy when it comes to these things, but I bet few people are looking for cutting-people-up videos.

Metallica - One. Great song from the bloated period. Still, better to be good but bloated, than bad but tight. Not too nasty a surgery video and it is supposed to remind us that war is bad and stuff.

Death Cab for Cutie - Title and Registration. No question my favorite Death Cab song, but I can REALLY do without the symbolic removal of his heart. This sort of thing creeps me out to no end. Yes, I am a candyass, but I have never watched this one all the way through. But I have watched all of Devil's Rejects. Wierd.

Belly - Superconnected. Not too much surgery in this one. I don't want to think about Tanya Donnelly getting surgery as she gives me a funny feeling in my tummy.

Green Day Geek Stink Breath. I'm all for anti-meth messages, but the dentist visit imagery is none too pleasant.

Interpol- Evil. This one flat out freaks me out. Cruel, wicked Interpol! You took one of my top three Interpol songs and associated it with a bizarre accident-victim puppet. His OR dance makes me want to cry out for my mommy.


Witold Rybczynski goes rogue in the Slate top book of the year by picking a book from 1986. He chose one of Charles McCarry's spy novels. I was unaware that Overlook press is reprinting the older ones. This is great news as when they were out of print they were quite expensive. So, bully for you, Overlook. And more Charles McCarry for me.

Slate writer Meaghan O'Rourke names her most over-rated novel of the year and calls into question the genre she names "precocious realism."


Saw Clerks 2 last night. This one is super niche. First you have to have seen Clerks and then you have to be interested in what is essentially a remake. Well I was interested and I was well rewarded. If you liked the first one, you will like this one. Among the highlights: best ever Silence of the Lambs reference, Star Wars vs. LOTR, Randall surprises Wanda Sykes, and the Transformers kid. It falls apart at the end with some heavy "I love you, man," but that's OK.

Eating out in NYC? Beware. Apparently it's not only the drive-through where they fuck you.

Cool essay on why zombie movies are morally good (okay, maybe neutral) while the new torture chic movies are nihilistic.

John Scalzi interviews Charles Stross about his new book which is a blend of Ian Fleming and HP Lovecraft. An earlier book, Atrocity Archives, is similar. My favorite Lovecraft mash-up is the Office times cosmic madness story Kings of Infinite Space.

Guitar face or O face? hee hee.

Check out this book, described as a horror book set in a Mormon community.

The best of best of

Via Marginal Revolution, here is the ultimate best of 2006 list, including best of movie posters, best graphic novels of the year, and the 50 coldest people in Hollywood. And of course, lists you might actually use to buy a gift.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Have you downloaded the Iraq Study Group report yet? Well here it is, so now you have no excuse. I've not read it yet, but this American Scene analysis gives me pause.

Also be sure to read the Scene's take on why (soon to be ex-)Sen. Santorum voted no on the Gates confirmation. Scary on many levels.

Kate Atkinson

I can tell I have been reading too much genre stuff of late. I just read Kate Atkinson's Case Histories and I was blown away by the writing. It's very good writing mind, but this was like rediscovering good writing. She writes excellent humorous scenes as well as moving tragic scenes. Her story is realistic enough that I didn't mind the switching between amusement and sadness. I came to the book thinking it was a lighthearted tale about a private investigator examining offbeat crimes. Not so. It is about three long distant, and brutal, crimes that continue to haunt those left behind.

All three are sad and all involve children, which makes it worse. There are connections but mostly just because of the detective investigating them. You don't learn that all the evil arose from some hidden malignant force. The mystery element was terribly important to me. Yes you wanted to find out what happened, but what was more important was watching these characters finally recover from their respective tragedies.

I also feel guilty about my experience with Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I started but stopped at page 5. Not because I didn't like it, but because..... I didn't like the font. I am aware of how lame that is and will try to improve my behavior.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Act now

If you have been putting off reading Atonement, then now is the time to read it. A film version is in the works, and you can be sure that key plot details will be broadcast the world over. This is a literary book with a few tricks up its sleeves, so you will want to be in the dark. You may have seen that there was some recent controversy over the degree to which McEwan borrowed from a memoir for Atonement. The literary world has his back. Atonement is one of my favorites of the last few years, and I would have hated to have it spoiled by movie talk, so once again, I recommend you read it now.

Moving to the genre side of the house, Lee Child's Killing Floor is being made into a film as well. I am dubious as the director comes from a television background (although a good one) and the co-writer's credits include the Core, Catwoman and the Transformers.

While we are on the subject, one of the finest of the Stephen King books, The Talisman (co-written with Peter Straub) is getting the miniseries treatment. It's a great, fanstastical story, but I wonder how it will do on the big screen.

Oh and what the heck, here is some talk on Kavalier and Clay's long and unfinished trip to the big screen.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Die, by my hand, I creep across the land

I watched Munich last night and enjoyed it, if enjoy is the right word for such a somber movie. The movie starts with the 1972 Olympics murder of Israeli athletes. It then quickly moves to the covert campaign to assassinate those responsible. The Mossad team is initially successful and happy, but as the body count grows then begin to lose faith in themselves and their cause. The movie is told entirely from the view of the operatives, so we see the horrific impact on their lives.

As a movie it works well, the action scenes are tense, exciting and varied. It also plays the paranoia card well, especially as team members start dying. The movie is intensely, but remorsefully violent. There is little glorification in these killings. There is much time given to the personnel who reflect on what it means to hunt other people.

The acting is great as well. Eric Bana (an Australian) continues to amaze me with his both his acting and his ability to pick up accents. Since I am watching Rome as well, I was amused to see Ciaran Hinds (Caesar in Rome) as a understated Mossad agent.

There was a lot of talk about the movie's political stance. It presents a muddled view, which is appropriate. All courses of action have costs, and so does this assassination campaign. I think it presents a generally correct view that aggressive action, covert or overt, leads to new problems. What the movie doesn't address is whether the new problems are sufficient not to pursue it. Much is made of the fact that those killed are eventually replaced. Well true, but people are different. Replacing a highly valuable person is never easy, and the replacement is often less valuable. In any case, the movie stays at the level of the operative so I don't think it can be make the case either for or against the policy. It can make the case that the toll is too great on those chosen to carry it out.

Morning commute thoughts

Joanna is none too keen on the dark chocolate M&Ms. I think she is a little hard, but I agree that it might serve as a gateway food to dark chocolate for "milk chocolate pussies."

In other food news, I made this oatmeal pecan pie the other day. Like all pecan pies, the recipe is simple, but quite good. The oats cut the sweetness and bring a nice chewiness to the pie. I quite liked it, but my wife complained that it was an oatmeal rather than a pecan pie. So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Finally, I was listening to KNRK today and one of the callers identified himself as "Tripp." Wow, I really thought I was the only Tripp in all of Portland. There are a decent number on the East Coast, but not so much out here.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Learning to cook

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Joy of Cooking, NPR interviews people about their experiences with the book. I, a proud and confirmed meat eater, built my cooking skills on a series of vegetarian cookbooks by Jeanne Lemlin. She has tofu recipes that meat eaters like and her pizzas are fantastic.

Nerdy things are waiting for me

I finally finished Judas Unchained, the massive space opera by Peter Hamilton. Overall, it is excellent, but it is really too lengthy, the ending in particular. It suffers in a few other ways. One of the subplots is flat out boring, and I was tempted to skip those chapters whenever they appeared. I also was unconvinced by two societal projections Hamilton posits.

For one, I think his society is really too freely sexual. His society is supportive of all sorts of relationships, which makes sense as she sees a fading of social taboos with a decline in religion. His characters though are openly promiscuous which I think makes less sense. While the limits to sexual behavior are social to a degree, Dawkins has convinced me that they are also biological. People are wired to dislike and stop cheating. Hamilton also sees sex as a little too harmless. As people like Camille Paglia have pointed out, we have known that sex and violence are intertwined ever since the Greeks worshiped Dionysus. This is a minor detail though really.

Another quibble is the power structure. A few families or dynasties dominate the multi-world society and have done so for centuries. It is a little hard to believe that in a technologically advancing society that company and therefore personal wealth wouldn't fluctuate greatly. On the other hand, the rich essentially live forever, which allows the rich to truly get richer. So maybe I give him a pass here.

If you have the sf stamina to read these books, then you will be excited to hear that Hamilton is working on a trilogy set a thousand years after these books.

While we are keeping it nerdy, check this brief video bit of Iain M Banks talking about the Algebraist. Did you know a comic was made of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere? I didn't but I did just see this new graphic novel that compiles the comics. I admit I am dubious. Comics are often a good medium for the fantastic, but there is some crazy stuff in that book.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Another big fat World War 2 book

Jan Morris reviews the new one volume history of World War 2 in Europe by Norman Davies. It is a mixed review. She says: His twin hobby-horses are tremendous, but almost knackered: the iniquity of Stalin's Soviet Union, just as evil as Hitler's Germany, and the predominant part played by the Red Army in the Allied victory. There may be people still unaware of these fundamental truths about the Second World War, but I doubt many of them will be readers of this book.

She also says that, as in prior Davies' works, you will learn things you didn't know before, such as the fact 54 non-aggression treaties were signed during the war. I once saw Davies speak and I he was overly fond of trying to re-educate people on what really happened in the war. My favorite single volume treatment is a War to Be Won. It includes both Europe and Asia and the authors editorialize throughout. The danger is taking this much history in a single book is that the text becomes a list of facts. In this book (and to be fair I am sure Davies' shares this trait) the authors frame the factual narrative with analysis of what and who worked and what and who didn't. It makes for a much more interesting read.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Let her sun never set

I said a mean sort of thing about Britain below, so here are some nice notices. Here is a fascinating sounding novel about London that makes me think of Cloud Atlas. The Amazon blog has a funny bit about the most popular books on including the oh so British sounding Dangerous Book For Boys. We colonials (as a southerner (living in Oregon, but still), I can't bear to call myself a "Yank") can't get our hands on a local copy until next year, but perhaps it will be a big hit.

And at least one British bookstore is AMPED about the new Robert Harris Hannibal book.

We won't be opening at midnight on this occasion, but the Murder One staff will be wearing the notorious mask and liberally dishing out spare body parts (fingers made out of chocolate lest you are worried...), and a "Hannibal Brasserie" is being set up at Waterstone's Piccadilly. Somehow I don't think they'll be short of books to sell, this time around. Bring on the blood, brains and guts, I say...

With just a touch of my burning hand

I am a moderate fan of zombie films, so I picked up the new hardcover graphic novel Walking Dead, Book 1. Your interest will be highly correlated to your interest in zombie flicks. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it as much as say, 300. Still it has me thinking of reading World War Z.

The story is what you might imagine. Most of society is gone and our heroes travel the south trying to not die horribly. The initial bit is much like 28 Days Later (I am unsure which came first). Man wakes in a hospital and shit is effed up all over town. He looks for his wife and son, which I assumed was going to be the unifying plot, but as it happens he finds them (hugely improbable, especially when you learn he travels to greater Atlanta to find them.) Anyway, the author said he wanted a zombie movie that never ends and this has that feel. It's is like BSG in a way, the group tears itself apart internally as it wanders the land vastly outnumbered by its foes.

People who annoyed me today

Of all the problems our nation faces, vaginofascism is not very high on the list.

Now I am not a knee jerk anti-missile defense person. I do worry about the return on investment, the opportunity cost and the likelihood of success. Even if I loved missile defense like I loved Valomilks, I am pretty sure I would not want the latest system to be called the orbital battlestation.

Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow thinks the British are more intelligent than the Americans. Shucks, I don't take offense since I know she is referring to the hyper wealthy entertainment industry insider class in both nations. Much though I love the British and Britain, I will never feel their inferior, at least as long as I can recall Benny Hill.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I would go out tonight

Woah. Not sure how I missed this, but back in the day Death Cab covered This Charming Man. Check it here. And here is Modest Mouse covering Slayer (sixth link down.) The Shins covering all sorts of people, but most importantly the Pixies critical Holiday Song (he took his sister from his head and painted her on his sheets - yikes!) .

Big Black fans...don't ever say I'm not your pal. Check this for your very own download of the legendary Sound of Impact. Among the most exciting bits is a live version of the best Big Black song of all time, Crack Up.

Nerds rising

SF already has a huge stake in the popular culture, so it is nice to see that high culture is accepting it as well. The closest thing the United States has to a canon is the Library of America and Philip K Dick is joining the likes of Hawthorne, Melville and Roth with his own volume. This isn't the first genre author inducted, as Chandler, Hammett and Lovecraft have their own books, but it is the first scifi. SF Signal links to other possible additions.

John Scalzi mentions both Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut who are good choices. So much of the early sf is as poor in writing quality as it is rich in ideas, so I suspect more recent works will do better. In genre terms, James Ellroy would make a lot of sense. His way with words is as excellent as his storycraft.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coulda been contenders

Here are a few songs that should have successful singles. At least within the range permitted by the band's overall fandom. All good songs, which you should seek out.

Stone Temple Pilots - Hollywood Bitch. Now I generally am not a huge STP fan, but this one has a really good hook and the lyrics are great. This one came with the general decline of the band, so perhaps it was too late.

Devo - The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise. First of all, I am amazed there is a video for this one. It's from their second album which went artier before they went mainstreamish with Freedom of Choice. Anyway, it is a great one

Killers Smile Like You Mean It. I am cheating a bit, as this was a single in Europe, but not over here. The video wasn't even released in the US. I venture to say this is their finest effort.

Pearl Jam Don't Gimme No Lip. OK, I know why this wasn't a single. It was made after Pearl Jam made their retreat from the public eye. It is a B-side. Stone Gossard rather than Eddie Vedder sings. And there is profanity So it is destined for obscurity, which is too bad as it is one of the more rocking songs PJ ever made.

Don't look at me that way

Dammit. The hopelessly derivative song Munich has successfully infiltrated my defenses. Sounding like Interpol at their most Joy Division-esque, I should look askance, but the catchiness has proven too much for me. The next thing you know, people are going to catch me singing Fox on the Run.

All the snobbery covering that paragraph makes me look like a Pitchfork writer. Except if I was a Pitchfork writer I would have found a way to reference the Estonian New Wave metal movement of the first half of 1996. If you want more Pitchfork bashing, be sure to read this Slate piece. The time may be ripe for a good competitor to Pitchfork.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bits and pieces

Bookdaddy taunts Mitch Albom a second time.

The Guardian asked the literary set (and others) to name their fave reads of 2006. Given the range of people asked you hear about the latest Richard Ford (whose work John Banville compares to Proust's), but also about books like The Worst of All Evils, the Fight Against Pain.

The Washington Post likes the new Barry Unsworth. There is also an enjoyable comparison review of two new Al Qaeda books. It's written by Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris and one unafraid to speak his mind, as seen here: "One can only hope that Louise Richardson's What Terrorists Want will prove the last shriek from the academy's antiquated terrorism experts, who are reluctant to admit that al-Qaeda poses a unique menace

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You call it video, you're full of...

Check out this live video of Minor Threat's "In My Eyes." The sound sucks, but I love how intimate the show clearly was. So the only question is, which is the better song, In My Eyes or Filler? I vote In My Eyes.

For he's a jolly good fellow

John Scalzi writes some great science fiction, but it also appears that he is a swell fellow. He is making one of his recent books, the Ghost Brigades, available for free to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He did the same thing, with a different book, last year. This guy is like school on Monday, all class.

He's also funny, as proven by his top ten least successful holiday specials. This one has something for everyone. Ayn Rand gets mocked: The special ends with the entropic collapse of the civilization of takers and the spectacle of children trudging across the bitterly cold, dark tundra to offer Santa cash for his services, acknowledging at last that his genius makes the gifts -- and therefore Christmas -- possible. So does Noam Chomsky: ...explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia.

His new novel is also comedic, while still holding true to his non-jingoistic military adventure roots.

Monday, November 27, 2006

What a bad reader am I

Oh what a bad reader am I. Maybe it is the carnival of eating that comes with the Thanksgiving to Christmas season, but I had a hard time with my books over the weekend. I started the True Believer, but I found the organization a bit annoying. The author makes a point and then has a series of numbered paragraphs that support or explore it. The book claims to describe the true believer mentality which the author associates with totalitarians and the militant religous. Among the shared beliefs are a hatred of the present, a belief that the future will be better with the right action and the sublimation of self into the whole. The dark side of this is that individuals don't matter especially in the pursuit of the idealized future. Hence it is ok to kill, maim or destroy to realize the future. Very intersesting idea, but once I digested it, I didn't want to proceed.

I also read some of Empires of the Word, which is a history of the world's major languages. My problem is my uneven interest in the world languages. I was interested in the rise and fall of Latin, why Greek didn't take in SW Asia and how Chinese has stayed the same, but other areas were of less interest. For me this was a book to hop around and not to read cover to cover. This always makes me feel guilty.

So what did I read instead? A monster sf novel in the form of Judas Unchained. This one has some issues (mostly in the form of world creation) but it is enthralling. And very long. I also spent time with the Geographer's Library, which is another literary thriller about a MacGuffin with a rich history. This one is on the remainder stack at Powell's, which is too bad (for the author if not the reader). I like it, despite a somewhat peculiar organization.

Speaking of Powell's, I visited the new Beaverton location. It's quite nice. Very spacious and relaxing.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Book reviewing

The Telegraph has a bit bemoaning the rise of the Internet book reviewer. It's a bit tongue in cheek, but you can tell the author hates the notion of these non-professionals coming and muddying the pristine pond of the paid reviewers. He also seems to dislike the speed of their rise. He makes a good point that much of the reviewing on Amazon is worthless, but anyone can tell that simply by reading them. I imagine most people take a quick look at the overall rating and then try to gauge whether the numbers supporting have any merit.

And its hardly like the professional space is perfect. Far too many book reviews end up as a means to either showcase the reviewer's expertise or to highlight their personal interest. This Washington Post review of Mark Bowden's Guests of the Ayatollah does discuss the book in places, but mostly serves as a means to ruminate on Iran.

Still the very best reviews will come from people who can best explain why you should or should not read the book. In non-fiction, this will be someone who can place the book amongst its peers and relate the ability of the author to sustain his or her argument. In fiction, the reviewer should describe the success in literary and entertainment terms. How they do that is their own business. The professionals will normally be better. This William McNeill review of Max Boot's new book is an excellent example. But I learn great things about books from any number of bloggers too. So can't we all just get along?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Holiday book shopping

When buying books for someone, I am torn between wanting to find something that might surprise them and just giving them something I know they want. At the end the most important thing is that they actually read the book. Do you take the risk of something surprising or the safe path of an Amazon wish list. If it is on a wish list, they will probably read it. If it is a surprise, maybe it will end up at Goodwill.

If you are feeling like taking a chance have a look at the NY Times 100 notable books of the year. I was reminded of some interesting titles like the new John McPhee book on interstate trucking. I'd also forgotten about the new Thomas McGuane short story collection.

If you want to break free of the focus on the latest and greatest, the Times also links to prior year notable books. Here we have the 1998 best of science fiction. Lovers of eco-scifi might want this older Kim Stanley Robinson. The best of 1994 has a number of heavy weights including Robert Wright's book on evoltionary psychology, The Moral Animal. The best mysteries of 2000 has the altogether excellent The Bottoms, a tale of backwoods racial injustice.

The risk with these older books is that they might have already read them. You can always ask the spouse/significant other/friend, but not all will know. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


If you have people on your gift giving list who like World War 2 sea stories, take a look at At All Costs. It details the story of the SS Ohio in Operation Pedestal. The operation was a succesful attempt, with a very high cost, to resupply the island of Malta. The island was important because it sat between Italy and Axis controlled Libya, and thereby made resupply of Rommel's forces difficult. The location also made it hard to resupply the island.

The losses on the Allied side were great, they included an aircraft carrier an two cruisers. One of the most important ships was the Ohio, a tanker with desperately needed fuel. As you can imagine, the Germans and the Italians tried very hard to sink it and as this amazing photo shows, they nearly succeded. I for one think this would be a popular gift, for the right person.

Sword and shield, bone and steel

One of the leading lights in fantasy novels is George R.R. Martin. The great difference between his books and those of authors like Robert Jordan is the sense reality. Now, we are talking fantasy novels, so you will find magic, gods, and all manner of non-real things. The reality I mean is the focus on how people and societies operate. Martin and others like him don't focus on great battles between good and evil, but instead on the rivalry for power. In Martin's case the rivalry is between noble houses all seeking dominance of their continent.

Another difference is the cleanliness or lack thereof. So much of fantasy has the heroes escaping peril time and again and a unreal sense that everything is nice, clean and orderly. In Martin's books, people die, lots of them. Some are characters, some are the unfortunates upon whose land wars are fought. People are also ugly because of disease, war wounds, lack of hygiene and other realistic touches. Some people don't like this, but for me it makes for a more believable tale.

Right now I am reading the truly epic (ten volume) Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen. I just finished Deadhouse Gates, which was a big step above its predecessor. There was less confusion and also more effective story telling. Like Martin, Erikson's world is not beset by tides of evil, but it is beset by an aggressive empire which is facing counterattack and rebellion the world over. On top of that, a number of gods play out their own games amongst the human squabbling. There are numerous wars and they are terrible. The death toll among major characters and the population in general is amazing. Its not all bleak thought, there are interesting characters that rise above the suffering.

You can probably already tell if you would like this one. If you are wavering, you probably won't. If you have found that fantasy novels are a bit too cheesy, you may like this one, or rather these..

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Music for the little ones

I don't mind kid's CDs. Some are really rather catchy. I particularly like They Might Be Giant's "No!" and "Here Come the ABCs." Sometimes, you really need to hear grown-up music. So every once and awhile I pull out an adult CD and give it a spin. Here are some winners and losers.

Go-Gos Vacation. It's hard to lose with bouncy 80s pop. If I had shown them the water ski video I imagine it would have gone even farther.

Cracker Happy Birthday to Me. Because every child loves a tale of a drunken ne'er do well.

Pavement Shady Lane. Only jackasses don't like this song. And my kids aren't jackasses.

Samhain Archangel. Not popular, not popular at all. I asked them if it was scary and they said it was a little.

REM Driver 8. Big surprise here. So melodic, so bouncy and so about trains. Nope. No love for the boys from Athens.

Anybody who is not Bob Dylan. Any Bob Dylan song. The kids pretty much hate any non-Dylan version of a song. Their dislike of Neil Young's Blowin' in the Wind is visceral. Like most people, they probably want the original, not the cover, but Dylan is easily the favorite. Pretty soon they will get into arguments about whether he was better before or after he went electric.

Robert Altman

Director Robert Altman has died. His film the Player is one of my all time favorites. I guess now I should finally get around to watching Nashville.

One smart politician

After reading/hearing this humorous bit, I can see why people think Senator Obama might have what it takes.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New one

The NYT now has a blog called the Lede. So far it's good and rather wide ranging. For example, here is a bit on the gay penguin book.

Monday stuff

This (old) Powells interview with Jonathan Lethem is good. It's quite a bit meatier than your normal author interview and has Lethem describing his progression of books. It makes me want to go back and read the rest of his books. I can't decide if I like Motherless Brooklyn or Gun with Occasional Music better. Probably Motherless Brooklyn.

In a way not dissimilar to the discussion of names in Freakonomics, the teacher behind Clapping the Erasers talks about David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise transferred to Bobos in the Bronx. Whatever you think of Brooks's NYT columns, I think you should consider reading Bobos in paradise. His description of the merging of the bohemian and bourgeois mentalities in today's upper middle and middle classes is just excellent.

Thomas Ricks reviews the re-release of A Savage War of Piece. I am glad I picked up my used copy for ten buck as opposed to 150 bucks that Ricks mentions.

The Thirteenth Tale is one of the most successful literary books of the year. I love reviews that allow for the reader's taste. This one from the Telegraph says "The result, depending on your literary tastes, is either dismayingly unoriginal or refreshingly old-fashioned. This reader tended to the latter view."

SFSignal has posted Waterstone's (of the UK) best scifi books of the year. Some are not available here in the US.

It seems it is the season for re-imagining (the new word for remake.) The folks who brought us Battlestar Galactica are now going to try and re-do the Thing, itself redone already. BSG is good enough to make me want to see what they do.

Ian Rankin really, really likes Thomas Pynchon.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Monster fun

If you need a top notch grade B monster movie, look no further than Slither. It's another version of the small town attacked by alien beastie story. It doesn't do anything new, but what it does it does well. It reminds me most of Tremors, another town in peril tale. It's humorous without being a spoof. It is mildly scary, with a shock or two. It is nasty, but not in the eyeballs in a blender mode so popular today. Instead it is nasty in that you just stepped on a slug sort of way. The encouter with things ooey and gooey, which is what the monster is. There's no hidden critique to be discussed or moral issues debated, it's just a fun monster movie. I love monster movies so I really liked it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bubba Hotep

I watched Bubba Hotep last night. This one doesn't fit any categorization. There is a man who claims to be Elvis (in 2002) living in a West Texas funeral home, his best friend, who is black, claims to be JFK (they dyed him so as better to hide him.0) These two old men have to deal with a mummy who is sucking the souls of the elderly at the home. Elvis is played by none other than Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell. His performance is easily the best part of the movie. Reflective Elvis is not something we often see. Ozzie Davis plays JFK and they make a good team.

The movie doesn't fit categorization because it isn't scary and it isn't silly enough to be a comedy. Instead it is a portrayal of what would happen if two elderly famous people battled a mummy. I laughed quite a bit, although much of it didn't work. You can probably tell already if you want to see it.

A prequel, Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of She Vampires will come out in 2008. I'm sure I will end up watching it.

Speaking of Campbell I would like to read his If Chins Could Kill, Confessions of a B Movie Actor. There are 185 overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, although there is a fanboy factor at work I am sure. He followed that with Make Love the Bruce Campbell Way.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Here's a toy I won't be buying this Christmas. It's says 5+, but normally this sort of thing is sold behind a curtain.

Say your prayers little one, don't forget my son, to include everyone

Where have you been all my life Sandman? Talk about an amazing graphic novel. Sandman is right up there with the Watchmen and the Dark Knight Returns. In the latest escalation of editions, DC is putting out the Absolute Sandman. Clocking in at ninety nine smackers, this is a tough one. Of course here in Portland not only do we have Powell's but we have the Multnomah County Library which believes that comic books that cost a c-note are a good call.

So what's so good about it? Neil Gaiman for one. The same Neil Gaiman who wrote the excellent Neverwhere and American Gods (among others) got his start writing this comic. The old Sandman was a standard superhero, while Gaiman's is one of the Endless. A being representing complex metaphysical states like Desire, and Death. Sandman is the Dream and he since he is eternal, Gaiman can set his stories in any age he chooses. While it is episodic there are long term narrative arcs as well. And most are quite interesting. Gaiman brings to the comic the same creativity, humor and darkness that you find in his novels. And there are lots more comics than novels. I'd like to see other writers get into this game.

One of the selling points of the Absolute Edition is that the book has been recolored. I didn't read the original so I can't compare, but the art looks excellent.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Vietnam

I thought I'd follow Tripp's post on Vietnam literature with a few recommendations, some of which may be less familiar than the books suggested below (certainly less known than Sheehan's great Bright Shining Lie).

Michael Herr's Dispatches is probably the best of the Vietnam books and certainly ranks among the best war memoirs ever written. If that sounds over the top, so be it - read it and make up your own mind. Herr writes in a sometimes literally hallucinatory manner that requires a bit of acclimation but is very successful at conveying the bewilderment and loss that seem to cling to every person to emerge from Vietnam. His set piece on Khe Sanh is stunningly good. One of the few books that I have read multiple times (at least since becoming an adult - my six or so times through Lord of the Rings in junior high do not count).

John Laurence wrote The Cat from Hue nearly thirty years after he left Vietnam (where he served as a correspondent). This one is a bit overlong but I've always been surprised that it does not have a wider audience. I found myself thinking about it for days after finishing it and still take it down from the bookshelf to reread some of his passages.

Tobias Wolff is better known for his (overrated, in my opinion) memoir This Boy's Life, but his collection of Vietnam essays In Pharoah's Army is quite good, with two or three pieces that are jaw-dropping. "A Federal Offense" is worth the price of admission by itself, particularly for those among us who are fortunate enough to have children. Wolff is particularly good at surprising you with humor in themidst of some truly awful situations (a trait NOT shared by the other three authors listed here). I am a sucker for a good title, as well, and Wolff has a great one here.

Finally, William Prochnau's history of war reporting during the early years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Once Upon a Distant War, is a fine book for the story it tells. It gives an overview of the build-up in South Vietnam that reads like a novel. What puts it over the top, though, is the portrait it offers of the young war reporters we have come to know as authors of their own well-known books of reportage, such as Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam, or from other theaters, such as Peter Arnett. The portraits of the young reporters are fascinating: Arnett, whom I knew only as a reporter in Desert Storm, was completely fearless and rescued his fellow reporters from street violence and intimidation more than once. It is particularly interesting to see that authors like Halberstam and Sheehan, who are now known as Vietnam protesters, began the war as ardent anti-Communists and only broke with the official U.S. line when it became apparent that they were being misled and used to mislead their home audiences. If only the media today had those kind of stones.

Book fun for the morning

Bookdaddy says "Fie!" to all the buzz around the new Pynchon. Concur, Bookdaddy, Concur.

Mr. Daddy also talks about the three types of spy stories and then says "Fie!" to Robert Littell. That's helpful to me as I was trying to decide between reading Charles McCarry and Littell.

You've no doubt heard about the Wizard of Oz-Dark Side of the Moon concept. The idea is that Pink Floyd made the album to be played as an alternate soundtrack. Testing this requires having both on at the same time. This person has handily placed a recording of both on Google video. Get ready to say "woah" a lot.

Hannibal Lechter is dead to me, but in case you have a jones for another Lechter book, Thomas Harris has an excerpt on his website.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Those who ignore history

Well now I think I need to go back and read all the Vietnam books I have been meaning to read. There are many ways in which the Iraq War is not like the Vietnam War, but in both cases we see mismangement of the war , a military command that doesn't serve its advisory role correctly, a domineering and visionary SecDef, tactics that don't match the enemy and, worse, lose the hearts and minds, a misreading of the local actors and political situation and a disconnect between military action and the ultimate political goals. All of these similarities make me want to revisit the Vietnam War to see if there is anything that can learned.

A Bright Shining Lie. How have I not read this? I own a copy of this Pulitzer winner, but it remains a future read. Sheenan uses the career of Lt. Col. John Paul Vann to show the many failures of American policy in South East Asia. Thanks to Vann's extensive experience there, the book can be read as a history of the entire war. An excellent format for a future book on Iraq.

A Better War. This one is controversial. It argues that, militarily, the war was won in the early 70s, thanks to a change in military leadership. Sorley argues this was not understood by elites in the US who pressed for an end no matter what. This one is (was?)popular in DC recently because it argued that you could turn around a poor military policy with a better one. Critics say this is just the stab in the back theory recast for Vietnam, and there is a point there. Still I think this one might have value.

They Marched into Sunlight. This book tells the tale of twodays in 1967, in Vietnam and in Madison, Wisconsin. One story concerns protesters and the other concerns a unit that was ambushed and fought a two day battle. In this way, the book is meant to capture the whole war. Sounds interesting.

Street without Joy. This one is actually about the French war in Vietnam. I believe it is the one of the best accounts in English.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Tell me why, tell me why, why you have to lie

(via bookslut) I generally discount author blurbs for books, especially in comparison to those of professsional reviews. Here you can see an eggregious example of the untrustworthiness of blurbs.

Big books

Reading a big fantasy novel reminds me of reading Tolstoy. Yes they are both big, but more importantly, for Americans at least, they both require figuring out an alien society and naming conventions that must be read multiple times before they are understood. This person has captures the joys and difficulties of reading Tolstoy. When I read large Russian novels and large fantasy novels, I tend to go with the flow. Instead of puzzling everything out, I tend to keep reading and hope that I will understand what is happening via osmosis. This generally works, although I probably miss out on things.

I am now reading Steve Erikson's Deadhouse Gates, which is excellent so far. Mind, I spent quite a bit of time wrestling with the first book of the series, Gardens of the Moon. You might ask why I would spend so much time on a mere genre novel. I suppose I crave tales of epic adventure, that just aren't made outside of the fantasy genre. From a pure escapist viewpoint, they are hard to beat.