Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Make up your mind, decide to walk with me

Science fiction is by definition nerdy. Even full kickin' sci-fi geeks will look down on alternate history, which is often for military sci-fi geeks with lots of minute battle description. Now I myself like alternate history as it is often entertaining. Lots of it does suck though. A few years back Robert Conroy wrote 1901, which assumes the Germans try to snatch the US gains from the Spanish American war. When the US says no, the Germans invade Long Island. Sounds crazy, but if you like this sort of thing, it is pretty fun. Conroy is back with 1862 which imagines the British joining the Confederates in fighting the US of A.

The Civil War is a perrenial favorite of alternate history writers. Harry Turtledove has an multivolume history that assumes the USA and CSA fight out WW1 and WW2 on North American soil. This one is really for die hards as it is looooonnngggg and drags terribly. Bring the Jubilee is a more literary (and short) approach to the topic.

For something more cheeky, check out Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. It assumes that vampires are real and that they "won" in Stoker's Dracula. Now they have take over the British upper classes. The social satire elements are obvious. It's in cheapie paperback too.

Corn liquor can't speak unless you drink it first

I've been listening to Silkworm's mid-90s release Firewater. If the title of this post, the name of the album or the cover art doesn't clue you in, the record has a consistent theme. Booze, demon alcohol, rotgut, Dutch courage, you know the stuff. I like the production, with each instrument clearly distinct and the pounding of the drums comes out clearly against the guitars. I would liken the band to Spoon in that the guitar does not dominate and is often used sparingly. The band also alternates heavy and more mellow songs. If you are a fan of alternative rock, you should probably get this one, and at $9 on Amazon, it won't set you back much either.

Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran

Barry Posen (a security studies professor from MIT) has a piece arguing that while it is not great news that Iran may get nukes, it isn't so bad that a military attack is necessary. He argues that the US can counter almost any thing the Iranians might do. It's a good article, but I think he is a little optimistic that Iran won't return to its more subversive past. Kenneth Pollack argues in the Persian Puzzle that Iran will be able to inflict serious harm through subversion. In addition, subversion could lead to conflict with the US and accidental war, which could be nuclear. So, Posen may be correct that military action is not the optimal policy or is even needed, but I think he is overly optimistic about the consequences of an Iranian bomb.

What's a snob to do?

Dutch research shows that if are a male 65 years or older a chocolate bar a day will keep you alive longer. Given that it is the cocoa, not the sugar, that's more points for eating more dark chocolate. So maybe this will help bring dark choc more into the mainstream. Now dark choc fans, don't go all indie rock and be mad if the common man likes dark choc. That means more will be made for everybody. If you have to be snobby you can insist on single origin which will continue to set you apart.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Oh me of little faith

So I toyed with giving up on Iain M Banks' The Algebraist. Well if I was of a masochistic frame of mind, I would have to flagellate myself for my foolishness. The initial pages are a bit slow and confusing but as the story unfolds it becomes quite interesting. While it is not quite to the standard of Consider Phlebas or Use of Weapons, I think it is the equal of Player of Games, and is quite superior to Look to Windward or Excession. He's good on titles alone, no?

I like this one for the same reasons I like the others. Banks is inventive and humorous, and all of his stories have an interesting political analysis underlying them.

Banks keeps throwing new ideas and creations at you. The main character is a human ambassador and student of the Dwellers, a race that lives in gas giants and can live into the billions of years. They are a bizarre race, they are mostly peaceful, but they hunt their children for sport. Banks sets up a number of amusing encounters with this race and others. One of the principal villains is a totally evil warlord who has had his teeth replaced with Diamonds to make him more fearsome. Somehow, the over the top elements don't become goofy as they might in the hands of a less capable writer.

If you read any interviews with Banks you will see that he is quite of the Left, but thankfully he is not ideological. Instead he is skeptical of most things, but especially power. The powerful are normally corrupted in some way or another. Most of his books feature the Culture which is a communist (Marxist, not Leninist) paradise, where no one has to work and no one is accountable to anything. Banks won't let them off the hook either. This happy go lucky nation still goes around and messes with other powers just because it can. In this book, the politics become a key part of the story and all is definitely not what it seems.

If you are looking for a good space opera tale, pick this one up.

We all want to fuck the cause

The NYT Magazine has a long piece on Broken Social Scene and the crazy Toronto collectivist world in which it lives. Much though I love Pitchfork, it's nice to read a story about indie rock that is snark free. Like Pitchfork, It does have the obligatory refs to obscure bands (in this case God Speed You Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think, also Toronto based and in the latter case related to BSS).

Metric gets a mention thanks to a shared singer. I'm seeing those guys in late March and I recommend you do too, if you have the opportunity.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Is it time that the tale were told?

I've been reading an ass load of books about the various wars and conflicts in which the US is currently engaged. One, which I quite liked, My War, has been described as an instant classic. What I wonder is whether people will be reading these books in ten or even five years. If you look at the Amazon lists for World War 2, you have to get to book 25, With the Old Breed, to find a book written about the time of the war. The Vietnam page has Dispatches, but that was written six years after the last US troops left major combat operations*.

So I wonder if when these wars end, some new authors will take the old books, what the academic world produces and takes a look at whatever the world looks like in 2009, and then write the books we will all be reading in 2015. The consensus on wars change over time. While Korea looked like a bitter stalemate, best forgotten, back in the 1950s, people know see it as a wise choice to limit the war. Time changes the viewpoint, which I suppose makes earlier accounts less useful or interesting.

*There are also a lot of sniper books. I was unaware of this subculture until a few years ago. I was reading a book that involved the use of snipers. My friend said "Oh you like sniper books?" He pretended he didn't say it when I expressed my surprise that such a fixation existed.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Waiting for the communist call

Anne Applebaum, perhaps my favorite columnist, and William Taubman both have columns about the anniversary of Krushchev's speech denouncing Stalin. Both have written on the subject of Russia, Taubman is well known for his biography of Krushchev. Applebaum wrote Gulag, which concerns one of Russia's brutal means of crushing dissent. Both books won the Pulitzer, so you know they are going to be decent reads. Both columns are worth reading, but I like how Taubman describes why Krushchev made the speech:

Apart from anything else, the secret speech was an act of repentance. When asked in retirement what he most regretted, he answered: "Most of all the blood. My arms are up to the elbows in blood. That is the most terrible thing that lies in my soul."

Sci-fi and the West

The wise direct marketers at Amazon sent me an email about the new book called Frontiers Past And Future: Science Fiction And the American West. The book is a literary study of science fiction and how science fiction writers have used narratives of the European settling of the American West as a basis for their space exploration stories. As the review notes, this helps make the strange more easy to digest as there are elements we can recognize. Looking at the future requires some investigation of the past if only to see the trend lines. The past can also be a source for the story itself. Issac Asimov's classic Foundation Trilogy is explictly based on the Fall of Rome. Asimov even wrote a brief poem explaining how he converted the story of Rome into Foundation, which I cannot find online. As an example of how nerds can have fun in English classes, take a look at this essay (written by a Swedish student) comparing Foundation to the Fall of the Roman and British empires. There are other examples of course. David Weber's Honor Harrington books are essentially Hornblower or Aubrey and Maturin in space.

Hard sci-fi can be different as it focuses more on the problems that surround coping with the scientific realities of space exploration. A great example is Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity which is about a human dealing with a society on a planet with gravity many times greater than Earth's. Donovan Hall links to a site where you can read excerpts from some new hard sci-fi books.

Friday, February 24, 2006

No, I don't think so

Here is a short movie based on a bizarre Chinese razzing of the United States. Says more about China really. For example "you cry like a menstruating wife" is apparently a normal dis. Feels quite a lot like "we will bury you."

Best movie ever

Birgitte Timmerman has written a book the making of my favorite movie, the Third Man. The article opens with this line. All film schools should be closed down, Michael Winner once remarked, and aspiring directors simply made to watch Carol Reed's The Third Man over and over again. So true. This is the movie I have seen the most times, even more than Star Wars. I managed to catch it at a theatre in Cambridge, MA once which was nice. The article has some nice details from the book including the fact that Reed had to fight to keep the ending which is one of the finest of any film. Damn, I need to break out the DVD again soon.

Leave those kids alone

I saw Battle Royale last night. Although it was less gratuitous, but was still brutal and shocking. It's a Japanese movie set in a near future dystopia where society is collapsing and adults fear kids. To put fear into the kids, each year a class of ninth graders is selected, kidnapped and taken to an island where they must kill each other to survive. Only one can leave and if more than one survive, all are killed. The mayhem starts early and it can be ridiculous. The emphasis is less on social commentary, as you don't see cheering fans like in the Running Man, but is more on exploring the social rules of high school. So cliques band together and kill each other and the pretty girl who doesn't fit in with anyone goes absolutely crazy. It's all quite sad, but is well done. And it has Takeshi Kitano.

I picked it up at Movie Madness, which is even better than I remember. They now have a computer which helps you find movies in their sometimes confusing arrangement. For a truly wack Japanese movie experience, you should see Audition, but Takashi Miike. Movie Madness has 15 or so of his movies, which should be enough to drive anyone insane.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I'm on a submarine mission for you baby

Most people know about the U-Boat war thanks to movies like Das Boot. People know the attempt to strangle the UK with subs didn't work. Fewer people are aware that the US campaign about Japan was hugely successful, after a number of missteps. The classic text for that is Silent Victory, but it is probably a bit long for most.

Subs are sexy, but anti-sub ships are not, so its not surprising that the Allied forces that defeated the Nazi sub attack are negelected. Take a look at one of the most commonly used ships, the Flower class. One of the only novels to show the life of the anti-sub fighters is the Cruel Sea. It follows a British crew of a corvette from 1939 to war's end. That's six years on a tub floating around a dangerous stormy sea while playing cat and mouse with U-Boats. As the war progresses you see it wear the crew down, some dying, some losing family in the German bombing campaigns and some just cracking. Others of course persevere and the Captain's dogged days long hunt for a U-Boat is one of the most exciting scenes of the book. The focus of the story is on the crew and their lives, which is quite unlike modern technothrillers which revel in the technical specifications of each weapons platform while serving up the most wooden of characters.

There is a movie adaptation which is surprisingly good given the amount of time covered and the limits of 1950s special effects. It's not super easy to find, so you better try the movie lover video store.

And if you go chasing rabbits

Chocolate and marshmallow fans would do well to try Necco's Marshmallow Rabbits. The package puts an emphasis that this chocolate is REAL and they aren't teasing. Most similar marshmallow treats come with a low grade of chocolate, like you might find on a Take Five. The chocolate on this one is dark and rich. More important, it is twice as thick as most competitors, so the chocolate flavor is strong. If the marshmallow had the vanilla flavor you find in a Valomilk then we would have a new classic on our hands. As it is, the Necco marshmallow is fine and makes the overall texture pleasingly soft with no sickly sweet overtones you sometimes find. I will say I think it slightly edges out the Cadbury Creme Egg.

Necco is one of handful of small candy manufacturers left in the US. They make the Valentine Sweethearts, Necco wafers, the Mary Jane, and the Clark Bar. with If you value diversity in candy (remember the halcyon days of youth when you got all kinds of stuff at Halloween instead of a set of Hershey and Mars products), then you should be buying this candy on principle. Since it tastes so damn good and costs 60 cents, I imagine you will have one in your pocket by day's end.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Where buckets of ice cream are flowing

I tried one of the new Ben and Jerry's today, called Turtle Soup. It's vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel covered cashews and caramel swirl. If you like cashews you will probably dig this. I am intrigued by the new Black and Tan, which is stout flavored ice cream with chocolate ice cream. Could be really nasty or could be quite good. If it works it could be another Cool Britannia, if not it could be a Lemon Peppermint Carob Chip.

Something is rotten outside of Denmark

I agree 1000% with this Hitchens piece on supporting Denmark in the face of extremism. There is a support rally in DC this Friday. If you are not in DC, as Hitchens advises, to spend more on Havarti, Legos and Carlsburg.

There is no dark side, it's all dark

When I saw the Washington Post review (contained on the Amazon site) for the new anthology DC Noir, I figured I'd give it a try at some point. The review was positive, it's edited by George Pelecanos and I love crime stories set in cities I know. So when I saw it at the library I picked it up. When I flipped it open I saw that it is part of a series of city specific anthologies. Each story is set in a specific neighborhood and is original to the book. All the obvious great cities with a dark side (New Orleans, London, Dublin, Brooklyn for example) are included. The least obvious to me is the Twin Cities volume, but that is probably ignorance. I thought it was all happy Scandinavians and Prince up there. If anything says hard luck, it's Baltimore, so the Baltimore one will be good.


The NY Times has a piece on Mark Kurlansky's new book about Oysters and New York City. It also describes his next two books, one on non-violence and the other on food writing commissioned by the Works Progress Administration. He hops all over the place, that Kurlansky guy.

I adore the WPA art done to promote national parks, like this one for Lassen. They also made some pretty rad World War 2 propaganda posters. Here is a comprehensive site from the Library of Congress on the posters.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Shut your eyes and trust in me

If you like gigantic space opera science fiction in the vein of Star Wars, you should read Peter Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction. Here is the tricky thing. Don't read anything about the book and be sure not to read a thing about the sequels. If you just start it, you will get a hell of a surprise about 1/4 of the way through the book, it's worth it, I promise. If you want big battles, political intrigue, cool sci-fi characters, this is your book, seriously, it's awesome.

I managed to avoid learning about through circumstance. I was at Powell's with my Dad and he saw that it was recommended by the sci-fi staff (their recommendations are GOLD.) Since it was a used copy I figured what the hell, and picked it up. I through on the stack and took it with me on a two week trip to Spain. When I started it, I couldn't stop. There was much gnashing of the teeth, wailing and rending of clothing, when I realized I would have to wait to get back to the States to continue the tale.

So again, just decide if you like space opera. If you do, buy the book but don't read a thing about it. You won't be sorry.

Rings and other things

Joanna has his first post up on Sugar Savvy. It concerns candy bling (or jewelry to those not schooled in hip hop.) I always associate candy necklaces with this party I went to in Cambridge, MA. The hosts wanted everyone to bite the candy off each others necklaces, which I thought was wierd. They were into tantric sex so maybe that was normal for them.

Fast Food Fever links to a deconstruction of the McRib. I know many of you crave this seasonal treat, so you should probably not take a look at the nasty photos. I did enjoy the fake boneless pigs site where you can petition to keep the McRib alive.

I took the kids to Saint Cupcake today and all appears well. They have a new banana pound cake cupcake with chocolate chips and cinnamon cream cheese frosting. So tasty.

Monday, February 20, 2006


The LA Times has a piece on the people who read for audio books. For myself, the narrator makes a big difference in whether I will enjoy a book. I am obviously not alone in this, Audiofile has created a list of golden voices, the best narrators in audio books. My personal favorite is Grover Gardner, who fortunately narrates a lot of nonfiction. Here is a means of loading audio books onto your iPod in a manageable format.

Candy needs

If anyone sees one of these new Milkshake KitKats, buy me one too. I can't find them anywhere! It's looks loaded with malty goodness flavor. I hear tell that the caramel + pb Reese's cup is quite good as well (although the linked review considers them merely OK) . In food related news, Saint Cupcake has a blog where they confirm they were robbed, but they appear to be chugging ahead.

There's so many of us

I am about a third of the way into My War, Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell and it flat out rocks. Buzzell wrote a blog while serving in Iraq and this books builds on that writing. I've seen it compared to Catch 22 and Dispatches, but I don't think those are appropriate comparisons. I suppose it is meant to confer classic status on this book. Unlike those books which are more or less fiction, this is a memoir of life as a soldier in Iraq. It feels a lot like an equivalent to Gunner Palace, if the soldier in Gunner Palace had been far more articulate. Buzzell is foul mouthed, booze obsessed and disdainful of many, but his descriptions of his own life and the lives of soldiers are riveting, both for their clarity and their apparent candor. He has no discernible political agenda (such as lauding or abhorring the war and/or military life) but does want to describe the experience. He does dis the hell out of those he feels deserves it though. I am taking this one slowly as I don't want to miss anything.

What went wrong in Vietnam

So I finally read Krepinevich's Army and Vietnam and it is astoundingly good. If you want to understand why the US lost in Vietnam, this has to be on your reading list. Krepinevich argues that the Army never implemented a true counterinsurgency strategy but applied the mid-intensity model more appropriate to operating against the Red Army in Europe or the Chinese in Korea. Counterinsurgency is a political form of warfare that involves acting more like a police force. The goal is to protect civilians and deny the insurgents the ability to create an alternate political structure or intimidate the civilians. Mid-intensity warfare is the use of large combat formations to destroy other large combat formations. These are two very different things. The Army chose to act this way primarily due to the cultural bias of the Army itself.

Krepinevich illustrates the ways in which the culture prevented a true counterinsurgency program. In response to President Kennedy's calls for stronger programs, the Army paid lipservice, but did not change doctrine and spent little to no time on the subject in professional journals or training. The Special Forces originally acted in a counterinsurgency capacity, which meant protecting civilians and breaking up the VC political infrastructure. Once MACV took charge the Special Forces slipped into a support role for the Big Army preferred operations, which were large scale search and destroy operations. These generally ineffective operations took the Army away from population centers, which the VC could then slowly take over.

Last year in Foreign Affairs, Krepinevich wrote a piece on how to fight the insurgency in Iraq. It's worth a read.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Multnomah Public Library does it again

Or the Oregon Digital Library Consortium does it again at least. If you have a Multnomah County (or other participating library system) library card, they have audio books you can download onto your computer and play back using their app. You can also burn the CDs, and maybe you can get it on the Ipod. Very cool. The selection is limited at the moment, hopefully it will increase.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Are you kidding me? You must be kidding me.

Why are we beset by so many jackasses? I am speaking today of the jackasses that think we should being indoctrinating our children in political dogma. See this Reason piece on the insipid looking Why Mommy Is A Democrat. 100% equal in its asininity is the Republican version Help! Mom! There are Liberals Under My Bed. Everyone who buys these books needs a kick in the ding-ding.

I would do anything for veracity, but I won't do that

I've been watching the first season of MI-5, which is well worth it if you like spy shows. It reminds me a bit of the spy fiction of M Somerset Maugham. The spies are patriots and dedicated, but they must deal with shifting sands of politics, uncertainty and personal lives that don't mix with spying. It's interesting that they tend to identify real life people and countries in the show. In one episode, they deal with anti-Bush protestors gone potentially violent. The very next episode involved MPs involved in illegal arms trade with made up Middle Eastern countries. Even a show that prides itself on realism, can't say S-A-U-D-I A-R-A-B-I-A. Robert Baer and Michael Scheur are on to something.

I creep across the land

Jonathan Tucker has a new book out on chemical weapons. Tucker is the author of the excellent Scourge, which concerns the eradication and possible rebirth of smallpox. Of the major classes of WMD, I had the hardest time with chemical weapons in my Unconvetional Weapons class. The language of chemistry is far less accessible (to me) than physics or biology, but this is probably personal bias. Since Tucker is writing it, I think I will have a better shot at understanding it.

Tucker's Scourge is among three books about disease and security that I would recommend.

Scourge, as I mentioned, concerns the eradication campaign against smallpox and the possibility of its return. It's a well written and short book. If you want to learn more about the disease that could wipe out 20% of humanity, this is a good place to start. We may overemphasize the danger of smallpox. The Congressional Research Service released a report in 2004 that ranked the most dangerous biological agents. The most dangerous? Glanders. Thanks to difficulty in acquiring and weaponizing smallpox, it is far down the list.

Germs, by Judith Miller and X and X is about biological weapons programs. The revelations about the Soviet program will shock you. The US stopped offensive biological weapons programs in the 1970s. Conspiracy theorists will scoff at this, but consider that a biological weapons program is not in the US interest. By disarming, the US could back the Biological Weapons Convention and dissuade small powers from building programs. Biological weapons, unlike nuclear weapons, are inexpensive and easy to hide, and are attractive to poor countries. By eliminating them, the US could reduce threats to its security at limited cost to the US.

The threat of new programs is also discussed, and the book talks about the Iraqi program. When you see how much the Iraqis hid in the 1990s you will better understand why so many people thought Iraq still had a program in 2003. The book is slightly sensational, as it relies on possibly exaggerating sources and is written like a thriller. This makes it more fun to read of course.

Laurie Garrett's Coming Plague is the most comprehensive of the books. The book's thesis is that the global community's increasing encroachment on the tropical "disease zones" will lead to more and more emergent diseases. HIV/AIDS is just one of the possible threats from this phenomenon. This book is much longer than the others as it covers a wider variety of diseases. This book is not about how countries or groups could use disease as a weapon, but it is a security book in that these diseases are a threat to global and national security.

Kick him when he's down

OK, this is petty , but there are few things I like more than arrogant people getting bitch-slapped in book reviews. If there was ever someone who needed it, it is Daniel Dennett. He is like those people from engineering who think every other department in the company should work just like engineering does. In a prior book he argued that all thinkers and analysts in every field on earth should pack it up, cause Darwin has it all figured out. Physics? Take a look at Darwin. Sports? Read any Darwin? International politics? Your man is Darwin.

Dennett, not surprisingly, also has a giant hard-on for bashing religion. Let me tell you, if there is anything more insufferable than a religous extremist, it's arrogant spouting atheists. Man do they get on my nerves. So I am thrilled to see this one get thrashed. Check out Leon Wieseltier's extensive take-down of Dennett's latest. It's like Wieseltier met him after school, beat him up in front of his girlfriend and made him say "I like to eat poop."

Take this line for example "In his own opinion, Dennett is a hero. He is in the business of emancipation, and he reveres himself for it. "By asking for an accounting of the pros and cons of religion, I risk getting poked in the nose or worse," he declares, "and yet I persist." Giordano Bruno, with tenure at Tufts!"

And it is three pages of that.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Evil doers

If you live in Portland go spend some money at St. Cupcake. It seems some bastards robbed them just before Valentines.

Minsk for sale

I posted awhile back about the Minsk, the ex-Soviet carrier that was now a theme park. It seems the company that operated it went out of business and the ship will go on the auction block.

Which is more demented?

Is it the pre-nup that stipulates when and how your spouse will shave her body hair, among other far more intrusive requirements? Or is it taking the time to make a sex video parody using Lego people? Is it this video making fun of D&D playing uber-nerds?

Okay, it's the pre-nup, but I wanted to post all of these things, so there you go.

I wanna see some history

I recently ran into a blog by Deborah Lipstadt. You may recall her victory over Holocaust denier David Irving in a libel suit a few years back. As you can guess, her site is mostly about Anti-Semitism, so she also deals with the cartoon controversy.

Beatrice has a nice dialogue between two authors of histories of the 1960s, or what might be the long 60s. It is well worth a read, if only for the balanced discussion of President Reagan. The Beatrice site links to this excellent Oxford University Press blog posting about the dangers of liberal triumphalism, comparing the failures and overreach of the 70s, with a post-Bush scenario. Be sure to read it.

There ain't nobody that spies like us

Holy Smokes! Gen. Odom is one hell of a conservative contrarian. Check out this piece from Marginal Revolution. He advocates unilateral withdrawal from Iraq, which is surprising enough, but your jaw will drop when you see the manner in which a prominent person congratulates him.

Gen Odom has written a number of books, all dripping with point of view. I don't always agree with what he says, but it is always interesting. One of his most topical , and accessible books is Fixing Intelligence. It's short and each chapter details one element of the intelligence community and Odom's recommendations for fixing it. You learn about human intelligence as well as the technical forms. This is a great primer, as it doesn't assume specialist knowledge. You will learn about the debates over where to put domestic intelligence, who should control human foreign intelligence, how to balance military and policy needs. This book can help you understand the ongoing debates over the role of the Director of National Intelligence as well. Check it out.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What to do with those books you don't want

If you're like me you consume many books, but do not have a limitless disposable income. One way around this is to trade in your books for other books. If you have a really good used bookstore you will usually get a decent trade in value for your books. There is a class of used bookstore that serves as a trading depot. They have a formula. They give credit for used books, generally 25% of the cover price. They sell books for half of the cover price. So your trade in ratio is 2:1, which is pretty good. The downside is that these books skew heavily to romance, mystery and older books. If you are not in the market for these books, trading in won't help you much.

The CS Monitor reports on a new online service to expand the pool of potential books. It's called Paper Back Swap. It works like this. You list books and any one can order it. One they order it YOU pay for the mailing of the book. Once you have shipped three books you get a credit to order any book you want. As an incentive, for adding nine books upon sign up you get three unearned credits. The upside is that the market of books is much larger meaning you have a much greater chance of getting the books you want. The ratio is less in your favor, having to give away three books to get one, but as I said you are more likely to get a book you want. So, for a lot of people this will be a great option. For me Powell's is still the best option despite what I suspect is an even worse ratio. With Powell's credit you can get new books and you are looking at the entire Powell's universe which is gigantic. Not everybody has Powell's though.

Of course, if the book is REALLY good, I am likely to give it to a friend, meaning I have fewer books to trade that Powell's might take. So maybe I will try this service.

Cruel to be kind

Cracked magazine is back, in online form. The online version looks a bit like the Onion, with shorter pieces, but the content is closer to Something Awful. The humor is decidedly nastier (both in spirit and in content) than the print version as well. In a piece on why winter Olympic sports are silly we get this quote: "Luge rivals only Brittany Murphy in sheer volume of international men sliding down a duct. And by “duct,” we mean Brittany Murphy’s vagina."

I rather liked the More Cartoons that might offend the Middle East, with, among others, the Family Circus girl saying "When I grow up, I'm going to vote, drive and expose my legs on the beach...just like Mommy!" (via crooked timber.org)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Oo Baby Baby, ooo Baby Baby

Here is one of those Internet oddities, someone has scanned in a museum of condiment packets. They are diligent beyond the call of duty, take a look at all these lowly salt and peppers. This isn't like finding something rare and cool as you might on Hometown Favorites, it's more about marveling that someone has brought together so many mayonnaise packets. (via Reading Frenzy)

Victory with an asterisk

Both the CS Monitor and the NY Times* have reviews of the popular history Ivan's War. This is the story of World War 2 from the viewpoint of the Soviet soldier, and man did they have it bad. It's good to have an accessible history of the Red Army at war. David Glantz has written or co-written a number of books about the Red Army, but these are really for specialists. How likely are you to pick up Zhukov's Greatest Defeat: The Red Army's Epic Disaster in Operation Mars? Do you even know who Zhukov was? (Here is some info.)

Portraying the heroism and import of the Russian Army is important having a full understanding of the defeat of Nazi Germany. As this book illustrates, that victory was marred by the atrocious behavior of the Red Army outside the Soviet Union. Polish and German women that fell into the hands of the Russians were treated horribly. If you can stand it, read the Fall of Berlin to get an idea. This is not to say other armies did not commit atrocities, see Paul Fussell's bitter Boy's Crusade for the American experience. What sets the Red Army apart is the colossal scale of the rape and murder.

That said, defeat of Nazi Germany would have been difficult at best without the Red Army. After losing millions of men and much industrial capacity, these people held on and pushed the enemy back to its capital. While their victory was besmirched, it is largely their victory.

*I must say the author photo is a bit too cheery for the subject matter.

More mysteries than you can possibly read

Those who like mysteries would do well to peruse the list of Edgar Award nominees. I for one would like to read the bleak sounding Red Leaves by Thomas Cook. I read his Chatham School Affair which is astoundingly good (and dark, which is apparently all he does.) The latest Pelecanos is apparently a bit toned down, but I bet it is worth a read. Citizen Vince sounds interesting too.

Take a look at the earlier short lists as well. Like the Man Booker, the Edgar can be spotty when it comes to the winner, but the overall short list will have something you like. For example, I am bewildered to see that the forgettable Bones beat out the excellent In A Dry Season and the world class River of Darkness. So, just look over the whole short list and pick the one that sounds best to you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Dogfish Head is putting out a beer based on a what was found inside a 9,000 year old Chinese pot. Before you scoff, try the Midas Touch, also based on an old recipe. And hey, it's Dogfish Head, I don't think they can make a bad beer. If you are lucky enough to live near Rehoboth Beach, DE check out their brewery, which is loaded with events.

The problem with postmoderns

I like Andrew Sullivan's points here, in talking about a pomo prof defending the Islamic protesters against the dastardly Danes:

What you see here is something very close to the surface among the postmodern left. They deny all truths, but somehow feel excited by being in the presence of true believers. It gives them a thrill, the way so many Western intellectuals once found Hitler's and Stalin's purism exciting.

Here is another good one from him. Speaking of British cops, the show MI-5 is quite good.

Two separate worlds the endless tug of war

Paul Pillar made a splash with his latest piece in the Foreign Affairs. He provides an easy to understand model of how intelligence organizations are supposed to work with policy makers and how, he claims, in the Iraq war, intelligence was essentially cut out. Pillar was a long serving intelligence professional who now has the honor to teach at Georgetown's Security Studies Program. It's long but it is easy to understand and is a good background on what the intelligence community is designed to do.

On a related note, I am reading At the Abyss: An Insider's View of the Cold War. As one review puts it, this shouldn't be the only book on the Cold War that you read. This is true, the author worked on the science and policy side of the nuclear weapons complex and served in the Air Force as an officer and as the Secretary of the Air Force. Not surprisingly he concentrates on Air Force and nuclear issues. The approach is anecdotal and many of the stories are quite interesting. There are surprises for those less well versed in the Cold War. For example, US pilots in trouble over Korea would just head to the Yellow Sea because "North Korean" pilots would not follow them. The pilots were actually the supposedly neutral Russians who could not afford to be caught by the US Navy if they crashed at sea. It's that sort of story that makes the book fun to read.

The Cold War is a huge subject best served by extensive reading, but the new Gaddis book might serve as good introduction. Newer books have the value of profiting from the academic study of Soviet archives, as well as being less politicized. I have, but have not read the evocatively titled The Fifty Year Wound. In it the author agrees the US won the Cold War (simple test: of the two sides, which still exists?,) but argues that the cost to the United States and the world was grave. It's a long one though.

This is why I hate you

Check out this Powell's post on some new short Penguin books. Who can resist a book with the title On The Pleasure of Hating?

Killing in the name of

Oh joyous day my nerd homies. It seems Frank Miller is taking on the Dark Knight once again. This time, Al Qaeda is the enemy. RAD. In the article, Miller says he wants to remind everybody of the sorts of people that want to kill them. I agree, you can criticize the Iraq war effort all you want, but AQ wants to kill you regardless.

If you want to read a good book about people who kill in the name of religion, take a look at Terror in the Name of God. Jessica Stern interviews the killers and the recruiters of killers to investigate how people twist the ideas of their faiths into excuses to kill. It's a good read. You see it in remainder bins some times, but don't take that as a bad thing.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hurry boy, she's waiting there for you

I don't read many economics books because they are usually boring. Too much emphasis on data, too much jargon, bah! I say. William Easterly is not boring. His book the Elusive Quest for Growth tackles the question of Third World growth, as in why after decades of billions of dollars in aid, has much of the Third World not grown. His answer is that the aid has not made economic sense and has not promoted growth. Without growth these countries will stay poor.

Easterly has a column in the Washington Post which is a handy summary of his argument from his upcoming book, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill And So Little Good. The title is unfortunate as it will probably annoy many of its potential readers, those who believe the West should help poorer countries but don't see how. In the column he argues that the West likes giving aid to people in desperate need but doesn't help the locals who are actually building their economies. He closes with this: "Dare one hope that in 2006, it will finally be understood that Africa's true saviors are the people of Africa, and that those who would help them in their task must also be accountable to them?"

I will be sure to read this book. Give the column a read and see if you would too.

For those with a powerful suspension of disbelief

Ok, I am probably not going to read Prayers for the Assassin. One of the novels basic premises is just too way out. Dig this, nukes takes out Mecca, NYC and DC. The Jews get blamed, Israel gets demolished and the world converts to Islam except in the US where Dixie goes all fundamentalist Christian and the rest goes Islamic. As Bill Pullman told Robert Blake in Lost Highway, "That's fucking crazy, man."

That said, I like the marketing going along with the book. The author Robert Ferringo has a mini site on the page (which Amazon calls plog - promotional blog?) where he posts about the book and answers questions. That's pretty cool. He (or Simon and Schuster interns more likely) have created a CNN.com-like website from his future world. That's creative and cool.

We're chained

If you think the In Club gets a better deal than you, then you are right, if you are a writer at least. The Grumpy Old Bookman relates a tale of how UK journalists always write nice book reviews of each other's books in hopes of getting similar treatment in the future. In this case Michael Dibdin wrote a scathing review of a journalist's book and when asked to change his viewpoint, he published it in another paper!

The NYT has a brief bit on blurbs by disgraced writers James Frey and JT Leroy. Where they once were a possible selling point, they may now be a reason not to buy the book. I'm not sure how important the blurbs are. I look for lots of blurbs by people whose books or writing I respect. Having one Frey among other good ones would not be a problem for me. So often the blurbs are forumlaic and uninteresting. For example on Lee Hogan's Belarus (first book I grabbed from the pile) we have "Richly Imagined." Hmm, can't say I'm sold. Then you get ones like this from Jonathan Lethem

"This demonically brilliant book is impossible to ignore, put down, or persuasively conclude reading. In fact, when you purchase your copy you may reach a certain page and find me there, reduced in size like Vincent Price in The Fly, still trapped in the web of its malicious, beautiful pages."

Now that's a blurb. Of course it is for the House of Leaves, which I didn't finish, but it's still a good blurb.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Too much time on my hands

With all the weekend's travel time, I got a little reading in. I borrowed my Mom's copy of the 6th Lamentation (for the biblically illiterate (including me), see here.) It is a rather sad novel written by a ex-monk. The main character is a monk charged by his prior and eventually by Rome to investigate the supposed Nazi past of an old man. It turns out the accused Nazi had some kind involvement with a Resistance group that smuggled Jewish kids out of Nazi-occupied Paris. There are many characters who may or may not have been involved in the creation or destruction of the Resistance group. It's a great story.

I was less keen on Peter Robinson's Innocent Graves. I usually like his books, but the others put a greater emphasis on the police force. This one had much more court action, which I tend to dislike. It also had a somewhat boring subplot about a possible murderer-rapist. If you have read this and weren't that impressed try In a Dry Season, that one is awesome.

I can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible

The snow storm of doom that smashed the East Coast nearly smashed us. My spouse REALLY needed to get back from VA as tomorrow is the first day of a new job. We foolishly said no to an offer to get a ride to Dulles from some friends. At ORF we waited and waited to get our plane. The ticket area workers were hapless trying to deal with surly customers trying to re-route around the closed airports. We managed to get up to the gates without much fuss. Once there, we found on one at the counter. Our departure time came and went, no people. Eventually someone showed and we got on the plane an hour late, a little close for our 50 minute connection. We asked the flight attendant if he could call ahead and tell them we were coming. Translated answer "I can't do shit for you, have some peanuts."

So we arrive in DC and ask the gate attendant if he can call our gate. Answer "No, maybe you can run." So we ran and the gate was closed and the counter people were nowhere to be seen. Sadness reigned. A sense of helplessness prevailed. SUFFERING. I saw the plane outside, so I started banging on the glass to get the pilot's attention, figuring what the hell. He signaled he would try. Then a thumbs up. Oh what gladness. Not a great way to spend a day, but we did make it back.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tension grows in Afghanistan

I finally got around to the Kite Runner and I liked it more than I had expected. For some reason I thought it was going to be all about the kite running aspect. Kite fighting involves using kites the strings of which are covered in glass, to cut down other kites. Last kite flying wins. That part was interesting, but the main plot is a mixture of Atonement and Little Boy Lost. If you liked either of those books, you will probably enjoy this one (and vice versa). The main character has wronged his extended family and returns to Afghanistan in an attempt to make things right. The characters feel very real, making mistakes they can't seem to undo. My only complaint is that there are a number of unrealistic reunions between characters. This is a minor complaint though.

The Multnomah County Library is running an Everybody Reads program which encourages everyone in town to read the Kite Runner. I like the fact that city is actively promoting reading, although my libertarian side is a wee bit leery of getting everyone to read the same book. Its a silly reaction, but it shows my anti-joiner biases. The Multnomah web page has a list of books about Afghanistan in case you want to learn more.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Done with all the fuck fuck fuckin around

Having read the wikipedia entry for the House of Leaves (note: lots o' spoilers), I feel better about stopping. One of the main games is the narrator game. Just WHO is narrating this? And he is he/she/it reliable? I find the unreliable narrator thing to be a bit tiresome, although I liked it in When We Were Orphans. Also, while I found a number of passages to be quite chilling or moving, I had to slog through thirty uninteresting pages to get to them. That is just not a sustainable ratio.

I must admit to a particular reading bias, which grad school only reinforced. I like clarity and simplicity. Just tell or clearly evoke the idea or feeling you are trying to communicate. I, like most readers, don't have the time to mull over and chew on each and every passage. Sure, it is great to reflect on the book and its ideas, but the experience of reading it should not be difficult. This is a fine balance. Gravity's Rainbow can be infuriating when it is pbtuse, but it is also fascinating and at turns hilarious. Who can ever forget the English candy torture scene? Then again it leads to the creations of articles like this one. Every field of study has a jargon (what better way to keep out the uninitiated?). While much of the argument in an international relations paper is obvious to me, it would be confusing to someone unused to the language. There is a school in the literary world that seems to take particular pleasure in obfuscation and confusion. It's just so much navel gazing. You know what? Fuck that noise.

One of the reasons I enjoy good science fiction and mysteries is that they often have something to say about society. These books are much more socially engaged, often with direct or indirect criticism of what's wrong with national or global society. I'm not taking the Socialist Realist line that art should support politics, but some involvement is a good thing. It's also good for books to point out what is right with society as well. Although this tends to be boring, so people will gravitate to what is wrong over what is right.

Science fiction and mystery books are generally more welcoming than literary fiction. Franzen's shock and horror at being named an Oprah book club is anindicator of the elitism of the literary world. What's wrong with being (small d) democratic? You sell more books and more people are exposed to your ideas, assuming you have some.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Paint a vulgar picture

Whenever people ask me what sort of art I like, I sheepishly answer Impressionism or Renaissance Italian. Many see this as the equivalent of saying you like the Beatles when people ask about music. They are thinking, of course you like impressionism jackass, or perhaps, what a bourgeois fool. All those who dig Impressionism will be interested in Ross King's new book, The judgment of Paris, which seeks to explain what led to the rise of the movement. King has written a few other books on Renaissance art as well. Powells has a short Q&A with King in which he name checks Michael Frayn and his excellent Headlong, itself an amusing look at the art world.

See? I'm not a total Philistine.

Out of gas

I gave up on the House of Leaves. I just wasn't enjoying it. There were some great passages in there evoking dread but all the academic babble just got too tedious. I know it was a satire of academic cultural criticism. I suppose if I read a lot of criticism, I would have enjoyed that aspect, but since I don't, I didn't.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Comic funny

Hey, you mean there's something wrong with drinking to hide from your problems? Who knew? Follow the links for more goodness.

Swords of a Thousand Men

I always looked a bit askance at the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. For one, it was a long series which tends to bode poorly. For another it reminded me too much of the Casca books or the even worse Rat Bastards books. I once saw books two through ten at the Arlington Goodwill, where any trade paperback costs $1.40. I passed them by. Later I picked up Sharpe's Rifles, the first book for seventy cents, figuring what the hell. How I wish I had bought books two through ten.

Sharpe's Rifles is great. It focuses on a routed unit of British soldiers retreating in the face of resurgent French Army in 1809 Spain. They get caught up in the scheme of a Spanish army officer and get loaded down by some proselytizing Methodists. The writing is crisp and the action is well described. From my (extremely) limited knowledge of the period, the author seems to put great emphasis on historical realism. The class issues in the Army are well illustrated. The main character is an officer promoted from the ranks which means other officers shun him and the troops don't respect him. The bewildering variety of troop types of the era also is a focus. If you prefer movies, the BBC made flicks out of quite a few of these books, with Sean Bean no less.

I know a number of people who were put off by the Patrick O'Brian novels. The dialogue is at times difficult to master. Not only is it loaded with nautical jargon, but it is also loaded with period terms. I know this is a bad habit, but if I run into a word I don't know, I just guess the context and move on. If it is REALLY important, I might look it up. Otherwise I keep going. Eventually, you will get the general sense of most of the words. It would be better, in the grand scheme, to digest each word, but who has the time for that?

Let me hear your body talk

One of the great joys of the library is shooting past the new arrivals section to do a quick scan for treasures. I usually come off empty or grab something I later don't like, but today I think I did OK. I saw Kung Fu High School, which was recommended by Harris. It's supposedly hyper-violent, which some people will not like. The Amazon reviewers are pretty divided, but I think I will give it a shot since Harris liked it.

Having read and adored Positively Fifth Street, I was psyched to see Jim McManus's new one called Physical. As you might guess it is about the state of medicine and the state of McManus's health, which is so-so. I am not that interested in health care issues, but I thought his writing both engaging and hilarious in the poker book, and I really don't care that much about poker. Most of the negative reviews seem put-off by his style and viewpoints, so I am going to discount those.

I was there to pick up an improbable pair of items, Can You Dig It, which is a Rhino collection of 70s soul, and Most Amazing Dinosaur Songs, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Oh, snap

Dude, this is one tough review closer.

The book is actually closer to being the work of a teenage Woody Allen whose homework assignment is to write about love from the perspective of death in the style of an extremely anxious and quite devious American rock journalist who is to David Foster Wallace what Son of Dork are to Nirvana.

It is from the Telegraph review of Killing Yourself to Live.

Free your mind and the books will follow

Do you want free books? Of course we all do! But how, man, how? Here are two ways. One is to sign up for the Harper Collins First Look Program. Each month they put out a list of ten or so books. You send them an email about the book(s) you would like to review and if your answer is reasonable they put you in a lottery. If you win, you get the book for free, all you need to do is review it. It's a reviewer copy, but those are just as good as other trade paperbacks. The books are mostly popular fiction with a good dose of mysteries. History and sci-fi pop-up every once and again. I have asked for four and gotten two, which is a decent ratio. So check it out.

MilitaryInk is looking for book reviewers. They have a higher standard in that you should have some prior knowledge of the subject. If you do, apply and maybe they will send you a book in your field to review. The review will have to be quite a bit longer for this one.

Of course, there is always Bookcrossing. Bookcrossing participants leave books in public places to be picked up by someone else. For example, someone "released" this book in the Bakery of the N. Interstate New Seasons. Each book has a numeric code, the idea being each book can be tracked as it makes its way from person to person. Anyway, it's interesting and quite a few people participate.

By the gods...

The Washington Post has quite a few chocolate oriented stories today including a recipe for the strangely named Chocolate Bag. They also link to Chocolate Deities, a mail order company which offers a variety of Chocolate idols including Buddha and Loki. If you live in Portland, you should check out Alma which offers similar icon chocolates. The Post also lists other interesting mail order companies.

Fighting soldiers from the sky

We all have our reading skeletons and one of mine is the Casca series. These books were written by Barry Sadler, of Ballad of the Green Berets fame. They concern a Roman legionary who pierces the side of Jesus while he is on the cross. There is some basis for the name Casca, but Sadler takes it a little further. In a decidedly non-turn-the-other-cheek-way, the Son of God curses Casca to live until the Second Coming. Since that takes awhile, in each book Casca finds himself in some sort of military situation like fighting the Germans, fighting the Vietnamese, or whoever. The books were an excuse for lots of Rambo like action, except it was usually Rambo times ten, because the dude couldn't die. He would get wounded, usually grievously, and then BRING IT. I remember lines like "He wasn't normally a sadist, but slavers pissed him off." Oh no, someone's gonna die tonight.

Back in they day, bookstores had a section called "Men's Adventure." While it sounds like a particularly vigorous Penthouse Forum sort of thing, it meant highly pulpy adventure books for the Soldier of Fortune set. The section featured books with all sorts of crypto-sexual imagery, with lines like "His Uzi spat hot death" and the like. In my early teen years I got most of my books at the drug store, which carried books of the Casca quality or worse. There wasn't much else in the way of decent stores in Norfolk, although Prince books came later in the 80s.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The land of cotton

There will always be more books about the Civil War or the War of Northern Aggression or War Between the States, depending on your viewpoint. Behold this list of Civil War books compiled by Gettysburg College. People even publish books called "50 Must-Read Books About the Civil War."I'm challenged to think of any subject that has 20 let alone 50 must read books. Gettysburg College is kind enough to give us their top 200.

You'd think there would be little new to say about the war, but academics are highly skilled at telling a story where 90% is old news and 10% is new argument. If you have read this far, you might want to take a look at the upcoming Dixie Betrayed. It argues that the government of the Confederacy failed to properly organize for war, and failed at most everything it tried. It's often a good idea to study a losing side in a conflict for lessons of what not to do, but we shouldn't forget what Gen Pickett said when asked why the South lost at Gettysburg "I always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."

The obligatory Gump quote will not be used

Candyblog links to a consumer reports list of the best box of chocolates, many of which are new to me. The variety of shelf life is interesting. Moonstruck has one of the longest at 3 months, Lindt clocks in at 9, while most are in the low weeks range. Russell Stover is in the eat as soon as you get it category. Poor old Whitman's is the only one in the "poor" category. When I was a kid I always wanted Whitman's but never got it. I am not sure if they use to be better, the average candy wasn't as good back then or the fact that I never got it made it all the more attractive. I am guessing the latter. If you feel like dropping 50+ bones on a box of candy, CR gives you some options.

The company takes what the company wants

I am interested but wary of Max Barry's Company. I generally like office satires whether on screen or in book form. That said I had a few issues. My first concern, dismissed by this review, was that he hadn't lived it, man. But now I see he did a stint at Hewlett Packard so he has lived the corporate life to some degree. My second is that I thought his Jennifer Government wasn't that good. The characters weren't that good and the world where corporations run everything, just was not believable at all, looking like a WTO protester's crack dream of a dystopia. Anyway, I will wait and see what others say about Company.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

You are an obsession

Looks like another of Ellroy's LA Quartet novels is going to be made into a movie. This time it's the Black Dahlia, made by Brian DePalma. The Black Dahlia was a name given to Elizabeth short, an aspiring actress murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. The crime was never officially solved, although a few books claim to offer the truth. The wiki has tons of info if you are interested in the case.

Ellroy's book is less about the murder than it is about the people it affects, including the cops investigating them. It also gives him a chance to peel back society's false smiles and take a look at its black heart. Ellroy's characters become obsessed by the crimes they see and many of his books span years. This is one is good, but follow on volumes The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz are even better.

I'm not sure if there was ever a Black Dahlia "In Search Of," but there should have been. Still no In Search Of DVD available, which is so weak.

Head full of zombie

Proving he can still write well, George RR Martin has written an entertaining Washington Post review of the new Stephen King novel. He notes that the best King novels have compelling characters AND monsters, while this one succeeds mostly on the monster side. He does say that it is hard to put down, but that it is not the "Great American Zombie Novel". Hee hee!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

For my nerd brothers

If you like to play board games, but have grown weary of Monopoly or Scrabble, you should look at Ticket to Ride. You can learn to play the game in about five minutes, but it is much more challenging and interesting than those games. OK I like Scrabble but it takes too long for what you get. For those already playing, take at look at these new route cards created by a fan.

Come on down sweet Virginia

Many of my readers are from SE Va, as I am. They should take a look at the blog called Old Dominion. I'm a little surprised no one else had this name already. The author writes about growing up in Tidewater in the 50s and life in later decades. It's just stories and photos, but I like it.

I used to make a living by picking the banana

I love plaintains. They can be a dessert or a very nice addition to savory dishes. One of the few downsides to the plaintain is the difficulty in peeling them. If you do it by hand you end up with little shoots under your nails and it hurts like hell. The NYT has a story of a man who has solved this problem with his EZ Peeler. The Times has another piece describing how best to use plaintains at each stage of ripeness.

My two favorite ways of eating plaintains are with black beans and sour cream and in a burrito. Sellwood's El Palenque has some good plaintains, although the Salvadoran food is a bit buried on the menu. I need to find a place a little closer to 97213. DC was far better for Salvadoran as it has a much larger immigrant community. I went to one place in Arlington and a Guatemalan guy approached and asked if I was American. He was thrilled when I answered yes and sat down to talk. Good food at that place. I found it on Tyler Cowen's ethnic food guide, which is an absolute must read if you are going to be eating in Metro DC.

The best plaintain burrito recipe I have tried came from the Well Filled Tortilla. It's an older cookbook, but still quite good. One of the authors wrote the recent Olive and Caper, a Greek cookbook. The recipe in question calls for lightly frying plaintains and chicken, with a bit of salt and pine nuts. You combine in a tortilla with some orange-onion salsa and sour cream. It is a sublime food combination, the spicy sweetness of the salsa rests on top of the warm embrace of the chicken and plaintains. Serve this and people will want to have your children.

On the question of burritos, the Washington Post lists some good indie burrito joints in case you fear "Chipotle creep". Man, I'm not gonna lie, I LOVE Chipotle. I know they owned by McDonald's but I don't care, they rule. I think they put crack in those burritos because I want another after I eat one. I still love the small taquerias, and Portland has plenty, but I can't stop going to Chipotle. If we are lucky, the Chipotle craze will lead to more burrito eating and more biz for the little guy. Williamette Week ran an interesting story showing that Starbucks may have actually increased interest in coffee as there are now more coffee shops in Portland after Starbucks than there were before.

Friday, February 03, 2006

If you could see what I hear

"Beat" Takeshi Kitano is a sort of Japanese David Bryne. If Bryne were more prolific. And popular. And involved in more media. He got his start with some scatological stand-up humor. He is best known in the states for his movies, in which he stars and directs. I have seen three: Taboo, which may be the world's only gay samurai movie (take that Brokeback), Brother, an exiled yakuza in LA story, and most recently Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman. I should note he is Battle Royale, which I am desperate to see. He has a deadpan stare and trademark chuckle (usually made just before killing somebody.) He makes me think of Jack Nicholson who brings his manic craziness to each role. Either you will find it entertaining or annoying.

Zatoichi is a masseur and is blind and is a crazy kick ass swordsman wandering some pre- Meiji Japan. This movies is the first (of 27!) not to star Shintaru Katsu as the swordsman. I thought the movie was decent. Takeshi has a wierd sense of humor that pops up sometimes deflating tension sometimes not. Also the CGI blood looks bizarre, but according to IMDB this was done to make the movie seem less violent. The movie owes a lot to Yojimbo, with a gang terrorizing the locals, but this gang pisses off the wrong blind back-rubber. I would see Brother first, unless you really like sword fighting movies.

For those that miss English classes

(Via Catch and Release) Donavan Hall reprints a William Boyd piece on short stories. Boyd breaks out short stories into seven categories and describes them from the writer's perspective. He then names 10 outstanding stories including one by Katherine Mansfield. If you've not read her Miss Brill then do so now. It will make you sad.

M is for metal, that's good enough for me

Wow, I've always called that silly singing style of metal bands "scary voice" or "demon voice" but cookie monster singing is way better. That's today's must read pop-culture article.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Cold as ice

I keep waiting for word of new Ben and Jerry's flavors. Last year saw a bumper crop of new ones, but the only info on the website today is about Scoop Shop flavors. While scanning the ice cream aisle today I saw some Mexican flavors from a company called Palapa Azul. I am most tempted by the sweet corn and the caramel.

Here is one of those online quizzes that claims to identify your fave Ben and Jerry's flavor. It calculated Cookie Dough for me, which is close. I prefer Festivus.

The pain was enough to make a shy bald Buddhist reflect and plan a mass murder

OK, I am a big pussy so I am not going to watch these tongue piercing videos. If you like this sort of thing, and I know many of you do, then please go ahead.


I like this Slate article on kid's birthday parties. For one it shows the challenges in enforcing whatever rules you have come up with for your kids. I also like that she is trying to deal with the endless tide of presents at gift giving time. Of course I approve of the fact that her solution is book based. You also see the slow tide of social influence that begins to erode parental authority. I dread this.

You wack, you’re twisted, your girl’s a hoe

"The Victory of Reason is the worst book by a social scientist that I have ever read." Wow, you don't often see that level of negativity in reviews. It's Alan Wolfe in TNR (via Powell's.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Heart of a lion, wings of a bat, because it

You may have seen these before. It is basically just someone writing cruel captions for band promo photos. Some of these people should have spent more on the photographer I think. (via Fazed)

My name is Tripp and I have a problem

My stack of unread fantasy books is ginormous. Fantasy books are worse than other books for stack purposes. When you find one you like you are then going to invest in all the follow on books. Those of us suckered by Jordan have put up with ten books to date! Think of the reading opportunity cost! Anyway, my unread fantasy books are as follows:

Carol Berg: I picked up the first two (at Goodwill!) of the Bridge of D'Arnath books solely on the strength of her outstanding Rai-Kirah books. She is severely underrated and should be counted among the likes of Martin. Her scale is not as epic, but her books are gripping and nonconventional. The main character is more or less a pacifist and most of the action takes place inside people's heads (literally, with demons possessing the psyche.) I linked to her site because it is CRAMMED with content. Lots of spoilers so beware.

China Mieville: The crown prince, he. I have the Scar and Perdido Street Station, both of which are highly prasied, even getting props from the intellectual types. Mieville is a British Marxist and one of the interesting things about his books is that he tries to create actual economies in fantasy worlds. Now in truth most books avoid economic reality so it is not too surprising that fantasy does. Then again, fantasy writers are praised for "world creation" and it makes sense for those worlds to have economies. Mieville is also famous for dissing Tolkein. It feels a bit like Johnny Rotten dissing Pink Floyd, something that might be recanted in later years. Here is someone who says Mieville sucks.

Stephen Erikson: I have Gardens of the Moon, the first of TEN books, so if the first one doesn't rock....I will probably still read the second one. Here is a site dedicated to the books. There has been a fair amount of excitement about these. We'll see.

Scott Bakker: I bought his Darkness that Comes Before based upon on the strong praise from frequent commenter Brack. Here is an example of reviewer praise. This book is in the drop in you in the deep end before you know how to swim school of fantasy. He throws all kinds of unexplained backstory at you all with strange syllables. Brack is highly trusted so I plan to dig in deep.

Guy Gavriel Kay: I amazon wishlisted Sailing to Sarantium based on tossed of web recommendation by Brad DeLong. Kay's written piles of books, none of which I have read. Who knows how this one will be, should I ever get to it.

Gene Wolf: The Book of the New Sun. Have it, haven't read it. This is one of the ur-texts of fantasy, but nope still haven't read it. I may get kicked out of the nerd club for admitting this.

Chaz Brenchley: I bought the first three of his Outremer books because I think the Crusader states (also known as Outremer) are interesting. I bought all three at Goodwill because they were 67 cents each. My logic being that if I liked the first I would want the others so I might as well buy them when I can get them cheap. Now you see why I have 275 unread books.

Sean Stewart: He is borderline fantasy, modern fantasy or science fantasy if you will as most of books take place on earth after strange happenings in our future. Apparently he is getting into the games biz. His books are a bit dreamy, but I liked the one I read, so when I saw Galveston cheap, I picked it up.

John Crowley: I have his Little Big, which is lyrical fantasy, or beautifully written text about really strange things, like an adult Alice in Wonderland. Here's a review that compares Crowley to Cormac McCarthy and Harold Bloom loves Little Big, so you can tell we are Capital L literature land now.

I think I have few more (Blaylock, Tim Powers, J Gregory Keyes) , but you get the idea.

Locals only

Back in the good old days of TV, there was lots of local content. Maybe it was because syndicated stuff was too expensive or rare, but for whatever reason there were quite a few local shows. My town had a friday night video show and of course it had a sci-fi movie show. It seems Portland Cable Access has a sci fi show as well. If I was cool and in the know, I would have heard this earlier, but I only found out about it from today's paper. Lame, I know. Anyway, it features a Strongbad looking character and a host of others. Since I rarely am out on Friday eve, I should be able to catch a show or two.

Speaking of my old local sci-fi show, Dr. Madblood, it seems he has a web presence, and even some podcasts.