Friday, July 28, 2006


Phil Carter, a lawyer, but currently deployed in Iraq, has posted on the books he read to learn more about Islam. This would be a good place for anyone to start. Awhile back he did something similar for Iraq. Note this are books about Iraq, not the Iraq war. Like "Vietnam" some time ago, the word has taken on a different meaning to Americans.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

On a submarine mission for you baby

Geez, while I myself cannot seem to get out of the heavy reading funk ( I just bought Fiasco) it doesn't mean I have to talk just about the heavy things. Here is a lighter book that is also light on the wallet, as it is in cheapie paperback form. Shadow Divers, a true story, concerns a group of deep sea divers who stumble across a submarine off New Jersey. They then seek to find out what the sub is and in so doing tell the story of extreme sea diving. It's really quick paced and fits in the learn something while being excited genre typified by the Perfect Storm. This is a really great summer read that will leave you far more satisfied that some form of airport fiction. It's like deciding to eat at the sandwich shop rather than at a fast food joint, more work but you won't feel like ass later.

It makes a hard man humble

I took the small ones down to Staccato Gelato last night. This place is really kid friendly with a small play area and colorful design. It is also adult friendly with wild flavors like Thai Iced Tea and Mojito. I chose both of those. The former is creamy and intense with a strong tea flavor. It was excellent. The latter is a sorbet with a milder mint and lime combo. It was great for the warm evening. These didn't look permanent, so go get them if you are interested. Staccato rotates a lot of interesting flavors including black sesame, but they also have your standbys like hazelnut and pistachio.

On the kid front, I also learned that Laurelhurst park is filling its wading pool in the afternoons. It makes a nice combo with the playground.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hunka hunka sandwich love

I tried making the kids the Elvis sandwich today. Of course I made it this way, rather than this way. I'm pretty sure I could have closed them with the latter's addition of bacon and honey. Please note that the former site claims that Elvis ate 12 to 15 of these at a sitting. Good gracious.

Every day is silent and gray

Or so it seems with my current crop of reads. They feel like the ghosts of failed policies past, present and future. The first up is the Great Deluge, which I still like and still makes me worried about the country's ability to manage disasters.

Next up is the End of Iraq, by Peter Galbraith. It's a brief book, but a rather angry one. Galbraith has been supportive of Kurdish rights since a visit in the 1980s and he is none too pleased with American policy in the region. His thesis is that the place is so messed up, we may as well assist it in breaking up into three parts. The screaming caveat is that Galbraith has long advocated Kurdish independence and you have to be careful of his evidence. So far, it is an enjoyable read, if a possibly questionable thesis.

Finally, and most depressing is the Weather Makers, and Australian climate scientists look at global warming and how much it is influenced by human behavior. So far, all bad news. The Amazon reviews have the predictable "he's a liar" reviews. Global warming is like missile defense with the debate approaching the theological, in both intensity and doctrinal correctness. It is hard to know what to believe. I for one will not be convinced that global warming is not a problem by, say, commercials claiming carbon is our friend. To be fair, to really understand these issues requires a lot of reading and discussion, with fair-minded people. I can't tell you how much time I spent looking into boost phase missile defense before I really understood it. So I expect this book will worry me, without making me truly comprehend the problem. Ah, more books I guess.

He can write for miles and miles

I have been harping on the virtues of brevity of late, so it is only fitting that my current reads are all behemoths and smiters of forests. I am reading three non-fiction works (more on them later) and one telephone book thick bit of scifi. The book in question is Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton. I am on page 200 and we are just about done ( I think) introducing characters and technology concepts. Now the plot may commence, unless we are going to have a few hundred more pages of exposition.

This is the sort of space opera that you will either love or make you want to set fire to the book. Thanks to his popularity, his editors let him get away with aside after aside that helps detail his world. We learn about innumerable planets, the corporations and nations that either started them or continue to rule them, the aliens of the universe, the rumors of aliens, the state of marriage (contractual and short term,) lifespan (the middle classes and up can afford rejuvenation in new bodies, making people nearly immortal) lots of social commentary, and plenty more, including descriptions of hang gliding on low gravity worlds. You can tell Hamilton is having fun with this and if you think you will too, then by all means pick this up. This is good space opera.

Oh there is a plot too, of course, the titular Pandora's Star which suddenly winks out of sight thanks to some form of energy field. The somewhat stagnant humanity of the 24th century decides to sally forth and investigate. Can't say how that is since they haven't left yet. Still adding characters....

He can write for miles and miles

I have been harping on the virtues of brevity of late, so it is only fitting that my current reads are all behemoths and smiters of forests. I am reading three non-fiction works (more on them later) and one telephone book thick bit of scifi. The book in question is Pandora's Star by Peter Hamilton. I am on page 200 and we are just about done ( I think) introducing characters and technology concepts. Now the plot may commence, unless we are going to have a few hundred more pages of exposition.

This is the sort of space opera that you will either love or make you want to set fire to the book. Thanks to his popularity, his editors let him get away with aside after aside that helps detail his world. We learn about innumerable planets, the corporations and nations that either started them or continue to rule them, the aliens of the universe, the rumors of aliens, the state of marriage (contractual and short term,) lifespan (the middle classes and up can afford rejuvenation in new bodies, making people nearly immortal) lots of social commentary, and plenty more, including descriptions of hang gliding on low gravity worlds. You can tell Hamilton is having fun with this and if you think you will too, then by all means pick this up. This is good space opera.

Oh there is a plot too, of course, the titular Pandora's Star which suddenly winks out of sight thanks to some form of energy field. The somewhat stagnant humanity of the 24th century decides to sally forth and investigate. Can't say how that is since they haven't left yet. Still adding characters....

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn

I recently saw Miss Lonelyhearts described as the best novel of the 20th century. So I got Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust (they are both short so are often found in a single volume.) I thought Miss Lonelyhearts was good, and a bit shocking as well. It was written in the early 30s, but has some rather graphic sexual bits. I liked that book, but I thought Day of the Locust was much better. The second book was written shortly before the author's death in 1940 and is the story of Southern California from the loser's perspective. Of course we have read plenty of stories about the rise and fall of actors, cops or other prototypical Southern California figures, but we don't often get the no-rise, all fall stories.

The author follows a number of people who moved to Southern California to follow specific dreams, all of which didn't work out. The characters are all infatuated with a young beauty, who tempts and taunts them. She no doubt is the dream that failed. In the final chapter, the author expands beyond his characters to talk about the masses of people who moved to California for the good life, only to find it was as unsatisfying as the old life in Iowa. I think West has hit on a peculairly American problem, the elusive quest for satisfaction. Americans are rarely satisfied with anything. This has its definate upsides like continual improvement, innovation and a motive to fight a variety of status quos. On the downside, even very successful Americans often think of what they didn't get, instead of what they have.

On the super duper plus side, this book is short, only about 160 small pages. So you have nothing to lose!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Oh the guilt

Ok, I don't feel guilty, I like the Presidents of the USA doing Volcano (not the Buffett song) What I really like is the video which features the band as a bunch of scientists building an Interocitor or something like it. This goes on my funny videos list if only for the excellent use of gestures.

Weekend reading

Here is a nice NPR spot on the Weekend Book, recently reissued. For me the niceness comes from the guest appearance of John Julius Norwich, author of many a titanic history. I listened to his Short History of Byzantium on tape and loved it. Short is used in the relative sense, since this is a condensation of his three volume treatment on the Eastern Roman Empire.

But I just don't know...what you meant

Thomas Pynchon has a new book coming out. Since I didn't like Mason and Dixon, I am not all that keen. I loved Gravity's Rainbow, but I had hours and hours of time to read it as I was in China with little else to read (this was in '94 mind.) I find lengthy post-modern novels to a be a bad reading investment, these days at least. There is only so much time, and who needs to be confused? Yeah, yeah, I'm not smart enough or whatever, but I just don't have the time to puzzle this sort of thing out. I never had the patience for it in grad school, and I certainly don't while working. You can only read so many novels per year and if it is going to be a long one, it had better be excellent. Here is more on postmodern novels and Pynchon.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pitching tents

I've always considered myself wise in the ways of camping, but we made a rookie move this weekend. We figured if we left early enough we could just grab a first come first serve campground. Of course it was the hottest weekend of the year (here in Oregon), we left late and we shot for a small out of the way place with 14 sites. We rolled in to see the no vacancy sign. And also about five or six other cars looking for a place. Fortunately we had the Northwest Camping Guide on us. I was able to call every campground from Astoria to Newport, and after an hour or so of calls, I found a place. It was an RV park, but they had a spot. So bring the book, but book ahead. Normally I might recommend you grab it at the Multnomah Public, but its popular and it won't be available when you need it, so just buy it. Here is the author of the book, a professional outdoorsman.

The plus side of the unplanned trip is that we went to Cape Meares. It's a gorgeous spot with very high cliffs, bird watching and this creepy tree that would give Lovecraft or Stephen King some inspiration. We also hit this beach, but this being the West Coast, we were unable to swim thanks to the Arctic temperatures.

All over the world

I was just reading this fun John Hodgman article on Asian horror, when this trailer reminded me that European horror is alive and well. If the new black is to be as disturbing as possible, this Belgian filmakers are as fashionable as all get out. Cre-e-e-e-py. A less freaky looking but still very enjoyable movie from the EU is Dog Soldiers, very good, very good indeed. Oh, and we may as well mention the upcoming The Reaping, which is has biblical prophecy and the Devil, which means I will love it. Or so I hope.

Throwing out the good with the bad

A not so hot review for Paul Kennedy's book about the United Nations. A pity. There are two things that I find hard to get about a lot of smart right leaning thinkers. The first is why they get their panties in a twist about the UN. Sure, it has its problems, but its a useful tool. The other is why they often dismiss the Kennedy's outstanding Rise and Fall of the Great Powers just because he made a bad call at the very end. In the book he argues that as empires rise they tend to overstretch and thereby cause their own decline and fall. He examines the major European powers and shows their rises and fall. After this analysis he warned the US might be overstretching and had to worry about falling to the Soviets. Ok, a really bad call there. That said, it does not invalidate the study of the rise and fall of empires and it may be all the more useful today. What's more the book is a delight to read, unlike so many other books in the international relations field.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

I'm going off the rails on a crazy train

Apparently in the 80s, the Smiths could suddenly appear and hang out with your elementary school class.

Random Random Random

I read what may be the most confusing and random blurb I have seen in all of July 2006. Dance of Death is the one of the most recent novels from Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. It is involves concerns two super genius brothers. Get this, one is good and one is eeeeeviiilllll. For real. The books are good entertainment but you won't see them discussed in the London Review of Books, if you get my meaning. Anyway, the second most prominent blurb on the back (from Kirkus) says "Goes down like cheddar-flavored potato chips." And that is all it says. Excuse me, but WTF? Does it mean it is a delectable treat or does it mean it tastes initially good, but you will have GI issues in a few hours? Really, what does that mean?

Anyway I bought it anyway since it was trade in credit. I also picked up Helen Knode's Ticket Out because a Hollywood Noir sounds just great. Reading her blurbs, I see that she is James Ellroy's wife. My first thought wasn't that she got the book deal thanks to that (she appears to be a knowledgeable film critic) but rather my surprise that James Ellroy is married. That guy is nuts.

And I also picked up White Apples, a Jonathan Carroll book that some people HATE and some love. I thought his Land of Laughs was great, so I have high hopes.

Storm is comin

What with all the bad weather and policy disasters flying around, is seems appropriate to read Douglas Brinkely's the Great Deluge, the story of Katrina. Brinkely is from New Orleans so he brings a local perspective on the topic. The subtitle of the book is Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but it should be called How Not to Manage a National Disaster. So far no one is looking good. Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco appear to be inexperienced politicos way over their heads. Brown, Cherthoff and Bush look poor as well, mishandling nearly every aspect. So far the blame lies with the leadership. In order to make their general failure more galling, he shows a number of non-profit and private sector successes like the orderly ASPCA evacuation and energy company Entergy's planning and execution.

The book is full of detail, which may be too much for some people. Brinkley never loses an opportunity to tell you more. When he mentions the Hurricane cocktail, he stops to give us Emeril's recipe. When we meet a person involved in the crisis, we get a multi-page minibio. For those less familiar with the region, this is helpful. I don't know much about the predominantly black part of the city (most of it) so reading the backstories of politicians, ministers and cops provides context for the story. Still it can become a bit much and you might find yourself skimming the frequent asides. At over 700 pages this one is really for those interested in Katrina, New Orleans or the management of disasters.

If you want a shorter hurricane book I recommend Issac's Storm (written by the same guy who wrote the Devil in White City.) It concerns the destruction of Galveston in 1900, but is told in far fewer pages than Deluge. Larson, by the way, is trying to his repeat of progress-while-dark-acts-transpire in his next book, which concerns Dr. Crippen and the inventor of the telegraph.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Song of the South

I miss many a good book or movie each year, so it is no surprise that a band unknown to me can suddenly pop into my life. I heard a few good things about the Drive-By Truckers, so I grabbed a CD at the Multnomah County Library (that's right bitches, my library has rock CDs aplenty) I listened to Dirty South, and it is some fine listening. It is southern rock, but a harder, darker southern rock with hard luck tales aplenty. It sounds like a countryfied Soundgarden with populist lyrics about people in really bad situations, like selling drugs to cover the health costs for your cancer-ridden wife.

They tell an alternate story to the legend of Sheriff Buford Pusser (Walking Tall). You can catch it in the opening song of this bootleg. This is outlaw southern rock, and it feels a somewhat like hillbilly gansta rap. Check this band photo, if you didn't think these folks were for real, check the female bassist sipping a handle of bourbon. That's southron, yo. It reminds me what a bunch of candy asses West Coast drinkers are.

Sing, sing a song

When buying kids books, you have to think about the kid. If the young un doesn't like trains, buying them Lois Lenski's the Little Train, is probably a bad idea. You must also think of the parents. Will they actually read it, or will they hide it somewhere and pretend they can't find it. Or even donate it to Goodwill. Mary Anne Hoberman and Nadine Bernard Westcott have written a series of books that will either greatly appeal or greatly annoy the reading parents. They take a familiar rhyme and then add their own follow verses. So you have to sing them. This may drive some people nuts. If that is not the case, then take a look at Yankee Doodle, which has our hero opening a noodle shop. Or Miss Mary Mack which gets a little more bizarre than in the original.

What are reviews for?

In a lengthy review of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, Ruth Franklin discusses the state of reviews. She notes that negative reviews are still strong, but positive reviews have become weak and flabby.

The writer seeking fresh language with which to express her enthusiasm soon discovers that this particular vocabulary has been colonized by p.r. flacks whipping up empty, fluffy blurbs. The result is that all praise now feels like exaggerated praise.

She goes on to discuss the etiquette of current reviews and how they let everyone down. I wish popular reviews were more like academic reviews which, normally, make it easy for you to decide whether a given book is right for you. Yes, they are formulaic, but if you need to scan a few dozen books a week, do you want to puzzle out the meaning of each review? The reviewers in the popular world have become enamored of their own words, rather than the task at hand, which to put it bluntly, is to assist in a purchase decision. Perhaps this is too mercenary, and the writers seek to make their review of art, art. Pitchfork is of course the most guilty, but most of the popular press leans this way.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

You crammed my book in your map

(via google maps) This is cool. Here is a site that lets people map events in books to a real world map. This is the map of London. It has a ways to go, Dickens alone would crowd out the map, but it is a very cool concept. Here is NYC.

The whole post is worth reading for other book-map mashups.

Fight, fight, fight, fight

As I said Belgravia Dispatch is must reading these days. GD (go Hoyas) has a long piece on the war fever over at the National Review Online. Here is a sample:

But enough, it's WWIV (not III), didn't you know? Momentous times are afoot, and you're either seized of this and on message, or a defeatist, an appeaser, a coward, a rank traitor to the cause. Yes, it's just that simple, although a few paleos in their midst dare dissent and play party-pooper amidst the ginned up hoopla and sense of deep occasion and civilizational peril (this does not mean we aren't confronting real and varied national security threats at the present hour, but a sense of proportion and sobriety is urgently needed lest we march off towards another folly-infused blunder).

The finest cookies in all the land

OK, that's an exaggeration, but DC has some good ones. Firehook Bakery serves monster cookies that could serve two or even three people for a buck fifty. You would think that much cookie at that much price would mean supermarket crap cookie. Not so, not so. These are dense and dee-lish. The Post has a recipe for a variant on one of their cookies, the Chocolate Espresso chew. Never ate this one, but I bet it would good. While on the DC cookie subject, here is a salty oat recipe based on a Teaism cookie. Never had the Teaism but but the Marvelous Market Salty Oat is a gorgeous cookie.

Monday, July 17, 2006

We take what we want, we do anything that we wish

That's right here's a little Riverbottom Nightmare Band from Emmet Otter. While on the topic of early 80s HBO classics, we should include the scary bunyip from Dot and the Kangaroo. And you can annoy the eff out of your friends by memorizing the Fraggle theme song.

And there is this. So Vader, so funny.

Oh, and while I am being all nostalgic, it pains me to see that Black Christmas is being remade. No way they are going to get anything as scary as the "It's me, Billy" voice in this one.

Take off, to the great white north.

There are few authors I would recommend unreservedly, and even fewer I would consider re-reading, but Robertson Davies is one of them. He is often compared to Trollope, perhaps because he sets his novels in small Canadian towns. He also places strong emphasis on carrying characters or families of characters across novels. So why do I recommend him to everyone? He writes literate novels, but they aren't overly literary, forcing you to puzzle out what the author is trying to do. His take on humanity is that people are flawed but taken as a whole, decent rather than venal. This gives the stories a positive feel that helps carry the somber section. He also isn't afraid to tell a story, something today's literary writers should learn how to do. If I had to compare him to a recent author, I would pick Michael Chabon. Chabon likes to entertain while educating and so does Davies. He also has a similar attitude about humanity and society.

Davies wrote three trilogies across the 50s, 70s and 80s. I would look for the omnibus editions as you will save a couple bucks. Powells has used copies for less than the price of the crappy bestsellers you see at the airport. I would pick any of them, they are all good.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Who watches the watchmen?

I am reading Blow the House Down by Robert Baer, best known for his influence on Syriana, but also the author of some excellent nonfiction. I read two rather different takes on the book. Powell's has a positive notice, while Michiko Kakutani in the NYT is none too keen. Kakutani dislikes the implausible elements of the book, and finds enough of them to give it a failing grade.

I am more sympathetic to the Powell's take which says, sure the book isn't the best thriller ever, but the insider look at the CIA and world politics is the fun of the book. For example, at one point the main character, a long standing CIA operations officer like Baer himself, says the CIA will use one of its tame journalists, who spread disinformation for the Agency. Now you know he is thinking of someone when he wrote that. On the other hand, maybe his entire book is disinformation meant to lead us away from the truth...

Anyway, if you like a noirish sort of take on spy fiction, then you are likely to dig this one. It is worth noting that the book explores an alternate theory of blame for 9/11. That could either turn you on or off I suppose.

Leaving on a jet plane

One of my sons is a airplane fanatic. It certainly makes the airport more entertaining, but it also makes buying presents for him easy. One of his favorites is Jerry Pallotta's Jet Alphabet book. Following close behind is Pallotta's Airplane Alphabet book. Mr. Pallotta has an alphabet book on most subjects that kids like. So if you are perplexed by the need to get a gift for a youngster, you might try these books.

The war

If you are not reading Belgravia Dispatch on the Middle East war, then you should. His commentary on the US role is particularly useful.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Bring them back

It is now well established that Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone can be unironically enjoyed. It's a great song, we all like it, let's move on. But what about the first Since You've Been Gone? Can that please be rehabilitated? And while we are on the 70s, can someone please cover Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak? We need hooks and we need them now.

So drunk in the August sun

So, if you had to pick only one season in which to have a buzz, which would it be? Trick question, the answer is all of them. Still there is something special about the summer beer buzz. The bright light and the beverages seem so illicit. Unfortunately, in the hot sun, people turn to weak ass beers like Miller High Live or their foreign equivalents like Heineken. What you need is something cool and refreshing, but not so weak as to make drinking it a waste of time. What is needed is something with the friendly face of this, but the dark heart of this. The obvious answer is the mojito. For that you need lots of ingredients, some time, and a mack daddy mixologist. Not an easy combo for every occasion. For these other events, I recommend Golden Shower by Dog Fish Head. Yes the name is preposterous, but who cares? Do you really want to hang around anyone who would be offended by the name? This is a light tasting beer that is 9% ABV. What else do you need to know?

Friday, July 14, 2006

It is Newsong who compels you

It burns! It burns! This is like the horrible compulsion to look at train wrecks, but I decided to see if "Christmas Shoes" is on Youtube. And guess what. It is. You poor bastards.

In order to redeem myself, I give you Everything Hits At Once, a kind of indie Boys of Summer. And it comes with bonus cartoon action about the bummer of breaking up.

Bad to worse

Here is a distressing dispatch regarding Baghdad. (via Andrew Sullivan) It's articles like these that make me want to read Peter Galbraith's The End of Iraq. Galbraith calls for a de facto break up of Iraq into three states. Seems farfetched but it couldn't be that much worse than what is going on now.

If you prefer your gritty reality in fictional form, you may want to get your hands on Dan Fesperman's new book called the Prisoner of Guantanamo. I read Fesperman's Lie in the Dark, which was set in artillery bracketed Sarajevo. He did a great job at creating a claustrophobic atmosphere and a cast of shady and corrupt figures. So Guantanamo is a good choice for him.

Another one for the nerds

I bet some of you will make this your wallpaper. (via Powell's blog)

Come on down, sweet virginia

So we had an action packed visit to VA. We took two musuems the Living Museum and the Mariner's. Both are good for kids, although the Mariner's Museum is better for older (7 and up.) The museum is opening (in 07) a new wing dedicated to the USS Monitor, which should be excellent. The Living Museum is gorgeous and the little ones will love it. Go soon to catch the Scoop on Poop exhibit.

We were also state park crazy with visits to Jockey's Ridge in NC, First Landing, Belle Isle and Westmoreland in the Old Dominion. I'm sad to say that we missed the creation of the world's largest smore at First Landing. We did find a shark tooth fossil at Westmoreland, which is really gorgeous and worth a visit, as are the other two of course. If you are heading to Virginia Beach and need a respite from the beach crowds, First Landing is a great choice.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

So unfair, I want to cry

Christ on his throne, we are well and truly fucked, my friends. No, I am not speaking of the shaky world political situation or our rudderless leadership. No, I speak of something far more bleak and troubling. It appears a TRILOGY of Any Rand movies is heading our way. Talk about slouching towards Gomorrah. I am gibbering in terror of seeing her crazed face* everywhere, the press coverage, the books crowding out the other crappy books, and the nattering fans. Oh the nattering fans.

*OK compare that to this. Now I am even more creeped out by Rand.

No fun, no sin, no you, no wonder it's dark

Ok, the freaks among you who like both Star Wars and scantily clad women will like this. The site Leia's Metal Bikini has women sending in photos of themselves dressed up as slave Leia. For the full kickin' freaks here are instructions to make one yourself. If you commit the sin of Onan thanks to this, then you have issues.

Sadly unfulfilled

Thanks to the wild nature of modern air travel, I spent the night in Houston last night. So as I wandered the hotel lobby I spotted Mr. Pibb Zero. Being a huge fan of both Pibb and Coke Zero, I thought I might have encountered a drink to knock Diet Dr. Pepper off its pedestal. I don't think I can say that it is the case, sadly. Of course the test was biased by my foolish consumption of a bit of sugar just before the Pibb Zero. All soda tasters know, you must have a neutral palate before trying a new beverage. Anyway, it had the fizzy froth of Coke Zero but lacked the depth of Pibb flavor. According to this site , Pibb Zero is available in less than 10% of US states so it is about as easy to get as an Ale 8 1. I guess I'm saying you don't have to be bummed about it.

I also just tried Ben and Jerry's Black and Tan. It's cream stout ice cream with a chocolate swirl. As Caesar said in History of the World, "Nice, not thrilling...but nice." There is no alcohol taste, but you do get that taste of cream almost like a Boddington's really. Still, don't drop your fave flavor for this one, it just isn't that exciting. I stopped after three bites which should give you a clue.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Notes from the Outer Banks

On a trip to show our younger son the Wright Memorial (a true lover of planes, our lad) we ate at Dirty Dicks. It's a seafood place and their tagline is "I got my crabs at Dirty Dicks." Nice eh? Oddly enough it is a family style place inside not a Hooters place. Pity the Virginia Beach location is not on Pleasure House Road.

I do think the Outer Banks needs to export the Brew Thru concept. I would commit foul acts for the ability to drive through and grab milk while kids slept in the back of the car, rather than hauling them out again at the grocery since I forget to get that one last thing. So wonderful would it be.

Did Emerson Pee in the Shower?

People who pen their own obituaries have always struck me as comically self-absorbed or too closely adherent to Emerson's admonition regarding the unexamined life. Anyone who has spent much time with Ralph Waldo (say, for a still-bitterly-resented survey of 19th century American lit, just as an example) knows that the dean of American transcendentalism was a gasbag whose works linger on as pithy one-line aphorisms because their main body is less readable than Mao's Red Book. A particularly turgid example follows (from "The Over Soul"):

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related, the eternal ONE. And this deep power in which we exist and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.

Not so this guy.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I'm guilty

I've noticed that I have a particular bias in my reading. It is a bias of recency. I tend to read books that were published in the current year or the few years before. I admit this is because I am easily distracted by shiny object so when an interesting new book comes out, I want it. This wouldn't be a big deal except that I am missing so much great stuff from the past. Sure I do read older books,but this is often back catalouging, the reading of older books of authors I already know.

The problem is, how do you find out about it? There are some ways like asking friends about favorites, going to Powells or other well staffed booksellers and getting recommendations, but I need something more scalable like the review press which bombards me with NEW titles over and over again. A great source was A Common Reader, but it is no more. If you can scare up a copy of their catalog you will likely find some gems of which you were unaware. I suppose something like Book Lust would come in handy, although I have only flipped through it. The author mentions the wonderful Lee Child thrillers, which I would never have read if a friend hadn't given me one. So maybe she has more gems up her sleeve.

In the spirit of recommending something old, rather than the latest buzz item, I recommend Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road. It is a story told in correspondence between the author (a New Yorker) and a British bookseller. The story begins as Hanff looks for a few books and advice on authors. It becomes a decades long dialogue about books and reading. It will give you the warm fuzzies.

I just might burst out crying

So there aren't that many good covers and there are plenty of indifferent covers. There are sadly a few EVIL covers, which destroy the song upon which they are based. I submit DJ Sammy's Boys of Summer as an example. The insipid dance background which submerges the hooks and rhythm of the original classic. Even more strange, it is a women singing and the lyrics are tweaked so that it is from the women's perspective, but the song title is still "Boys of Summer." So what did her man realize he is gay and now he is hooking up with dudes? Wierd

I just listened to the original. It so blows the doors off that crap. Leaving aside the little kid playing drums, its a good video too, esp the glance behind during the "can't look back lyric."

Mr. Schmallow

I saw the new Reese's marshmallow peanut butter cup and nearly bought it yesterday. As you might expect both Joanna and Cybele have posted on it already. As Joanna notes, its no Valomilk but may be good. Cybele says that it gave her a sore throat. Hmmm. She describes the Marshmallow Take 5 as freakishly fake tasting. I think all the Take 5s are freakishly sucky, but maybe that is me. I'm glad to see the major candy companies embracing marshmallow. Who knows what might emerge next?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I feel safest of all

So we took the kids to Cars, and they loved it. I'd go for liked it for myself, it wasn't as good as Nemo or the two Toy Stories. It definately had its moments though, particularly in the cow tipping scene. I thought my oldest was going to pee himself during that one. On the downside it is nearly two hours, which proved too much for my kids, we left with ten minutes left in the movie.

Here was something odd. The movie featured a cover of "Life is a Highway." What, would Tom Cochrane only allow his version to be used if they also put "Lunatic Fringe" in the movie? So you know who covered it...Rascal Flatts. They've put out a few country albums, but if you are going to get a cover, why not go for something more off the wall or get someone like the Dixie Chicks to do it? Life is a Highway is of course a "summer song" and you should see the Stereogum discussion of what the summer song of 2006 is. Since the defining feature of summer songs seems to be catchy pile of shite (the last good one on that list is from 81), I don't really care that much.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

I'm scared

The One Percent Doctrine is a great, if greatly disconcerting, read. It's a CIA-centric view of war on terror from 9/11 to about 2004, roughly the tenure of George Tenet. It's disconcerting for a number of reasons. Suskind makes a number of unpleasant claims: the nation cannot be adequately defended against terror; Al Qaeda hasn't attacked because their strategic attention has shifted (indeed he mentions an internal dispute over the timing of 9/11); the CIA, FBI and DoD cannot seem to cooperate; the Office of the Vice President is far too powerful in this war; the President comes across as decent (in a telling scene, he shuts down Rumsfeld's bluster about shooting down airliners) but limited in how he deals with information; and that this war is far from over, but it is far from clear that we are winning or that we are in any way ready for a next wave.

The details are stunning as well, such as the development of an effective delivery system for chemical weapons, the handoff of a suspected Al Qaeda skull at Dulles Airport, the Cabinet battles and personal conflicts. It is really great reading, but reading that will make you highly concerned about where we stand.

Read Kevin Drum for more on the book.

This and that

Steven Pressfield has a new book coming out called the Afghan Campaign. If you know Pressfield you can guess this is about Alexander's campaign, not the US, Russian or British Afghan campaigns. I've only read one of his books, Gates of Fire, but that one was great. It was an exciting historical novel about the battle of Thermopylae. He is also know for writing the Legend of Bagger Vance, a golf novel, which is a rather large jump in subject matter.

Ted Conover has a piece in the NYT magazine about the rise of a car culture in China. Like John McPhee, Conover can write about just about anything and make it interesting. If you like the article be sure to read Newjack, about which I will say little as it is one of Steve's faves.

Naughty bits

Who says history books are boring? Well, Freedom Just Around The Corner certainly isn't. It is chock full of interesting facts and analysis. While reviewing David Hackett Fisher's concepts of regional emigrants from Britain bringing their folkways with them to America, McDougall talks about how place names came as well. Apparently the Scots-Irish were given to the ribald rather than the serious, so they gave a possibly giardia ridden stream the name Shitbritches. A rather more happy place was given the name Tickle Cunt. We can only guess whether Fucking Creek was meant as a recommendation or an aspersion.

On a more serious note, he also delves into interesting issues in American history such as why did the Salem witch trials happen. Sure, paranoid sexist society and all that, but that was true for a century before and a century (or more?) later. So why in 1692? McDougall argues it is because the collapse of Stuart power in England left a vacuum in America that the Whigs had yet to fill. This made New England in particular insecure in the face of French and Indian depredations. They were all the more ready to accept out of control witch trials. It's little bits like this that make the book so fun to read.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

There's nerdy and then there's nerdy

Non-nerds stop reading, as this one has the nerd power of three Death Stars and a Super Star Destroyer.

Ok, so I started Gardens of the Moon, one of the more highly touted fantasy debuts in the last few years. It is part of a ten, count em ten, volume series. And this has to be some of the densest fantasy I have yet read. It is is highly militarized like the Black Company books of Glen Cook, but is set in a much larger and more developed universe. The politics is equally obtuse with many different nations and polities hazily described. This makes the books seem like a giant computer role playing game with characters hacking and slashing their way across endless campaigns, the point of which is mostly lost to them. The main characters are midlevel military leaders, so you get some sense of the big picture but only enough to be confusing for most of the time. There are also vaguely modern military designations for military units, which is a little unhelpful. Just how big are these units and how many of these units are they? So that unit was destroyed, does that mean that 1% of the Empire's armies are gone, or 20%? There is a real context problem. I am going to stick with it, as the battles are interesting, but this one, so far at least, would be for the hard core fantasy reader only.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Looking for better days

Southern California is probably the most common locale for mysteries. One reason is the stories of corruption that have existed since the Gold Rush era. Contrast this with the sunny locale and you have a nice background for dark acts in the shadows. Florida is the same way. A happy sunny place with nastiness under the covers. One recent writer taking advantage of this is Randy Wayne White. I just finished his Captiva which pits commercial fisherman vs. sports fisherman with deadly results. The hero, a marine biologist with a dark past, is caught in the middle. So why is this one different?

For one, the author paints an interesting portrait of old Florida trying to hang on in the face of New Florida. He doesn't just pine for the old ways, but also talks about compromises that might keep things working. His characters are also interesting. The main character lives on a marina so you get some bizarre types, like is sidekick. Most mystery series side kick are the main character's dark sides, who for some reason, are able to commit gross acts of violence. White takes the opposite tack, with the sidekick being a pacifist New Age hippie trying to keep everyone happy. This sets a really different tone. This one is fun.

Happy fourth of July

Happy 4th everyone, or at least all Americans. What better way to celebrate than reading books on American history? I am reading two at the moment.

The first is A Nation Among Nations. The thesis is that American history is best understood in terms of global history. So colonization has to be studied in terms of the opening of the oceans. The Civil War in terms of the many movements for freedom in the period, such as the revolutions of 1848, and so on. Unlike most histories, this one is reasonably short as well. If I have a complaint, it is that academic speak occasionally creeps into the text, but the book is aimed at the general reader, so the author keeps it to a minimum.

The second is Freedom Just Around the Corner by Walter McDougall. I was attracted to this one because I love the author and because he notes he was hoping to avoid the extreme negative history of Howard Zinn and the extreme positive of Paul Johnson. McDougall's thesis is that the US culture is one of hustling, in both the positive and negative sense. People are always trying to figure out the angles, whether to make or swindle a buck. Anyway, I just started it, so I can't say much more.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Yes, I am at work today. No, I am not working.

This may be the best July 4 video you will see this year. We could now discuss Washington's larger-than-life image, but this video does the job quite nicely. Time to make the Costanza exit.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Finally, Buy a Friend A Book is having a contest. There are eight puzzles spread across eight days and eight sites. The first is a crossword and the second a letter sudoku puzzle. Rather a lot of work, but it comes with rather a lot of prizes.

A pair of books

The reviews have some nice pieces this weekend. To wit,

The New York Times reviews the new Peter Robinson and in so doing explains his particular appeal. Much to Robinson's credit, Banks is not particularly gifted. He's cagey and observant, but he's not the brainiest sleuth in crime literature ...... And unlike the more heroic type of fictional cop, he doesn't embody a teenage boy's wishful notion of what a gumshoe could be. Banks is something else altogether, an Everyman with a badge. His virtues are his decency and doggedness, combined with a distrust of the easy answer. That's what helps him bag the villains at the end of "Piece of My Heart" and the 15 previous Inspector Banks novels.

Robinson is probably my favorite series mystery writer, which explains my four unread copies of his books on my bookshelf. When you buy even more knowing you will want to read them later, that's a good sign.

The NYT also has a review of Robert Sullivan's book on driving across country. As this is one of my favorite activities, I am sure to dig this one. If that isn't enough to grab you, this may:

"Cross Country" is delightful as history, but it's the tender portrait of a family driving home together, enjoying their time just the four of them, that resonates on closing the book. America may or may not "be" the road, but for the Sullivans and so many other families, their time there comes to define them.

Premonition of crap foretold

So I foolishly returned Return of the Jedi before my eldest had finished watching, which meant I was on an emergency mission to Movie Madness in hopes of getting it. No luck. In order to avoid the rage of the small one, I grabbed the only Star Wars content I could find, Droids, the TV show. It's a mid-80s Saturday morning cartoon and aside from 3C-PO and r2-D2, it looks like any other cartoon of the period. The show consists of one slapstick pratfall after another, often with plot consequences, giving us a hint of Anakin's blowing up the droid command ship by mistake in Episode 1. At least my son enjoyed it. Without small children around, you best stay away.