Sunday, April 30, 2006

Everywhere he goes they say, "Damn"

Man, hard to believe Colbert went on with some of these jokes. He spoke at the Press Corps Dinner with some pretty biting humor. His roast of the President was such that the audience wasn't sure what to do with it, I think. With Bush a few steps away, he certainly had some sack.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Helping you make it through the night

Bored? Here are some notes on some good movies I've recently seen.

Good Night and Good Luck: I think this was my favorite of the three. The look is great, with the black and white and the omnipresent smokes and Scotch. Lots of nice 50s detail like the advertisements and sending the chick to do all the crap work. The best part of course is showing the corrosive and creepy effect of McCarthy's hearings on everyone. People watch what they say and fear being accused of being soft on communism. Excellently done.

One thing worth remembering about McCarthy is that you need to separate problem from policy. As the files released in the 90s indicate, Soviet spy agencies were heavily invested in the US and many fellow travelers in the West were actively helping Stalin and his successors. This was a very bad thing. McCarthy's un-American witch hunt was the wrong response to a legitimate concern. In the end the bad policy obscured the fact that a real problem existed. This allows people who want to hide from the problem to shift the story away from it and it hinders the ability of those who want to solve to actually do so. You can see a similar dynamic in today's foreign policy.

Capote: I liked this movie mostly (if not entirely) due to the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was transformed in this role. The transformation that did not work for me was Capote's shift from NYC bon vivant to the troubled author unable to complete another book. The making of In Cold Blood supposedly crippled his ability to write thereafter. I don't think there was enough time spent on the Perry Smith-Capote relationship to make this clear, unless the point was the Capote was disgusted with how he used Smith to further his own ends, which he clearly did. Anyway, a good movie overall.

Oldboy: This is a Korean revenge tale with a number of twists. A man ends up in the drunk tank and then goes into a bizarre jail for 15 years. Upon release he seeks vengeance and finds it none too sweet. Maybe it wasn't served cold? In his review, Ebert says this movie could not have been made in the US. I thought he meant because of the violence, but it has to do with the reason for imprisonment. This is one of the more morally complicated revenge tales you will ever see.

Friday, April 28, 2006

SF nerds take note

This looks interesting. These words certainly pique my interest.

This is Barth Anderson's debut novel, and it's a stunner. I'm reminded of Richard Morgan's first book, not only because of Anderson's similar assured tone and style and ideational audacity, but also for his desire to get down in the guts of his future and really probe the micro-workings of his extrapolations. This is a book of high verisimilitude and exacting precision.

The universal dream

This excellent Crooked Timber post manages to offend nearly every commenter. It jokes Ayn Rand, Karl Marx and Rush (the band). In a mostly nice way.

Reading five days through the night

Simon Le Bon's book club is back after a long hiatus. He has a number of short takes on a variety of books, and a longer review of a Haruki Murakami book. Le Bon's taste in books is great, by which I mean it is close to mine. Not totally of course, I think he was a little too friendly to House of Leaves, for my taste anyway. His commentary is the sort that will let you know if you will like the book without revealing too much. He is also now taking recommendations if you want to see his take on a particular book.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

See's and Trader Joes's

At the library, I found a short coffee table sort of book on See's! It is mostly early history but it has a lot of fun bits. For example, there is a page dedicated to the Marshmint. Earlier I posted on the this oddest of See's candy. Imagine mint gel, marshmallow and chocolate. When the company began to vote out unpopular candy to make room for new ones, the Marshmint was the first to go. A woman from California's letter apparently led to the creation of the Marshmint club.

It seems so bleak since they left, so empty I walk listlessly through my days wondering if I will ever see their bright green eyes again...I am hearbroken, deprived of my only true love...MARSHMINTS!

Now you'd think I'd scoff at such talk, but I realize I would raise a hue and cry if See's were ever to do away with the Scotchmallow, so I really can't talk. I wouldn't write in, not so much because I am scared or lazy, I just know that Joanna would do a better job.

On the question of treats, I can recommend a good new (to me) treat, the dried gooseberry, which I found at Trader Joes's. The flavor is like the combination of raspberry and grapefruit. It starts out sweet and with a raspberry texture and then a powerful but not too harsh tartness sets in. The gooseberry was one of the few fruits and vegetables in Lois Elhert's Eating the Alphabet, that I had yet to try. On to the kumquat.

Finally on the subject of Trader Joe's and treats, has anyone noticed how freaking expensive almonds are? This article says the California crop was hit hard, but they were 66% more expensive than cashews at TJ's and that is just nuts (yuk yuk yuk.)

Disappointed a few people

Thanks to the magic of Borders rewards, I picked up Arthur Phillip's The Egyptologist today. I'd been hemming and hawing on this one for (literally) years. Two good book references thought his first novel, Prague, was greatly over-hyped. Then I saw that this one had things that made it attractive, archaeology in Egypt, missing people, crazy narrative tricks which have led it to be compared to Nabakov's Pale Fire (!), yet another book I own but have not read, and a great ending. Still those lackluster views of Prague held me back. With some coupons and gift cards the price was right (although I did forgo buying McEwan's Saturday to get this one, so it may not have been the best choice.) Anyway when I get to it around the time of the next Presidential election, I'll let you know what I think.

I just started Feast For Crows, despite the poor reviews by everyone I know who has read it. The other books in the series were so great, I just have to chance it. One immediately annoying thing is that the book is starting with heretofore tertiary characters. I would make this comparison. Imagine if the second season of the British Office started not with a continuation of David's downward spiral or with the further development of the Dawn/Tim relationship, but instead gave us a few episodes on David's loud and loutish friend. Same writers, same approach but an abrupt shift away from the storylines you want to follow. It's hard not to be annoyed.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The downward spiral?

Jef Long's Descent is one of my favorite thrillers of all time. It starts out as a clautrophobic tale of cave exploration and then explodes into a world spanning epic. I though his follow-up Year Zero was the most depressing book I had read in years. The next one, the Reckoning, was a decent story about exorcising the ghosts of Vietnam. I just picked up his most recent one, the Wall. Like the Reckoning it has very few characters, in this case just two guys climbing El Capitan one last time. As you can imagine things go bad, and wierd. The reviews are mostly positive and this guy has a lot of equity left from the Descent, so I am going to try this one again.

From the better job than you have department

Here is someone writing an occasional column on hitting used bookstores.

The bloodwood and the desert oak

I'm reading Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy and find it quite good. The author has a bad tendency to make bold claims and not back them up, but I am sympathetic to his idea the the reliance on oil, the trumping of science by religion and an overleveraged economy could spell disaster for the US. In case you think all this talk of religous rule is a bunch of hooey, check out the rock band called....Theocracy. I'm gonna start a band and call it Oligarchy. Dan Drezner has a related piece on why gas prices matter.

I'm quite fond of the author's use of the idea of a Great Disenlightenment. All this talk of intelligent design, stem cell research and Terry Schiavo makes me think of those hordes of torch wielding peasants chasing that which they do not understand. And let me tell you, they do not understand.

Phillips uses Charles Freeman's the Closing of the Western Mind (meaning 4th century Roman) as an example of where he thinks the US might be going. The Amazon page is a great example of what the web can do. A number of people wrote critiques of the book online and the author responded in a fair and friendly manner. Worth reading.

Y'all gonna make me go all out

This is what happens if you talk trash to the wrong lady.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Grow large with food

Tyler Cowen's indispensible Greater DC dining guide is now in blog form. The main advantage is that you can now easily sort by neighborhood or by cuisine. Perhaps you need a bit of Bosnian? Or maybe you want to enter into the great debate over DC BBQ. His best list will make you want to eat immediately, these places sound so good. He's no food snob, while he calls the Inn at Little Washington one of the best in North America, and one of the most expensive, he has high praise for Five Guys, the burger chain where you can fill up for five bucks. I've found his Chinese list to be really helpful as it is none too easy to find the best ones. The list directed me to a great place in a Fairfax strip mall that I would never have found, let alone tried, otherwise.

If you are putting food in your mouth during a DC visit, you have to read this list first.

France under occupation

Max Hastings, one of the pre-eminent British military historians has an interesting commentary on collobaration. He is writing in reference to Suite Francaise, which from what the reviews say an excellent book written under unbearable circumstances. The author, a French Jew, wrote the two of a planned five volumes under German occupation. She didn't finish because the Nazis caught her and sent her to Auschwitz, where she died. The book is written about life under occupation and how people act. The focus is on individuals and how they react. One Amazon review admonished us not to consider the story of the creation of the novel, but to focus on its literary qualities. I think both are worthy of note.

On Assholism

In my prior post, I railed against giving money to assholes. I think I must make an important distinction. You shouldn't give money to an asshole for being an asshole. If they write a great book or release a great CD, you can buy despite their asshole nature. For example, I have heard that the scuttlebutt around this bar is that James Ellroy is a jerk par excellence. Steve Albini shares this reputation. I still consume their works with enthusiasm. I might feel differently if I were to meet someone face to face and find them repellent, but as this has never happened, I really can't say.

To actually give an asshole money as his celebrates his assholery though is a horse of another color. This is rewarding bad behavior. Now our culture does support some element of laddish behavior, but again that is something else. To go around and write of things that would make a frat boy blush is really just too much. I suppose I shouldn't be too bad, there are books that celebrate worse things, although no one is going to be hawking the Protocols of the Elders of Zion all over the place, unless of course you live in the Middle East. The world has enough pompous bastards in it, so try not to give them more money than you have to.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I can't believe what you're saying to me

I am none too pleased with this Guardian article. It associates the wonderfully amusing Modern Drunkard with the appalling I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. The Modern Drunkard pokes fun at America's sometimes Puritanical approach to alcohol and has nifty period graphics and amusing, tongue in cheek stories about people who drink. Tucker Max, author of the other "book" on the other hand is a self professed asshole*. He's the guy who upon first sight you realize is in dire need of a beat down. You recall them from college and you hated them then, and I bet you still do. And people are giving this guy money to hear him brag about being such a dickface? Ridiculous.

*He also has a website, but I'm not going to tell you what it is. So there.

So very funny

This is great.

I see you

I just finished the Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, which was quite good. Since it is set in 1890s NYC, I thought it was going to be a period piece, but it isn't. I think it is set in the time frame to make the plot believable. The main character is an artist who has lost his way. He paints portraits for people he despises and is coming to doubt his abilities. A woman approaches him and asks him to paint her portrait without ever actually seeing her. Since it is the late 19th century there are few if any photographic records and he cannot find any image of her.

There is strong emphasis placed on seeing, eyes and vision. There is a strange plague around town that cause people to bleed out from the eyes. Characters go in and out of disguise. This builds to the key concept of man as obsessive viewer and woman as reluctant object. Sounds dry and boring, but it is quite good. There are a number of strange little asides in the book, one of which involved researching this scatalogical out of print volume (take note, the link is pretty gross, which will make all the more appealing to some of you).

Fast food and kids

The author of Fast Food Nation has retooled the book for the middle school set. The Guardian has a number of excerpts. This is all well and good, kids do get bombarded with too much TV and eat too much crappy food. I wonder though if the kids who will read this book are generally good eaters who hit a fast food place every couple of weeks and who limit their TV watching. Not to sound like this guy, but our kids don't watch any actual broadcast TV, although we have lots of kid's DVDs. We would let them watch Sesame Street and like shows, but they are never on at convenient times for us.

The kids who could use the info are probably less likely to read the book in the first place. I hope I'm wrong about that. I suppose school libraries can be a big help here.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Let's not kid ourselves

Philip Pullman has a piece on ancient epics and why they are so nifty. I've always had a tough time with these. A big problem is translation. So many translations are decades old and just seem stilted. Robert Fagles's somewhat modernized translation of the Odyssey worked for me, I really liked that one. Too often though I find my mind rapidly wandering. Pullman mentions Gilgamesh which has a new translation. PW says that "reading it can make people in the here and now feel more completely alive." That's a pretty big deal. Not many books make me feel more alive. There are the books that make me want to be nicer, but more alive? Not all that often.

Let's be honest though. If I want to read something epic, I am going to get a fantasy novel, not a 3,000 year old poem. I'd be curious as to how many non-student or academically associated people are reading this. But that is just the insecure side of me talking.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

For the bibliophile that has everything

Buying books for bibliophiles can be a pain. If you buy something really new, they probably won't have read it, unless they love the subject/author so much they buy immediately. If you buy something out of left field, you risk saddling them with a book they don't want, but feel compelled to read. A nice book they are unlikely to have is one of David Siegel's Used bookstore guides (examples include Pacific Coast and South Atlantic. Each bookstore listing (and there are hundreds in each book) gives the size of the collection, the specialties (if any) and where appropriate a description of the staff or quality. A top of the line book store like Powell's or Wonderbook will get a long listing, while the store that sells 10 year old copies of sci-fi novels won't get much.

The nice thing about the guides is that you can research bookstores on any route you might be taking. You can string them along into an all day bookgasm or you can be sure to add a book visit on any trip you might be taking. It's fun just to read along. One of my favorite things is to explore a new bookstore and find some hidden treasure. Sure, if I really want something specific, that is out of print, I would try Powell's or Abebooks or Alibris. But there is nothing like wandering stacks of books, unless of course they reek of old book mildew.

I think all the flavors of bookstores have their place. Due to lack of sufficient funds and no current interest in collecting, I don't frequent the really high end bookstores that carry $100 and up tomes. The mid-range store is probably my favorite. Here you can find a trade paperback of good literary fiction while also finding out of print histories. One of my favorites in this category is Dupont Circle's Second Story Books. Rarely do I go in there and not find three or four things I want.

Even the low end has its place. Most people I know turn up their noses at the paperback exchange stores what with their large piles of mysteries, science fiction and, in particular, romance. They remain an excellent way to recycle paperbacks. They usually have a simple formula for trading in books so that you will know exactly how much credit you will get. Combined with the books they carry, they make an excellent place for grandparents. Dump a bunch of your books off, get some credit and give it to grandma. She will be in books for months as she takes hers back to get new ones. I myself can normally find something I want there, and they will take books that Powell's doesn't want.

Candy update

I neglected to mention the title of the candy book I received. It is Candy The Sweet History. One of the highlights of the book is great images within, which you cannot tell from the lame cover. The author is interviewed on NPR here. While we are talking candy and NPR, here is a story on candy corn.

Looking for the Amazon link I found this other history of candy that looks good as well. This book mentions a 19th century candy called Kelly in a Coffin, which was a little candy corpse in a little candy coffin. A little something for the Edward Gorey fans.

Friday, April 21, 2006

We can't be friends, we can't be enemies

If Kenneth Pollack's Iran book is a tad on the academic side for you, how about the new one from Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down? Guests of the Ayatollah is about the hostage crisis and it gets a rather strong review from Publishers Weekly (see link,) written by none other than Phillip Caputo! I originally wasn't that interested as I didn't think it would be that interesting, but the reviews mention detail stories of individual hostages stories which sound rivetting. And it is Mark Bowden, so it won't be dry.

This book will give background on the alien nature of the Iranian theocracy. I remain sympathetic to the realist viewpoint that the Iran and US, while unlikely to be allies, are natural partners. I hope our two countries can find that path.

Maybe not worth watching

I'm sad to see that the documentary of the Isabella Gardner museum thefts is "middling." It's a pretty crazy tale from one of the finest museums in all the land. The collection is kept in the house exactly as she left it. The house is gorgeous and the collection is excellent, you feel like you are walking around in an Edith Wharton novel. The period feel gives it has a similar vibe to the Florentine Bargello, another of my favorites.

Well worth watching

I used to wonder if Viggo Mortensen could escape Aragorn, but I think he already has in A History of Violence. The plot is fairly simple, with two bad dudes sticking up the wrong diner. After Viggo dispatches the dastards, three worse dudes show up to claim our hero is a Mobster! What makes it compelling are the performances of Mortensen, Maria Bello and Ed Harris (who is good almost everywhere.) The impact on Mortensen's family is a major element of the movie and is what keeps it from being a pedestrian pulp movie.

Some people you just can't reach

I tend not to talk much about the celebs, as you get so much goodness at places like this. Every once and again, something crazy enough surfaces like the details from Denise Richard's divorce paperwork.

OT, but the above linked Golden Fiddle says that the new (and not that tasty in diet form) Dr Pepper is in the top ten Ebay searches. Madness.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

It's a beautiful world we live in

Another birthday present (another book!) was a book on nostalgic candy. Lots of classics in there, and a few strange ones. The oddest is the Chicken Dinner, apparently chosen for the connotation of prosperity. I shudder at just what is meant by the Denver Dinner described on this web page (complete with Chicken Dinner candy truck). In today's climate if we were to have a candy with an inappropriate but topical name, it would have to something on the prurient side. I think the Shocker and the Hot Carl candies can't be far behind. Think I'm crazy? Remember a perfectly respectable brewer has just released the Golden Shower. O Brave New World!

I fooled you, I fooled you, I got pig iron

Board game nerds will be pleased to see that there is a new Ticket to Ride, set in Germany this time. They've added a new layer of complexity that may or may not appeal. I rather like the ease of play right now, so I am leery. If you haven't played the original by all means check it out. You can learn the rules in about three minutes and beat experienced players on your first game. It's not too simplistic though, some thought is required.

Among my 250+ unread books, I have Empire Express, a book about the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. The reviews can be summed as "informative, but dry to the point of tediousness." So that one is gonna wait some more. There is always the shorter, and no doubt snappier, Stephen Ambrose book, but that one is from his phoning it in phase, so I don't really want to attempt it.

What with all the Johnny Cash love going on, I should probably watch this flick.


Thanks to some birthday gift card action I picked up Cobra II, the inside tale of the Iraq invasion. The book is getting lots of good press, and it is worth noting the book is written by the authors of what is considered the definitive study of the first Gulf war. One of the most impressive blurbs on the back of the book refers to the earlier volume. That book is on the Army Chief of Staff reading list. Lest you think that means it is a white wash, have a look at the overall list. It includes Dereliction of Duty, a book harshly critical of the military's role in the buildup to Vietnam.

Anyway, I am looking forward to reading this one, having read a few of the earliy histories that came out in 04. This one doesn't cover that much of the insurgency but is written with the aftermath of the invasion of mind.

Something I won't be buying in the future

Since I made the switch to diet soda, I am relatively starved of new soda choices. New sugary ones pop up all the time, but I can only stare longingly. Since nearly every diet version tastes like something used to torment 19th century childern, I am hesitant to try them. Yesterday I made the bad call of trying Diet Dr. Pepper Berries and Cream. Sure, I realized berries and cream would taste bad in most situations, but I went ahead anyway. First off I forgot that I think cream soda is nasty, and toned down diet cream soda is worse. The Berries taste like someone added berry flavor Robitussin to the mix. Really not great.

Most of these diet drinks appear to be aimed at people who want them to taste nothing like the high test soda. Coke Zero and normal diet Dr. Pepper are exceptions. Tab is the ultimate example of something that tastes so unpleasant, but is totally different from a real Coke.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

E is for Eggs and R is for....

Via Bookslut I see that Harry Potter is being challenged in a Georgia town. What's interesting is this sentence "“I think the anti-Christian bias — it’s just got to stop,” Mallory said. " By her logic, anything that is isn't y is opposed to y and the existence of which will destroy y. I am mildly sympathetic to the notion that elite American culture is contempuous of religion and religious people, but book banning gets my goat. Just because she doesn't like it, no one gets to read it? Hmmm, not very American in my book. I wager she would enjoy spending time with the God Warrior.

Don't get down on GA though, if you read the whole article, there are plenty of people in town who want to keep Potter on the shelves. The noisy complainers (on the right and left) are just the ones to which people pay attention.

It’s not time to make a change

This amusing list of things guys should not do past the age of 30 (I am guilty of just one or two) contains a nice double dis on Ayn Rand.

In case you need a music sherpa

With his recommendation of the opera book, Brack reminds me that I did spend a lot of time reading music reference books, as opposed to music oriented narratives. The same can be said of movies. One of my faves was Trouser Press which is now entirely online. The focus here is on what was once known as alternative, which would now encompass death metal, indie rock, and a plethora of other subgenres. It's entirely content, so it is not as web-oriented as AllMusic, but they have strong opinions over there, so it is worth checking out. Rough Guides, the British travel and music guide maker, has some online content as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Shocktrooper in a stupor

I just noticed that Philip Kerr's super-fantastic Berlin novels have been reissued. For quite some time you had to pony up the cash for the three book omnibus edition. Now you can get the Pale Criminal and March Violets in paperback, but apparently we must still wait for the German Requiem. The books feature a German cop in Nazi Germany trying to solve murders while staying out of the way of the increasingly dangerous Nazi party. The books are claustrophobic and do a nice job presenting the evil of that time. They are also short and have the feel of classic noir. It's too bad the German Requiem remains out of print, as it is an homage to one of the finest movies ever, the Third Man*.

It's a bit of a bummer, but since the Berlin books Kerr has been on a downward spiral, working mostly on pedestrian technothrillers. Not that I haven't read all of them. Well most of them at least. Hitler's Peace just looked a bit weak despite the return to period fiction. With the new Alan Furst nearly here, why bother anyway.

*Make sure you get the Criterion Collection and not the crappy original American release. They changed a few things, not that much, but it makes a difference.

I use the N.M.E.

I've posted enough on show's of late to clearly indicate that I really like music. I also really like books, but I read very few books about music. I'm not sure why this is. I love movies and rarely read of them either. I think it is probably habit and lack of background, but it could also be the reliance on the popular musical press. Where do I start? Who are the key authors? My sis is helping in this regard as she just gave me England's Dreaming, a history of British punk in the 1970s. Like most of my friends I went through a punk/Pistols phase ( in my case this preceded my Grateful Dead listening phase.)

I also adore movies, but almost never read about them. It could be that I perceive music and movie writing as overly constructivist and therefore academic and boring. Maybe I am intimidated by my lack of knowledge. I know there are good things out there, I just don't know what they are.

Lots of free magazine articles

Foreign Affairs has a neat looking article on a subtle change in the international system. Called the New Middle Ages, the article argues that in the Third World (and also the developed?), multiple identities are emerging which limit loyalty to single state, but instead are assigned to local leaders, religous leaders, ideological and other leader.

Foreign Affairs and other magazines and journals may be available at your library. If you live in Portland and have a library card (the venn diagram should be 100% here, but sadly is not,) then you have access to Academic Search Premier. Click this link and then select ASP (use the blue icon on the right.) Enter your library card and Pin and you have access to thousands of articles going back to the 20s in some cases. There are a number of other impressive databases for your perusal. If you have access to a large library system or are a alum of a large college/university you likely can get similar services.

Bad times

With the news of the Duke rape case all over the place, I am thinking of reading Joyce Carol Oates, Rape: A Love Story. It appears to be an appallingly brutal story of a town rallying around the rapists and denigrating the rape victim. And while I have the hot button topic of the Duke rape case, I recommend reading this analysis of Fox News coverage of the story as compared to that of the Holloway case. Not pretty.

Monday, April 17, 2006

We've got a winner

Powell's is reporting the Pulitzer award winners. I'd like to read the Oppenheimer bio if only because Kai Bird is such a good writer. I feel like an idiot because I don't think I have even heard of the fiction winner.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bad chocolate was just a legend, white chocolate was never known

For my day after birthday cake (banana coconut from Cooking Light.. yummmm) we had the new Haagen Dazs Mayan chocolate ice cream. Oh man, is this good. Dark choc ice cream with a undercurrent of cinammon. This is done JUST right. The cinnamon hovers beneath and then slowly emerges. It reminded me very much of the Mayan Truffle from Moonstruck, but I think may be better. I've always loved HD vanilla, but this one is right up there with it.

It's educational

Like finding a band you like, when you find a good children's book author, it's great to dig into an extensive back catalogue. If you like Gail Gibbons, well you are in luck since she has written over 135 non-fiction kids books. If you can't find something you think your kids will like among her oeuvre, you're hurting. Her books can be shorter and easily digested by the little ones, or they can be meatier and better suited for slightly older kids. Mine are big fans of Tell Me Tree, which gives all kinds of helpful info on our friends the trees. Don't worry, it's not all hippie talk, you can also learn about how the mighty road is made. This one on building houses is fun.

Her books often get shunted to the "non-fiction", "basic facts", "early facts" or whatever section of the library. So your best bet is to use the library catalog rather than the hurried scurry across the stacks with one eye on the tots.

Say, what's the big idea?

The post-Cold War era has been chock a block with big idea books attempting to describe what this new world is and how we should best act in this new world. Among the more important and influential are the Lexus and the Olive Tree and the Clash of Civilizations. The former posits that the forces of globalization are pushing the world to greater homogeneous, built essentially around Western models. The latter argues that major civilizational blocks will be in increasing conflict as the West declines in importance. Robert Merry's Sands of Empire sets it self up as a defender of the Clash of Civilizations world view, as well as a general critique of the Clinton and Bush 43 foreign policies.

Merry argues that the West has been in the thrall of the idea of progress, which is the notion that not only has technology improved over time, but so have people. While the path may wobble, the future holds the promise of increasing betterment of people themselves. This view comes in a variety of flavors including the Marxist, but also the American Way of Life model. There is an assumption of universality in the model as well. Wherever Progress is going, everyone is going to get on board.

Set against this world view is that of cyclical history which argues that civilizations rise and fall, and with that so do their values. Merry believes this is the reality of the world, and American policy is designed with the false idea of Progress in mind. From his perspective this is problematic because it leads to major miscalculation in policy. The liberal interventionists of the 1990s believed that everyone deep down wanted to be a Western (small d) democratic market oriented person and if the US just stepped in to tweak situations like Bosnia, everything would work out. Instead the US prevented the Serbs from oppressing the Albanians, but enabled the Albanians to start oppressing the Serbs. The neoconservatives on the other hand believed that everyone wanted to be a democracy and the US could walk into a country, knock off the dictator and waltz out with new democracies in place. We all know what happened to that idea.

Merry has a number of good observations. He chides the overuse of the notion of appeasement, as if any nation on earth is anywhere near as dangerous as Hitlerian Germany in 1938. He also makes the distinction between conservative isolationists and liberal isolationists. Conservatives like Buchanan believe the US is good and the world will sully and weaken the US. Liberals isolationists like Chomsky believe the US is evil and will sully and weaken the world. In the end they recommend similar things, but disagree on principles.

This is a synthesis rather than an original idea book, but it is still thought provoking.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I was having a good sleep in my car

That's right, it's my birthday. Not such a bad one really. On the plus side, Da Vinci was born this day (which is why I'm so creative, and shit.) On the downside, the Titanic sank on this day (hit the berg on the 14th, sank in the early hours of the 15th.) More importantly, this is the birthday where I leave the coveted 18-34 demographic which means pop culture and advertising will make less and less sense to me as time goes on. I suppose I may as well start tuning into NPR's Performance Today.

On the plus side, birthdays mean books, one of which is American Theocracy. His Cousins Wars, which takes an alternative look at why Anglo-America came to dominate the world looks good too. I also received the Geographer's Tale, one of the puzzle-thrillers in the Da Vinci Code (you don't really need a link do you?) mode. Like horror fiction, reading literary thrillers is a frustrating experience. Too often they are neither really literary or thrilling. The overly hyped Rule of Four is a great example. As was once (unfairly) said of Oakland "There isn't any there, there." Anyway, Alan Furst, writer of some of the best literary thrillers blurbed the Geographer's Tale, so that is a good sign at least.

Friday, April 14, 2006

In your Easter bonnet...

Thanks to some last minute Easter shopping I was able to try some Sahagun chocolate today. I tried the salty caramel chocolate cup if only to see if it was as good as I remember it. Yup. That good. This thing is expensive, but not overpriced at 2.50. You can manage two or three bites if you are careful. You should try to do it, if only to prolong the experience of the salty sweet caramel flowing out of the cup. So good. I also tried the rose gardenia truffle, which was tasty, and much earthier than I expected. It was almost too dark though. Next time I will probably pick up on of the more hard to find Vahlrona bars.

In the spirit of Easter candy, check this Easter candy Turducken.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fun with reference books

I really like reference books and this person at Powell's Blog has some nice ones to consider. I can't recommend any quite as cool or useful as she does, but here are a few worth considering. The Dictionary of Imaginary Places is a list of over 1,200 created places. It's fun to read and a great way to find new books. Penguin has some small atlases of World History which are great. Most history is taught with limited geographical context. With the atlases you can see what was happening in India at the same time as China and Europe. It will also help you better understand the relationships between countries, as in how the nations surrounding Rome helped collapse it. And the books are cheap. They also have a series of more specialized books. You can be way cooler if you start using lingo from Straight From the Fridge Dad. Sure most people will think you are chump for talking like a 30s gangster, but your friends will think it's a gas. While they laugh at you.

Decide to walk with me

So why is Already Dead so awesome? The story is classic noir. Loner guy takes on a mission for some upper crusts, gets into trouble, finds out he is double-crossed and must deal with it. What makes it different is that (nearly) everybody involved is a vampire. What's more, NYC is divided into clans, closely designed to reflect Manhattan's social map. In the North you have the Hood, Midtown is ruled by the Coalition and downtown is a patchwork of rival clans including the Village's which is the lefty utopian crowd that wants to take vampiredom public so that they can be recognized as victims of the Vampire Vyrus. These people are particularly amusing. When our hero goes hunting for zombies (should people learn of zombies they might learn of vampires, so they have to be destroyed) he is scolded to refer to them as VOZ(Victims of Zombification) rather than zombies.

Like Huston's other books, the plot gets more and more intense as it seems more people have it in for our vampire hero. This one is a lot of fun. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Just got back from a dream attack

Woah. Just when I thought it was safe to go back to sleep. Thanks to the story of the norovirus overwhelming a Vancouver retirement home, my own severe GI distress and reading Charlie Huston's Already Dead, I had some crazy fever dreams last night/today. I was dreaming that zombie/vampire hordes were spreading illness across Portland and I had to get away! Not too much fun. A few hours later I dreamed I was working for a new organization here in Portland. This new organization was entirely staffed by people with whom I have worked in the past, but I couldn't remember any of their names.

Already Dead is quite a good tale so far. More on it later, but it is a hardboiled mystery where the main characters are all vampires living underground in modern Manhattan.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Toomuch time on their hands...

No, not me, the parents of some wealthy, leftish part of Brooklyn, where a woman posting that she has found a "boy's" hat started a firestorm of pointless debate.

Another one for American Theocracy

Here's a confluence I did not expect, David Brin, author of the excellent scifi novel, Startide Rising, talking about American Theocracy. His take is that American conservatism has been hijacked by

"A power-sharing arrangement between resource controlling aristocrats and mystical clerics, who chant justifications for aristocratic rule." Yikes!

He wants a grassroots oldline converatism to rebel. Based on what I read in the Right Nation about the strength of the grassroots social cons, I don't know how likely that is, but I wish him ALL the best.

Monday, April 10, 2006

No luck

I had planned to find some Carolina specific candy, but I came up short. Given the parlous state of regional candies, I'm not too surprised. The Carolinas, of course, are home to the lovely soda, Cheerwine, (check out the wierd zig/zag promo - this might make more sense if you live in NC/SC) so I got my hopes up that they might deliver on the candy side. I'm sorry to say that you must avoid Diet Cheerwine like the plague. That stuff is NASTY despite the use of Splenda as a sweetner.

Songs of the south

During my recent visit to Charleston I stayed across the way from The Citadel. This of course got me thinking about the Lords of Discipline. If you like your bildungsroman to include military academies and the fight against racism, well this one is for you. I recall quite liking it back in the day. I liked Conroy's Prince of Tides all the more. You may have seen the movie, as you might guess the book is better. Back in the 80s, it was one of my favorite books. Here's a caveat, back in the 80s, I thought reading books like Killer Crabs was a good idea. In any case, the Conroy books are afflicted with some truly awful 1980s covers that make them look like romances at best. The awfulness would be a good topic over at the book covers blog.

One nice thing, among many, about the Conroy books is the way they capture the feel, physical and social of living in South Carolina. After Tyler Cowen more or less dissed my home state, I got to thinking about writers that captured the feeling of living in Virginia. Obviously there are lots of Virginias. Fairfax county is as different from Lynchburg as New York is from Miami. So, more importantly, I wanted to find a Virginia familiar to me captured. While the story element of Blood and Guile was decent, I was very pleased with the way the author described certain types of Richmond Virginians. The social interactions, the Lee fixation, the hunting. It all fit. The relationship between long standing friends was also familiar. I'm planning to read his Tidewater Blood, which got better reviews.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Just watching Blackadder is not enough

If you liked Kubrick's best movie, which is of course Paths of Glory, then I have a book for you, Price of Glory. Very similar names, somewhat similar subject matter. The movie concerns a sham trial of three French soliders randomly being tried for cowardice to cover up Army incompetence. The book is about the Battle of Verdun, which in a few months killed 160,000 Frenchmen. That's three times bigger than ten year's toll of Americans in Vietnam.

While the book is military history, it avoids (for the most part) the "XIII Corps moved NE to engage the German VI Corps" business that makes military history so hard to engage. It focuses instead on smaller events that illustrate the horror of the battle like Frenchmen defending a fort for days without water while Germans shoot flamethrowers at them. It also gives a nuanced view of how the personalities of the German and French leaders contributed to the outcomes. Since the US didn't do so much in the WWI, and since WW2 had it's own special horrors, Americans know a lot less about how BAD WWI was. This is an easy way to get that sense.

It's the little things

Nice long article in the Post about the rise of the quick casual restaurant like Cosi, Potbelly and Chipotle in DC. I suppose since everyone has to commute so far around there, one has little time for a dinner out. Lunch will have to do. On the way back from Charleston, SC I picked up some Potbelly at Dulles. Since I almost never have occassion to say anything nice about Dulles, I will take the opportunity now. The Potbelly is a very tasty and reasonably priced airport food option. See, that's a nice thing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Living in the past

This Slate article on watching TV shows on DVD is great. Like the author I live in the "cultural gap" between the airing of shows and their release on DVD. I am always behind and unable to discuss with friends. But in the end I come down with the author, I would much rather be able to watch them as quickly as I want rather than having to wait a week. I am currently watching Battlestar Galactica, 24, the Sopranos, Deadwood and the Shield in this way. I am watching far more TV in a given month than before, just on my own time.

Well Fed

The excellent Well Fed network of food sites has some new additions, new to me at least. One Food Bound provides reviews of cookbooks. This is really helpful as there are so many, and i for one am not a good judge while flipping through the pages in a bookstore. The best way is to cook from it, which this person is doing. This pizza book looks quite good.

There's also a wine blog called Wine Sediments. It covers actual wines, but also the wine business.

I know I don't need to tell you this, but you should be reading Sugar Savvy regularly.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Perdition's flames

When travelling, I always bring more books than I can possibly read. Why? I may dislike one or two and I hate ending up in the Kobayashi Maru scenario of sitting in front of the airport bookstore rack looking at all the crummy books and wondering upon which grenade I should jump. In fact, this is me in front of one of these bookstores. Seriously, it would be reason enough to have a web-enabled cell phone just to read the Amazon reviews on these things.

Here are two you may see in amongst the Grishams and Dan Browns. I haven't really liked Nelson Demille's output for awhile, but two of his are knockouts. The first Cathedral is about a group of Irish terrorists who take over St. Patrick's in NYC. The other, Charm School, is about an American who stumbles on a a rather surprising find in Soviet Russia designed. Sorry don't want to give anything away. They are nicely paced and are eeeeevvviiiillll in how they are plotted and end. Just what you want in a thriller.

Will these books make you cry, call your mother up and resolve to be a better person? Will they make you change careers and devote your life to helping others? Will you understand one small slice of the world somewhat better? No, but they will prevent you going slowly crazy while you read some drivel that was all you could find on the book rack

Damn hippies

The late 60s and early 70s were a crazy time. I'm really just talking out my ass since I was born in 71, but hey consider these things. You had the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a comic featuring three stoner dudes constantly trying to get laid. OK, that sounds like every movie from the 90s, but these cats had really long hair and a poor taste in clothing. Someone published a "wargame" called Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, which simulated the battle for Columbia University in 1968. One side was the student radicals, the other the administration. (Again there is a 90s cognate)

Anyway, having deflated my own argumentation, maybe this will interest you. I'd heard about the movie Punishment Park, for quite some time rather hard to find but now it out on DVD. It has a Phillip K Dick element to it, in that being a hippie is now illegal and you get sent out to the desert for a more than likely impossible chance to avoid jail time. You can read all kinds of relevance in the current days into this if you want. I just like dystopian stories, so I will check it out in that light. PDXers should note that the Multnomah County library has the DVD and I'm sure Movie Madness does too.

Another book I don't like

One of the worst books around has to be the 120 Days of Sodom. First of it's moral repulsiveness. The main characters kidnap people and inflict all sorts of rapes and sexual tortures upon them. Some will say this depiction of evil helps us understand what evil is so that we might recognize it. The 20th century gave us plenty of examples of evil and we have far too many today to deal with, thanks very much. A second line of argument says that we all have a bit of evil in us and we will recognize that. Criterion Contraption guy deals with that line of thinking in his review of the Sade-influenced Salo. There is a certain complicity in watching this amount of evil.

I also have to say that the book is also overly long and terribly boring. After a while it becomes, "oooo, another indignity!" The characters, as such, are known for their body parts as in the case of the frighteningly named "Bum Cleaver." It's just a catalogue of bizarre demented fantasties of a decadent and feverish mind. I can see the book appealing to the college student as you don't see this sort of thing in print very often, but it really is a tremendous waste of time. Just click over to and you'll realize, that yup, evil exists.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I'll be here standing, until the bitter end

(via supposed co-blogger Steve) I've heard that Chuck Klosterman is a funny guy and that I should read his books. This column about GNR's Chinese Democracy just closed me.

For years and years she roamed

Cybele at Candyblog is writing a five piece Valomilk Saga. Like me, she was driven to find them after reading about them in Candyfreak. Unless you live in the Mid-west, they can be none too easy to find, which is evidenced by Cybele's need to write a five part piece on the subject. It's worth it though, since the Valomilk is the proverbial bomb.

The West

I can't get into the modern literary tales of the West. I use that labored phrasing to avoid saying "Western," as I want to separate 20th century stories of people and families coping with the challenges of living in great isolation from adventure stories of the 19th century. Wallace Stegner is a popular modern Western writer. I read Big Rock Candy Mountain and thought it decent. I started Angle of Repose but couldn't get into it. Crossing to Safety is sitting around the house, read by my spouse but not by me. The man won prizes galore and gets top marks from everyone, but it always felt a little bit like a longer Steinbeck to me.

I had an even harder time with Ivan Doig. I read English Creek and just did not get it. I love Montana, it's gorgeous, but apparently I don't want to read about it. I don't understand why these books don't click for me. It could be, despite living in the West, that I am city person at heart. It could also be that I am a southerner and as the t-shirts used to say "you wouldn't understand."

One exception to my western aversion is Cormac McCarthy, but he is so stylistically singular that he would be an exception. I will say that I found his stripped down No Country for Old Men to be less appealing than Blood Meridian.

Sex sells but who's buying?

One of the strangest and ad campaigns in PDX these days is the Real Estate and the City campaign. The billboards are all over the place and feature four good looking women, presumably realtors, walking somewhere downtown. Ok, so it is eyecatching which is an advertising win. And people (or at least this person) are talking about it. Sex is big in advertising, but usually in a distant way, as in if you buy this product you will get laid twice as often. Of course, two times zero is still zero. Anyway, this ad makes you think the people you will be working with are thinking about sex all the time. I try to avoid thinking about people I know making the beast with two backs.

Monday, April 03, 2006

My memory has just been sold

It seems we may soon be hearing Nirvana in commerical jingles, as Courtney Love has sold 25% of the rights to the Nirvana song catalog. More in the future perhaps? I generally don't mind this sort of thing really. Francis Bean's gotta go to college somehow. I just hope it doesn't go the way of Devo's Swiff it, swiff it good advert.

Since a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, take a look at the Criterion Contraption's take on Yojimbo.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Season of shows

It's been a showtastic 2006 for me, with Jicks, Sleater Kinney, Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, Feist, Broken Social Scene, Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, Metric and the Strokes on the showlist (okay that includes Dec 30 and 31 shows too.) The opening act scene has been less cool. Islands for example. They sounded like Arcade Fire, if the the Arcade Fire was more incoherent, less cool and inglorious. Then there was the Angels of Death Metal. I guess maybe it was ironic, but with at least five cheers of "Let's hear it for the ladies!" I don't think it was. It was like Kiss without the tongue in cheek or something.

Still fave show of recent years was the Interpol show at the 9:30. In fact I am rewatching the C'mere video to relive it.

(Good) free food in NE Portland

Everybody in Portland knows you can get all kinds of free goodness at New Seasons, on the weekends at least. But what about the weekdays, what about the weekdays? Next Tuesday, April 10 you can score some treats at the Beaumont Wilshire Taste of Beaumont. Fife, Alameda Cafe, Blue Olive and others are participating. As you nosh you can relax to the mellow sounds of the Beaumont Middle School Jazz band. It'll get your fingers snappin'.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sometimes, good things want to stay

I am currently reading Alan Furst's early book, the Polish Officer. As usual there is a person in a rather dangerous World War 2 locale in dire straits. In this case, we have a Polish military intelligence officer working in the early years of the war as a Resistence officer. As usual with Furst, the detail is excellent, whether it is the dispatching of a traitor, evading notice of the Romanian, Russian and German secret police, or trying to get a little play in an occupied city.

I was asking Steve just the other day when Furst was going to pop out another and I see via the Post, that he has one coming out in May. Amazon has no info, but the Post tells us this:

It's Paris 1939, and the editor of an anti-fascist newspaper is found in a hotel bed -- alongside a French politician's wife -- murdered by the long hand of Mussolini.


If you like books at all, the Post article is going to give you a Woodrow, as it is six pages of upcoming books. Remember Sebastian Junger? Well check this one out:

A Death in Belmont , by Sebastian Junger (Norton, April). In the quiet suburb of Belmont, Mass., a gruesome murder takes place, and its bizarre M.O. fits the pattern of the Boston Strangler. The man under suspicion is a carpenter in the author's home.

And there are about a zillion books about the Bush administration, pro and con, American power and how it is alternatively destroying or saving the world and how both conservatives and liberals are hellspawn.

Man is breedin' forever

The Guardian prints the text of a speech given by Ian McEwan on great books of science with specific notice of the excellent Selfish Gene. It remains my second favorite science book (the first is about nuclear weapons, but that's cuz I'm evil) . To be fair, I don't read as deeply in science as I do in, say, national security policy, but I read a bit. The book remains the clearest statement of how evolution works and how it affects the human behavior. At the most simplistic level, it states that our DNA's desire to be copied (into children) is the core driver of human behavior. There's more to it of course. The Amazon reviews make the book slightly less attractive. It's filled with all that "thinking people will love it, religous/conservative people won't" drivel that clogs up today's discourse. As if any one sort of person has a monopoly on rationality. So ignore the pompous reviews and read the book. It's really good.

McEwan also takes a stab at developing a canon of scientific literature after debating the criteria for inclusion. The list alone is worth checking out, but McEwan's prose makes it all the better.

Strollin down the avenue known as A1A

Here is a job I want, driving the Keys trying to find the best tasting Key Lime Pie. Of course to get said job, I would imagine there are many less savory steps along the way, but still. I really like the Keys, but they are so damn far away. If you go to Key West try to squeeze in a trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park. You can only get there by seaplane or by boat. Either way would be nice, but seaplane is obviously faster and more thrilling. Once there you can check out the fort which served as a prison for some held as accomplices in the Lincoln assassination. The snorkeling is quite good as well. You should also have a look at the little White House, where President Truman liked to spend his quiet time.