Friday, June 30, 2006

Which is better?

Should I call this blog videos are my only friends? Like the rest of the culture, I am currently obsessed with YouTube, but fear not, I will have more book info later, like a report on the so far excellent One Percent Doctrine.

Anyway, as is known I like covers, but it is interesting to see which version of a song people prefer. Here is a classic, Pancho and Lefty. The more famous version was by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. The original is by Townes Van Zandt. So which is better?

Here is Townes talking about the song.

Whither the soundtrack?

Soundtracks are just not as exciting as they once were. Or maybe I'm just not paying attention. I've heard plenty of people say "There's no good music these days," which is of course crazy talk. So maybe it's me. I did read something somewhere which mused that the spread of iTunes and other internet media makes it so easy to find the wierd B sides that often made soundtracks cool. Whatever, here are some good ones from the good ole days.

Pretty in Pink: Lots of good songs but Bring on the Dancing Horses and the title track are particular stand outs. The movie is supposedly about the horror of high school, but is really about the never-ending cascade of doom that we call life.

Repo Man: Is there a better 80s movie than Repo Man (that's a rhetorical question as the obvious answer is no?) No videos for Pablo Picasso Was Never Called An Asshole or Let's Have a War but for the crossover skate punk hit Institutionalized. While this movie appears to be about escaping the cosmic horror of everyday existance, perhaps it really is about the perils of not getting any, as Iggy Pop sings in the title track:"I didn't get fucked and I didn't get kissed, I got so fucking pissed." Words of wisdom Iggy, words of wisdom.

Decline of Western Civilization: I'll admit it, my favorite parts are the back and forth insults in the Fear set. But here's the Circle Jerks.

Singles: I liked this one a lot more at the time, although I still love State of Love and Trust (video has bonus Ricky Rachman sighting) and Birth Ritual. The other stuff doesn't really hold up as well (see: I Nearly Lost You There.)

Start saving airfare for Chicago

Oh man, oh man, oh man. Lovers of edgy (and I mean edgy) rock will want to know that BIG BLACK is playing the Touch and Go Festival in Chicago Sept 8-10. It's not going to be a full set, but this is probably your only chance to ever see this band again. A number of other bands are reuniting (and feeling so good) as well.

A map of the library

(via Marginal Revolution) Some folks have created a map of literature taste. On each map, the closer the author to your specified author, the more likely a person is to also like that author. There haven't been too many surprises for me so far, although when I put in Alan Furst, I got Ariel Dorfman, who was previously unknown to me. He also looks like he is into the moody thriller, although set in his native Chile. Nerds will be shocked to see Robert Jordan hovering so close to George R. R. Martin. There are issues as the data comes entirely from user data entry, so I found both Ayn Rand and Rand for example. Still, it's entertaining.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bummer news for bibliophiles

(via Bookstore Tourism Blog) Apparently the Berkeley Telegraph Avenue branch of Cody's is closing. This NPR story has more. It's always sad to see a venerable bookstore go, but this one makes me personally sad as well. I used to live in Oakland, and a trip up to Telegraph to visit Amoeba records, Shakepeare and Co, Moe's and Cody's was a regular occurence. All is not lost, Cody's continues to exist in a new Berkeley location and down in San Francisco. I rather like this person's eulogy for the store.

This is one another famed but now gone bookstore that Steve and I visited together. Another is Ave Victor Hugo in Boston, where I believe Steve found his first Dorothy Dunnett. That may have been Walden Pond Books.

Become large with food

Since I gave Amazon some love it seems appropriate to give Powell's love as well. I was checking out the review for Two for the Road, the new book from the Roadfood people, Jane and Michael Stern when I noticed a user review. All lovers of Powells should help Powells out by writing product reviews for the site.

I have to disagree with the reviewer here who claims that the Sterns are glorifying "bad" food. There are no "bad" foods, unless of course there is a medical reason to avoid certain things. The problem is unhealthy food, it is too many calories and not enough exercise. Eat what you want but watch the calories. The reviewer points to these people as an vegetarian alternative to the Sterns travel guide. It's not for me, but I must admit they have some great travel links. For example, here is a cool site devoted to the notion of building your tourism around bookstores, a bookgasm if you will.

I would recommend the Stern's book to anyone who likes their radio snippets on the Splendid Table. Each chapter tells the tale of some adventure in a tucked away corner of a state. There is usually some misadventure involved, some colorful local characters (who are often very friendly) and then some recipes. The book is philosophically aligned with William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways. The Sterns like local and authentic, not nationalized and packaged. What is nice is that the local world that seemed to be disappearing in Blue Highways appears to be hanging on, at least in some places.

It's like getting paid to do BAMOF

Amazon has a bookstore blog now, which is new to me at least. Being Amazon they can get some nice interviews like this one with the author of The Places in Between. The downside of being in retail is that you have to be careful not to offend your supplier (the book publishers in this case.) The tone of the blog is non-shill so that makes me happy. They do take advantage of the fact that they are the bookseller in pieces like this, where they list available out of print cookbooks that were mentioned in a NYT piece. There are a lot of good topical posts like this one which lists terrorist books to check out when news came of Zarqawi's death. So yeah, I'm envious.


There should be a word for the sinking feeling we all sometimes feel on the way to the office in the morning (except for those of us who are smart enough not to work in an office, I suppose). I was having a serious attack of whatever that feeling is called this morning when the usually stolid NPR snapped me right out of it. I was half listening to one of their usual little thirty second musical interludes - the generally forgettable noodling that NPR intersperses between stories, where most radio stations would play ads - when I realized the tune was familiar. Really familiar. It took me a minute to recognize it as a strings arrangement of this song, usually played on a different kind of strings (and with stringy hair flying). A fucking plus, NPR, is all I have to say.

Of course, now all I can think of is double bass drums, which beats the sinking feeling but does not help with the billable hours.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Making you laugh

I was trying to think of truly funny music videos today. Sure there are unintentionally funny videos, but it is much more rare to see a really funny one. I could think of three:

Yo La Tengo -- Sugarcube: Funniest of the funny. The Mr. Show guys take Yo La Tengo to rock school. This one is such a winner.

Foo Fighters -- Everlong: The Foos are known for funny videos but this one is awesome. So many details. The sidewise "what's up" peace sign on the photo on the wall, the Sid Vicious look just after punk Dave takes out the bad guys, the Evil Dead references. So good.

Foo Fighter -- Big Me: The Mentos joke carries the video the whole way through. Esp the mockery of the soccer dude's face.

OK and that's it. There MUST be other really funny videos. What am I missing?

Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean its there

One of my favorite film genres is the paranoid 70s thriller. I have a small problem with the genre which I must clear up first. One of the messages of these movies is that dark forces control American society so any active involvement in politics is foolish at best, and dangerous at worst. This is such a pernicious influence that I wonder if THEY didn't make these movies with that idea in mind! (just kidding, don't get all fired up conspiracy theorists!)

Anyway, here are some of my favorites:

The Conversation: Gene Hackman plays a top surveillance expert spying on a couple and then feels that murder may in the offing. It's set in San Francisco which is one of the best movie towns around and is creepy. It is also a bit more relevant in light of all the wire tapping programs we are hearing about. Hackman does a great job exploring what it means to be a professional voyeur.

Three Days of the Condor: The most conventional of these movies, Three Days starts out with a bang. CIA analyst Robert Redford heads out of his NYC office for a sandwich and upon return finds out his whole team has been whacked. Then it becomes a chase movie, but a very good chase movie. I especially liked Max Von Sydow's assasin who details a bleak moral world view.

The Parallax View: This one should come with a warning label: Absolutely not for conspiracy theorists. It be like showing Open Water to someone afraid of sharks. It's that dark. What I liked about it, aside from some great scenes, like the opener on Seattle's Space Needle, is the depiction of what would really happen if an inexperienced person attempted to expose a massive conspiracy.

If you watched all three of these in a row you might feel the need to gather the family and head to the most deserted corner of your state. So take them slowly.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A maligned food

A Cambridge, MA state rep got into some hot water by trying to limit the availability of Fluff (the marshmallow cream or, perhaps, creme topping) as is used in fluffernutter sandwiches. Obviously this isn't something the kids should be eating all the time, but it isn't that much different than peanut butter and jelly. In fact, Fluff has no HF corn syrup, while many jellies do. So there. If we want to talk health for kids we should dial juice, jelly and jam way back and eat more whole fruit.

Who's in charge here?

Oh lucky day! Thanks to a confusing placeholder title on the Multnomah county library catalog, I was the first to place a hold on Ron Suskind's new book the One Percent Doctrine. Ok, even with the title it remains a bit obscure. The title refers to VP Cheney's belief that even if there was a 1% chance that a state or terrorist organization had WMD, policy should assume they do. The book concerns the influence of the office of the VP over national security policy, and how it is far out of whack. Take a look at this video (don't read the transcript!) for a little more insight. Amazing we don't hear more about things like this.

You can have your Haliburton conspiracy theories, you just need to read the National Security Strategy of 2002 to understand why the US went to war. The rise of extreme terror, the continued existence of rogue states and the proliferation of WMD created a new existential threat to the US, or so the report says. The invasion was meant as a first step to prevent these three factors from converging. For getting into the mindset of the Bush team, I recommend Rise of the Vulcans (and it's even bargain priced at Powell's, you can't afford not to read it).

Monday, June 26, 2006

I'm ready for my close-up

Following up on Tripp's post on books about the movies (and doing it as a post rather than a comment because I am too dumb to link to a comment), anyone with even the slightest interest in 1970s-era film-making should pick up Peter Biskind's Easy Riders & Raging Bulls. Biskind covers Hollywood in the 70s with the expected assortment of vile, horrible, immensely entertaining misbehavior. Dennis Hopper and Peter Bogdanovich stand out in their (quite disparate) awfulness, from which neither has ever quite recovered (Bogdanovich is probably best known now for playing Julie Melfi's creepy shrink in The Sopranos).

What saves the book from being a mere chronicle of excess (as entertaining as that would be) is the quality of the films themselves and Biskind's obvious love for them and for the tortured people who managed great work in spite of themselves. The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, The Exorcist, Nashville, Taxi Driver, Days of Heaven, Five Easy Pieces, Bonnie & Clyde, The Last Picture Show, The Deer Hunter - the list could go on quite a bit longer (although I confess that I've always thought Easy Rider was crap). Add in the birth of the blockbuster movie (Biskind makes a pretty good case that Spielberg invented the form and Lucas - however briefly - perfected it) and it is quite a story.

The last thing that recommends ER&RB is something that I find missing from many books on film. The fact that Biskind's focus starts in 1968 or so means that most, if not all, of the films he writes about are available and, more important, accessible if you want to go back for another look. I'm sure Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Marlene Dietrich's Blue Angel are important advances in film, but have you ever tried to watch that stuff? Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Movies and traveling

Here are two fun lists of books about the movies. I for one would love to read Johathan Lethem's reflections on Star Wars and 2001. And 1,001 movies you must see before you die sounds like it is worth owning.

If you are in too traveling at all, 1000 Places to See Before You Die is awesome. As the Amazon user reviews indicates, the book is not for the Lonely Planet crowd. A good section of the book includes high end hotels. I for one love old, expensive hotels, but you don't need to stay in them to enjoy them. Just pop into the bar for one overpriced drink and you can enjoy the ambiance.
Or just stroll through the lobby. If you are fond of period novels or history, the old line hotels can be a lot of fun. I used it when travelling across the US and found it to be great fun. This shouldn't be the only book you use to travel, it is more of a dream book with which to explore.

No more words

Here is a good article about Will Shortz, the Times crossword and the rise of sudoku. My fave fact is that the hardest position in a crossword is the lower righthand corner. Also that Bill Clinton did crosswords while on the phone with world leaders.

Another one for the nerds

If a sci-fi novel is set in our universe (as opposed to one unrelated like that in Star Wars) the author has to create some kind of political and social structure and, if they are willing to work at it, explain how our society evolved to that point. A large, if not the majority, portion of authors like to hundreds or thousands of years out, as this allows for a wider range of technology, an expansion across stars, and massive social change. One part of the story is usually about how power shifts from Earth to the colonies.

The political model for the shift is often the American revolution. The colonies (be they on the moon, asteroids, Mars or further afield) are not held back by legacy social customs, businesses or inbuilt technologies. At some point, they grow weary of Earth's restrictions and given some provocation, they throw off the shackles and then become some kind of libertarian or socialist paradise. John Varley's Red Lightning, fits in this tradition.

The book is mostly set on mid 21st century Mars with a visit to a unpleasant Earth. The War on Terror never ended and the US has a police state in the form of the Homelanders and endless fighting. The economy is in the toilet. A terrible disaster throws the US into turmoil and for a reason explained late in the book, someone on Earth invades Mars in a form of response. It's entertaining light beach reading for those that like scifi at least.

Varley by the way, is the author of the Gaia trilogy, which begins with Titan. I missed reading this series entirely because of the book covers. Way too stylized, at least in the early 80s editions. In any case I was too busy with the likes of Heroes in Hell.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Are you psyched? Are you high?

There is plenty of talk in the land about when Americans become adults. There was this Time article, and a NYT article I can't find some other place. I submit it is fairly easy to say when the American (male at least) becomes an adult. It is the point when this becomes unappealing.

I'm pretty sure I did that at some point. I also did this, but in typical fashion failed to translate it into some play.

Cuz I got no self esteem

Sometimes I feel the abused lover who can't help but coming back for more. But I can't stay away from Star Wars no matter what Lucas throws at us. NBK send these photoshopped images on fark, which combine Star Wars and various Tarantino properties. You'll get a chuckle. (my fave is the jawa about six down). While I wallowed in my SW shame, I found that the Troopers (Cops Star Wars spoof) is on You Tube.

Gooseberry pie me oh my oh

The NYT has an article (with rhubarb pie recipe included) on piemaking and how it can be a calling. Along with Foodbound's article on the Pie cookbook, I have really been thinking about upping my pie game. I prefer pie to cake, perhaps because it is served warm, or perhaps because cake is so often made too dry. In any case, what I want to try next is the gooseberry pie, as we tried some dry ones and they were excellent. Here is a recipe for a sour cream gooseberry pie. Everything's good with sour cream, no?

I may have mentioned that one of my two greatest baking disasters was a shoe fly pie. To be fair, I got the recipe off of a post card from Amish country. So maybe I should try again.

Dark is a way and light is a place

I turned 35 yesterday, leaving (as Tripp so unkindly noted) the 25-34 year old demographic and in the process becoming less desirable to pretty much everyone. I considered attempting something profound about my advancing age but then remembered this poem from Dylan Thomas. Who needs my lackluster deep thoughts when his are so good?

As long as I'm posting poetry, my brother introduced me to Mark Strand a few years ago and I haven't been able to get this one out of my head since. Don't try to find a coherent theme to this post, just read the damned poem. You can thank me later.

What to Think of

Think of the jungle,
The green steam rising.

It is yours.
You are the prince of Paraguay.

Your minions kneel
Deep in the shade of giant leaves

While you drive by
Benevolent as gold.

They kiss the air
That moments before

Swept over your skin,
And rise only after you've passed.

Think of yourself, almost a god,
Your hair on fire,

The bellows of your heart pumping.
Think of the bats

Rushing out of their caves
Like a dark wind to greet you;

Of the vast nocturnal cities
Of lightning bugs

Floating down
From Minas Gerais;

Of the coral snakes;
Of the crimson birds

With emerald beaks;
Of the tons and tons of morpho butterflies

Filling the air
Like the cold confetti of paradise.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The boys and me are drunk and looking for you

Me spouse asked an interesting question the other day. Why do all the alternative rock stations play Bob Marley? Seriously, from KRNK to the late lamented WHFS, they all played some Marley. It really doesn't fit at all. They really just play Legend too, so you aren't going to get anything like Iron Lion Zion. So what's the deal? It's not like reggae is somehow alternative otherwise we would have a lot of Yellowman, Jimmy Cliff and so on. Is it an affirmative action thing? The concept that some bands must be black to give the station some cred? Since radio is pretty uninterested in cred, I think not. My best guess is that it reminds the mid 30s demo of all the times they wandered around town singing this really loudly.

Here is song which SHOULD be played on some alternative radio if they need to go slow, but they won't will they? Much like Bob Marley though it is excellent for singing loudly in the streets after a few cold ones.

And the big black birds gathered in the sky

The Guardian has a review of a new edition of Antony Beevor's Battle of Spain (last titled the Spanish Civil War.) Read the review to see how flat out evil that war became, with atrocities aplenty on each side. Read it also for the comparison to Iraq which may itself be entering such a war, although its is ethnic rather than class based. I thought it was a rather well written review and then I noticed it was written by Piers Brendon, author of the stunning Dark Valley. That book is about the 30s and the slow slide to war. While the 40s were terrible, the 30s were no picnic and this book will convince you of that.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer readin', had me a blast

Salon has chosen a few books for summer reading based on the following criteria:

We've scoured publishers' lists for suspenseful, surprising, entertaining and intelligent new novels that are decently, gracefully, even beautifully written. We're willing to swear that if you pack any one of these titles in your carry-on bag or beach tote, you won't wind up regretting it and rifling through the hotel's depressing collection of old, beat-up Nora Roberts paperbacks.

Sounds good to me. They include the Ruins which I am desperate to read. For those on the politically Red side (my how words can change in meaning,) take a look at National Review's beach reading list. You'll of course find the dreadful Anne Coulter, but interesting choices too.

More from the River of Darkness

No, that is not a reference to Karl Rove's pen or Dick Cheney's black heart. Rennie Airth, author of the very strong River of Darkness, has finally released his follow-up in paperback. The Blood-Dimmed Tide picks up with Inspector John Madden in 1932, around a decade after the events related in the prio volume. The setting, both historic and geographic, and character development set Airth's first effort well above the average police procedural and I expect more of the same from this outing. Publishers' Weekly reports that this is the second in a planned trilogy, with the third set during the second world war. If Airth's between-the-wars detective fiction is even half as good as Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir, we will be in high cotton.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Put yo weight on it

Is there anything better than Dolemite? Check the this Human Tornando/Avenging Disco Godfather combo. And here is the Dolemite trailer, you rat soup eatin insecure....

I love surprises

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked Boris Akunin's Murder on the Leviathan more than his Winter Queen. I was surprised because the Amazon CW seemed to be that Murder was weaker. The book is clearly an homage to Christie, with 10 suspects having to stay in the same dining room/social room for meal time on a long steamship ride to India. You can probably tell if this sort of thing is your bag.

Last year the Independent interviewed Akunin and it is an illuminating interview. He states that happily puts anachronisms in his books (which will make historical fiction fans grind their teeth) because he wants you to know the books are about today not the 19h century in which they are set. One of the reasons he chose the Tsarist period is because back in the commie days you couldn't write books about that. There's more so be sure to read this one.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The cause

If I had an ideal job, it would be watching YouTube eternally. I went looking for Broken Social Scene and I came back with a shovel load. Most of you will want some Feist action as can be found in 7/4 shoreline. But it wouldn't be BSS without Cause=Time. Fire Eye'd Boy is an awesome song and may be the only video featuring a band in bathrobes.

And why not throw in some Metric since we are talking the extended BSS family? Here is Emily Haines as a puppet in Combat Baby. Easily one of the best shows I've seen in years.

And keeping with the Canada thing, here is Wolf Parade doing a really good one.

Unrelated but here is the world's only conflation of Harry Potter, Everclear (not the beverage) and gay desire.

A very large stack of books

Amazon has a deal for you. The entire (to date) collection of 183 Library of America volumes can be yours for the low price of $3900. You'll save $2,500! Now keep in mind that each book is a really a number of books. You will get ALL of Faulkner in 5 volumes. You also get Kate Chopin's entire output in a single book. So this is a lot of reading. The prime audience would seem to be people who want to rapidly fill a bookshelf with impressive looking volumes or very hopeful parents. Or people who only give books for presents and want to stock up for the next 30 holidays.

The Amazon page has three first paragraph quizes for you to try out. At first I thought you just had to know but you have a series of books from which to choose. They are still pretty hard. You gotta love a quiz with Eudora Welty, Frederick Douglas, HP Lovecraft, Jim Thompson and Thoreau.

I should say that I own a small number of these books as I subscribed to the series for a few years. I stopped as I need to catch up and read more of them. I am unlikely to have gotten to John Dos Passos's USA, which is one of my favorite novels. The series is the closest thing we have to an American canon.

You do not want to believe

I am now perfectly happy to put down a book I don't want to finish. Some people have a guilt association with putting down a book, no doubt from school. If you view reading as an assignment or test of the will, I can understand it. If you view it as pleasure that it is easy to stop and put it down. The downside to this approach is that I waste time giving chances to books that I am nearly certain will suck. For example, Bentley Little's Revelation. It's so bad, it makes me a little sad. Sad that so many people spend time with it. I once read a book of Little's that was pretty entertaining called Dominion. It involved Dionysus returning to our present day and making a real mess of Napa Valley.

I was trying to figure out why Stephen King is (often) good while almost all of the rest of horror is bad. I think it is because most horror writers take the flashy bits without getting at the core issues that King addresses. Sure the Shining is scary, but it is also about abuse (both spousal and child) and that makes the characters that much more interesting. Most horror writers create sketch characters and then ladle on some twisted sex and bizarre death scenes.

I think I can now write off Little, but I bet I will go back to bad horror again. It's like in college when you swore you would never drink again and then you have a beer in your hand twelve hours later. Pathetic.

CK update for CG and other miscellany

An update on the whereabouts of Chuck Klosterman. Too short, sadly, but still pretty funny. Now would be a good time to mention that I decided this weekend, while standing in line at the local Barnes and Noble, that I hate all of you Portlanders for your demonic refusal to franchise Powell's throughout the nation, or at least in central Virginia.

A completely unrelated link from last night's Colbert Report. Colbert interviews Representative Lynn Westmoreland (R - GA), who is the co-sponsor of a bill to display the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate. His description of the Capitol as a "judicial building" makes me ... well, just sad, I guess.

Monday, June 19, 2006

90s video nostalgia

Okay, if the 80s were the golden age of video, the 90s were the slow slide to decadence. They were still made, but you couldn't see them. There is a lot of goodness still to be seen though.

Temple of the Dog: Hunger Strike Every indie rock lover has burst into a duet with this one. I think only Moz impressions can beat this one in total drunken renditions. This one will bring a tear to every mid-30s dude in the house.

Frank Black: Los Angeles This one would be 1000% better if the joke metal band played for the whole video. Or if Joey gave his thumbs up.

Breeders: Divine Hammer There is much about the early 90s that rockers can disagree about: Nirvana or Pearl Jam? Is Soundgarden a grunge band? What about Alice in Chains? All (straight male) rockers of the era can agree on one thing, they want sex with Kim Deal. Special bonus video of Breeders covering GBV with GBV in the video.

Body Count: Body Count Could these be the best lyrics of the 90s? Maybe.

Local H: All the Kids Are Right If there is any Gen X virtue it is self deprecation, and this is one of the most self deprecating songs of all time.

Dinosaur Jr. The Wagon I totally forgot how into Dinosaur (as the cool call them) I was back in the day. Remember when Spin had the J Mascis is God cover? I feel like an old man.

Pavement: Cut Your Hair You know you love it. What you will love all the more is the dancing power of Peruvian band Los Zapping as they cover the song.

The trouble is, that you sound like someone else

Ok, Ok, Interpol owes a fair amount to Joy Division, but they are better than Joy Division (that's right.) These dudes should send all royalty checks to the well dressed lads from New York.

She has a great speaking voice and all the girls love her.

I take great, mean-spirited pleasure in bad reviews (particularly when they confirm my own prejudices, of course). The bland refusal to really bomb anything has, in my opinion, contributed to Spin magazine's descent from a once fairly-reliable arbiter of non-mainstream music to its current residence in pop culture purgatory (replete with headlines like the recent "Kevin Pimps Britney!" - and no, I did not make that up). No wonder Klosterman left. Rolling Stone, of course, has gone round the bend completely.

Pitchfork, on the other hand, can be relied upon to serve up nicely bitchy reviews with regularity. The reviewers' self-importance often adds to the fun. Two recent examples are heavy on the former and light on the latter. The Keane review has some particularly deft nastiness, including:

Don't call it a sophomore slump-- Keane were slouching from the get-go.


But don't let all this talk about the music lead you to believe that the lyrical content is lacking. No, Keane make sure that Iron Sea is filled with the sort of greeting-card poetry that would even give Bono pause. If you want to sound like an asshole, quote this couplet from "Nothing In My Way"-- "For a lonely soul, you're having such a nice time." If you're feeling put-upon and a little obvious, just follow Chaplin's lead and sing, "I'm not a stone; I'm just a man," like you really mean it. And in case you forgot, "Atlantic" reminds you in the most ponderous manner possible that being old and alone is totally lame.

The U2 sucker punch is a bonus, akin to the jabs at Ayn Rand that pop up in any review of ponderous, self-important fiction that teenagers and dim adults find deep. Good stuff.

Dear mother, dear father

I just got back from a great Father's Day trip with my dad. We went fly fishing up on the Deschutes and actually caught fish! Anyway, since we live far apart, it is great to spend actual one on one time with him. Doing it fly fishing is all the better.

For a very wide range of thoughts on fathers see Post Secret. The Father's Day cards are spread over a number of links. Since it is Post Secret, most are sad either because of a bad relationship or because people can't communicate (except via anonymous post card apparently.) It's worth a read.

In defense of James Bond

So I started reading On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and I felt vaguely embarassed for doing so. Bond and the novels have been reviled and disdained by the literati, and I am sorry to say that this worried me. Let's review some of the common complaints and see why they are overstated.

First the prose. Yes it is overblown and ridiculous. Let's say Bond is trying to load a damaged weapon before a baddie arrives. It might go like this "Bond gave the guard four minutes to make it across the sands. Four! It would have to be enough. He tried to clear the barrel, but broke the cleaner. Slowly, deliberately he eased in another. Got it! Now where were the bullets? Only two! Old Wickham from the firing range would be looking over Bond now, steady, steady, fire!"

This to me is the worst of the indictments. When an action element makes it way, it can seem a little silly, but it ends up being nicely descriptive. If anything will chase you off I think it will be this.

Then there is the fetishization of the elite objects. Bond must have the best of everything, car, weapon, clothes or anything else. That's fine, but we have to hear about it constantly. It's a bit much to believe that one person knows enough to judge every consumer product in existence. The exent of the silliness is best seen when the Bond refers to a certain hair care product as the "prince of shampoos."

Again, this might irritate but it will more likely bring a chuckle.

Female readers might want to go beserker when they see all the sexism. It's like the movies, but more so, since we see inside Bond's head. He is always looking to get a little play, even when the action is hot. While I may frown at some of his actions, this seems an accurate description of the male mind at work.

So I find the basic complaints against Bond to be weak. Since the story is key, it may be less worth reading the books if you have already seen the companion film. I've neglected the Lazenby Bond, so this story was new to me. And it was fun.

Friday, June 16, 2006

mmm good

There is a Trader Joe's fan site out there and it has a extensive product reviews. Here is one with widely ranged opinions, the chili spiced mango. The sesame almond nuts are beyond good. I have to say I think that Trader Joe's gnocchi are flat out nasty, stay far far away. It tastes like wheat flavored bubble gum, I feel a little ill thinking about it. Maybe I screwed them up, but I am not going back there.

If it wasn't such a bad idea, I could eat the ginger, almond and cashew cereal for every meal. For a few days at least. OK, sometimes when the family is away I have it for two meals, but then I have something healthier for dinner. Melissa prefers the granny apple. Anyway lots of cool crap on this site.

Totally unrelated, but Donovan Hall has a beer podcast which should be enjoyable to the many drinkers I know.

Let's hear it for the boy

Dad's get into the Oregon Zoo free on Sunday, thanks to Dodge. There are some special games set up as well as lots of Dodge vehicles strewn about the Zoo. The Zoo is always a good time, so check it out if you are a Dad. The butterflies are back too, be sure to check that out.

Let me talk about the other side now

In the interest of maintaining my centrist cred, I must know attack a right wing book. Thankfully, I have a wide range of choices. Due to the similarity to the prior target of my spitting rage, I choose America's Victory: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror. Just from the title, I was certain this would suck. This time I have an interview with the author to prove my point.

What is frustrating about this book is that it is trying to prove something I think is true, that the US military is the among the most humane, competent and progressive militaries on the planet. You can look at the military's efforts to limit casualties on both sides, to its (imperfect) study of history to improve itself, its dedication to civil control and the fact that is far ahead of broader society when it comes to racial and social integration.

So why is this book bad?Becausee it covers the good with ten tons of shit. There is so much to pick on, but let's talk about American aversion to casualties. There are many reason why the US is more casualty averse than other nations. One of the most prominent is the hyper-materialistic nature of American society, which values wealth and personal expression over battlefield honor. Another is that unless Americans can see a non-self serving reason to fight, they get mad, fast. Know what the author, Larry Schweikart, says it comes from? Peace protesters. Remember the big peace movement in World War 2 and Korea? Me neither.

The bigger complaint is the complete disconnect between policy and military action. For Schweikart all wars are the same. "Victory" is all that matter and victory means defeating the enemy. He makes no link between the stated goals of the government, which may or may not be best met by crushing the enemy. He compares Iraq, a war of choice, to the Civil War, one of the two most existential wars fought by the country. So he asks us to sit back and accept that Bush understands we are winning, as it is too challening for we mortals to understand. And then he casually refers to a possible war with Iran as if he is discussing which month he should change his oil.

A much better book, Imperial Grunts, explains the virtues of the American soldier. For a great (and brief analysis) of the evolution of the concept of victory, see Brian Bond's Pursuit of Victory. If you simply must have some right wing blowhards, watch Fox News, at least it won't cost you anything.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Get out of my world

I saw this book called Dark Ages America ( I won't link to it on the off chance that someone might buy it and then I would know I gave money to the devil) and I was pretty sure it was going to suck. Michiko confirmed all my suspicions. It's a good review and this last para is key:

So indiscriminate and intemperate are Mr. Berman's complaints that they undermine the valid points he wants to make about the role the Iraq war has played in fomenting further terrorism, the moral implications of torture at Abu Ghraib and the dangers of a ballooning trade deficit and an overextended military. But his apparent hatred of all things American will give right-wing ideologues like Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter an opportunity to tar and feather those citizens who do not share Mr. Berman's contempt for this country but who happen to share his concern about the Iraq war and the policies of the current Bush administration.

I am so fucking tired of crybaby take-my-ball-and-go-home lefties (look at that pompous bastard's picture, you'll want to kick him in the balls immediately) who spoil reasoned and articulate criticism of the Bush administration with their childish and idiotic rants. What not everyone in America wants to sell hemp and drive a Prius? Oh they must be evil then. What's that? They practice a religion? Fie on them (unless they're Muslims, who are just angels!) Have these tools even been to Europe or Asia or Africa? If they want evil, they can get a mass grave load. To these class A jackasses, evil is a word you can toss around like hello. The vast majority of the centrists and leftists are not America haters, but this guy makes it easy to say its an issue.

The right is just as bad of course, but they are in power, so they have lots of room to play. Those who want to change the ship's direction need some discipline and some reason, not a rant like you might hear from a pissy sophmore with a couple of sociology classes under his belt.

Crazy town

In the Amalgamation Polka, Stephen Wright paints mid-19th century America as an insane asylum. It is a violent world where people are ready to scrap for nearly any reason. The violent abuse of slaves and the war itself seem merely ends of a continuum of violence rather than aberrations. We are treated to Bloody Kansas, crazed ship captains, overseers, nasty neighbors and of course the war. Race relations are also central in the tale, which makes sense as the main character, Liberty, has abolitionists for parents, and slave holding plantation owners for grandparents. The author at times seems ambivalent over the superiority of our own time, he talks about switching chattel slavery for wage slavery and the end of any freedom at all. Or at least his plantation owning character says so.

The book reminds me of a John Barth novel with absurdist humor and vivid descripton. This is the sort of writing where the language and atmosphere triumph over plot. The plot is essentially Liberty finding his place in the nation while he tours it. It ends happily with Liberty back in the arms of the family. If you go in for gorgeous language and period writing, then you will like it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

1980s video nostalgia

NBK and I were just discussing the evident awesomeness of the 80s music scene. Don't believe me? Listen to this:

Duran Duran - New Moon on Monday. No sane person questions the greatness of this song. The only debate is whether it is the best or second best DD song. What's more, you get history from this vid, and the argument that petty communist governments can be overthrown with kites and bottlerockets. Seemed like a joke at the time, but the Velvet Revolution wasn't that different. LeBon is clearly a geopolitical genius who should be put on the bin Laden case immediately.

Adam and the Ants Stand and Deliver. Only a knave doubts the wonders of this one. I hope by posting this I can promote a return to foppish dress and behavior.

Fear I Love Living in the City. I wasn't that much of a hardcore guy, but like all kids trying to be cool, I had the Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack. And I was a little scared by this one.

Megadeth Peace Sells. All the German exchange students loved these guys, but they were all either hippies or headbangers.

Devo - Girl You Want. Seriously ungood video. Seriously great song. I can't tell you how many times my friends could have mockingly sung that chorus in my ears. Thanks for not doing that friends.

Black Flag TV Party. Bet you didn't know there was a video for this one. Check out the youthful Henry Rollins.

Joe Strummer Love Kills. From movie of same name. Gary Oldman is in the video as well, acting like a crazy person. There is a bit of the overproduced 80s rock song to this one, but this is a sadly forgotten Strummer treasure.

Pogues Streams of Whiskey. Ah yes it wouldn't be the 80s without a celebration of sweet, sweet alcohol. Call it demon whiskey if you want, but I call it friend.

There, that should have nicely wasted piles of your time. You're welcome.

The nerd circle is unbroken

Charles Stross is a great sci-fi writer. I really enjoyed his Singularity Sky. He is also a short story writer of note as shown by A Colder War. Infinity Plus has the whole story online and it just short enough to read online. The story is a sequel (of sorts) to H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountain of Madness, but it felt more like Declare to me. Like Declare, A Colder War recasts 20th century history as a fight to keep dark forces from getting out. This is a really good story and I recommend taking the time for it.

Non-super-nerds stop reading now.

OK, super nerds, apparently Charles Stross is not only a scifi writer but the creator of the D&D githyanki! Double nerd bonus, the original concept was created by George R R Martin!

Who broke my heart, you did, you did

After the prequels, the Star Wars Holiday Special doesn't seem like such an anomaly. What is amazing is how much worse than the prequels it really is. Lucas hates the movie and it is on the Lucasarts Index Librorum Prohibotorum. The imdb site links to plenty of blow by blow descriptions of the travesty. The story centers around Chewie going home to take part in life day on his homeworld. Most of the action is with the Chewie household and much of the dialogue is in un-subtitled Wookie speak. It's that awesome. Throw in a Bea Arthur show tune and a Harvey Korman skit that will make you weep with anger and you have a real piece of work.

It used to be pretty hard to find it, but with You Tube, you can finally see it without spending money (although you will never get those precious minutes back)

Boba Fett cartoon (this is the only part that doesn't completely suck. The Heavy Metal-esque carton introduces Boba Fett)

The Cantina - unspeakably bad.

Leia sings - As bad as you think

Harrison Ford's low moments - Sigh

Something to look for

One of the best thrillers of the 1990s was A Simple Plan. The plot is fairly standard in that a few men find a large cache of money and this leads to tragedy. What sets the book apart was the moral ambiguity of the plot. The main character appears to be a good person, but this becomes less evident as time goes on. Was he a bad person or did the greed do it? Anyway, it's a fun read. Scott Smith wrote that book in the early 90s and hadn't published anything else until this year.

His new book is called the Ruins. It involves a group of Cancun tourists getting chased around some ruins in the Yucatan jungles. Stephen King has a brief review on Amazon. I'm excited about this one, as I really like the scary-thing-chasing-people-around-a-spooky place genre, as exemplified by Relic.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The sweetest thing

The passing of Criollo, so sad for so many reasons, was made all the more tragic by my last minute discovery of a new fave cookie, the Lemon Almond Suvaroff. Imagine two almond cookies (not like a Chinese restaurant cookie, but light and flaky) with a lemony filling. I was going to say "lemon creme" but that sounds like an Oreo filling, and this was far better, lighter with an intense lemon flavor. And now it is gone, but maybe not lost. I found this recipe for the the mirror twin of the cookie. That recipe has lemon cookies with an almond filling. I can probably reverse engineer it. Or try at least.

The site on which I found the recipe, Cookie Club, features photos of people making and then eating cookies. It can be quite fun.

What is wrong with me?

I am reading two books about rock music. They are both good, but one is (so far) better than the other. Our Band Could Be Your Life tells the stories of a number (incl. Black Flag, Replacements, Husker Du and Big Black) of American 80s indie rock bands. England's Dreaming tells the story of Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols in a similar number of pages. This is the great advantage of Our Band over England. The former is by necessity more tightly written and quite a bit more visceral. The latter takes an academic or philosophical approach, spending too much time talking about the not very interesting artistic and personal development of McClaren. Still, if you are interested in the Sex Pistols (I certainly am) you get as much as you can handle in this one, including the slow search for a singer (one of the NY Dolls was supposed to join at some point). You also get a nice picture of the overall scene in the mid-70s.

Jon Savage (England's Dreaming) spends a bit too much time wondering about the political implications of punk (is it right wing? Is it left wing?) Michael Azerrad (Our Band) doesn't ignore the political question, but he only discusses it where it matters, as in the band members typical dislike of Reagan and the yuppie 80s. Once we understand their position, we get back to the life of the musicians, which is way more interesting.

I would recommend both to fans of the eras, but feel free to skip to page 100 or so in England's Dreaming, as that is when we first meet an actual Pistol. For serious.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It's just crazy enough to work.

The Defense Department is almost unfathomably large and as such, small fiefdoms exist tucked away from prying eyes. Some are just idea generators, but others spend money, lots of money. In a new book called Imaginary Weapons, Sharon Weinberger looks at a weapons developer who chases after ideas that no else supports:

Weinberger's story centers around Carl Collins, a Texas scientist turned nuclear Don Quixote, who convinces Pentagon and Energy Department officials to spend millions on his jousts with the laws of physics. The fact his windmill-tilting relies on a second-hand X-ray machine, taken from a dentist's office, doesn't seem to matter. Or that his Romanian wife has a sketchy choke-hold over the hafnium supply. Or that every scientific panel the Pentagon assembles calls Collins' work bunk. Or that no reputable physicist can replicate his hafnium experiments. (Via Defense Tech)

Just the thing for your defense junkie friends.

The ultimate power in the universe

Here's one for the nerds. A nicely edited USS Enterprise vs. the Death Star.

Update: Link fixed. So sorry

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Trapped inside the song

I was trying to think of my favorite cover song today. As I did, I noted a few categories of covers. One is the jokey cover that so transforms the song as to make it a novelty, like the Evan Dando cover of Skulls. This makes it fun to listen to a few times, but you will probably hit the skip button the next time it comes on your Ipod. Then there are the too faithful covers. I am thinking of the Echo and the Bunnymen cover of People Are Strange. If I don't listen closely, I sometimes think it is the Doors playing. What's the point of that? Or there are those punk tribute covers that are basically the same song played faster and less well. No thanks.

Good covers manage to reinvent the song without making it silly. Here are some good examples:
Metallica: Whiskey in the Jar So this one takes a slow tempo song and adds the Metalla-cruncha cruncha so well.

Ramones: I Can't Control Myself. Alright, so the Troggs version isn't that popular and this is late period Ramones anyway. Still, among the many many covers the Ramones made this one manages to do the first better by adding energy to the urgency.

Foo Fighters: Baker Street This one gets props for covering a song that people don't like to admit that they like. Be sure to watch the linked Gerry Rafferty video. The backlit sax will kill you. And the Foos give it a nice 70s rawk treatment.

Mention must be made of cover disasters as well.

I have always disliked the Indigo Girls cover of Uncle Johns Band. It's by no means my fave Dead song, but I hate that the IGs changed the lyric from "Goddam while I declare" to "Sister I declare." That's lame.

The award of dishonor has to go to Natalie Merchant. Her cover of Everyday is Like Sunday is dreadful, somehow deleting all the pathos of the Morrissey version. The man is so sad that he seeks nuclear oblivion but she sounds like she is singing about the laundry. Then we have her cover of Don't Go Back to Rockville. Not as bad, but it doesn't work without Stipe's exaggerated Southern accent.

Any other best and worst cover ideas?

All the girls loved me cause my Tuffskins had creases

I'm ambivalent about the growing popularity of memoirs. The good ones, I find, are simply spectacular. Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness heads the recent list in this group. Every year, one or two of the better books I read are memoirs - like this one from last year. And of course war memoirs can be stunning - Michael Herr's Dispatches is in the small group of books I would take to the desert island and there are any number of other good ones. Yet I can't help thinking that not everyone's life is interesting enough to merit book-length treatment, and I know that the recent surge in memoir writing and reading does not reflect the more interesting lives we lead today. A more philosophical poster might speculate on the link between today's increasingly solipsistic society and the uptick in memoirs, but not I.

A less hypocritical poster might read fewer of them, too, but what fun would that be? In the last month I've read two worthwhile samples. The first, Sean Wilsey's "Oh, the Glory of it All" suffers a bit from Dave Eggers-ish self-indulgence (although no one self-indulges like Eggers does), but is rescued by the author's fine writing (another similarity to Eggers) and a series of crazy tales of a historically awful stepmother. Worth reading, certainly.

Worth buying - tomorrow - is Jeannette Walls' story of a hardscrabble childhood "The Glass Castle." Words - or at least my words - are inadequate to describe the deprivations of Walls' upbringing (although she is up to the task). Harrowing and very, very good.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Another one for your wishlist

There is a new travel book about Afghanistan. The NYT really likes it, as summarized here;

If, finally, you're determined to do something as recklessly stupid as walk across a war zone, your surest bet to quash all the inevitable criticism is to write a flat-out masterpiece. Stewart did. Stewart has. "The Places in Between" is, in very nearly every sense, too good to be true.

This line will get some of you excited:

There are some Medusa-slayingly gutsy travel writers out there — Redmond O'Hanlon, Jeffrey Tayler, Robert Young Pelton — but Stewart makes them look like Hilton sisters.

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn

This is odd. The next Cormac McCarthy novel will be set in some post-apocalyptic America. OK, it's not that odd, as his characters tend to be alone in vast spaces, and Blood Meridian had a apocalyptic feel to it. I've seen people compare the new McCarthy to a book called Riddley Walker, another post-apocalyptic novel in which we see the English language devolve/evolve. And that of course sounds a lot like A Clockwork Orange. Anyway, I wasn't that keen on the last McCarthy, so I am wondering what this one will be like.

My personal fave post-apocalyptic tale is A Canticle for Leibowitz. The story concerns a group of monks in a post-nuclear war America who try to keep knowledge of the pre-war world alive. Like the monks of medieval Europe they then act as a cultural catalyst for the new rising powers. It presents history as cyclical, with the new rising powers turning on each other while the monks try to keep the peace. If you like thoughtful science fiction this is an absolute must read.

Oh woe, oh woe

Today is the last day for Criollo. Not just one of my fave bakeries here in PDX, but one very close to my house. On that score I am OK, with Ristretto and Jim and Patty's nearby (although Jim and Patty's is the clubbiest coffee shop you've ever seen). Criollo will be a loss. This eggbeater review makes me want to go try Crema, although I have heard mixed things. And I really need to find my way over to Baker and Spice.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Video of the day

An opinion shared by right thinking people is that "Atlantic City" is Bruce Springsteen's best song. Here is the video, which is as bleak as the song.

Now for the shocker, I really like his new folk album. Before you say "That's nice hippie, go have another spelt muffin and pin up a hemp flyer," you should give the thing a try.

That's what friends are for

The first week of July is a Buy A Friend A Book Week, at least according to this person. To celebrate a number of sites are running a puzzle contest. If you win, you could get scads of books. And them give them to your friends I guess.

Action Jackson

I just finished the Sean Wilentz's bio on Andrew Jackson. It's a short book at 160 pages in the American Presidents series. The books are short introductions to each President written by a respected historian. I liked this one quite a bit more than the one of FDR. I think these books are best approached if you have limited knowledge on the subject. I'm reasonably well read in the New Deal and World War 2, which made the FDR volume less interesting, as it had to condense the story to the basic details. Jackson, on the other hand, was more of a mystery to me, so the book was helpful.

I liked the fact that Wilentz did not judge the President by current standards, but by those of the day, which tempers his repuation on the Trail of Tears. Unfortunately, a lot of coverage is given to the fight between Jackson and the proponents of the Second Bank of the United States. I understand that crisis much better now, and have a much better understanding of the import (I always assumed it the Bank was more like the Fed rather than the chartered bank it was,) but it is still a rather dry subject. At this length, a little boring is OK though.

Blowing lots of cash on books

(Via Grumpy Old Bookman) Abebooks is ten years old (in the UK at least) and is celebrating with fun facts like the most expensive books sold on the online site ($65k!!!!) The most exotic stores are interesting too (Egypt, Mauritius, Bermuda)

Thursday, June 08, 2006

He knows I'd love to hear them

Listening to covers is like seeing famous people naked. I am inexplicably fascinated. Here is an all covers MP3 blog. So it's like a famous naked people site you can look at while in the office. Sort of.

The current link is a pile of "There is a Light and it never goes out covers." Smith fan boys better bring an extra pair of undies.

Where are they now?

With all this Star Wars I wondered what was going on with Jake "Yippee!" Lloyd. Well apparently he just turned seventeen and his fan club is very excited. According to the site, he is going to stay in Hollywood and maybe go into editing.

If you want to shed a tear read about Matthew Garber from Mary Poppins.

Mind the gap

I just recently got ahold of Meat is Murder. I don't mean the book or some veggie manifesto, but the Smiths album. What's the big deal you say? The big deal is that I am a major Smiths fan, given to Morrissey impressions when I am one drink over the line (OK who isn't?). And I am also a completist. Not a crazy completist that makes mix tapes of every version, demo, Peel Session, remix, cover or otherwise of my fave songs, but the kind that wants all the albums of my faves. I was religious on REM up until Up. So normally I manage to get ahold of the major works of bands I like. I don't subscribe to the "representative album" behavior of Matt. When I asked if he wanted a Beulah record, he said he had one and that is all he needed. This is a guy with over 40GB of music on his computer, so maybe he is bumping up against his computer's capacity for tunes or something.

There are a surprising number of albums I do not have. For example,

The Clash - Sandinista
Sleater-Kinney - All Hands on the Bad One
Ramones - Subterranean Jungle (OK I got this one, but YEARS after my principal Ramones listening years.)
Pogues - If I Should Fall From the Grace of God

I should own them all, but I don't. Of course, I have yet to really investigate Dylan or the Kinks either. So the gaps in musical experience remain profound.

Your videos for the day

The Black Heart Procession has a new video (scroll down to video.) It's a bit more upbeat than past efforts. It's cool in any case. The last album, Amore Del Tropico, is an indie rock concept album with each song a step in a murder mystery. There are a number of associated videos including this one.

Your videos for the day

The Black Heart Procession has a new video (scroll down to video.) It's a bit more upbeat than past efforts. It's cool in any case. The last album, Amore Del Tropico, is an indie rock concept album with each song a step in a murder mystery. There are a number of associated videos including this one.

If 100 Monkeys Cooked for 100 Years

I'm pretty sure this is what they fed us in elementary school, along with the bird seed pizza and Trigger burgers. Come to think of it, I was much more interested in my own poop in those days, just like this guy. All kidding aside, much respect to anyone who can go five days on monkey chow. If he makes it to thirty, he achieves instant "remember that guy" status (the kind that continues to escape the David Blaines of the world).

And yes, I'm wondering how it tastes.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How to get hit

Wanna be really annoying? Then start dropping slang 1811 style. As in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. This is the 19th century, mind, so don't go looking for the donkey punch or the rusty trombone. I find Sir Reverence to be a new one though, and Tantdadlin Tart is an appalling synonym. Whore pipe and tickle tail are pretty straightforward.

That's what you get for lovin' me

Killer of dreams. Bringer of woe. Crusher of fun. That's our George Lucas. Sure, you've made fun of the travesty that is the Star Wars prequels, but you've not done it like this guy (thanks to nbk for pointing this out) . No really, you haven't. It's hard to do this site justice. This guy is obsessed with the crumminess of the prequels and the "Special Editions" too. So he has 78 reasons to hate episode 1 including:

Reason #37

"You'll never get me onto a starship!"
C-3P0 says this during the movie. You see, it's funny because we know that he will spend a great deal of time on a starship during the later trilogy. Oh Lucas you scamp. The joke of making lame jokes about things that we know are going to happen just never gets old. Bravo!

I also like his nitpick number 5 for the "Special Edition" of Star Wars ( I refuse to say A New Hope)
In 1997, the addition of Boba Fett into Episode IV was just a stupid ploy to give erections to the tens of thousands of people who'd taken to worshipping the bit character. The inclusion of Boba Fett is unchanged in the DVD release, but the problems with the scene remain. The addition of Boba Fett in the scene would almost have been acceptable had it been subtle, but the Special Edition scene is anything but. It starts off with Boba Fett slowly walking by the camera. In case there are any mentally-challenged, myopic five-year-olds who haven't caught that it's Boba Fett, he stops in front of the camera and mugs! He mugs! He just looks directly at the viewer and you can imagine him giving a cheese-eating grin whilst winking behind that helmet. Boba's pose is, in a way, emblematic of Lucas's blatant disrespect for Star Wars fans.

Many of my eldest (age 5) son's friends have seen the prequels as well as the original trilogy. I think we will hold Simon back from the prequels. At his age, it is hard to comprehend how such suck-assness can coexist with such awesomeness. Once he starts dating, he will understand this paradox. Until then we have to keep the prequels locked in the attic, like you do with the crazy aunt.

If you want to feel even more of a heel, check out this info on the Topps Star Wars cards, which you so collected back in the day.

Punk's not dead?

I started England's Dreaming today. It's part of my effort to read more deeply in the music area. Anyway, it's good so far. I like how the author emphasizes how important the social conditions of the late 70s were to the formation of punk. He cites the decline of family, the rise of drugs and death of 60s values. Combined with the class structure that ostracized many, the ground was ripe for a new form of angry music. The people who formed the bands were the ostracized and they felt the rage at their circumstances. I suppose this is why follow-on or latter day punk seems so contrived and false. Without the social and personal background, the music is just a shadow. I'm not saying that no recent punk is authentic, just look at Maximum Rock and Roll. It's just that much of it is a pose, and I think that this does change the quality. All of this is obvious I know.

They were squirrels, real squirrels

Ah, homeownership. Yesterday I found out that some squirrels have taken up residence in our garage attic. Now I really like squirrels, but I really don't want them in there. Especially if some squirrel war leads to squirrel corpses decomposing all over the place. So the earth-friendly types over at the Audubon Society tell me to let them hang out until NOVEMBER so the babies can grow up and get out. If I trap them I am going to have to take them to the State of Washington to let them go. Apparently large bodies of water confuse them, so the Columbia will prevent them from getting back. Or I can trap them and kill them. Or I can hire somebody. Which is probably what I will end up doing after failing to trap them.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

And Your Little Dog, Too

I've avoided posting about Jonathan Carroll's books for a while now because they are terrific and I'm afraid I'll screw it up (yes, Tripp, also because I post once a month during the busy season). I finished Outside the Dog Museum recently, though, and have to take a whack.

Carroll, for those who have not encountered him or read Tripp's earlier post on Land of Laughs, writes what is often described, for lack of a better category, as "urban fantasy". What makes his books worth reading? Shit, I'm blowing this already.

Four reasons to pick up one of his books (Dog Museum is a good place to start, by the way):

1. He writes like a dream. I'm not a particular Stephen King fan any longer (when I was 13 I thought he kicked ass, of course), but one thing I have to hand him is that the guy can write about almost anything and make it interesting. Carroll has the same gift, without some of King's more obvious literary pretensions. Carroll is one of those writers who makes you say (or makes me say, anyway) "If I could write like that, I'd do it for free. I'd do it on a desert island, just to read my own stuff."

2. His stories are basically redemptive. The four Carroll books that I've read follow a similar narrative arc: protagonist undergoes a life-changing series of events and ultimately recognizes that he/she has led a life of purpose. Call him the un-existentialist (and there is generally bit more to it, thankfully). In lesser hands this kind of story is trite and irritating, but Carroll pulls it off. Call me a weenie, but with two kids, a mortgage and two more years of Bush in store, I need someone to tell me that there is a method to the madness every now and then.

3. He is not afraid to take on big ideas and write with a (somewhat) straight face about the supernatural. Examples would be big-time spoilers here, unfortunately, but his plot devices are similar to those of Tim Powers, right down to the way they really click at times and fizzle a bit at others.

4. An English bull terrier features prominently in every one of his novels, and some of them talk.

Fishing on a boat of lies

Not since I saw John Waters for the first time have I seen something as strange as Fishing With John. No, it's not twisted, but it is just odd. Musician John Lurie takes celebrities (including a clearly reluctant Matt Dillon) fishing. Sounds boring, but the trips themselves are bizarre. Tom Waits and John fish on a rusty tug boat. The narration is even stranger. At times, it consists of flat out lies. Other times it is just wierd. When meeting a guide The narrator tells us of his fishing skills and then let slip that the guide can turn into a bird. " Later when a heron flies across the screen the narrator says that the guide is flying! When we see him again, the narrator notes he has returned to human form. It's wierd stuff. But very funny.

The Matt Dillon episode (there are six) is weak, but I am looking forward to the Dennis Hopper in Thailand episode. That should be fun.


Not since I saw John Waters for the first time have I seen something as strange as Fishing With John. No, it's not twisted, but it is just odd. Musician John Lurie takes celebrities (including a clearly reluctant Matt Dillon) fishing. Sounds boring, but the trips themselves are bizarre. Tom Waits and John fish on a rusty tug boat. The narration is even stranger. At times, it consists of flat out lies. Other times it is just wierd. When meeting a guide The narrator tells us of his fishing skills and then let slip that the guide can turn into a bird. " Later when a heron flies across the screen the narrator says that the guide is flying! When we see him again, the narrator notes he has returned to human form. It's wierd stuff. But very funny.

The Matt Dillon episode (there are six) is weak, but I am looking forward to the Dennis Hopper in Thailand episode. That should be fun.

Born to kill

I am happy to report that John Scalzi (Old Man's War) is not a one hit wonder. I just finished Ghost Brigades and it is great. The book is a sequel in that it continues larger plot elements from the first book, but it does not continue the plotlines of the main characters (aside from a reference in the denouement.) Scalzi is often compared to Heinlein for his positive outlook, his well developed future history and action sequences. Another good comparison would be to CJ Cherryh. Some deride the fact that his universe is super-populated by alien species. Most sci-fi authors these days look at the Fermi paradox and say "if they are out there, why haven't we seen them yet." Scalzi actually speaks to this on Amazon. I like it, even if it is to date, unexplained.

The main question of the book is what is it to be human. The Ghost Brigades of the title are programmed soldiers with heavily modified DNA. Are they human? How about the eve more modified soldiers designed to live in the vacuum of space? Will these post-humans turn on the larger human society? Don't worry kids it's not all speculation and sighing, there is plenty of door kicking action, although not as much as in Old Man's War. I'm glad to see the US producing high quality sci-fi again. It gets tireing waiting for all those British authors to get their books released over here.


Best use of a Fear quote.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to

So the reviews for The Foreign Correspondent, Alan Furst's new one, aren't that great. The NYT's Janet Maslin has a long review, but I can't tell if she likes it or not. USAToday says long time readers might find it a "bit too familiar." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just comes out and says "it's not as good as his previous books." The question is, is it Combat Rock not as good, or is it Cut the Crap not as good? I am betting on Combat Rock, not that differentiated but worth consuming. I'll get to this one, but not as soon as I thought I would.

Fate monstrous and empty

Tomorrow is the Most Evil Day Ever, or so the Omen marketers would have it. While I won't be breaking out the Samhain for the day, I do love a good devil movie. I prefer horror movies/tales with implacable, all powerful evil that can only be defeated by guile or running away. If you want a book where the Bringer of Light comes out on top, you need the Devil's Day.

If you would rather side with the forces of good, then you can save some cash for the upcoming Silver Jews tour. I have to figure out how to get to Seattle for that one.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Ooo scary

The NYT has a long piece arguing that horror is not the tripe you think it is, as long as you consider the creatures to be metaphorical. Unstoppable zombies as the unceasing tide of consumerism or vampires as those that prey on the gullible. The article helpfully points out books that rise above the rather dank cesspool of the genre. I for one mostly just want to be scared, that is my adolescent side I suppose.

When I sin, I sin, real good

Sin City is without a doubt the best translation of a comic book (or graphic novel if you will) to the big screen. I simply adored it, and I hope that Rodriguez and Miller film more of Miller's books. As you can bet, the World Socialists hated it. The vaguely lefty NZ based SF, Horror and Fantasy (an excellent site) review loved it. The ever reliable 3 Black Chicks gave it a thumbs up too. Sadly I could not find a review from the Objectivists.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Wait, there's something wrong

Here's a rather nasty mediation on politics and history, Barry Unsworth's Song of Kings. Th e book is set in an early section of the Illiad, where Agamemnon is preparing to attack Troy, but is being pressed to sacrifice his daughter in order to ensure victory. If you've read the Illiad you know what happens, but the book is more about the portrait of political actors trying to influence policy. Odysseus is the slippery Satanic villain, poisoining some and brutalizing others. The dialogue is modern with terms like collateral damage. While this may annoy some, it is appropriate. The book isn't really about ancient Greece, but how politicians (and people in general) of all times manipulate others and shape perceptions to get what they want. This is an excellent read, short, funny and topical.

Reaching the beach

Virginia Beach gets a brief write up in the NYT. Good highlights including the First Landing (nee Seashore) State Park and the Aquarium. I was taken aback by this statement though: Virginia Beach is rated the third-fittest city in America by Men's Fitness Magazine. I keep thinking of muscle tees on those that should not wear them.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Hissing Cobra

I am about halfway through Cobra 2, which is an excellent, if lengthy, read. It is probably over detailed for some. Some of the battle scenes get confusing, especially as they develop. There are a good number of maps, but they are all in the front of the book. Since the war isn't over it won't be the classic book of the conflict, but it may be one of the best we have to date. In a review for the (leftist) Nation (conservative) Andrew Bacevich has a great review of the book. It's so detailed that you can get a lot of the book's points in the review. I think his basic assessment is spot on:

It should be read as a study of the politics of war. Although Gordon and Trainor describe in stirring detail the celebrated ‘march on Baghdad’, their real contribution has been to identify the confluence of factors that inspired the march, shaped it, and produced consequences very different from those expected.

I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks

At one point in Cherie Priest's Four and Twenty Blackbirds a character says that the best ghost stories are incomplete and leave you guessing. I agree. When I think of the scariest movie scenes, they leave you guessing. What was the thing banging on the tent in Blair Witch? Who was that person in the dog suit in the Shining (OK, if you read the book you know, but that's not the point!)? While I give Lovecraft crap for his "It was so horrible I can't describe it to you" escapism, on another level it creates creepy mystery with which your imagination might wrestle. Ambiguity, while hard to write, makes for a much better tale.

While Priest does throw in a lot of the unexplained, her story is eventually resolved. It involves an orphaned mixed race girl in Chattanooga who learns her convoluted family tree may have some witch doctors in it. And there are some ghosts that haunt her. Her background and the eventual conflict with the main baddie are entertaining and she has a knack for writing a creepy scene, particulalry the one in an abandoned hospital. Still I think I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending. You could say the same thing about most of Stephen King's books too, so it's not that big a negative.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Coming down the mountain

I nearly stopped watching Touching the Void and I am pleased I continued. The movie is a dramatization of a mountain climbing trip gone wrong. The re-enactment is interspersed with
brief statements by the actual participants. The basic story is that they have a tough climb up and then a truly disastrous climb down, so bad that it is amazing that they survived. What was most amazing was the physical and mental stamina these men displayed. Where most people, including me, would likely give up, they just kept going.

Everything is going to burn, we'all take turns

Oh this is funny. Robert Wright, author of many a fine book, has a video blog where he interviews people. Today he has Joel Achenbach, who wrote a recent piece on global warming skeptics. The interview is about the skeptics. The trash talk banter before the interview is just amazing. This is what TV interviews would be like if politeness was thrown out the window.

Subway, she is a porno

Johann Hari, who writes for the Independent, has a piece on how the profusion of pornography and its effects. The opening paragraph is one of the best I have seen in some time.

I am a member of the last generation of Western teenagers who had to struggle and strive to get hold of porn. I still remember the hysterical burst of testosterone (laced with desperation) that burst over my school playground when I was 11 years old and it was revealed that one of my classmates had swiped a porn mag from his dad. The Penthouse was passed from hand to hand like a fragile Ming vase, its pages studied with the obsessive care of Talmudic scholars poring over the Mishnah. I didn't stumble across another porn mag for years.