Friday, March 31, 2006

SJ Rozan

Most mystery writers take a bit of time to hit their stride. Thanks to some web intel, I started Peter Robinson's wonderful series in the middle. I thought that Dennis Lehane's first was decent, but the rest were stupendous. Ian Rankin is regularly identified as one of the greats, but I've only read the first which didn't do that much for me.

All that is to say it is great news when someone starts strong. James Lee Burke is one of the best in this regard. He came out swinging and hasn't slowed down since*. Another author who has done well for herself is SJ Rozan. I just finished Concourse, the second in the her Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series. The first, China Trade, is quite good as well. So why is she a cut above? For one, having a Chinese-American female as a lead is different. This lets Rozan explore the Chinese American subculture of NYC as well as providing for contrasts with the broader culture. Her characters are well drawn, although I can see the "will they or won't they" relationship between the two leads will be used for many for a book. I like that she changed narrators in the two books. The first is told by Lydia with a little Bill, while the second is told by Bill with a bit of Lydia. She also explores different parts of NYC, and I always like the local color in my mysteries. If you like series mysteries, you can feel safe with these.

*The first amazon review from this book (at this time of writing) is from Berkeley and notes the main characters sympathy for the downtrodden and low tolerance for the powerful. He goes on to state that he finds this rare in mystery. I must say this took me aback. I thought one of the hallmarks of mystery, at least the noirish stuff I like, is the bleak viewpoint on man and society with particular emphasis on the corruption of power. Anyway, seemed odd to me.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Doom and gloom

I just picked up American Theocracy, which judging by most of the press, looks good. Jacob Weisberg at Slate says that's all a bunch of hooey in his aggressively negative review. I do wonder if the low approval ratings of the President are giving any screed the thumbs up from the press. Since I am concerned about the ongoing rise of fundamentalism in American (and global) politics and very concerned about the economic future, I am going to give it a chance. It may get the grad school reading treatment though. To continue my trend of reading conservative critiques of the Administration, I have Sands of Empire, which argues that both parties (dems under Clinton, reps under Bush 43) have been captured by the desire to improve and transfrom the world, at disastrous cost to the country.

If you are in Portland, you might want go to Powell's Burnside on April 7th where Kevin Phillips will be giving a talk. Also at Powell's Burnside, the author of a hiking guide will be showing a slide show of hikes within 2 hours of greater Portland. That's on Monday the 24th of April.

That's when they all get blown away

Few, if any, things drive me up the wall like a bunch of sanctimonious bastards telling me how it is, man. Any few bastards like to tell you how it is like the people at You know, those irritating ads about cigarette companies. I've never smoked and likely never will, but their ads make me want to reach for a pack of Marlboro Reds just to spite them. Anyway, Reason has a link to an ad. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Another one bites the dust

I picked up Maisie Dobbs almost entirely due to the cover art (take a look it's quite good). The buzz didn't hurt either. Neither did the fact that I got it at Goodwill for $1.67. Anyway, the Grumpy Old Bookman has a rather scathing review of it, saying it would seem dowdy back in the days of Agatha Christie. I suppose if you are looking for something unlike today's violent and dark books, it may suit, but I am going to pass on it now.

Keep it in the family

Happy news for Portlanders and lovers of good bookstores. The daughter of Michael Powell will continue the family tradition of managing the bookstore. Like most new leaders, she is likely to take the store in some form of new direction, but this outcome is far more attractive than takeover by outsiders of by some firm willing to turn them into just a Border's clone. I hope the Powell's sages are examining the DNA of potential mates for the new boss, with the eventual aim of breeding the Kwisatz Haderach of book selling.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Praise them from whom DVDs flow

Allow me to join the chorus of love for Battlestar Galactica. I'm talking about the new one, not the one that comes in the big Cylon head. The new show is amazingly good. For one, it is really dark. In the original show nearly all of humanity gets zapped but we quickly get to jokes about Starbuck's love life. This one puts the results of the war right in your face. In an allusion to 9/11, the walls of the Galactica are covered in photos of those missing (which is just about everybody.) The show also takes a more interesting look at civil-military relations. The military and civilians push against each other for control of humanity's destiny and in every day decision making, just as you would expect them to do. In the old show, Adama just called the shots, now he takes orders from the President. The space battles are much more interesting as well, with more a more realistic physical model (even if they do have faster than light travel.) This one is good. If you are like me and never commit to a show in the beginning like I should (24, Lost, Sopranos, and so on) pick up the first season DVD, which contains the starter miniseries. It's good times.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Croquet lawns, village greens

I've always wanted to write a mystery novel set in the British Empire in Victorian times. In tone and style I would borrow heavily from Alan Furst and James Ellroy. That is to say, lots of darkness in character, society and plot. You would have corruption at high places, characters facing complex moral problems in an atmosphere of great danger and of course, copious beat downs. Content would borrow heavily from Peter Hopkirk, Byron Farwell, and The Man Who Would Be King. Can you just imagine how awesome it would be? In order to maintain the overall feeling of awesomeness, the main character would have to lack certain characteristics. He could not be a divorced, recovering alcoholic with a rough on the edges, but kind and fair girlfriend. He would also not be allowed to have a sociopathic pal who gets him out of his nastiest scrapes. I should get some points for that I think.

Since you are unlikely to see my opus any time soon (if you need to pause to dry your eyes, feel free) you might take a look at some books by Will Thomas. He has two, Some Danger Involved, and To Kingdom Come, both set in Victorian England. From what I have read, the books are sadly lacking in beat downs, but they otherwise look pretty fun.

Give to me the spiked doggie collar

Oh those wily pranksters at Dog Fish are at it again. They have a new pilsner coming out, meant to to reclaim the true pilsner legacy. It's 9% alcohol by volume so it will have a lot more kick than the mass market pilsners. Of course, as this article shows, there are lots of other famous, high quality pilsners out there. So how is Dog Fish going to separate themselves from the pack, with a promise of no advertising or marketing (I guess the email I got doesn't count?) Why, they will call their beer Golden Shower of course. I can predict all kinds of poor taste bar promotions.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Another mean review

Jonathan Yardley has a column about authors that use the racist past of their ancestors to show their own innate goodness. It's a rather nice piece of snark, as shown here: Though all due modesty and claims of imperfection are expressed, the reader is expected to stand and cheer as, at book's end, the author's heroic achievement is revealed in full.

Got this feeling when I heard your name the other day

When I go down to the Oregon Coast I know I am going to score some random foods. I continue to be foiled in my quest to land a visit to the Pig N Pancake, but I did get my hands on some Tillamoook White Licorice ice cream. Yes, it sounds like this should be my last choice, but it is surprisingly tasty. The first taste is of anise, but before the taste hits that often unpleasant licorice aftertaste, you get hit with a creamy vanilla flavor. It's really quite addictive.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find an It's It. You used to be able to get them at one of those random groceries on Route 26, but the Nestle/Blue Bunny hegemony has chased out the little guy once again. Bastards. I think there is a place out in the Wine Country that still has them. I remain a fool for the hard to find foods, and will go far out of my way if I know I might get my hands on one of these special items.

Friday, March 24, 2006

You got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend

I rarely look at those attachments that come with prescriptions, but maybe I should.

Don't know much about....

One of my favorite kind of books is the sort that takes a different look at something commonly understood. One of the best examples is Plagues and Peoples, which considers the impact of disease on history. Why Geography Matters on the other hand, challenges you to think spatially. Given the near lack of geographical education in the US, it is not surprising that many people can't find China on the map. It is a bigger problem when policy makers fail to consider human and physical geography as seems to have happened in Iraq. As the Publisher's Review article mentions, many of his recommendations aren't that novel, but looking at information on a map is always interesting, at least to me. Building your geographic knowledge can also help out if you play on a trivia team too. If you are fond of geography, these quizzes will probably entertain you.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Feeling a bit skinny? I can help

Criollo has one of the tastiest hot chocolates I have ever had. But you know, sometimes I don't want to walk the two blocks to get there. When I can't be bothered, I can now turn to this simple recipe. These are the sor tof decadent drinks that make you think you are sitting at the Spanish Court wondering at the silver of Potosi.

Of course, if you are in Paris, you can take advantage of this discussion of the best crepes in Paris. I think my experiences with Parisian crepes are limited to the non-sublime ones, but they were really quite good.

If you're prepping for passover, or just like cinnamon, have a gander at these.

Rocking in the free world

I went to the Franz Ferdinand/Death Cab show tonight. It's an odd pair and it didn't totally work out. The venue was Portland Memorial Coliseum which is on the smaller end of the arenas. Franz Ferdinand fit in well with lots of Jaggeresque rock posturing and giant riffs. Having Death Cab follow was a mistake, I thought. Death Cab is far more mellow which feels off after a rock heavy show. There were also a few technical difficulties in the set. They were good, but I think FF was better.

It wouldn't be a rock show without some audience antics. In this case, it was the guy who appeared to need to vomit, leaning over, as if to regain balance or reduce stomach acid, every ten minutes or so. This was disconcerting, as I was within the likely splatter radius. I don't mind if my kids pee on me, as happened this morning, but some random dude's stomach contents are beyond the pale.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

DC is a not a beer town

There's a story in the Post about the death of a DC microbrewery. DC as a town is not that great for beer. On the one hand you have piles of students and interns who are drawn to quantity not quality, and the bars are happy to deliver. Then you have the lobbyist/press/politco crowd which appears to like the power bar scene and wants to be shown to the next whiskey bar. Even the most famous pub, the Brickskeller, is a let down. They always seem to be out of whatever I order. I would much rather head out to the Lost Dog in Arlington. The suburbs in general do better, with the one of the best breweries in America operating a pub in Maryland. On the Virginia side, Old Dominion is doing well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Vid for the day

I haven't being paying attention to videos lately, but I ran into the video for "I Turn My Camera On," while searching for this Mission of Burma song. Anyway, if you like Spoon and/or creepy-ish videos, I Turn My Camera On is for you.

Countries are fighting in chemical warfare

Like most people I know, I have been wondering why we don't have an accessible single volume history of chemical weapons. For nukes, we have Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb which can truly be described as magisterial. For bio, we have Germs, which can be a tad sensationalist, but is overall excellent. But chem has gone lonely....until now! Jonathan Tucker's War of Nerves is a solid history of chemical weapons covering scientific development, use in the field, war planning, the bureaucratic politics that kept the programs going longer than needed in the US, the means by which the Soviets hid their program and the arms controls efforts to eliminate chemical weapons. It isn't a perfect book. The need to cover so much information means that it is almost purely descriptive with little analysis or policy prescription. For me, this was acceptable. Understanding how they work and are developed is about all I could handle in one volume. If I were better informed, I might feel differently.

One shot, one kill

Among the many reasons I like to visit Richmond (strolling the grounds of Maymont, the possibility of spotting David Lowery, challenging GWAR to a sword fight) one of my tops is exchanging books with my old 804 based pals. Steve had a nice John McPhee collection, while Brack had a Ross McDonald, a odd Norman Mailer and a......sniper book! Yes, thanks to this blog, Brack know of my introduction to the peculiar world of the sniper book, which is, as you might imagine about being really good at shooting people from far away. From the reviews, the books looks a little nuts. Which means it will be good, of course.

Monday, March 20, 2006

More TJs

(via consumerist) Slate has a guide to Trader Joe's for newbies. I totally agree about the Soviet mentality, and the inability to use it as your only grocery. Since fave items will disappear at random, gobble up the stuff you love. They used to have super cheap tofu, but it only appears on occasion. Chicken and sausage are great deals. Also get the nuts, esp the sesame covered cashews. And don't forget the spicy pecans. The advice about the candy is true, maintain your strength in the aisle with the low price Valrhona.

The Sun shines out of our behinds

I like to read Booker winners, although I have been burned in the past. I skipped Vernon God Little as I got the feeling it won as part of the tedious use-awards-to-show-anger-at-Bush phase the world was going through. The Line of Beauty on the other hand seemed more my speed. It is set in mid-eighties Britain where a young British scholar from the sticks moves in with a college friend whose Dad is a rising Tory MP. It sounded a bit like one of my all time faves, Any Human Heart, with the young artist set against a examination of society. If you read the copy on the book, you would guess that is what the book is about. That's close to what it is, but it is missing an important element.

When I asked a (gay, as it happens) friend whether he liked it or not, he paused and said "Yes, ...but it's really gay." He wasn't teasing. The main character is a just out 20 something out to get some play. He is like most young guys, with someone but checking out everyone he sees. A large portion of the book is spent with him chasing some or landing some tail. The covert lives of him and his principal partner forms the center of the book.

As I said, it is also a book of social and societal observation. And it is a very good one. Hollinghurst writes excellent prose and the relationship between the young middle class Nick and the upper class folks with whom he dwells is fascinating. There are shades of Boyd's Armadillo, where a young man rejects his past (middle class life, including his parents) for a more attractive future. This being Britain, the class issues appear to weigh more heavily than the sexual ones, although that changes as the novel progresses. One of the reviews on Amazon criticizes the book for not having anything really shocking in it. Well, that's true, but the book does paint daily life rather well, as you might find in an Iris Murdoch for example.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Nothing's shocking

Satire is hard. Really hard. Most of the time it is too obvious, not funny enough, too obscure or some combination of those failures. Effective satire is shocking. A Modest Proposal will still drop some jaws. Today it is hard to shock, of course. So it isn't totally surprising that I found Ben Elton's Popcorn to be decent, but not a home run. The book has good targets. It skewers Hollywood's getting rich off violence while denying any secondary or tertiary effects of selling violence as entertainment. It also attacks the cult of celebrity and America's overly litigious culture. The plot is simple, a Tarantino/Stone clone is held hostage by a mass murderer who loves his work. Should be great, yeah? Well it's not. To be fair this is hard to do. The humor just wasn't enough and the tension between violent art on one hand the need for everyone to take personal responsbility on the other is interesting, but it is also obvious. Perhaps Elton is operating on a number of levels, by showing how we have been desensitized and then folding back our understanding of what is entertainment and where the lines of personal and societal responsibility meet. Or something.

I do have one complaint. I'm sure American authors are guilty of this too, but so many British authors have Americans talking like British people even when the author takes pains to model accents. For example, no American was ever in the Girl Guides, since we have Scouts, Brownies and others, but no Guides. Also movie ratings aren't over 18, it's R. And people don't get knackered or whatever. It's not a big deal, but if you are going to be satirical about a place, get it right. It would be a like an American depicting a Briton visiting Brighton thusly:" So did you enjoy your stay?" "Dude, it was rad, the waves were SO toasty, brah. I got together with my buddies and their honies and we just got mellow with a couple brew dogs. Sweet."

Take me to the place I love

Sorry I have not been posting for, like, a whole day, but I have been keeping it real in the R-I-C.

Now many of you are familiar with A Day for Eeyore, which is of course, A Winnie the Pooh short. It's perhaps best known for its depiction of the game Pooh Sticks. I was excited to recently see that the British have a Pooh Sticks competition. I guess the game must get a little hectic, if you need to station a Johnny on the bridge to keep order. So if you are around Sinodun next weekend, be sure to stop by.

Friday, March 17, 2006

When you're strange

Thanks to the newly released "lost" first book of Robert Heinlein, there is some good discussion of the merits of Heinlein and Asimov and whether the preference says something about your politics. Many of the comments are silly and along the lines of "You liberals suck cuz you don't like good sci-fi" "oh yeah? Well I bet you are religous and that is lame." Ah, prejudice, it warms the heart. Such is the level of discourse when it comes to politics. Others comments are good if you can stomach the rest.

Anyway, the notion that you can pigeon hole someone's politics based on one particular aspect of a writer is silly on the face. When you consider who Heinlein hopped all over the place politically with some hyper-libertarianism in The Moon is A Harsh Mistress (always a fave of mine), the authoritarian message of Starship Troopers and the hippie can't-we-all-get-along aspects of Stranger in A Strange Land. It's not as if political philosophy is the only thing that attracts a reader to a given writer. Often I like a book despite intense disagreements with the political undertones.

One of the things that always appealed to me was Heinlein's construction of a Future History. Many of his short stories and novels fit into a future timeline and either referenced each other or similar background information. While this seems minor, if you read enough of his works you can take pleasure in recognizing this organization and person and having a better understanding of what the author is saying. A lot of sci-fi authors do this these days, like Iain M Banks with the Culture and CJ Cherryh with her Alliance/Union and other sagas. Take a look at Cherryh's Intro to Sci-fi which gives you her must read books.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wah, wah, wah!

You've probably seen Annie Proulx's rant against Hollywood and everyone related to decision not to give "her" movie the best Oscar. It's pretty much flat out crazy, I am not sure if it is the homophobes or the Scientologists who are to blame in her crazy world. I do like the Heffalump reference, even if it makes no sense. I think she is given to childish rants. I bet if she had won she would have written glowingly about the wisdom of Hollywood.

Tall tales and true

I once gave my wife an older edition of Francis Parkman's the Oregon Trail. Looking at the back I see some evidence that the standards of the early 20th century were a bit higher for the kids. On its adventure related recommended books for boys, we have tons of FJ Cooper, Jules Verne, RL Stevenson, Dickens. All high quality stuff. Nowadays, much of this is saved for college! Ok, not the Verne, but you get my point.

I am was interested that I was unfamiliar with only two of the authors. One was Captain Marryat, who was apparently one of the creators of the sea story. I think much of his stuff is out of print judging by the fact that the entirety of Masterman Ready is available online. The Horatio Hornblower books appear to be partially based on Marryat's books. Then we have By Pyke And Dyke, which elicits all sorts of images. Those wise in the ways of early modern history will guess this about the Dutch wars, and it is in fact about a young Englishman having adventures in Holland while the dastardly Spanish attempt to quash the rebellion.

I guess back in the day, parents didn't mind if the kids had a little ass kicking in their books.

We come from the land of the ice and snow

I love a good modern tale where ancient deities show up. Be they African, Egyptian, or a whole mix, I love it. So this new one which involves the Norse gods running around a North Sea island looks good to me. The only downside is that they have changed the ending for the American edition. What, we can't handle your downer ending? WTF? Our books are filled with sadness and woe. So cut us some slack and give us the original ending!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Joe Man is Back

Here is a blog about all things Trader Joe's. I've been fortunate to have a Trader Joe's in every town in which I have lived since 94. My old stomping grounds is getting one later this year, but it is going to be in Newport News. That's a little odd. They tend to go to suburbs, but also towards the wealthier and/or trendier parts of a region. Maybe Newport News has gone all gonzo since I left, but I figured Colley Avenue would be the place for Trader Joe's in 757. Note to Norfolkians, the Naro is showing Jesus is Magic this weekend.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

In the land of cotton

Confederates in the Attic is the Civil War book for people who don't read Civil War books. Sorry for the cliche, but it's true. The book is funny and insightful. It's sort of a travel book, as the author travels the South trying to understand why so many people (north and south) are so fascinated by the war. It's also a bit of a sociological study as the author teams up with some "hardcore" reenactors. He met these folks after they started reenacting a battle in his Northern Va. neighborhood. For me this was the best part of the book. These people are serious. They get into arguments about the kinds of buttons they should be allowed to wear. They will scold someone who is eating an apple variety that didn't exist before 1865. To be called a farb, is to be a posuer, a failed reenactor.

As someone from South of DC, I am always a tad leery of northern types examining the South. Despite yourself you expect the Dukes of Hazzard treatment, all rednecks and yahoos. Fortunately, Horwitz is a fair and friendly observer who truly wants to understand the thinking of the people he meets. While he is funny, the humor is never cruel as you might find in a PJ O'Rourke. He also shows the wide variety of people in the South and of those interested in the Civil War. He even goes on a wargasm with a reenactor where they try to see as many Civil War sites as possible in a weekend.

I've given or recommended this book as much as just about any other. Try it, it's good for you.

Sing me to sleep

OK, I am now pretty sure I will never reach the sublime heights of movie (or shall I say film) appreciation. Based on this review on DVDTalk I excitedly put a hold on the Lower Depths. It had a few things going for it. 1) it's Kurosawa. 2) It's a Criterion Collection. Sure they have some movies that have a place just for some historical value, but usually it's a winner. 3) It was a DVD Talk Collector's pick. That site is worth a look but be careful about the adult flick reviews.

I should have known that a movie based on a Maxim Gorky play about the extremely destitute would be BORING. And man was it. One of the least appealing characters, a fallen petit bourgeois, the bete noir of all good socialists, spends the first 30 minutes scrapping a pot while his wife slowly dies. People gamble or beg for money for some booze, although we don't see the boozing, because like a play, there are only two sets and the actors come and go. Now the acting appeared to be good, but if I wanted to see people in their cups, I could just go down to the Sandy Hut. I suppose at some point it was shocking to learn what happens in the lower depths, but now it is just boring.

Monday, March 13, 2006

By your command...

I've been a little sick with a bit of the fever dream today (I hope I don't turn into a vampire) Anyway what I need is one of those multi-disc TV show sets to just sit and watch as my productivity sucks and I can't sleep. The folks at the New Republic (and the Corner) are talking about Battlestar Galactica and its amazing political subtext. I should be getting this from the library soon, but I may need to rent it as I desire it so.

Should I read or should I watch

I am trying to decide whether to read the History of Violence graphic novel and (assuming I like it) watch the movie or just watch the movie. I've heard tell that the movie is quite good, but my general rule is source material first. I am not sure if I feel the same way about graphic novels. Graphic novel length is often short enough to fully capture on screen. From Hell was a giant and was pared back for the movie. I doubt that the Watchmen could be completely told either. I think History of Violence is short enough.

If it is short enough, should I still skip the comic and go straight to the movie? So hard to know.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Bring on the body count

I am about halfway through Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston. You will either love this book or throw it across the room in disgust. It feels like an Tarantino movie with a Hitchcock plot and Elmore Leonard characters. That is to say, the violence is frequent and over the top. It seems like every five pages someone is getting their ass threatened, beat or killed. The plot centers around a McGuffin sought by a variety of rather colorful, if deadly, criminals. That's the Leonard bit, the characters are just great, quickly sketched but full enough to enjoy. If you thought Kill Bill was too violent, stay the hell away from this book. If you like that sort of thing, this may be your cup of americano. The best comparison I can think of is the Misfits's song Demonomania. Like the song, this book is quick, brutal and exciting. Unlike Demonomania, it does not feature a short angry guy who thinks he is Satan.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


With the passing of one of the more odious leaders of the past few decades, I got thinking about books about Yugoslavia. I quite liked My War Gone By, I Miss It So, written by a British war journalist. The author was addicted to heroin and was also, he says, a war junkie, unable to keep away. That is one of the major ideas of the book, that war, like heroin is addictive and all consuming. It has a dreamy drugged out feel, so if you hate that style of book, try another. I for one, loved it. The author also relates experiences in Chechnya, where Fred Cuny, subject of The Man Who Tried to Save the World, disappeared. Cuny was a rough and tumble aid worker who flew into nasty parts of the world and managed to put things in a semblance of order. Or at least get food delivered. Cuny having braved Biafra, Bosnia, Iraqi Kurdistan among other tourist destinations, went to Chechnya to try and help out, and then he disappeared. This book was even better than My War Gone By, which is none to easy. If you just can't bring yourself to read non-fiction, check out Dan Fesperman's Lie in the Dark, a mystery set at the height of the Bosnian war. The main character is a Bosnian cop and life ain't easy.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Could it happen here?

The Plot Against America is about as good as they say, at least from the literary side. I thought his depiction of the family dynamics of American Jews facing an Anti-Semitic nation was fascinating and well told. In the book Lindbergh wins the election of 1940, keeping the US out of the war throughout his Presidency and slowly edging towards fascism. Some family members try to adjust by joining the Lindbergh team while others resist and others just try to lay low. Because the action is restrained, I never felt like Roth let the story get away from him. It seemed a quite reasonable depiction of what a slow growth in discriminatory policy could look like in the US.

As this scathing review from the (isolationist and anti-war) American Conservative states, Roth greatly simplifies history, and that is a problem, although I think a minor one. The reviewer is angry because he thinks Roth's books support the Bush viewpoint and avoids the fact that it was anti-war not pro-war people who were ostracized in the 1940s. The reviewer pays too much attention to the background and very little to the substance of the story which is about the regrets of the main character and the choices made by his family members. He also claims that Roth is entirely negative towards those outside of New York, which is untrure. Admirable characters appear throughout and from all sides. So while I wouldn't praise the book for it's historical accuracy I still think it is well worth reading. As you might imagine the people over at are none too keen on the book either, one refers to it as a "pant load."

A randomish aside. A similar book, Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here, inspired the sci-fi miniseries V. Crazy.

Books named after kids

We've tried to find children's books with our kid's names in them. It's a little harder than it sounds. Margaret Willey has a series of books about Clever Beatrice. Simon is a bit luckier with a Salmon for Simon and It's Simple said Simon. Poor Graham has been out of luck, with not a book to his name. Poor lad. All three of those books are quite worth reading if you have someone in the 2-6 year old zone. It would be nice to find some kind of database that linked names to kid's books. Kid's just love to see their own names in books. Some names are harder, with mine I would never hope to see anything. If anyone knows a book with a character named Graham, please let me know.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Kit Kat Paddy Wack give the dog a malt

Thanks to the market intelligence from Candy Addict and the keen eye of Joanna, I have now tried the Milkshake Kit Kat. It's not really milkshake flavored but more of a lightly malt chocolate flavor. It is subtle, for a Kit Kat, and in truth I like my flavor bold in a Kit Kat. Still, it is quite good, if not quite as good as the Mint Kit Kat. You can find it at Target and and at Rite Aid, where you can get it for a mere 33 cents.

Are you making a mistake with your vagina?

That question came booming out of my wife's grandmother's TV set today. I was dropping something off and saw she was watching the View. It was the intro when they talked about what the show would be about. At one point, an all-caps VAGINA MISTAKES came on the screen. This validates my belief that although guys are supposedly the ones who talk about sex all the time, its the ladies that really do it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Everyday, I get up and pray to Jah

Stereogum has a piece on conflicting Cracker best-ofs. Ex-label Virgin just put one out and Cracker responded with one with new versions of old songs. As he notes, Cracker remains very good live, I saw them this past New Years. The only downside is all the dancing hippies. It's like a Dead show in there.


I usually keep a few books of short works on hand for when I have spare reading. Right now those books are The Making of Strategy and The Dark Descent. The latter is a horror anthology, but it is slow going as I am finding I have read many of the stories. So I read, stop and start another, read, repeat. Sometimes I read them again, sometimes not. In this sort of story, the ending often dominates lessening the thrill of reading it again.

The Making of Strategy consists of a number of essays on the inputs and outputs of state strategy making. They begin in Ancient Greece and continue to the Cold War, the focus is almost entirely European, thanks to data availability and the fact that European states fought each other for a long time. The value is in seeing what material and ideational inputs went into how states dealt with their international situation. The Chinese case is interesting as ideology often prevented them from properly dealing with nomadic tribes. This book would be helpful in thinking about American strategy towards Iran and China. It is less helpful as a complete grand strategy guide. I would recommend looking at Michael Mazarr's new piece from Policy Review. He argues that much (although by no means all) conflict is moving from Realpolitik to Psychopolitik which means words like war will have to be redefined or replaced. He says that much of the focus in on how to best use military power when in fact we should be looking at other uses of hard and soft power. Mazarr is no slouch, he is the co-author of the text book on national security. Journal articles are great, you'll get the basic argument far faster than from a book, although the arguments are less developed and the data is far more sparse.

You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!

These may be available on the DVD, but here is a site with a large number of deleted and production Star Wars scenes. Episode 4 for you super nerds. If it is real the biggest bit for fans is the scene where Luke scurries to Biggs' place and meets his posse. Biggs plays the wise old man to Luke's callow youth. Much of the rest are slight variations of things you have already seen. It's a cliche, but these movies have really lost something since the travesty of the prequels.

You have to be kidding me

I used to get a lot of blog spam comments, but blogger seems to be blogging them. Or maybe spammers get that I am lame and so they don't bother posting. Today I found a comment for a post back in October of 05. It refers to some Bible software. All I can say is that Bible softeware is not really appropriate for this particular post.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I had a candy frightmare!

Yikes gang I hope this doomsday scenario never comes to pass, but I will relate it so you can be prepared. Hershey continues to hit us with new permutations of the dreaded Take Five. That's bad enough, but what if they discover the MARSHMINT! Imagine biting into some low grade chocolate only to find a pretzel ensconced in mint jelly, with some mallow to mix it up. Oh man, I think I would die.

Monday, March 06, 2006

If mint is six, then scotch is seven

See's has a few dubious candies available for the St. Patrick's Day season. When you first look at Marshmint you might mistake it for the Scotchmallow. Dark chocolate? Check. Marshmallow? You got it. Mint jelly? WHAT?! See's wisely does not sell this one in the stores. In this interview, the (former?) CEO of See's says that the Marshmint is a "lousy piece of candy," but the 16,000 strong Marshmint club keeps ordering them. He also describes how new candies are selected and old ones retired. A must read for Sees-o-philes. The club is rather involved. If you join the club you get this little pin. In order to complete this orgy of Marshmint-related links, I must link to this newsletter for the Marshmint club. It makes reference to the only See's candy that sounds like an STD, the Red Hot Swamp Goo.

The other oddity of the season is the St. Patrick's Day Potato. It's a big lumpy lookin' thing with divinity, white choc and walnuts inside. Pine nut eyes complete the set. I'm not gonna lie, I'd probably like this one. I was all set to talk about the fact that the new See's catalog (get yours here) features recipes including See's candy. I was going to say that putting See's candy into cakes is like putting Maker's Mark into the punch. Why waste the good stuff? Crazy Marshmints are just so much more interesting.


If you have young children, you will be probably be going through an airplane phase at some point (and a dinosaur, and a train and a post-rock (hee hee!)) Anyway, I am now regularly called upon to identify air frames. I could just lie, but A) that is wrong and B) they will notice when you forget to name it the same thing later. Global Security has a nice page (I think based on Federation of American Scientist data) that has scads of info on past American warplanes. If you go to airplane museums, you are going to see a lot of warplanes. So if you want to know a little more about the Vertijet, which appears in at least one of the books you will be checking out of the library, well here you go.

Both FAS and Global Security have something for everyone. If you are the concerned citizen type, they have all sorts of info to fill up your flyers. If you are tech nerd, you will drown in data. If you want to understand the various moving parts of the military industry complex, well dig in. The info on Global Security is in fact quite global, want to know about the Brazilian Space program, here it is. Perhaps you are more keen on Spanish intelligence agencies. No problem. Maybe you need some info on WMD sites in the US. An intense level of detail on the US order of battle in SW Asia? They also have all the GAO and CRS reports on the military and foreign policy. You really have no excuse if you claim you can't find any info on these sorts of things.

Cream in my caramel

Candy blog has a bit on the wonderful Goetz caramel creams. While they talk about how truly ass-tastic the strawberry version is, they are way to kind to the chocolate. Stick to the vanilla, it is a tasty delight. And don't forget the Cow Tales, a more portable way to eat them. If you get tired of eating the creams by themselves, you may want to try the caramel cream brownie recipe available on the Goetz site. They have some random games on the site, including this one that implies some kind of alliance between Goetz and Necco. More power to them!

All I heard on Channel 4

Sarah Weinman links to a set of BBC on air tales of how mystery writers use music as part of their craft. That looks great, I am particularly interested in what George Pelecanos has to say. History fans should take a look at this NINETY part series on the British empire. Each one is 15 minutes so you have a nice audiobook on your hands.

When I lived in China, back in the day, I relied on my shortwave and the BBC for much of my entertainment. Maybe this show wasn't broadcast in East Asia, but I would loved to listen to this show where authors talk about their books and this show that covers news in fiction and non-fiction. And oh my word, they even have one on poetry! No RSS or podcasts that I could find, which means I will listen only haphazardly.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

With six Jedis in the car are you crazy?

You've probably seen it, but check out Natalie Portman going all Easy E.

DC noir

I am nearly done with DC Noir and I quite like it. The stories range over the hugely disparate DC experience. One story is about a Chevy Chase socialite looking for a way, ethical or no, to keep her expensive house. Another concerns lobbyists on K street. Many more deal with the choices facing young black people in economic disaster zones. I think my favorite is one by George Pelecanos which concerns an informant trying to game the police and the criminals and finally find a way to impress his father. I also like that the stories aren't all bleak tales. Many are, but some are more light hearted or focused on black humor at least.

My only hesitation in recommending the book is that DC looms so large in the stories that I think a large part of my enjoyment is the fact that they are set in DC and capture the town so well. If you are not familiar or that interested in Washington, I imagine you would be less than thrilled with this book.

Going back to the well

Peter Ackroyd is one of those authors I have always meant to read but haven't gotten around to doing. Beatrice has a bit on his newish book on Shakespeare. He has also written extensively on British history with a focus on biography. So much so he even has begun a series called Ackroyd's brief lives with books on Chaucer and Turner so far. Both of those sound quite good. When I find a good readable historian I try to read other books by the same author. I find Roy Jenkins to be of this mold. I really liked his one volume Churchill and I was pleased as punch to find a used copy of the out of print (in hardcover) book on Gladstone. His slim volume on FDR awaits as well. If I like the Gladstone I will expect I will have to dig up a copy of his book on Asquith. You know, do the whole Britsh PM thing.

I have a few books by Alistair Horne on France's military history. Haven't read them yet, that's nothing new of course. I recently stacked all my unread mass market paperbacks in the bedroom and my wife was taken aback when she counted seventy. At the rate I check out library books, it will take me awhile to get to Horne.

The downside of reading the same author is that while you are reading a number of books on a subject you are getting a single perspective. I suppose one is better than none.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

To the moon Alice!

Ladies, want to keep a healthy marriage going? Well you need to give your man some lovin' and to do need to shove some Lysol into the holiest of holies. I find that pretty horrifying and Lysol makes me want to gag and insterting into yourself sounds like a bad idea to me. I usually discount madness of the 1950s, but this is some crazy stuff. It reminds me of the coffee ads where the angry husband splashes his wife with hot coffee because he doesn't like the taste. Spousal abuse humor, it's the tops.

Friday, March 03, 2006

You got me hanging on the telephone

So I finished Cell and if you like the early King which put all the emphasis on action and character development you will like this. Did I think it was as good as say, Pet Sematary? No. But it beats books like Insomnia without breaking a sweat. The story is a zombie story in which every cell phone in the country rings and if you answer it, you turn into a murderous zombie. Here are some of the reasons I liked this one as much as I did.

Good characters: The main character is trying to get from Boston to Maine while zombies attack because he left his son there, and his son has a cell phone. His bad dreams get worse when the bad guys start manipulating his dreams. Creepy. King loves to have a creepy bad guy and this one is nicely disturbing.

Action: The chaos starts on page 2, when all hell breaks loose in Boston Common. This may be the best scene in the book as King conveys the confusion, the essential goodness of his hero, and the shocking sudden transition to violence. It's capped with a plane crash and ominous explosions in the distance. This is great stuff. There are a number of equally tense and exciting scenes, but this one was truly excellent.

No giant tie-ins to the Dark Tower: I liked Black House up until I thought I couldn't truly understand what was happening without reading the huge Dark Tower sequence. This one probably has Dark Tower references, since he LOVES them. If you have time on your hands check out this compendium of Dark Tower trivia and the connections to his other books.

Editing: King's recent books have been relatively long and this one was short. It was tight. With the exception of the end, which dragged a bit, the book moved quickly. I sound like a whiny bitch here, but come on, your's ain't the only book in town.

If there are any readers who haven't read one of his books yet, this isn't the best, but it's really good. If you haven't liked the recent material, try this one.

Bombs falling down like rain

Here is one for a limited audience, it's called Among the Dead Cities and it asks whether the bombing of German and Japanese cities in World War 2 was justified. Based on the Guardian review it doesn't take the pacifist view that all force is unjustified but looks closely at the specific cases of bombing cities and civilians with the intent to kill civilians. If you are interested in the ethics of force, this looks like a winner. If you like the topic but don't want to spend all that time on reading, then by all means see the Fog of War. It is an extended interview with Robert McNamara on what he has learned in his career about force, which included planning the bombing of Japan and of course, the conduct of the first half of the Vietnam war. You'll get the same even handed examination, but you will be done in 90 minutes.

The classic text which I am ashamed to say I have not read is Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer, who you may have seen pop up quite a bit in the run up to Iraq. Yet another one to throw on the pile.

Ayn Rand was a crazy person

Via Balloon Juice I saw this 1950s National Review review of an Ayn Rand book. As the reviews point out, the strident dogmatism makes her books popular with partially developed intellectual abilities like college freshman. It is also popular today with high tech CEOs (check their book shelves) since it validates their selfishness. Take a look at how Santa Clara county (Silicon Vally) does on charitable giving. Rand thinks that only the super bright successful are worth a damn and everyone else is just a leech. Obviously society is more complex, it is of course in the best interest of all that the most capable are able to maximize their abilities. And it is only fair to them that they can. This doesn't make them superior people nor does it mean that the less capable should be tossed aside like so much dross. Be sure to read the Balloon Juice piece as well. Rand still has plenty of spiritual followers today on the right and left.

He counseled through the bourbon haze..

I rarely drink bourbon these days, but I do enjoy a bit every now and then. Liquor snob can help me choose my next bottle. It's whiskey week over there and they are reviewing a bottle each day. They find a couple of bargains worth trying. They also link to this boycott of Jack Daniels, for reasons of which I was previously unaware. I always thought that Rebel Yell was a nice bargain bourbon. You can impress your boss with these Rebel Yell screenavers. Nothing says reliable worker like bourbon plastered all over the cube.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I might just bust out crying

I'd seen a lot of press about how The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is one of the best new kids books around. So I checked it out, and it's great but I will be keeping it from the kids for a little longer despite the 4-8 year recommendation. This sucker is SAD. As Kirkus reviews says "Keep the tissues handy for this one" This is no joke. There is at least one tragic death and about five tragic separations. Edward Tulane is a toy rabbit that thinks too much of himself and far too less about others. He gets lost on a ocean voyage and ends up in many different deserving hands, which he comes to love only to lose again. As you might imagine, each loss is pretty tough. It ends up working out well, but I felt really bad in one particular case. You should certainly check it out, but read it and decide if your kids are up to it yet.

The book is illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, easily one of my favorite children's book artists. His drawing and colors in the Crossing make that a must-own. Our copy is thrashed but we hang on to it because everyone loves it. And nobody dies.


Timothy Garton Ash explains why animal rights protestors should shut up, why David Irving should get out of jail and why we all need to buy Legos. Ok, not really, but kind of. It's about the new threats to free speech and inquiry. He argues that groups are now deciding that anything that offends them in their group should be banned. This is an across the board problem especially as every group in the world seems infected by identity politics.

A good book that looks at the attacks on free speech and why you should care is Free Speech For Me But Not For Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other. Don't believe me? Just look how up in arms the left gets about peace protesters rights while trying to quash those of abortion protesters. And vice versa. A similar book is Diane Ravitch's Language Police, which calls both right and left on to the carpet.

Read for the day

An incredibly moving and thoughtful (true) story over at Old Dominion. It's the kind that makes you pause and examine your own inadequacies. And then makes you want to do better. Check it out.

What have you read for me lately?

The Museum Libraries and Archives council are making me feel better about my reading. They have published a list of the top 30 (fiction) books everyone should read. Number one? To Kill a Mockingbird. Number 2? The Bible. It's nicely eclectic, with classics like A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and modern books like Life of Pi. Kid's books are also represented with the His Dark Materials Trilogy and Winnie the Pooh.

Anyway, I feel better because I've read 19 out of the 30 mentioned. So while I may be reading genre works at the moment (Algebraist and The Cell,) the long term trend appears to still be healthy.

Couple things

Stereogum links to another Virgin "guess the band/song" game. Instead of a picture, it's a video, which means you have to watch it over and over again, preferably with the volume off. This one can waste hours.

If you are looking for a place to waste a few hours, Joanna has some ideas. She's got a piece on the new trend of chocolate cafes, (can't very well say bars can we?) The idea is that you don't just buy and run, but hang around and experience the chocolate. Kind of like the difference between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Given him a number and taken away his name

My next book is Journey to Peking: A Secret Agent in Wartime China. The author was an OSS agent in, you guessed it, China. While the OSS formed much of the nucleus of the eventual CIA, the organizations are different. Today's CIA focuses on two things, intelligence analysis and human intelligence. Analysts read a lot and try to figure out what is happening overseas. Human intelligence collectors recruit spies, usually at embassy parties. The CIA also conducts covert action, although the Defense Department is trying to grab that role. This is not the focus of the Agency at all, most of the resources are dedicated to the collection and analysis roles. In comparison, the OSS was heavily focused on covert action, behind German and Japanese lines. I expect the book to be riveting.

I should note that I used to work with the author's son, who now heads the OSS Society.

Things were different then

Sarah Weinman links to a hard to find Warner Brothers cartoon called Coal Black and the Sebben Dwarves. To say it is politically incorrect would be an understatement. It was made in 1943 and certainly reflects the times. Read her commentary and then check out the cartoon for yourself. Some of the content is similar to the war propaganda from Disney's On the Front Lines.

Without the red stuff being spilled

Parents will often go to extraordinary efforts to do things for their kids. This one puts incredible effort into her son's lunches. What makes it more over the top is that she is vegan and nearly everything is hand-made, even down to the jelly. She takes a photo and then rates the reception of each. Yes it's mastubatory, but isn't all blogging that way? Maybe she can get a book deal of it too.