Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Don't you hear Jerusalem moan?

In following news from a region other than your own, it is helpful to have some background, so you don't misinterpret what you hear and read. I am finding Tom Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem very helpful in this regard. Yes, the book is somewhat out of date, as it was published in the late 80s and updated in the early 90s. Keeping that in mind, it is helpful in understanding how fractured the Lebanese society is and how conflicted the Israeli society. I liked his model of Israel's desire to be Jewish, democratic and Biblically whole. It can't really be all three, so it has to choose. Friedman says that Israeli politicians tend to avoid this choice, as it is so hard to make. He also paints a bleak picture of Lebanese factions manipulating American policy makers into intervening at great cost. The Americans understood little and left. Sound familiar?

Friedman gets flack for his cutesy models (Hama Rules and so on) but they are helpful. Yes he simplified but he clarifies as well. He provides tools for looking at what regional actors do and how they think. Are they perfect? No, but they are not overly dissimilar to what you read in academic journals. They just have cutesy names. The same goes for the Lexus and the Olive Tree.

This ship is obviously sinking

France and Greenpeace are at it again. The French want to scrap the retired aircraft carrier in India becuase it is cheaper, thanks mostly to environmental regulation. If you haven't seen them the photos of ships being broken up at Alang are pretty amazing.

The US has largely given up scrapping big warships. Some are being turned into museums, like the Midway down in San Diego. The Oriskany will be turned into a reef off of the Florida Pan Handle. The America was sunk in a test exercise. The Russians use them to get cold hard cash. The ex-Minsk is now a museum in Shenzhen, China. Here in Oregon, the city of Newport rejected a bid to scrap old ships in the city's bay.

Speaking of ships, check out this video of a container ship beached on Ensenada's beach.

What should your kids be reading

JK Rowling, Philip Pullman and the poet laureate of Britain were asked to name the books every schoolchild should read. They are all fine lists, although aimed at different levels. Pullman's seems best for the middle schoolers, Rowlings for the high schoolers and the poet laureate's seem more for college freshman. Ulysses is ton of work for anybody. I am not sure I am up for that one right one.

Wouldn't you believe it, just my luck

While my luck isn't the best down in Las Vegas, when it comes to the bookstores, I'm all aces. I took a load of books to Powell's to trade-in and picked up Why Globalization Works and Gardens of the Moon. The Powell's used book buyer looked over my books like a customs inspector looking for bomb making materials and rejected quite a few of mine. Down at the neighborhood used bookstore, I took the Powell's rejects and picked up the Zanzibar Chest and the List of Seven.

The globalization book looks excellent, I love a good readable economics book and they are pretty rare. Gardens of the Moon is yet another fantasy series, I think I am in the middle of five at the moment. I should rank them at some point. Zanzibar Chest just looks cool and the List of Seven is a Sherlock Holmes tale written by one of the creators of Twin Peaks! All in all a good investment of half an hour.


Have you read Gilead yet? If so, you will like reading this Powell's interview with Marilynne Robinson. It would make for some excellent book club ammo. I know most of you cats are wise to good books, so you probably have read this one or have it in your possession. For those on the fence, I know the premise isn't that exciting. An elderly preacher in mid century Iowa writing letters to his young son doesn't sound so hot. BUT IT IS. The family history is fascinating, including lots of bloody Kansas and the questions of right and wrong and responsibilities to others are just enthralling. Easily the best fiction book I read last year.

Since my religous cultural literacy is weak, I didn't getthe reference to Gilead. Here is some info if you are curious.

Monday, January 30, 2006

O Fortuna

I am almost positive this will suck, but since I loooovvveee devil movies, I am keeping out the hope.

Turning to Japanese crime

Here is an interesting LA Times piece on a popular Japanese crime novelist. The article notes that fears of crime are leading to a boost in crime novels over there. I have an unread Japanese crime novel called Out, that is highly praised. Maybe I will get to in 06.

The good old days

One of the toys I had as a lad was 2XL. This was a robot that played question and answer games using 8-track tapes. This person has created a flash version of 2XL with quite a few cassettes available to play. Who say's baby boomers get all the nostalgia?

Speaking of nostalgia, check out Big Trak (with cool sounds), Shogun Warriors, Which Witch (if you have it sell it on Ebay for $100+) and a flash version of the Atari 2600 game Adventure. None of these will return the innocence of youth but maybe they will hold back the tide of boredom and ennui.

Sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know

Thanks to Neill, I now must ponder the sources of my coffee. Remember that scene in the second Austin Powers movie where Austin drinks a cup of ca ca and says "Basil this coffee smells like shit". ? Well now's your chance to have the same experience. It seems coffee connoisseurs are out looking for the very rare Kopi Luwak bean. It's rare because the bean is first eaten by a Sumatran animal who then shits out the bean. Gleaners then find the beans in the stool and sell it for up to $300 a pound. Here you can get a bag for the low, low price of $175 (via accidental hedonist).

Sunday, January 29, 2006

End of the world as we know it?

One of the big questions for international relations is whether American power is declining or not. If it is, the US should probably be seeking a strategy that conserves power and leverages others (i.e. allies) power. Possible paths are laid out in Haas's The Opportunity , Stephen Walt's Taming American Power and Kupchan's The End of the American Era. Ralph Peters believes American power will remain at least relatively pre-eminent for the forseeable future and argues for a different strategy in New Glory.

Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of the Great Powers provides a useful analytical tool for the question of power. He describes the rise of fall of powers like Spain, Holland and England. He shows how their economic and military power grew and then declined compared to other powers. He identifed "imperial overstretch" as the main culprit. As the states acquired more and more power, the marginal return on their efforts decreased until it became too costly to manage the empire. The book famously made the bad call that the US was in danger of losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union as the US was overstretched. Well we all know what really happened.

It is worth re-reading the book to consider today's United States. Looking at today's the world, the US still isn't that overstretched. Yes the Army and Marines are, but the Navy and Air Force are not. Total GDP spent on the military is 5% or less. I would place greater concern on the state of public education and loss of leadership in technology. A decline in social mobility is also worrying.

Hot choc

I tried Criollo's hot chocolate yesterday. The extramsg review, if anything, understated its goodness. This thing is so rich, it is like drinking melted candy bars. So tasty. The only bummer is that there is no way you can eat anything at the bakery if you get the hot choc. It's way too rich, in fact it would be best shared, as it was it took me over an hour to drink it. I didn't see it advertised, you have to ask for it.

You can never leave

I finally saw the Wages of Fear last night. I had seen the William Friedken remake, Sorceror, and thought it entertaining. Wages of Fear, a 1950s French thriller, is outstanding. Dennis Lehane in his Criterion Collection introduction, writes that this movie was a big influence on him. That should be enough to get a lot of you to watch it.

The movie concerns a small town somewhere in Latin America, where an oil company is one of the only employers. There are a number of Europeans and Americans hanging out, more or less trapped since they can't get money to leave. When a chance comes to escape they take it, despite needing to drive trucks of nitroglycerin 300 miles up a treacherous mountain road. The characters are great. I particularly liked the relationship between the two male leads. Mario keeps trying to impress Jo, who is a debonair man of the world. Once on the road, Mario despises Jo for his physical weakness. The interplay is great.

There is a political subtext as well. For the original US release elements of the film that criticized an American oil company were snipped out. The Criterion Collection DVD has it all, so get that if you can.

A hard rain is gonna fall

James Lee Burke's Dixie City Jam is another great one in the Dave Robicheaux series. As the Powell's reviewer notes, it is one of the scariest as Dave finds himself in the sights of a crazed Nazi sociopath. This series is so good that I make sure to read them in order. If you don't care to do that, try this one or maybe Black Cherry Blues.

One interesting thing to note about the books is the societal fatalism the characters fights against. Robicheaux tends to run into bad people taking advantage of the weak. He tries to stem a seemingly relentless tide of evil that threatens to overwhelm the cops and the regular people. Since it is set in Louisiana, race relations play a key role. Robicheaux's friend and employee Batist often serves to show the plight of blacks in the deep south. Robicheaux's character is fatalistic himself, but his decisions to continue to fight give him an optimistic tinge to his character. This makes the sadness of the books more bearable.

Burke of course is from Louisiana and his descriptions of the life and land are a big part of what is attractive about his books. Here is something he wrote about the city after Katrina.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Australian for beer

Only once in my life have I entered a bar and seen everyone drinking the same thing. In Dublin there were lots of people drinking Guinness, but at an Australian bar in Earls Court, London I saw everyone drinking Victoria Bitter. Turns out it is the most popular beer over there.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Some covers are better than others

I'm glad publishers are putting more emphasis on book covers. Now that the cheap paperback is dying, we ought to get something for our expensive books. Check out these cool Penguin book covers. The one for the Jungle is great, although I would have liked to see the guy falling into the sausage machine. I wish the marketing geniuses at Penguin would help out with some fantasy books. I bought this today and I was as ashamed. Oh, if you are looking for the book (or anything else) in Fairfax county, be sure not to steal it.

Hybrid children watch the sea pray for father, roaming free

I had to put down Resume with Monsters last night. It is very similar to Kings of Infinite Space, which I adored. Both are set in Austin (although one renames it) Texas, both involve frustrated artists working in low wage and demeaning workplaces, both involve narrators concerned that the office may be in league with dark forces, although Resume's monsters are explicitly Lovecraftian. In fact, I rather think Kings owes quite a bit to Resume as it came later. Still I prefer the second book. Both examine the existential horror of the boring workplace, but Kings does it with greater humor. Resume is also bleaker with the main character being a victim of child molestation and carrying the burden of two suicides (father and wife...nice, eh?) The humor just wasn't enough to keep me going. As I didn't finish it, it wasn't clear to me whether the monsters in resume were real or just the main characters mechanism for dealing with the horror and randomness of life. And I guess I didn't care enough to find out.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A backdoor guest is best

This is really old, but it is really funny. Don't play too loud with sensitive types about.

She's my little rock 'n' roll

If you are a fan of James Lilek's mockery of 1950s-70s cookbooks and catalogues, then you will get a kick out of this. It is a selection of (unintentionally disturbing) images from advertisements. This intentionally disturbing PETA ad on the other hand, is wrong on many levels.

Best when it's one on one

Got a stressful event coming up? According to some research you can increase your chances of success by making the beast with two backs. So if your spouse asks how to help before that big interview, well now you know what to say.

Neither red nor blue

Nice post at Reason on how viewpoints aren't so easily places in nice little red or blue boxes.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Like a record baby

If you like rock criticism at all, take a look at this blog. It concerns a series of books, each of which dissects a classic album like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Unknown Pleasures, Meat is Murder, Exile on Main Street, and Pet Sounds. A little something for everyone.

Say hello to Hollywood

Apparently Hollywood (in Portland, not in Los Ang-ge-les) is getting a Whole Foods. Good news for the strangely underdeveloped commercial district. Being a New Seasons loyalist, I won't shop there too often but hopefully it will attract other retailers to move into the area.

Closer to my house, Criollo's hot chocolate gets a nice review in this overview of PDX hot chocolate. I've tried the (very expensive) Sahagun and Moonstruck varities and they are well worth the trip. Glad to hear there is one in walking distance.

Why not just snuff it man, I'm gonna eat it anyway

Another of the foods mentioned in the Devil's Pinic is the ortolan, a now endangered bird. Eating it is banned, probably because of the endangered status, but there is a small flame war on eGullet on whether it would be ethical to eat them if they weren't endangered. They are stuffed then drowned in Armagnac and then eaten whole. Grescoe provides the added detail that you suck the innards out through the bird's ass. That's right, its ass. Because the eating process is a bit messy, you traditionally wear a napkin over your head while eating it. Apparently Mitterand had an illegal supper of these birds when he learned he would die. Laws for thee, but not for me apparently.

For more tales of animal exploitation, you should visit the food markets of Guangzhou. Not only do they all manner of animals for sale, endangered and not, but apparently they are great breeding grounds for bird flu. Huzzah. Almost makes you want to flirt with some form of vegetarianism. Almost.

I'm not an addict it's cool

Just finished the Devil's Picnic. I didn't get the reference, but the title refers to a saying along the lines of "A open mind is the devil's picnic." It's travel lit with a message, which you can choose to ignore if you like. Taras Grescoe traveled the world looking to try banned substances like absinthe, Norwegian moonshine and Cuban cigars. Because his larger point is that these things are not banned for what they are, but for larger social or political reasons he also looks at silly bans like poppy seed crusted crackers in Singapore and past discrimination against caffeine. He also looks at the trouble people have smoking in the US. In a chapter on bull's testicles, he mentions the disgusting Sardinian maggot cheese and rotten shark delight of Iceland. I would have liked to hear a bit more about these.

The book is wittily written and I enjoyed most of the chapters of the book. At the very end he makes a case for legalization without commercialization of banned substances, like heroin, which he does not cover in the book. It is a logical conclusion to his argument, but I didn't totally buy it. He doesn't want people to profit from addictive substances, but as he noted with Norwegian booze, the government will become addicted to the revenue and will keep people addicted to keep getting the money. At the very least any government body set up to provide drug services will do its best to stay in existence. Anyway, you don't have to agree with his thesis to enjoy his development of it.

Amazon shorts

No, I am not going all financial on you. Amazon is taking a page from iTunes with Amazon shorts. These are short (around 10 page) pieces by well known (usually) people sold in digital form on Amazon. The price is 49 cents, even cheaper than iTunes, although you will get more mileage out of a single song, most likely. The pieces are stored on Amazon so you can't share them, but at 49 cents, that isn't the biggest deal. I see that Greg Bear has one involving squid, James Lee Burke has one with an unpleasant title and F. Paul Wilson has a Repairman Jack tale. There are quite a few more. I am a little leery of the reading online problem, but you can always print it.

Warm smell of colitas

Maybe it's my time in Oaktown, Oaktown or maybe it's reading too many James Ellroy books, but I find California endlessly fascinating. Just walking around San Francisco on a sunny day makes you want to move there. I am interested in Kevin Starr's mammoth seven volume history of the state so that I can immerse myself in it. Check out the some of these cool covers. Given that not many of us have time to read quite that much, it is nice to see that he has a single volume history in the Modern Library Chronicles series. If you are REALLY pressed for time take a look at this Taschen volume called California Here I Come. This is an art book with promotional images of the state. The website has a lot of examples.

If you don't know the Chronicles, they are quite good introductions to a given subject. The books are short, usually under 300 pages in paperback sized hardcovers. They are also appealingly intellectually diverse, with both conservative and liberal writers. If you see one of these on a subjec you are interested in exploring, you will most likely not be disappointed.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More Vietnam

I forgot to mention the Color of Truth as an excellent book about Vietnam. The book is a biography of the Bundy brothers from early life through Vietnam and beyond. Two things are particularly interesting to me about this book. First, it illustrates that at one time, the best and the brightest (used unironically here) chose careers in public service. Both left and right have fallen away from this today, in pursuit of more lucrative career avenues. Second, it shows the incredible difficulty in formulating policy. Even when they realize they are making bad choices, they press forward because the best choice is often the least bad choice.

If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao

This article in the NY Times is interesting. The article tries to analyze why President Bush might be reading the new Mao biography. It doesn't come up with much and then quotes Dorris Kerns Goodwin as saying "He just wants to read it, because he thinks it is interesting." I was a little surprised to see her say it was published to mixed reviews, although a check at Metacritic gives it a 64. She manages to quote one of the people who gave it the most negative review. I don't think she likes the book herself.

The critics, they want to kill you

The Village, by M. Night Shyamalan, didn't get a lot of critical love. Metacritic has a total score of 44, which is BAD. It is slightly edged out by the generally despised Must Love Dogs which got a 46. I, on the other hand, quite liked it. I thought the acting was excellent, and the pacing just right. I really enjoyed the small 19th century diction and dialogue. I even knew the big secret before I watched it. If you like his movies you will probably like this one.

Despite a number of excellent details, I couldn't get into the Life Aquatic.

My life, my love and my lady is the sea

Coming from a port city, I have a particular attraction to sea novels. I used to think about a maritime career until I realized I got easily seasick. Oh well. I saw a few positive reviews for the Western Limit of the World, a maritime thriller set on a chemical tanker, so I picked it up. The title refers the Greek view that beyond the Western Limit of the world (or just past Gibraltar) lay the afterworld, and you would either go to heaven or hell. The main characters are headed to one or the other, and you soon believe it is a ship of the damned. They have stolen a ship with its load and are trying to sell the chemicals where they can. Of course, this isn't too easy and it takes them to the shadier parts of the world including a West Africa in open revolt. The characters are interesting, if not totally developed. One is a religious self-flagellant who skipped town after trying to dig up his grandmother. One is a combat vet who has seen a few too many deaths (102,000 by his reckoning). One is a Dutch-West African who has relationships with both of these two.

The little maritime details are fun, like having to repair a leaking fuel line with a blow torch, trying to cope with super malarial mosquitoes and bribery of port officials. The author has a good deal of maritime experience and the details ring true. The direction of the plot is pretty obvious, but I liked the descriptions of the ups and downs of this sea-heist novel.

If you want to get a quick overview of the merchant marine life, John McPhee's Looking For a Ship is a good choice. The book covers the end of the US maritime era and the challenges facing people trying to work in the field. McPhee is an essayist who has written on topics as diverse as smuggling art out of Soviet Russia, life in Alaska, and oranges. His skill is talking to the right people and finding the interesting details in any topic. McPhee is addictive. His books are short and once you read a few, you want to read them all.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I heart Grandma See

Sugar Savvy is starting a column reviewing all of the many See's candies. I wholeheartedly agree that See's is wonderful stuff. Not too expensive, but very tasty candy. And the service is excellent, and I don't just mean the free candy everyone gets.

Whoopee! we're all gonna die

If policy books aren't your speed, there are other Vietnam War focused books well worth your time. Michael Herr's Dispatches should probably be on the top of your list. The focus of the book is to show how bizarre the war was and it presents it a phatasmagoric manner, the whole book is pretty trippindicular. The book served as the basis for some of the more strange scenes in Apocalypse Now. In a move prefiguring James Fry, Herr admitted that some of his "reporting," was, shall we say, exaggerated. Be that as it may, the book still rocks and you should read it.

If you want the perspective of the soldier having to fight in Vietnam, check out A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo, who did in fact serve in Vietnam as a soldier and a reporter. I thought the book did a great job of portraying the boredom and absurdity of base life and the high tension and fear of patrols. Once again, some interesting parallels to Iraq.

This one won't be for everyone but it is one of my favorites. Once Upon A Distant War follows a few young reporters in Vietnam from 1961 to 1963. The ones covered are big names like David Halberstam and Peter Arnett, so you see how they got their start. At the start they tend to support the war, but as events develop, they begin to question. At one point some of the reporters run into one of their heroes, Richard Tregakis, author of Guadalcanal Diary. The young ones squirm as the older generation scolds them for not supporting the US effort. You have to be interested in the press to really like it, but if you are, check it out.

As popular war advances, peace is closer

Crooked Timber has a pair of extended excerpts from Andrew Krepinevich's The Army and Vietnam. This one is quite popular at my grad school. Krepinevich argues that the Army never really fought a counterinsurgency battle but instead tried to fight the war it was designed to fight, a large conventional war. Despite an understanding of what was happening, the Army did not change its behavior and did not change the field manuals afterwards. The obvious comparison is to the Iraq war army and its focus on large scale combat rather than insurgency.

Amazon handily pairs the book with Harry Summer's On Strategy. Summers disagrees entirely. He argues that after Tet the war had shifted from an insurgency conflict and towards a conventional war, which the NVA won, as the Army was spending too much effort on counter-insurgency operations! The somewhat controversial A Better War argues that US military performance in the last few years was more impressive than is commonly thought. This doesn't necessarily validate the "stab-in-the-back" perspective, but it does mean that those military operations may hold lessons for today.

Too many people focus on the political aspects of Vietnam, when it is the policy questions that are more relevant today. How can a major conventional army reorient to conduct counterinsurgency operations? How does the Iraqi insurgency compare to the VC? How can the US reframe the conflict to limit its weaknesses and emphasize its strengths? Books like the ones above can at least provide a starting point for discussion.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Die, by my hand

Guess we will have to take back those "Cheap French rifles, only dropped once" jokes. Dayum, Chirac. Of course, just pick up John Keegan's The First World War and you will see those jokes about France are all hooey anyway.

Just light a candle for the kids

One of the Powell's bloggers has a nice post on Oprah, suggesting the book giant should turn her attention to kid's books. Sounds good to me. The post leans a tad utopian, reminding me of this baby massage class we attended. The teacher told us that if every baby were properly massaged, we would have world peace. Anyway, it's a good post.

Powell's has some excellent speakers coming up. John Hodgman, author of the Areas of My Expertise is coming on Feb. 15. On Feb 13 the author of Souled American, How Black Music Transformed American Culture will roll in. Not like I will make any of these but maybe you can.

While on the subject of PDX I see that the Hollywood and Wine coffeshop/winestore is kid friendly, which is a little strange, but cool nonetheless.

I don't wanna, I don' t think so

A strange thing happened this evening. I was driving along and At the Drive In's One Armed Scissor came on the radio and I liked it. No big deal eh? It wouldn't be except I haven't liked it for quite some time and suddenly I did. Back in the high school days I refused to like the Grateful Dead and Led Zepplin merely because others did. I realize this is an Olympian level of lameness, but it was high school. Am I still that way? I really hope not.

And that's when will explode

I am fascinated by nuclear weapons. They are the worst killing devices ever created, the (potential) realization of Nobel's to end (major) war through terrible weaponry, the (potential) cause of our next war, a cultural force, and a thing of evil beauty when detonated. I feel vaguely wrong about being in some way attracted to them. I think it is like the urge to look at a wreck. Check out these fascinating images from Michael Light's 100 Suns project. Next time I am in the den of iniquity known as Las Vegas, I plan to hit the museum of nuclear weapons testing.

On the subject of things exploding, check out this short video of a test ship being sunk by a torpedo. Makes me want to avoid being on ships that are being stalked by submarines.

I can’t seem to face up to the facts

Do you have lots of books? Do you love them? Are you an OCD sufferer? Then you need to start cataloguing your books online. Powell's guest blogger Kevin Smokler has done the research on various services and gives you his recommendations. I'm afraid that if I catalogued mine I would realize just how bad most of my books are. By not cataloguing, I can hide from this unfortunate fact.

Where's the paper bad that holds the liquor, just in case I feel the need to puke

Among the most booze-tastic things I ever did in my life was the Circle Line Pub Crawl. The Circle line in London has 27 stops. You get off at every other stop and drink a pint. You have 12 hours (11 AM to 11PM) Sounds easy but it isn't. You have to factor in ride time, search for pub time and eating time. I suppose the well prepared team would pack high carb meals to soak up all that booze. It's gotten a bit easier for the new kids with Pintsearch.com. This is google maps mashup of 200o pubs that includes a pub rating of 1-5. So you can preplot the whole the thing and lose those desperate moments where you just can't find a pint and the clock is ticking. Of course, you will be so wasted that you will lose the list of preplanned pubs somewhere around Edgeware Road, so all your work will be for naught.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The cover that should not be

Yes, I turned to the local heavy rock station while driving today, I didn't feel like listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR. To my surprise, I heard a cover of "The Thing That Should Not Be." I went over to iTunes to try and figure out who made it. I was further surprised to see no less than five covers of the song on iTunes. I'm none too keen on the Flegma version which features lots of scary demon style singing. The Resistors have an amusingly techno version that would get the dance kids excited. Still not sure which one I heard, but the Primus one was pretty good.


Portlanders with kids should check out Saint Cupcake over in the NW. The cakes come in adult ($2) and kid ($.75) sizes. Chocolate was more popular than red velvet with my crew. Sadly the pumpkin spice was not available in kid size. In any case, the quality was high. The frostings were creamy and flavorful and the cake was moist. If you visit, but need still more goodness, slip down the street to Sahagun for chocoloate. Cupcakes are all the rage now, with a whole blog dedicated to them, and great debates over which speciality NYC cupcake bakery is better.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Gone but not forgotten

I don't claim to understand the book market, but I am surprised to see that a book getting such glowing reviews as The Glory and The Dream is out of print. It could be that the more recent Grand Expectations has supplanted it in the market. It could be that publishers don't think that people want a 1400 page history. The author is William Manchester who remains popular in other subjects. I managed to find a copy for a whopping twenty five cents (thanks Friends of the Arlington Public Library!) but I imagine most used bookstores have a copy, and Amazon has them for $12 or so.

Grand Expectations is part of the uniformly excellent Oxford History of the United States. The series is incomplete and the original editor C Vann Woodward died before it could be completed. David Kennedy is now editing the series and the latest book is Restless Giant, a history of the US from Watergate to the 2000 election. I picked that up at Powell's and I am most excited to read it. I was thinking the other day that it would be so great if H.W. Brands could write a book in this series and it turns out he will. He will be tackling the late 19th century, which is a challenge as it doesn't have the big events of some other eras. Having read (or heard via book on tape) three of his other works, I am thrilled to see what he writes.

Ipod goodness

If you have a lot of legacy CDs you don't care for but no cash for an Ipod, then consider this deal. It comes from a wide array of Ipod suggestions. At some schools, the professors are podcasting the lectures. As the article points out, the profs can still screw you for skipping by using quizes or just taking attendance. With all the distractions today, it's a wonder that all undergraduates aren't dead.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Millions of our years, in minutes disappears

I'm very sad to hear that Tiger Leaping Gorge, perhaps the most gorgeous place I saw in a year in China, may disappear under a dam-created reservoir. Here are some great pictures of it. The gorge is narrow and the trail hugs a cliff face. A hundred feet below is a rushing river, a thousand feet up is a cliff wall. It's awesome. So I hope the nascent NGO movement can stop or delay this dam.

If you are planning an East Asia trip, consider a stop in Yunnan province where you can see the Gorge. Yunnan is great. The southern border is with SE Asia so you get jungle. The NW border is with Tibet so you have mountains like this one. In the west you have Burma so you can be kidnapped by Burmese drug lords/military leaders and spend your few remaining days living out a Dead Kennedy's song.

The base camp for hitting the gorge is Lijiang. When I went in 93, it was pretty quiet, I imagine it is more active now. Like its bigger tourist neighbor Dali, it is probably overrun by hippies. And not just any hippies, backpacker hippies, a truly pernicious breed. These people sit around cafes filled with other hippies arguing about who has saved the most money so far. They regale each other with tales of chiseling fifty cents or so out of some poor Chinese guy. They will also tell you how much better they are than "Tourists" because they experience China for real, yo. Most of the discourse is bitching and they seem to spend a lot of time with other backpacker hippies, not with Chinese people. Fuckers.

No doubt the hippies are attracted by the easy to acquire wacky tabacky. Little Bai women wander the streets with a cigarette smoking gesture and say "Ganja? Ganja?" repeatedly. This may have changed, but I doubt it.

Time to choose

If you read a lot of new sf or fantasy in 2005, you should go nominate your (up to) Top Ten books of 2005. I can't really participate as I've not really read enough new sf or fantasy in 2005. With these subjects at least I am more author focused than time focused. When I find someone I like, such as Iain M. Banks, I end up reading back catalogue rather than new titles. I'd have to go back and look at my reading list for 05, but I am pretty sure I couldn't come up with too much. Woken Furies and Anansi Boys come to mind, but not much else.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I've got some lovely phantasies

Well, at least some of our leading fantasy writers continue to release quality books. Unlike Robert Jordan, and to a lesser degree, George RR Martin, Neil Gaiman continues to write at the top of his form. His latest, Anansi Boys, is similar to American Gods as it concerns a regular guy in the modern world who learns that he is related to deities. The book differs in a few ways. First, instead of dealing with a number of pantheons, this one deals only with African myths. Second, while it has dark elements, it is much more comic and finally, it is a bit tighter, with little downtime or excess writing.

We learn that our main character is involved in the apparently never ending contest between Spider (Anansi)* and Tiger for the control of human life. Spider is a trickster god, somewhat like the Native American coyote, who revels in good times and mischief. Tiger is a killer who usually loses to Spider. The African basis is nice, if only because the fantasy world is over-run with Tolkein like elves and orcs.

The novel is funny, but not outright silly as books like the Hitchhiker's Guide can be. This is a fine balance, but Gaiman stays on the side of comic most of the time. I think this is because Gaiman's trademark darkness lurks below the surface as the book gets funnier. The main bad guy is a bit of a buffoon which reduces his evil aspect, but should he win the situation would become quite dire for all involved. Even death can be amusing, as one character ends up as a ghost with a variety of adventures.

I felt that American Gods could get a bit slow in places, but this one flies along. The pacing is just about perfect. It isn't one of these ready-for-movie-script books, like Chrichton seems to favor these days. Gaiman just keeps the story moving. All in all, this is a really good read.

*According to the wiki the Brer Rabbit Tar Baby story originated in West Africa as an Anansi legend. It appears in this book too.

I’ll wait in los angeles, I'll wait in the pouring sun

John at Bhaus makes a dramatic claim regarding the New York and LA Times. I guess I should be reading the LA Times more often. Although an initial scan found no RSS feeds, you can get them all right here.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

It's all about the Hamiltons

I'm guessing many of you don't watch SNL or check the viral film places, so you may have missed Lazy Sunday. Take time for this one, its HIGH-larious. If you've seen it, watch again and catch the lyrics again.

One to consider and one to read

Dan Byman gives State of War a B review. Byman is, of course, the director of the finest security studies program in the US. In this review, he uses Ghost Wars as a benchmark of excellence in international security writing. If you are interested in American policy in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion, this is the book you want. If you have heard "America created the Taliban," but would like to really understand the rise of the Taliban and failures of American policy, you really should read this book. The only downside is its length. Steve Coll is a journalist for the Washington Post so he is able to keep the pace moving, but it is still over 700 pages. So you better have some

It's getting harder to claim you have no time to follow the news

Oxblog has a piece on U.S. Senator's podcasts. This is a nice step towards being a more small-d democratic nation. It's not easy to keep up with your Senator, but this is a great way to be better informed and you can do it on your time. Even on your iPod. I imagine the staffers are checking the log reports so they know how many people are downloading each Podcast. This will be fodder for lots of smack talk down in the cafeteria.

Another good example of asynchronously following the news is Fareed Zakaria's Foreign Exchange program. While the title hints at a finance focus, it is a broad international news show. The broadcast hours are not too convenient in Portland, so I appreciate that all the shows are available online. I am especially interested in this interview with Tom Friedman. If you don't know Zakaria from his Newsweek columns or books, he is an excellent foreign policy analyst who takes the centrist viewpoint. He comes from the academic world, having gotten a PhD at Harvard and worked at Foreign Affairs, so he has a good grasp on foreign policy issues. Fortunately he is also able to communicate clearly, unlike some from the academic world.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Trogdor comes in the night

The Brothers Chapp has put out a three year anniversary short for Trogdor, their most famous creation. If you never saw the original, watch it first. Seriously WATCH THIS FIRST.

NYT Hearts PDX

Yet another article on Portland in the New York Times. This time it is breweries. All the big ones are mentioned, Widmer, Bridgeport, McMennaim's plus a small one or two like Hair of the Dog. I find Hair of the Dog to be a bit too much for my taste. The folks at RateBeer disagree, one of the Hair of the Dogs is in the Top Ten US beers. Given the truly crappy weather we are enduring, it is a good thing there are so many brew pubs.

Portland also has a crazy number of coffee shops, many independent. Within a short walk you can hit four from my front door. I wonder if the per capita spend on coffee is that much greater here, or if people just drink their's in coffee shops rather than home. I'm not complaining, I'm just curious.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Book cover judgement

I've said before that I constantly judge a book by its cover. What else are you going to do at a bookstore? Bring along a portable web browser to check the reviews? Here is a site dedicated to excellent book covers. (via the Millions)

I wanna read some history

I know lots of people who don't read history books. Maybe they remember dry history from high school or their college history books were those dreadfully academic histories that seem to obfuscate on purpose. It's too bad because there are so many great history books out there. Rubicon, which covers the end of the Roman Republic, is one. Jan Morris's Pax Britannia trilogy is another. They share a few common characteristics. The authors manage to balance a big picture view along with personalities. Too much of modern history concerns itself with social forces and movements and loses the individual. While the effect of any given individual on history is debatable, using single person's stories to illustrate a period is far more engaging than providing lists of figures. They also use simple language in a clear manner. This is no easy task especially when the author is dealing with a tough subject, but when they do it, you are all the more likely to finish the book. They are also non-polemical which means they will not turn off those whose views do not closely match their own.

I'm reading another book that shares these qualities, Kenneth Pollack's Persian Puzzle. His subject is Iranian-American relations. Given the alien (to Westerners) nature of Iranian society, Pollack could easily get lost in explanation after explanation. Fortunately, he is an excellent stylist. His prose is clear, it moves at an engaging pace and it is relevant to today's political situation. Given the ongoing nuclear question, I really wanted to be smarter about Iran and this was a great choice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

You oughta know what I liar I am, you oughta know me by now

There is an important exception to my put a book down rule. If you get a book as a gift, you really should read it, because you are going to get asked what you thought about it. In cases where you think the book flat out sucks, there is a possible work around. Head down to the library and check out review databases. If the book is reasonably popular, you should be able to find a variety of reviews that will give you all kinds of smart sounding things to say about the book. If the book is fiction, you can probably find scads of small press reviews of the book, and once again you will be armed with all sorts of wise things to say. Just watch out with fiction, as they will ask you why you thought the main character acted so cruelly to his friends or whatever. Having lots of reviews under your belt will allow you to redirect the conversation to another point. So if you ever give me a book and make lots of high level comments about it, you know what's really going on.

If you want a giant puzzle-based time waster, check this. Via Fazed.

I do not drink the coke, I only drink coke zero

Well since I no longer drink sugared coke, the news that Mexican coke is better isn't making me cry. Since it uses cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, the sweetness is apparently more appealing. I recall that Coke and Sprite in China were appallingly sweet, but we drank them anyway given the toxicity of the water. If you are ever in Atlanta, consider a visit to the World of Coca Cola. My favorite part was the Tastes of the World which has soft drinks for sale outside the US, including the hard to drink bitter lemon.

Mean and nice

Pitchfork can annoy with the snark, but I do love their nasty reviews. Since Morningwood has tormented me with their awful song and awful name, I was glad to see this review.

In order maintain the cosmic balance, I will not post something nice. Lifehacker links to a more effective means of new year's resolutions. Instead of picking one thing, start a new habit each month. I knew someone who would choose a life goal each year, such as see Michael Jordan play basketball or learn to fence or grow your own food, or whatever.

Also check out this odd Favorville thing.

That book isn't interesting any more

The Grumpy Old Bookman has a nice post on why he stopped reading the Historian and the latest Ian Rankin. In once case, it was too long and not quite good enough to justify the time. In the other he has read one too many detective tales with drinking and women problems.

I revised my unread book count up to 275. This means I must be particularly good about putting aside a book that isn't working for me. With non fiction you can do the grad school skim, just reading the first sentence of every paragraph. If the book is edited well, you will understand the argument and get a good chunk of the evidence. This technique doesn't work with fiction, as fiction isn't written that way and you aren't reading it just to find out what happens. I've still resorted to it with poorly edited novels that are just interesting enough to continue.

A number of my friends have a guilt complex about reading books, particularly books they are supposed to read, like War and Peace or As I Lay Dying. A good part of reading is sheer enjoyment, so reading something you don't enjoy is not a good time investment. Another important part of reading is learning and you are less likely to get the most out of something that bores you. Put aside that novel that isn't working for you and find one that does. There are more classics than you can ever read, so you shouldn't feel bad about giving up on the ones you don't like.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Pub crawl tools

Check out this google map of beer pubs and breweries. PDX has its own map, of course. I live very close to the Beaumont Market and Alameda brew pub. The same people have created a beer news aggregator, which you should check out if you really really really like beer.
If beer is not your thing, then save your cash so you can visit these European chocolate museums.

9/11 movies and books

There is a big budget movie about 9/11, or a part of it coming out this summer. Called Flight 93, it is (obviously) about the passengers that overcame the terrorists and prevented the destruction of the White House or the Capitol. This is a tough one. We know what happens, so it has to be quite dramatic, like Apollo 13, and it has to avoid being smaltzy. The NYT has an article on the movie and other 9/11 flims.

One of the new movies is an adaptation of 102 minutes, the time from the first impact to the final collapse. It's an enthralling read, almost surprisingly so. We heard so much about the towers in 2001, that I thought there was nothing more to learn. There are lots of incredible stories, but also some lessons about preparation and management of large scale disaster. So much of the post 9/11-Iraq world has become focused on politics. People's positions seem to be based on their like or dislike of President Bush. This book takes place at the local level and has little or nothing to do with politics or policy, although policy recommendations do come into effect. Check this one out.

You go in the cage, cage goes in the water

I saw Open Water the other night. It is based on the a 1998 case where a dive boat left a couple on the Great Barrier Reef. It is similar to the Blair Witch Project. The actors are unknowns, there are no special effects (all sharks are real) and the focus is on realism. The protoganists are trying to repair their relationship with a vacation when they get left behind. So we gets lots of bickering, which is realistic, but may bore some people. I found the movie quite unsettling and frightening, but then again, I like to snorkel and I am wary of sharks. Others may be less interested. I find this style of horror to be much more interesting than the gore fests that are topping the charts. Shark attacks are of course uncommon. Check the International Shark Attack File to find out where the attacks happen and how to reduce your risk of being gobbled up by a shark.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A miss

I'm probably alone on this one, but I don't think that No Country For Old Men was one of McCarthy's best. Check Metacritic for a span of views on it. His point about the world becoming darker was well established and I thought the dialogue and the writing in general was great. For me it was a cross between Hemingway and Highsmith. It has the spare nature of Hemingway and the detached approach to violence of Highsmith. It lacked the normal lyrical tones of other McCarthy books, at least for me. The characters were all a little off as well. The principal bad guy was pure evil, probably representing the dark changes to society. His quarry was clueless, and the sheriff ineffectual. There is a large moral point and it was interesting, I just don't think he quite nailed it in this one. Try his other books.

Beer quest ended

I finally found the Dog Fish Head 120 minute IPA in Portland. I'm a little nervous about drinking it since one bottle is equivalent to five or so PBRs. Belmont Station had the beer. The bottle was none too cheap at nine bones, but that was nothing compared to the Pangaea and the Fort. Those were both around fifteen smackers although the bottles were twice as big. When I asked the guy at Belmont if those two big ones were worth it, he just closed his eyes as if to remember that sweet, sweet flavor. He then described each in glowing terms. I must try the both of them.

The same place sells a variety of British candies and foods. I am intrigued by the toffee slab that comes with a hammer. The also have a variety of marmelades. I've always wanted to go on a crazy marmelade binge, trying all the flavors. I wish New Seasons would have a marmelade tasting.

Everybody live for the music-go-round

Devo is putting out a kid-oriented record. The thing is, it has kids' singing instead of the normal crew. May be worth the risk so that you can take that world music kid's disc out of rotation. We have two They Might Be Giant's kid's CDs. Everyone in the family likes No, since it manages to keep the kids happy while amusing the parents. Here come the ABCs is way popular with the kids, but I can only take one listen. Or maybe two if they ask nicely.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

We all die alone

Check out this podcast by blogger Jason Boog on the deathplace of Cornell Woolrich. It's sad given how lonely he was when he died. Woolrich remains unknown despite the re-emergence of his books. Listening to Jason's podcast reminded me of a cool noirish hotel. If you are ever in Tucson, be sure to stay in the Hotel Congress. As my friend Austin put it, it's like staying inside a Edward Hopper painting.

Speaking of podcasts, Matt has a new one at PDXBands.

Good with the bad

While the new version craze going on in candy has given us treats like the Kit Kat Mint, it is bringing us crap like the new Take 5 Peanut Butter candy bar. The Candyblog reviews it and gives it a 4. Then again, they gave the original Take 5 a 9 out of 10, meaning the curved grade for the Take 5 Peanut Butter is -3.

Three flicks

I've seen three movies over the last few days, all of which are worth watching.

King Kong: This is the Jackson one. It is overlong at three hours, but it is well worth it. Jack Black is great as the wicked Denham and Naomi Watts does a great job building a relationship with Kong. The dino scenes effectively one up Spielberg and the sea scenes are excellent. Like in LOTR, Jackson does a nice job switching from the panoramic to the personal and he never lets great effects get in the way of the story. It's too bad it isn't doing so well at the box office, we may not get crazy extended edition DVD treatment like LOTR.

Triplets of Belleville: It's a cartoon, it has almost no dialogue and it's bizarre. You should still see it. The exaggerated style of people, things and scenery is highly entertaining and the story which concerns a grandmother looking for her kidnapped grandson is engaging. Although it is a kidnapping, the story and the climax are silly enough to keep it from being scary. For example, the climactic car chase involves the pursuers being foiled by items like hats. It's fun.

Schizopolis: Easily the most arty of the three, this is Stephen Soderberg's student-ish film, released mid-career. The film satirizes the workplace and marriage but viewers will pay more attention to Soderberg's plays on language. Some characters speak only in gibberish others speak in the emotions and meaning they mean to confer as in "Overly dramatic statement regarding upcoming meal." To make it more crazy, Soderberg (who plays the main role) and his wife both change identities in the film. It isn't clear if this is dreaming, dimensions merging or the use of lots of drugs. In fact, stoners are going to say "Woah" a lot in this one.

The NYT say that Hostel sucks all around. No big surprise.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Spanish songs in Andalusia

Arturo Perez Reverte series of swashbuckler novels set in 17th century France is being released in the United States. The second is out now. I've read quite a few of his, and my favorite is probably the Nautical Chart. Judging by the Amazon reviews this is a less popular opinion, but hey you can get the book for a penny over there so why not try it? His older books are literary mysteries set (mostly) in modern Spain. He is now pulling a Dumas with these series.

A Spanish friend told me that the one book to read from Spain is Trafalgar by Benito Perez Galdos. Apparently all the school kids read this, and the wiki says that he is considered the second greatest Spanish novelist after Cervantes. So how come we don't read his stuff over here? Before you yell "ignorant Americans" consider this. I couldn't find hide nor hair of the book in English, here in the US or in Britain (maybe the Antipodes? Nope, just checked.) For whatever reason Amazon US has a German edition on the site, although it is out of print. I suppose I could go learn Spanish and read this free version on Project Gutenburg. Even though I already have piles of books I will never read, I am somehow vexed that I cannot get ahold of this book.

Fell on Black Days

So I know have three high quality readers telling me that Feast For Crows is weak or "not all that," as one put it. What's worse I have no trusted readers who are telling me to read it. Sadness and woe, my friends, sadness and woe. Like nerd the world over, I have been waiting five years for this book. Looks like it will have to drop lower in the pile of 250 unread books. Fortunately the Darkness that comes Before beckons from my shelf. Once my fantasy jones grows strong enough I am reading that one first. Thanks to the awesome Multnomah County Library, I will also soon have Neil Gaiman's latest as well. So I won't be starved for fantasy goodness, but this is kind of like hearing that the new Ben & Jerry's flavors are all nasty.

Check out the Amazon page for Feast, it has a bunch of discussions on the book (scroll down to the bottom.) Yet another way to have the customer create the content, brilliant folks over there at Amazon really.

And how can this be?

David Lynch is involved with Dune again. A Director's cut DVD of the 1980s flick comes out later this month. Lots of extras included for those who want to give this one another go. I have a friend who bought bootleg editions of the movie from Malaysia and maybe this will be a better version of that. It might also have been the Allen Smithee edition described on the Dune movie wiki page. In any case, the movie is plenty bizarre and if you like odd sci-fi images and characters, this one is as good as any sci-fi movie for that. Sting's turn as Feyd is quite nice and a very young Alicia Witt as Alia is quite good.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

So baked

My inept baking ways may be at an end. Yesterday I produced perfectly decent oatmeal cookies, the kind you might give a guest you like more than a little. They weren't great, but I can't expect magic. How did this come to pass? I used a recipe from the Baking Illustrated, which is made by the America's Test Kitchen people. The Powell's review points out that the recipes are great because the test kitchen adjusts each ingredient variable until the find the right mix. They also explain that if you add too much of x, y will happen which is cool. I liked this part of the book, but what was great for me was that it assumed you knew absolutely nothing about baking, nothing at all. So it tells you to let butter sit for an hour or two before creaming with sugar. In the past I would take it out of the fridge and get beating. No more. Little details like this corrected many of the little mistakes that added up to culinary disaster in the past. Before I talk too big I better try making something else.

The age of new seasons

There is a really good article in the NYT on New Seasons. The writer hit many key points, the quality of the food, the truly world class service, the local nature of much of the produce and a product mix that includes national brands as well as boutique brands. You even get the story about the banned energy drink. While no New Seasons are coming to other cities, the story reports that they give advice to other companies so cross your fingers non-PDXers.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I'll walk in on my feet, but I'll leave there on my back

Check out Spirit World's 12 beers of Christmas. I'd love to get my hands on the Delirium Noel. I'd like to keep my hands away from this evil contraption. It works thusly. A light on the machine blinks red and then green, first person wins, everyone else gets an electric shock and has to drink. call that fucked up.


Candy Blog has a post up on the 100 Grand with peanuts. More or less thumbs down compared to the original. Thumbs up to Nestle for trying new things though, that is pretty good. Be sure to check out the review of Lake Champlain's new single origin dark chocolates too.

It's not easy being green

Environmentalists can be so whiny, so I don't spend a lot of time reading on the subject. I dislike cri de coeurs of all types, and the green side is loaded with them. So I am happy to have the River Runs Black, which is a policy study of China's environmental catastrophe. You get the statistics of how bad the environment is, like that China has most of the world's most polluted rivers and the polluted cities. The author says that the life expectancy of a Beijing traffic cop is 40 years. This could be due to hair raising driving, but it appears to be from the heavy smog of less environmentally friendly cars. What I like about the book is the tone. Instead of angrily pointing fingers and making wild demands, the author identifies a number of factors in the failure of Chinese environmental policy, many of which will be familiar to those who follow China. One of them is the reliance on strong leaders. This helps when the leader focuses on the environment, but economic growth usually wins out. Unlike the US, China does not yet have a strong civil sector which can push the government to act. The regulatory enviroment is also not quite strong enough to enforce the regulations. All in all an interesting read, although I was less interested in the Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist and Legalist perspectives on man's relation to nature. It was necessary to support her argument, but it was a bit dry. Ideologues will be sad to hear that both capitalist and communist forces contribute to the degradation so no chances for "I Told you sos" for either side.

If you want dispassionate, but more global in viewpoint and analysis, take a look at Something New Under the Sun. It is a study of how man has changed the environment over the 20th century. Again, no angry finger pointing, but plenty of evidence that the environment has changed thanks to man.

Time after time

Of all the books I read in 2005, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell may have been my favorite. The structure of the book is peculiar. The book is divided into six substories that take place in the recent past, today, the future and the far future. They are connections between each story, but this is not clear at first. Unravelling this puzzle is one of the best parts of the books. The stories are written in different styles, one is a 70s era political thriller, one is a dystopian sci-fi thriller and so on. This one is a must for book clubs.

Mitchell has a new book coming out in April. It sounds much more conventional, as it is a coming of age story. Given how good Cloud Atlas is, I expect this one to be a great read as well.

Monday, January 02, 2006


I finished Chuckling Whatsit, which is quite good. The art looks like Gorey and the story line is about as dark. Scads of bizarre characters emerge and most come to bad ends. I noticed on the Amazon site that people are now starting to call comic books "sequential art." Come on man, that is like the attempt to make sci fi sound less dorky by calling it "speculative fiction." Thanks to multnomah county library I am reading a lot of these. I suppose the price point for them is about the same as a DVD, and it takes a similar amount of time to consume one, but at $15 it seems like a lot of money to me. I am going to stay away from manga though, that just seems like the gateway book to tentacle porn.

New year's book resolutions

Bookslut has a number of good posts today. She talks about her reading habits in 2005 and links to someone who is going to try reading better books in 06. I've wrestled with stopping the urge to read trashy books and I just can't seem to do it.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


I went to see the joint Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven New Year's Eve show last night. Cracker
played a version of Up Against the Wall Redneck Mothers that was tweaked to satirize the administration. It was fun, especially if you know the song. You can find an MP3 of an earlier perfomance here. The show was filled with odd sights like a family that brought their 10 month old. A ten year old who was rocking out with some devil signs, which I thought was for metal only. The crowd was active in general. I've been to mostly indie shows of late, where the "dancing" is usually restricted to various forms of head movement. This place was lousy with hippies who had no problem breaking out the crazy interpretative dances. One chick even started pole dancing.


I ordered some my dad some chocolate cashews from Good's Candy Shop. I like them a lot but never thought about why. When I ate them over Christmas I noticed that the nuts are roasted and salted. Many chocolate covered nuts are raw which limits the tastiness. The sweet-salty thing works well here, so if you like chocolate covered nuts you should give them a try.

Stink. Stank. Stunk

More kids's book recommendations for you. Those of you with kids know that kids like the stinky stuff. All I have to do is change a word in a familiar song to "pee" or "poop" and I'm Jon Stewart with my kids. So it shouldn't be surprising that the kids looooooooooovvveee I Stink, a book about a garbage truck and what it likes to eat. The coloring leans to the putrid with lots of dirty greens, browns and reds. The text emphasizes the nasty smells emanating from the truck. It's quite entertaining if likely to make you slightly queasy. We just checked out a sequel of sorts called I'm Mighty which concerns the daily adventures of a Tug Boat. The coloring is equally as great but I wasn't as engaged by the story. The kids on the other hand love it and demand frequent re-readings.

Speaking of kidly fun, if you live in Oregon you might want to consider a trip up to Snow Bunny, which is about a mile or so past Government Camp. We took the kids there for inner tubing. The parking is easy and a tube costs $10. You can do the same at many a resort, but here you walk easily and deal with smaller crowds. If you go, be sure to dress as well as I did. I must admit I was looking pretty fly in my 80s turquoise and yellow ski jacket. Good thing I brought my chick repellent.

I'm a negative creep and I'm stoned

I finished Black Hole, which is creepy and trippy. Many reviews reference Cronenberg which makes sense. The book is set in the 70s and a strange plague is causing teens to mutate in rather nasty ways. There is also heavy emphasis on labial imagery. The art, in general, made me think more of Lynch as it is bizarre but heavily symbolic. Graphic novels are closer to movies than books since they are consumed quickly and have images as key components, so it makes sense to compare to directors. If you have stayed away from graphic novels because you think it is all caped crusaders, try this one. Its not clear if the strange happenings are metaphorical or are all in the heads of the heavily drugged protagonists. The author/illustrator does much of the art for the Believer, so you may recognize his style.

Check out this bizarro graphic novel I found at the library today. Apparently a combination of Edward Gorey and Alfred Hitchcock. Does it get any better?